After the game,…

After the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box. -Italian proverb

This is perhaps my favorite quote. It has a depth of meaning and summarizes some key parts of humans and society.

Several thoughts emerge from this proverb. An obvious one is that death is the grand equalizer. We do not get to take our status to the afterlife, like the Pharaohs; in contrast, the material goods we accumulate no longer matter, and thus all men die a pauper.

Another metaphor is the game itself. When pieces are placed on certain squares and rules are agreed upon, pieces gain power that they do not have prior and will not have afterwards. I see this as representing the artificial nature of life. The pawn will be less powerful than the queen, not because of merit, but because of initial status. Though chess speaks of a feudal society, it is easy to figure out who the kings, the rooks, and the pawns are in the modern era. The piece you are is a product of birth.

Now this has become less relevant in post-feudal societies, as social mobility does indeed happen. The inflexibility of the social fabric, however, remains.

Chess is also a game of inevitability. Pieces will be captured and removed, tactics will be employed, and the game will be won, lost, or drawn. When the game ends, no matter what, all distinctions end. Pieces are valued through a social agreement on what chess is and what it is not. Whether captured or remaining at the end, all things become equal once again.

If one is to perhaps over-interpret the quote (which I totally like to do), it is not just about class. Chess is a game of opposite colors; these colors are vitally important during the game. Afterwards, black and white pieces end up in the same box as well.

This proverb strikes me because it establishes a deep equality among humans. Politics, religion, sport, and the media all create distinctions and divide power in particular ways. But the power one wields is a product of social agreement (or forced acceptance) does not end forever.

The Game of Thrones television series has popularized many aspects of the book series, in particular a phrase that is very important to a select group of people. Spoken in an important but dead language, “valar morghulis means All men must die. No matter what, all beings must accept this.

Why do I still have to do this?

Several weeks ago, there was a small protest against Guantanamo Bay and indefinite detention in Palo Alto, near where I live. From what I could ascertain, it was mostly high school students who belong to an Amnesty International club, but the invitation was posted publicly. I showed up to offer support.

I ran into David, who was a key member in Occupy San Jose in the fall and winter of 2011. He spends much of his time counter-recruiting- going to schools and instead of convincing students to join the military, he encourages them to consider education and vocational training instead.. Because of the pressures of that job he’s a rare combination- both nice and completely impervious to any kind of threat or intimidation. It was nice to see him. He handed me a spare sign he had and we talked on the corner.

Another man, likely in his sixties, carried a pole topped with a cardboard cutout of a Guantanamo prisoner in cuffs and a black bag over their head. Listed beside were a series of government officials responsible for the prison and other war crimes. He and David had a conversation, where he said something rather profound.

“I can’t believe I still have to do this.”

Continue reading “Why do I still have to do this?”

Jesus of Nazareth: the first occupier

In the present day, American politics has become deeply entangled confluence with materialist, grand-scale Protestantism. To great aggravation, Christianity has been tied not only to constitutional self-governance (as this recent best-selling painting shows in a way that strongly resembles parody), but the laissez-faire economic system that has segregated its people and eroded liberty over the past two centuries. It has been used to argue for capital punishment, and for centuries has been used to create the idea of “just war”

The issue is that Jesus was not a fan of exploitative commerce. In fact, he led the first occupation- he was the founder of Occupy Jerusalem. In the gospels, he enters the Temple of Jerusalem, where commerce has defiled the holy place. He takes those around him to task, and uses the popular support for his actions to defy authority.

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves (Mark 11:15)

Later Jesus calls the Temple he cleared a “den of robbers” (Mark 11:17)

 

Jesus occupies the Temple

 

We can all learn from the example of Jesus. The idea of commerce and profit-making entering a place of worship is cringe-worthy- and indeed I have a visceral reaction when I read about megachurches with cafés and merchandise stores. But even if you’re mostly secular like me- there is something that you think should not be messed with; something that must remain pure and not tainted by money. It could be anything from politics to college sports; from education to healthcare. You probably know of some money changers you’d like to drive out.

And that’s really what Occupy is all about. Driving away the money changers, and improving society rather than let profit dominate over people.

