Thursday, December 8, 2016

Who Were the Wise Men Seeking?

Have you ever thought about who (or what) the "Wise Men" or Magi who came from the east seeking Jesus after his birth were expecting?  What sort of king or god or whatever did they have in their mind to bring their gifts to? Who the Magi were; Where exactly they came from; What they knew; and how they knew it are all speculation, but who they were seeking is clear.

In Matthew 2:1-2, we are told:  “ . . . behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews?  For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”  Notice that they specifically and explicitly give the reason for their worship of this babe.  It is because he was “born King of the Jews.”  Remember that in Mark 15:2, this was the question that Pilate asked, “Art thou the King of the Jews? To which he replied “It is as you say.” (NIV)

It's easy to be confused by the use of the word "worship" there in many translations.  Today we usually think of "worship" as limited to divine worship, of a deity, but the word as used in many translations also applies to bowing, kneeling, prostrating in respect or submission before a king, nobleman, ruler or other authority.  It could be divine worship, or it might not be.  The question is, which did the Magi have in mind?

Now when the Magi went to Herod and asked him where this child was, the effect on Herod was to incite him to a murderous jealousy, resulting in the slaughter of thousands of innocents.  Why was Herod jealous?  Would he have been jealous over the birth of God?  Possibly, but would he have attempted to murder God?  Well, I suppose anything is possible, but trying to kill immortal God seems a bit much, even for a Herod.  It is clear that Herod viewed this child as a potential mortal, human rival for his kingly throne.  The Magi were proclaiming that this child was born to be King of the Jews, and Herod considered himself the King of the Jewish nation.  Yet of course he was actually an Idumaean pretender, resented by the Jews as a Roman, and with every reason to be worried about the permanence of his dynasty.  The obvious conclusion is that Herod heard them to say exactly what they did say: that the child was born King of the Jews, and that is what he was worried about.  But what did Herod tell the Magi?  He told them in verse 8 that he too wanted to "worship" this child. What sort of "worship" did he imply?

Now if we are to suppose that Herod and the wise men intended this worship as divine worship of a newborn God Incarnate, we would have to suppose, with absolutely no support from the text, that Herod and the Magi somehow thought that this child was not a human king at all, but God. or a god.  They did undoubtedly know that this was a special king.  They knew, as we are told in Matthew 2:4, that this King of the Jews was the Christ, (the Messiah, the Anointed).  Anointing was what was done as a sign of being chosen by God as priest or king (e.g. Samuel anointed David as king).  But clearly they knew it was not just any king. The miraculous star they had followed surely made them know that this was someone truly special and unique. They referred to Micah 5:2 as the Old Testament prophecy that he should be born in Bethlehem.  Micah 5:2 refers to him as “ruler in Israel,” or as the record in Matt 2:6 calls him “ a Governor that shall rule my people, Israel.”

Is there any evidence to suggest that Herod or the chief priests and scribes with whom he consulted were some sort of proto-trinitarians who thought that this Messiah was to be God Himself?  Granted Trinitarians do find what they consider to be Old Testament “hints” or “suggestions” of Trinitarian doctrine.  But surely it is not credible to suggest that before any of the New Testament had yet been given; before Jesus had yet uttered a word; before any of the Apostles were even aware of the events to come; that Herod already thought that this “King” was really God, or a sort of hybrid man/god, a pre-existent mortal/immortal?   You might propose that, but there is no evidence in the record to support it.  Yet Herod, knowing only that this child was a potential rival to him as King, said he wanted to go and “worship him also.”  Clearly Herod intended this as (feigned) worship of a King, not of a God.

In any case, the Magi found the child Jesus, and they “fell down, and worshiped him.”  The New English Bible says, “bowed to the ground in homage to him.”  We can well imagine the apparently Persian Magi falling down before a king, for that is indeed how eastern kings were treated.  Is there any contradiction there in viewing this as paying homage or making obeisance to the (human) King of the Jews?  I see none. It makes the most sense.  Did they offer sacrifices to him, or cower in terror, or do anything that one might do before the presence of God himself?  No, they presented him with gifts that would befit a king, Gold, perfume, and ointment.  Whether or not the Magi understood this unique king to be the son of God, a concept Jesus had trouble getting across even to his disciples, and how they might have viewed that, is left to speculation.

