Religiosity is the quality of being attached to the doctrines, dogmas, and rites of an institutional church. Spirituality is the sense that everything is sacred. Hope is the feeling that things can be better and that some personal action can help lead to that betterment.
Hope may spring from religiosity, but it can also be stifled by a religious orientation. I’m thinking of my grandmother, an extremely religious person who nevertheless died without hope, convinced that God would send her to Hell. Hope is the natural off-spring of spirituality, and I can’t think of any example in which spirituality would extinguish hope. Friends may be religious and/or spiritual. May they always live in hope! (Based on Speaking of Psychology: Why We Need Hope.)
~ Richard Russell
I’m presently reading the original Spanish version of Gabriel García Márquez’ great book, Noticia de un secuestro or “News of a Kidnapping.” I’m a proficient Spanish reader; but Spanish is my second language and always seems stranger than my first language, English. What jumps out at me as I read the book is how meaning arises from these strange Spanish words. The language is different from English, but the meaning is the same.
This phenomenon has an application to vocal ministry. When a Friend testifies in Meeting for Worship, their language may seem strange to us but we may be able to parse a meaning from the words, a meaning that speaks to our condition.
Consider, for example, the case of a Quaker speaker who is a traditional Christian and a non-theist listener. Suppose the Friend testifying refers to the following Bible verse in their message. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’” (Matthew 16: 24-26, ESV)
The non-theist puts no stock in Jesus as Messiah, nor does he believe in Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for all humankind. The words are strange to him. BUT, our non-theist can “translate” the verse from its Christian framework into his own humanist philosophy. He can reflect that Jesus represents Truth and the Good. As a humanist, he wants to pursue truth and moral goodness; but he realizes that such a pursuit will inevitably entail suffering as other people do not necessarily share his ideas. BUT, if the humanist abandons goodness and truth for, say, money and prestige, he will lose the essential meaning of his life. He doesn’t believe in the literal existence of souls that can be saved, but—metaphorically—he can lose his soul—his true life—as he gives in to moral ambiguity and outright evil.
This process of translating from one spiritual language to another is called “listening in tongues,” a reference to early Christians who “spoke in tongues.” As Friends, I believe we are called upon to listen in tongues as someone speaks in meeting. Even if the words are strange to us, we should search for their underlying meaning.
~ Richard Russell
Pope Francis has just authorized priests to bless the marriages of LGBTQ people “without an exhaustive moral evaluation.” Sacramental marriages are still required to be between a man and a woman. Moreover, the blessing of same-sex unions is not to be done at the same time as a civil marriage ceremony, nor can a couple be blessed while wearing wedding apparel. The Catholic Church is slower than Friends on social issues, but it moves in the right direction. I’m proud of being a “combination” Catholic-Quaker.
~ Richard Russell
…then you’ll want to read the letter below, written by Lydia Lancaster to Gilbert Thompson. Lydia was a British Quaker and a traveling minister in England, Scotland, and Ireland. She also journeyed to America in 1718. Her letters were not published until 1840.
Actually, even very modern Friends can “translate” Lydia’s letter into their own spiritual idiom and profit from her words. (Brian Drayton selected this letter as one of his Midweek Meditations.)
Colthouse, 29th of 10th Month, 1729.
Endeared Friend and Kinsman, -
Often art thou present with me in spirit, strong cries also in a spring of Divine love filling my heart on thy account, that the merciful visitation from on high may still be continued and increased thee-ward, to the making of thee both fit and compliable, to answer such love as hath been and is bestowed on thee, for a good end no doubt, and which I have not fear that thou art unmindful of.
I believe thou often hast low thoughts of thyself, yet a high esteem for Truth and the walkers therein. It is such as those who come to be exalted in time, even the lowlies, who are ready to say, "Who is so unworthy, whoso unfit as I? I love the Truth, but alas! I can do nothing to promote it!" It is those who cannot, and dare not do of themselves, that the Holy One will make use of, to do by and to do for, as seemeth good in his sight. The whole building or work is his, there is not tool to be lifted up upon it, but his own hand is to do it both immediately and instrumentally, and when that instrument knows and keeps its place, in lying be and keeping still he take it in hand, and then mind the turning of his hand, the motions of his Spirit, in beginning, and in going on, and in leaving off, then his wisdom and glory are the most manifest, and that servant lies down in most safety and peace. It is good for the servant to be one with his Master's mind, to have no will, or at least not to suffer any will to act in him, but what agrees in pure obedience with the requirings of the great Lord, who, in all things, is worthy to be served and followed to the end.