Paul Ryan: Catholic When Convenient

In a 2012 presidential campaign marked by vague promises regarding domestic and foreign policy, August 11th was a day that put ideas front and center. The selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate brought a man with a strong, clear ideology into the mix. Whereas Romney has distanced himself from the work he did as an elected official, Ryan stands proud of over a decade of policy proposals and a radical vision for reshaping American institutions.

One of the most interesting parts of Ryan is the disconnect between the teachings of his Catholic faith, and the political and economic ideology he has developed. Firstly, let’s go over Ryan’s positions, and then the considerable criticism from Catholic circles.

Continue reading “Paul Ryan: Catholic When Convenient”

Writing group at UUCPA

I participated in the writing group facilitated by Rev. Dan Harper, head of the religious education at UUCPA. It was nice to hear memoir content from people decades my elder, including one who served in World War II. In response to the prompt about a ‘road trip’, I wrote a short reflection called ‘Handa’ about my trip to my ancestral town in Highland Scotland.

I’ll upload it when I’ve had time to type it out. It’s not presently very legible.

Dan also had the idea of collecting the group’s work into some sort of booklet. I am definitely interested, though this was my first time participating in the group and I know much less about the concept.

 

The First Meditation: Benedictine Catholicism

I’m beginning a series of five meditations, each starting with a quote from a figure of a certain world faith.

I’ll start with Benedictine Catholicism, which was ever-present in my high school. The quote used I heard perhaps a hundred times in my time there.

 

“Always we begin again.” – Saint Benedict


Every beginning is an end. A person ceases to conduct matters one way and pursues another avenue. Life on Earth springs forth from that which has died before. It is important at these junctures- beginning and end, young and old, naive and experienced, foolish and wise- to figure out how the previous period had been a success, and also how it had been a failure. Since one begins a beginning, so to speak, with a clean slate, it is best not to sully it with the mistakes of the past. The future need not be a repeat of that which came before- but only if the reflection in the present moment is deep, honest, and the person engaging with their self truly seeks change- if they wish to have a dynamic self tied to growth, rather than a static self tied to entropy.

  Continue reading “The First Meditation: Benedictine Catholicism”

On the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism

I don’t know them. I know what they generally entail, having heard sermons and read them. But I don’t know them, can’t recite them, don’t know what #4 says versus #5.

In some ways this reminds me of the fact that sixty percent of Americans, which has a majority Christian population, can’t name half of the Ten Commandments. Also a fun fact

50% of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were married.

Does my ignorance of what the exact definition of the seven principles make me the same as a Christian who can’t name the four gospels, or a Jew or Catholic who can’t name most of their own versions of the Ten Commandments? It’s an open question.

But the sixty percent statistic also has another side- that people from non Judeo-Christian backgrounds are likely equally if not more ignorant of teachings within Judaism and Christianity- or their own faiths. The crossover of people of one faith being ignorant of another is something I’d like to say I at least beat the spread on. I for instance, can name half of the Ten Commandments: kill, steal, parents, wife, goods, monotheism, graven images. That adds up, if we include the fact that some of that is often merged, we get to at least five.

So while I don’t know the seven principles particularly well, I do consider myself decently aware of other religions. Zoroastrianism is a term I get at some level. Jainism and Shinto are schools of thought I have some knowledge of. I took a year of Hebrew and Christian scriptures, as well as a year of world religions in secondary school. While I haven’t read in full a major religious text,I do have most of the Gita and parts of the Old and New Testament under my belt. I often flirt with having a minor in religion just to get to read more relevant texts- I prefer it to traditional philosophy, which I find much denser.

So I submit to the public- it’s not really important that you’ve got your own creed backwards and forwards, the key is to be well-versed in other creeds. For it’s not the lack of knowledge of what we believe that causes conflict- most often it is the lack of knowledge of what others believe. I think much of that is self-evident in the current conflict between Islamic governments and the secular/Judeo-Christian West- mutual intelligibility. Which is interesting in an of itself that most of the conflict is between countries with Abrahamic backgrounds- but I would compare it to bringing Julius Caeser back from the dead to talk to a modern day Latin professor. They both speak ostensibly similar things, but it is likely they would have serious issues understanding one another.