One might object that the “Wise Men” were rather foolish men to go to king Herod with their request for directions if they were looking for his rival.  And perhaps they were, or perhaps it was in the plan of God that they should do so.  Regardless, whatever their reason, it did turn out to be a bad thing, so it is no argument to say that it was OK to go to Herod if they actually thought the child was God, but not OK if they thought he was a human child.  Either way it turned out badly.

Now this picture, of the Magi paying homage to a human king rather than a God may be startling if you've never before thought of it that way.  It is hard to change ideas that are entrenched in our minds.  I can only ask that you read the text carefully and see if there is the slightest evidence anywhere for a divine worship explanation.  I can see none.  All the evidence is for rendering obeisance to a human king, the divinely anointed King of Israel.

Undoubtedly, these Magi had a limited, partial and incomplete understanding of this newborn king. We aren't told what they knew or how they knew it.  Our understanding, informed by the preaching of Jesus and the writings of his followers surely should be more complete than those whose information was limited to the Old Testament at best, and perhaps less than that.  We should not be limited in our view of the Christ to the partial view of the Magi.  So, what is my point?  What do we learn from the limited understanding of the Magi?

First, it should be clear from this that "worship" in the Bible can mean either divine worship of a god, or it can refer to the legitimate and acceptable bowing in homage and obeisance due to a king, prince, or other authority.  When we see that Jesus in his earthly ministry was so "worshiped" we can usually see that it was so intended as due deference to a great teacher, prophet, healer, and authority, perhaps in a few cases with the perception that he was the (human) son of God, but never with any apparent and anachronistic understanding on the part of the worshipers that they were bowing before the second person of an incarnate triune god.  Any such divine worship of the man Jesus would most certainly have been viewed as blasphemous by the Jewish religious authorities.

The main takeaway from this though is to read what the Bible actually says about Jesus Christ, rather than to read the story through the lens of doctrines that were developed only much later on, after the Bible was written.  If you put Christ in Christmas, make it the Christ actually described in the Bible.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness: The grievous sin of false Facebook posting

Exodus 20:16. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." This is the Ninth of the Biblical Ten Commandments: Right up there with murder, theft, adultery and idolatry.

Yet every day on Facebook, I see posts, from people who claim to reverence the Ten Commandments, that copy false accusations and slanders.  There is the photoshopped picture that pretends to show Hillary Clinton shaking hands with Osama bin Laden.  There is the photo claiming to show Michelle Obama txting during the pledge of allegiance (it's actually some reporter). There are fake quotes that pretend people said things they never said.  There is the incomprehensible rant falsely claiming "Snopes got snoped." There are more every day, mindlessly copied and shared without checking by many people, simply because they attack people they dislike.  This is false witness.  It is spreading malicious lies to slander someone.

In John 8:44 Jesus says that the devil is the father of lies.  The word "devil" is an English form of the Greek word "diabolos" which actually means slanderer, false accuser.  So, when you post a false accusation, you are quite literally the devil.

By contrast, Jesus said:  "I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life," so if you want to follow Jesus, you must follow truth.  If you follow lies, you are not following Jesus.

But, you say, you didn't realize it was false!  Is ignorance a defence? No, it is not.  If you spread accusations that you don't really know to be true, it is still bearing false witness.  But anyway do you really want to claim ignorance?  If you don't know what you are talking about, why are you posting?  Why post in ignorance?  All you do is prove your ignorance.

Spreading malice in ignorance is gossip. The Bible condemns gossip in the strongest terms.  Romans 1:29 says this about the Godless:  "so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil."

See who gossips are grouped with?