Oh! then consider the early visitations thou hast been favoured with — the melting, bowing times thou hast had; it makes me remember my own going on, because that was the way and manner I was followed when very young. And blessed be the Author thereof, I hope I may say it hath not been in vain, if I hold but fast the faith firm unto the end, which is a shield as needful for me now as ever in all my life, for it is a troublesome sort of a disturbed passage that I have to tread in this pilgrimage of tears, yet often sweetened by the enjoyment of Divine favour.
The last time I heard of thee it was a time of great weakness with thee, which took deep hold of my mind, and thankful to Providence I am for thy recovery, hoping thou will make a good use of it, and mind thy day's work while the day lasteth, that it may be well with thee when it is over. Thou knowest the harvest is great, and the faithful labourers in many places are too few. It is our duty both to pray and to be engaged in our own particulars for the work going on, which is begun in the earth, many of our worthy fathers being gone to their rest from their labours, and we, who remain in their places, are passing on after them toward eternity: Oh! let us be faithful to death, that we may have a crown of life with them hereafter.
Dear Gilbert, my heart is replenished with love to thee, yet I must conclude, desiring my love to thy mother and sisters, etc. Maybe, we shall see each other at our spring meeting, meanwhile let us be true in our desire for each other, and for the Israel and heritage of God every where, that Truth may increase, and cover the earth in a more general way to his praise, and the comfort of all his mourners, that they may put on the garments of praise, instead of the spirit of heaviness, - so wisheth, so prayeth, thy firm friend and true lover in the covenant of endless life, L. Lancaster.
~ submitted by Richard Russell
Dorothy Martin, clairvoyant extraordinaire, believed that alien beings from the planet Clarion were communicating with her. They warned her of a global flood that would destroy Earth on December 21, 1954 and offered to save her and her disciples by sending a flying saucer to ferry them away before the disaster.
On December 17, these aliens, the “Guardians,” instructed Dorothy and her followers to remove all metal from their bodies as the metal would prevent them from being levitated upward into the rescue ship.
Thus, on December 20, Dorothy and her “Seekers,” wearing special robes and with suitcases in hand, gathered at her home in suburban Chicago. Midnight came and went. Nothing happened. Some of the Seekers were anxious and confused. Some left. Others stayed and prayed for deliverance.
At 4:45 am Dorothy received an interstellar message that the group had been saved because of their faith; and—because of their faith—the world itself had been saved. The spaceship would finally arrive on December 24, precisely at 6:00 pm.
Again, the Seekers came to Dorothy’s house and sang Christmas carols while gazing upwards at the heavens. The appointed time came and went. Police were called as an unruly mob of jeering spectators heckled the Seekers, some of whom went home, disillusioned, their faith broken. But many of the Seekers refused to doubt. Dorothy’s messages would continue, and her faithful followers would continue to believe.
Unbeknownst to these rapturists, the Seekers had been infiltrated by research assistants of Dr. Leon Festinger, social psychologist at the University of Michigan. Festinger was studying cognitive dissonance, which occurs when a strongly-held belief suddenly conflicts with reality. Based on his investigation into the Seekers, Festinger concluded that when a conflict between reality and belief occurs—under certain conditions—the believers react by reaffirming their ideas. Such was the case after the Christmas carol incident detailed above.
And cognitive dissonance was surely a phenomenon for early Christians, who believed that “…people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” (NIV, Mark 13:26-27) The apostle Paul was a firm believer in the Second Coming. In the earliest part of the New Testament (Thessalonians 4:16, ESV) he writes, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise….”
Of course, Jesus never descended from the Heavens, but Christians continued to believe in the Apocalypse, simply postponing its realization to the future. In this, they were exactly like Dorothy Martin’s Seekers. In fact, many present-day evangelical Christians continue to believe that Christ will shortly return to Earth.
There is, however, another way to rationalize all this—a way which I myself have adopted. One can see the Second Coming and the Kingdom of God as already an established fact. In this metaphorical concept, the Kingdom of God is already present in the hearts of the faithful. When we act with loving kindness, we are showing the fruits of that spiritual Kingdom.
And yet, many Christians who believe in a metaphorical Kingdom (me included), continue to long for a non-metaphorical Second Coming. They say to themselves with the Apostle John, “Come, Lord Jesus.” (NIV, Rev 22:20)
~ Richard Russell
The sources for this article include Wikipedia and a Hidden Brain podcast, When You Need It to be True
Here’s an interesting quote that may serve as an antidote to the rigid materialism of scientists like Robert Sapolsky:
…for the person who believes we are completely reducible to physiological firings in the brain, and that we are essentially pinnacle insects, impressive, yes, prone to deviations both endearing and alarming, most definitely, but in the end as rote and reactionary as the immense machine through which we move and live and have our algebraic being—for such a person, any setback to the steady pleasure of a prosperous and emotionally gratifying existence, much less any real tragedy such as the prospect of our own deaths or the death of someone we “love” (for a scientific materialist, the word must always be in quotes) blows open the doors of deliberate ignorance behind which we were hiding: the real meaning of our lives comes flooding in, which, for the materialist is that there is no real meaning to our lives whatsoever.
(quote by Christian Wiman, excerpted from his book, Zero at the Bone)
~ submitted by Richard Russell
Many Christians believe in a literal Heaven that is holy perfection—the opposite of a corrupt Earth filled with sin and misery. For the 17th century priest, Thomas Traherne, Heaven and Earth overlap. For Traherne, savoring life on Earth gives a foretaste of Heaven. After all, God is present in the created world even as God transcends that world. Traherne writes,
Your enjoyment of the world is never right till every morning you awake in heaven; see yourself in your Father’s palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as celestial joys: having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the angels. You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars; and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, you never enjoy the world.
~ submitted by Richard Russell
Mathematics is being used as a shield for corrupt practices
I want to start this blog with what I think is a false premise: machines will make a better world for humans.
Now, before you call me a Luddite I just ask that you hear me out. For those unfamiliar, the Luddites were members of a 19th-century movement of English textile workers which opposed the use of certain types of cost-saving machinery, often by destroying the machines in clandestine raids. They protested against manufacturers who used machines in "a fraudulent and deceitful manner" to replace the skilled labour of workers and drive down wages by producing inferior goods.
To my point, we have outsourced a good deal of work to machines already and what that has produced is a hollowing out of the middle class, but I digress.
The thesis I wish to make in this blog post is that AI is a dehumanizing technology. It seeks to supplant human thinking with bot thinking. Some people have even gone so far as to develop sermons or "messages" from Chat Gpt as if AI has some sentient quality or even provide us with spiritual messages. A machine that can "learn" by definition can only learn from the past. And as Einstein said: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." It is a tautology (a logical conclusion) that AI can only be a dead end to something as ethereal and delicate as a spiritual message.
I am beginning to see how AI is blunting human interaction in areas such as social media. The AI algorithms used to funnel content has had a horrific dehumanizing effect on the social body of humanity. Anything now can be used to divide by siloing people down informational rabbit holes. In an age of information we are drowning in disinformation and bad ideas.
Some people point to the usefulness of AI. Let's look at a few examples.
-- Facial recognition in policing: Black faces are not even seen by this technology and there have been numerous cases of arrest due to false identification. Besides that, do we really want to live in a surveillance society? Mental note -- reread George Orwell.
-- Medical Diagnosis by Watson: IBM's AI system claims to be able to scan thousands of images (in the case of x-ray) and medical texts in seconds to arrive at a diagnosis. But here's a question -- who is evaluating the quality of the research. How can we know that the medical information that Watson is scanning was done right? That is to say, was the study statistically skewed, was the methodology flawed, and who paid for the research and for what purpose was the research done? What research is being sifted through? Do natural medicines get considered? The healing work that Native People have collated over centuries?