There is simply no way to reconcile careless posting of accusations with Christian ideals.  It is anti-Christian.  If you are going to make accusatory posts, you have a Christian obligation to at least make sure they are true.  If you can't take time to check before you post, don't post.  And if you check, make sure you check reliable sources, not just the same scurrilous partisan echo chamber sites that pump out the lies.  If you don't know how to check it, or just don't want to bother checking, just don't post it. It's sinful.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Lessons for Unbelievers from Bible Fables

I can't comprehend how anyone who has even read the Bible can ever claim "This is mine.  I earned it.  I have a right to it.  I deserve it.  You can't take what's MINE."  Even if you don't believe the Bible and view it only as fable and literary fiction, the lessons and morals must surely be clear.

Even those who dismiss Daniel's dictum that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men must see the practical lesson that it is absurd hubris to claim "I built this."  That the mightiest of empires and the greatest of emperors can be destroyed in an instant by events beyond their control.

You can believe that David vs. Goliath is just legend and still see the reality that no matter how well armed you may think you are, it is not uncommon for the mightiest of armed and arrogant invaders to be repelled by the equivalent of kids with rocks.

Surely even the secular reader must be touched by the struggles of the rejected wandering homeless, the refugees from slavery, the lowly and dispossessed, the conquered, the desperate due to forces beyond control, and see that even those are fellow humans seeking meaning and purpose as well as sustenance.

Even such a jaded and skeptical secular seeming observer as the Solomon of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes tells us that the competition does not always go to the better or most deserving; that the wicked prosper while the deserving suffer.

You need not believe in a virgin birth to recognize that the greatest of people are sometimes born in stables to destitute parents.

Even those who view Jesus as simply a teacher of morals must see the reality in his teaching that the accumulation of wealth is worse than useless, never brings happiness or satisfaction, and is never really within human control anyway. That our humane responsibility is not to despise or reject strangers but to help them.

Even those who doubt Jesus even existed must surely see the truth in the lessons attributed to him that those who claim moral superiority are inevitably hypocrites who refuse to see their own immorality.

Even if you read Job as mere poetic fable, the lesson must be clear that suffering and misfortune are often as undeserved as wealth and prosperity, and that we struggle in vain to give reason to either.

Even if you think epistlers Paul and John were deluded followers of a dead man, surely there are eternal truths in their teaching that self-sacrificing generosity is always better than self-righteous possessiveness.  That love is always better than hate.  That we all need mercy more than justice.

How much more then must it be clear to those who claim to actually believe the Bible, who accept that God is in control, who believe that all that we are and all that we have are the undeserved gifts from God, and that we are all unprofitable servants deserving nothing at all?  How much more to believers must it be obvious that wealth, power or status are rarely products of virtue or righteousness.  That we have no right to anything at all, and that anything we have been given is meant to be shared?  That it is not our task to worry about laws, rulers, taxes, politics, or whether the destitute or the stranger are worthy of help or ought even to be here: Our task is simply to help them.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Bye Bye POTS

Well, we finally exited the analog telephone age.  We cut the figurative cord.  We got rid of our analog voice telephone land line, sometimes referred to as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) from the local AT&T affiliate phone company.  Our vestigal POTS line, which only served our FAX machine (another anolog relic), got "ported" to our Voice Over Internet Protocol telephone provider (Voipo).  No; porting has nothing to do with either Dr. Who or Scotty.  It just means we had Voipo take that phone number from AT&T. The number exists "in the cloud", but the line itself is but a memory.

This is the "end of the line" for POTS service for us.  Whatever would Alex G. Bell think?  He took "binary" telegraph lines and made them analog voice telephone.  Now analog voice lines have gone back to binary (digital).  What goes around, comes around, I guess.

Don't get me wrong, we still have telephones - lots of them.  If you dial us up on our old voice number that we have had for decades, we will probably still answer it on our Voice Over Internet Protocol phone system.  I say "probably" because VOIP is not nearly as reliable as POTS.  There's many a slip twixt VOIP and lip, but it's what we've actually been using for voice service for years now.

Dumping POTS was the phone company's own fault:  AT&T persuaded us several years ago to convert our voice line from POTS to their "Call-Vantage" VOIP phone service because it was cheaper and had more features.  Then AT&T did away with their Call-Vantage service before they had the U-Verse replacement, forcing us to go to another company, never to return.  The phone company shot themselves in the foot on that one. I'd have a hard time imagining they could be that stupid except that Scott Adams, the author of Dilbert, learned about corporate idiocy right there at Pac-Bell.

We still had a POTS line because until recently, our Internet line was via DSL, and the phone company would only provide DSL over a POTS voice line.  You had to have POTS voice service to get DSL.  So, we had a POTS line in order to get internet service, but the POTS line was only connected to a FAX machine.

Then, about a year ago, AT&T did a "mandatory transition" of DSL internet service to "U-Verse" (partial fiber optic) internet.  With U-Verse, they no longer require the POTS line for internet.  We kept the POTS line for a while because it was convenient to have it on the FAX machine, but the cost kept going up.  POTS finally just priced itself out of the market.

So now, if you send us a FAX for some reason (not sure why you would do that, but some people still do) it gets received by Voipo somewhere, converted to a PDF file, and forwarded to us by email.  You won't know the difference, but it's a heck of a lot cheaper for us; we can get your FAX without being home; and those daily junk faxes advertising cruises and recreational pharmaceuticals won't be wasting paper.

It's amazing that FAXes still exist.  The main reasons FAX machines are still used at all is because they are simple to use and relatively secure against hacking.  I'm sure FAXes could be hacked if anyone tried.  Given that our FAX machine is actually a combination printer, scanner, FAX and is connected to the Internet, it would be pretty easy to hack into.  NSA probably has a copy of every FAX sent in the last five years.  But no self respecting pirate hacker would stoop so low as to try to hack into a FAX line.  It would be like a hot rodder souping up a horse and buggy.  Mostly what they'd get would be junk mail faxes anyway, so why bother?

So now, we have obsolete FAX technology, which has been around for over 50 years, still barely clinging to life via internet simulation, but the analog voice POTS line it was designed to function over is gone.

It's a symptom of the passing of an era.  Those of you who tend toward nostalgia for some former age when supposedly things were better may sorrow for the days of wind-up watches, monochrome 12 inch TVs with vacuum tubes you had to replace and only got 7 channels, "simple" cars that got 14 mpg and overheated on the Grapevine, 2 bedroom 1 bath homes that only had one black dial telephone that you rented from the phone company, hand written letters because long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive, wringer washing machines & clothes lines, home sewn clothes with patches, shoe repair shops, typewriters with carbon paper and erasers, getting paper books from the public library, and doing arithmetic with a pencil.  You know, back in the Good Old Days, when people were moral,  politicians were honest and government could be trusted. Yes, that last sentence is just pure fantasy, but I don't mourn for any of the rest of it either. The reason that other stuff is gone is because better stuff replaced it. There were no Good Old Days.  Bye bye POTS.  I won't miss you.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Rooting for Sinners to be Winners

In my life I have rooted for a lot of sinners.  There was OJ Simpson when I was at USC with him, and Reggie Bush long after I'd graduated.  As a cyclist and cycling fan, I rooted for Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie, Dave Zabriskie, that whole gang of doping cyclists.  I never mistook any of them for saints, not even when Reggie Bush became a New Orleans "Saint".  Rooting for athletes is not about thinking they are great examples of moral character.  Usually, it's just because they play for "my team."  Not to classify them with the cheaters, I also root for my children and grandchildren, because they're "my team" too.

Another thing that makes us root for an athlete is that we tend to love a good comeback story, whether it's a comeback from adversity, from injury, from retirement, from cancer, or even from disgrace.  The idea that someone can overcome the obstacles in life gives us hope.  When my wife got cancer and was feeling down about the future, I could say, well, look Lance Armstrong had cancer and he came back to win the Tour de France, so you better start riding your bike so you can too.  Yeah, OK, I got that this was over-optimistic, and yeah, I get that Armstrong cheated to do it, but still, he demonstrated that cancer  is not the end of your life.  That it turns out he cheated doesn't really change that.  It still shows that a cancer survivor can have a great future.  My daughter made her own comebacks from lots of adversity and mistakes of several sorts, which made me root for her all the more.  When Bush and Matt Leinhart (yet another sinner) were 4th down and 9 yards to go on their own 26 with 1:32 left in the game against Notre Dame, and they came back to win against all odds, did they cheat on the "Bush Push" play to score the touchdown?  Probably.  So two sinners colluded to cheat and win, but regardless, that comeback victory (at least from my side of the field) was an inspiring story of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat - of never giving up no matter how bad things looked.  Sinners can be winners too.