In this scenario, what if a doctor of 30 or 40 years experience disagreed with Watson? A doctor who has insight into how a disease might manifest from ACTUAL experience. Who would you trust? Is that doctor going to want to speak up and challenge an AI diagnosis?
In the case of spirituality, people have used CHAT gpt to generate sermons and while you might get some text which is an amalgamation of other spiritual texts it is merely a representation of spirituality." It is not spirituality. To be more concrete a shadow is a representation of an object but it is NOT the object. If I were to put it in biblical terminology I'd call it a False god.
I posit that AI is our modern day Baal. Modern people will "follow the data" to find meaning in life and the answers they seek and they will be led down rabbit holes. Holes that may even have been dug on purpose by the algorithm designers. Here's a question: who gets to decide what data the bots will use?
The way out is the way in. From Luke 21:17 "The kingdom of God is within you."
Quakers have always sought a direct experience of God free from intercessors. AI is no different.
~ Joseph Olejak
Well, members of Old Chatham Meeting won’t be seeing Rosa de Lejos, a Spanish-language DVD which I recently purchased from eBay. It is an 80’s film, based on the wildly popular Argentinian telenovela of the same name.
Rosa is a naïve young woman who comes to Buenos Aires to work and support her family. She lives “lejos,” far away from that family and is herself far away from understanding Buenos Aires and the elite class that employs the working poor. But Rosa falls in love with Roberto, a medical student from that elite. Unfortunately, Roberto sees himself as “above” Rosa and abandons her when he learns that Rosa is carrying his child.
An embittered Rosa vows to better herself and find a place in the high society that Roberto lives in. Esteban, a schoolteacher, shows her how to read and write. He then educates her in the language and culture of the upper class; and Rosa—beginning as a simple seamstress—ascends to being a world-class modista, or fashion designer. Now rich and privileged, she falls in love with Esteban and, presumably, lives happily ever after.
This idea of a lowly, poor person rising to the upper class is a common theme in Latin American telenovelas or soap operas. For example, the telenovela Marimar revolves around the love story of Marimar, a poor, barefoot girl who lives in a beach hut, and Sergio, a rich soccer player who marries her to spite his father. When Sergio rejects her, Marimar eventually transforms herself into a sophisticated and successful woman, seeking revenge on all those who have wronged her. She is so changed that Sergio and his family do not even recognize her, not comprehending that a muchacha from the lower class could enter into high society.
But can the poor actually rise to the middle or upper class? Taking the case of such people in the United States, I would have to say—generally— “No.” I’m reminded of what I heard in Walmart just yesterday after a couple had finished buying groceries. “Do we have enough money left for gas,” was the girl’s question. Well, if you don’t have enough money for gas, or if the car isn’t running, or if there’s no one to take care of a sick child, how will you get to work?
Maybe you have Medicaid for the sick child, but the rest of the family doesn’t have health insurance or real access to the health care system—unless an emergency room visit counts as a substitute for continual, quality health care. And how will you ever have the time and money for an education that would lift you out of poverty?
Moreover, the lack of money leads to stress and—often—family fights that sometimes turn violent and psychologically scar the children of the family, who then perpetuate a cycle of violence resulting from poor interpersonal coping skills. Whether in the United States or Latin America, the dream of rising to a middle-class or upper-class life is—for the poor—a pipe dream, a fantasy, a temporary escape facilitated by TV soap operas, TV game shows, or lotto tickets.
It's said that you can’t solve social problems by throwing money at them; but universal, free early childcare and education together with a universal, free college education would put a dent in the problem. Add in universal health care for everyone in the U.S. and freedom from food insecurity, and you’ve cracked open the iron barrier of poverty. Finish all this up with guaranteed housing and the teaching of tolerance and anti-discrimination in the schools, and you’ve demolished the barriers to advancement in life for those of the downtrodden, under-class.
Otherwise, the poor are reduced to watching TV shows like Rosa de Lejos or The $100,000 Pyramid.
~ Richard Russell
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