I also rooted for other cyclists, who may or may not be "clean" and about whose "saintliness" I know nothing.  I rooted for Greg LeMond.  He claims he alone of all cyclists of the era was the one clean one.  Maybe.  Don't know.  Even if true about that, I don't think he's any saint nor would he claim to be one.  I rooted for Thomas Voeckler and Oscar Pereiro.  Unless you are a cycling fan, you probably don't know who those are, but the inspiring thing about them was their come from behind underdog wins, and their perseverance even when they really could not win. Are they saints?  Doubtful.  Just athletes.  Don't confuse the two.  I rooted for LeMond and Armstrong in part because they popularized "my sport" in this country, which had previously been virtually ignored.  It may now go back to being ignored, which would be sad.  I hope the Amgen Tour of California survives doping.  Lance Armstrong could certainly endorse Amgen's EPO.  Worked for him.

On the other hand, I'm not a great fan of Tim Tebow:  Partly of course because he didn't play for my teams, but also, I think the whole religious athlete thing tends to turn me off just a little.  Maybe it's because it seems too much like a claim to be a saint, and that's somewhere I don't want to go with rooting for athletes.  I don't want to confuse success in athletics as in any way connected with religion.  It's just games.  And let's face it:  John Wooden is not really adored, almost deified at UCLA, because of his moral character:  It's because he won a lot of games.  He may or may not have been a saint, doesn't matter.  He won games for the home team.  While I can find meaning and lessons in athletics  I don't want to confuse morals and religion with athletic success.  Being truly great in anything requires a single minded, exclusive dedication to that pursuit, indeed a "win at all costs" dedication.  Great athletes are just great athletes, not great anything else's.  I don't expect anything else from them.

The other thing about "saints" is, they are just faulty people too.  We are all faulty.  Some may be "less bad" than others, but we are all bad.  Everyone, even saints, will lie to protect themselves, Saint Peter being the obvious example.  Perhaps only Jesus would have forgiven Peter, but only Jesus would have been moral enough not to tell the same lies.  We are all sinners.  There was a "Science File" article in the Los Angeles Times this morning entitled "Like Him, We Are All Liars" (i.e. Like Armstrong).  Sounded more like a sermon title than a science file, but true either way.  Everyone lies.  To say someone is "a liar" is simply to say that they are human: Humans are liars;  All of us.  Even dogs lie (no, no, I wasn't up on that couch, really I wasn't).

This is not a defense of Lance Armstrong.  I never met the guy, and might not like him much as a person if I did know him personally.  He cheated.  He cheated for a long, long time.  From what I hear, he is a rather prickly character (and many might shorten that word).  He rode roughly over a lot of people to keep cheating.  The cheating of Armstrong and others like him have almost destroyed professional cycling.  I'm not actually sure if it can ever come back. Doping cyclists have made cycling seem more like professional wrestling than a real sport.  I can't feel sorry for a multi-millionaire who cheated to get his money.  I don't feel sorry for him at all.  I can sympathize with his predicament, and feel grateful that I never had to confess my sins in front of the world like that, but no, he doesn't even defend his own actions, nor do I.

On the other hand, in baseball, there are admitted drug cheaters on the Hall of Fame ballot.  Football just has to be filled with and fueled by steroids.  In cycling, lots of cyclists got caught cheating, denied it, defended against the accusations, never admitted it or gave evidence against co-conspirators, got two year bans and are back in the sport, so the difference with Armstrong seems to be simply that he was more successful.  Sports have avoided doing a lot of obvious things to clean up the doping problems.  Cycling has actually done more than most sports, but all sports seem to have resisted going beyond their blood and urine testing program which has proven to be worse than useless. The drug testing program appears to be more a shield for cheaters (like Armstrong), who usually don't get caught by it, than a deterrent.  There's more than enough blame to go around.  One could get the impression that most sports authorities would rather not know.  They know how useless their anti-doping programs are, but they don't do much to fix the problem.  The prosecutors and accusers are often as bad in various ways as the cheaters.   None of that excuses Armstrong, and he says that too, but my feelings are often complicated by actually liking some of the cheaters (from my distant televised viewpoint) more than I like some of the accusers.  I think that's because I'm loyal to the sinners I've rooted for.

Would I like to see Armstrong compete again? Yes I would.  Partly because I'd like to see how he can do when really clean.  I get that he himself screwed up his chance to show his ability to complete clean.  It's one of the things he cheated himself out of, but I'm still curious.  Perhaps we saw the answer already in his 2009 and 2010 "comeback," but we don't know, either about Armstrong, or about his competition, and it would be interesting to know that.  What would it mean?  Not much, but it would be fun to watch.   Would I root for him again?  Yes I would. In fact, I'd root for that whole list of sinners and dopers again.  They're my team.  I'm not a "fair weather fan."  I've "bonded" with them.  I don't dump them just because they aren't perfect, any more than I'd quit rooting for my family if they went astray.  It's not about "believing in" an athlete.  Often, their exposed flaws just make them seem more human and sympathetic. Everyone needs redemption.

The thing about rooting for sinners and liking a comeback and redemption is that those are things we all need.  I root for sinners because I am one.  I root for comebacks because I hope for them for myself and my family.  I root for people who have been caught in lies because that could be me.  I root for people who have made mistakes because I've made lots of them.  I root for flawed people in need of redemption because I can identify with them.  I have to believe that sinners can be winners too.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Faking it

I recently received one of those "forward this to all your friends" political rant e-mails, this one (entitled "I'm Tired") claiming to have been written by Bill Cosby, nicely formatted with multiple photos of Cosby spaced through the essay.  I didn't have to read very far before I thought, "This doesn't sound at all like Bill Cosby."  Sure enough, a quick check of Snopes had a link to Cosby's own website totally disavowing the essay and the right-wing views it expressed (Cosby called the views in the essay "ugly").

What amazes me is the number of such e-mail essays there are circulating in cyber-space with opinions mis-attributed to some celebrity who had nothing at all to do with the particular viewpoints.  The ones I get seem to be mostly politically conservative, but I assume if I had a different set of friends there are probably a similar set of such things with a liberal outlook.

What always puzzles me is, who the heck creates all these false emails?  Who goes to all the trouble of making up some elaborately formatted message that lies about who wrote it?

But I still don't quite understand the phenomenon of intentional mis-attribution.  The Snopes article actually tells exactly who wrote the "I'm Tired" essay:  A former Massachusetts state senator named Robert A. Hall.  Actually, I'd think he would be rather annoyed as well to find that his words had been stolen and attributed to someone more famous.

So, someone reads Hall's essay, and thinks:  "Right On! Everyone should read this!"  But instead of passing around a link to it, they think (perhaps correctly) "But gee, no one would pay any attention to it at all because it was written by someone they've never heard of."

So then they think, hmmm, if I make up a story about it having been written by someone famous, people will pay more attention to it.  Now at this point, I'm losing their train of thought.  This essay in the first place was supposedly about old fashioned virtue, hard work, honesty, integrity, self-responsibility, owning your own problems and so forth.  How does that integrity go along with plagiarism and dishonesty about the essay itself?

Doesn't the inconsistency about that kind of blow the whole thing away?  Does this person really think that people will be persuaded about the importance of self-responsibility by being lied to?

I'm just totally amazed that someone would just make that up knowing that it is a complete lie.  I find it hard to comprehend trying to sell ideas through dishonesty.  Used cars, yes.  Vacation time-shares, sure.  Weight-loss aids, yeah: because they are just trying to make money.  But if the idea is to persuade people about virtue and what's right and wrong, no, I don't get lying to do it.  I can't get my mind into the mind-set of lying for that purpose.  I guess I could never be a politician.

I guess what really bothers me about it is that it is basically a slick salesman's trick of a sneaky sales pitch, used to try to trick people into agreeing with a political point of view. ("If Bill Cosby said it, it must be worth thinking about").  If the person doing that really believed that the logic itself was so persuasive, it shouldn't matter who wrote it.  If it requires a fake celebrity endorsement (or even a real celebrity endorsement) to make it credible, maybe it's just not worth repeating.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Letting Go Is The Hard Part

We are starting to clean out my parents' house after my father's death and my mother moving out to assisted living.  Going through things trying to figure out what to keep and what to throw is an emotionally exhausting experience.  Disposing of things that my parents were attached to involves a guilt trip down memory lane.

My cousin went through the similar cleaning out process a couple of years ago.  I helped him relocate his mother.  His mother had already lost her husband and her three older sons (I call my cousin Private Ryan) so she had lots of stuff with emotional attachments.  He said she kept asking him:  "How can we possibly throw THAT away.  His repeated reply was:  "It's easy, Ma.  You pick it up;  Hold it over the trash can; and let go."

Yup, sounds easy.  Pick it up.  Hold it over the trash can.  And just let go. 

Letting go is the hard part.

Each object tugs at the heart.  A material object shouldn't have that much meaning:  It's just a book, a table, a chair, a mirror, a tool, a hat, a ticket, a painting, a marked up calendar.  But we remember them using it, making it maybe, treasuring it.  It connects us to them, the memories, the events, our childhood, the things they did, the way they lived, the things that in part made them who they were.  It was a book they read, maybe even read to us.  It is a tool they used to make things for us.  It is the table we sat around with them.  It is the mirror she got as a wedding present.  It is the ticket to that big event in their lives that they talked about for so many years afterwards.  It is hard to let go of the objects that connect to those memories.

There's also the feeling that this stuff doesn't belong to me.  It isn't mine.  It's theirs.  They wanted it.  They kept it.  It feels like I am messing with someone else's personal and private possessions.  Part of the problem is coming to terms with the reality that they are no longer there.  My father is gone.  My mother is alive, but has moved;  moved out; perhaps moved on. Neither of them, in different ways, could take it with them. The stuff is no longer theirs. They had to let go of it.  So so do we.  Letting go is hard.

It is not just my own mementos I am disposing of:  It is my parents' mementos, or their parents', or even their grandparents'.  Some of those of course are truly precious and will be saved.  But there are so many more than can possibly be saved, that we just HAVE to get rid of.  We can only hold onto a few things.  Most of it, we just have to let go of.

To some extent letting go of the objects means letting go of the people.  Sure, people are more than their possessions, but they cannot be entirely separated from the objects they spent a great deal of their lives working for, working with, creating, accumulating and caring about:  Their collections, their hobbies, the home they built, not only figuratively, but half the house my father indeed literally built, by himself.  The plants they so carefully tended and nurtured.  The things they used.  The way they lived. It means recognizing that is all over.  Gone.  Done with.  Finished.  They don't need them any more, because they are not there any more.  That is hard to accept.  Hard to let go of.

We learn early on that honoring our parents means doing what they have taught us to do, even if they are not there to supervise us directly.  Our "conscience" is really just the conditioning they give us that makes us feel what is right and wrong without them having to tell us.  We know what they would say; what they would do; what they valued. To devalue what they valued means letting go of some of that conditioning.  It means consciously doing what we know they would not, did not, could not do.  It requires going against a part of the way they lived and how they trained us.

Letting go involves recognizing that we are not our parents.  We do not live their lives.  What they valued was what was a part of their lives.  Although much of them lives on in us, the possessions that were important to their lives are not what is important to our lives.  Our lives are different.  Times change.  Needs change.  Places change.  People change.  The things we need now are not the same things they needed then.  The lives they lived are past.  We have to let go.

It is not just about letting go of the objects, but about coming to terms with the reality that dead or alive, that part of their lives, and that part of our lives, is over.  Those possessions that used to be important to them are no longer important to them.  They did let go of that stuff, in one way or another, but left it where it was.  Now, we have to pick it up, carry it out, and let go of it.  Letting go is the hard part.