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“Dishes thou art, to dishes returnest”

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Recommended to listen to while reading

There ain’t never been a more patriotic act for volunteers than dishwashing. The whole history of dish washing is simple and easy for anyone and everyone to comprehend. From the Dawn of time, cavemen ate off of bone plates and drank from seashells. Apparently, legend has it, there were no recycling bins; the term “renewable resource” wasn’t the buzzword it is now. There were no bone or shell recycling plants yet for little Jimmy Grotto to partake in school-wide recycling challenges. And so, the origin of dishwashing came about from the lack environmental awareness of our monkey-ancestors.

               To this day, the art of dishwashing has been passed from some of the field’s greatest. Jesus Christ is most notable; the Bible botched the account of whose feet, or rather what chalice, he was washing that one Passover night. (You can’t say that Jesus didn’t help clean up after the Sadr Supper; it wasn’t kosher to eat and run.) Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto was really a call for the laborers to become more in touch with their roots, that is, dishwashing. Back in the day, supply and demand had obviously not existed, and there was no need for clean dishes. But during the second week of Genesis’ creation story, Adam had to address a more serious issue than original sin; the huge stack of dishes on their kitchen sink.

In his Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffet must’ve had quite a few empty glasses to clean up after that extravaganza. We can only infer that this lyrical genius was pointing to something greater in his songs. That is, the consequences of drinking out of glassware meant that glasses needed to be cleaned. In a not so similar way, Ghandi was known for his fasting. However, this did not mean he was exempt from cleaning up after others if not himself. Taoism’s unknown founder was a dishwasher. And on that note, anyone who has ever eaten a meal at some point in their life has encountered the dish dilemma: Do I clean these dishes or do I slip out the back and run?

The universality of this most sacred (in terms of health) tradition is something to marvel at. In partaking in this elementary act, one gains powerful insight to the greater cosmos of dishwashers. So when I was asked to deviate from my usual service by my superiors to do kitchen duty, I answered the call. Did I know what I was getting into? I sure as hell did! Dishwashing, if it has not been built up already, is the one act that I can string through my past, present, and most-hopefully future acts of service. There’s something rejuvenating about sticking your hands in scalding hot water for the greater glory of sanitization.

And by the way, there’s a reason why there are only men mentioned as some of the mythic heroes of dishwashing. At some point in time, the world became skewed. Somehow, the world’s reflection of itself portrays women performing women work. Today, in a very sexist manner, women are stereotyped as members of Occupy Kitchen. I would like to make a personal testimony that I have bled over dishwashing (quite literally) and find the task to be daunting for the rookies of the trade, male or female.[i] After the first few encounters, one can quickly calculate how many hours x a stack standing at y height will take with z washers.

So there was no surprise on my side when I walked into Mercy Neighborhood Ministries’ kitchen and stared down about an hour’s worth of dishwashing. Ms. Antoinette quickly recognized that I was no newbie when it came to dishwashing. Lessons on how to use an industrial-sized dishwasher are for suckers. By the end of it all, I had those dishes shining like the high-end dishes at the fine dining restaurant I work at back home. It’s inevitable. It’s one’s duty. “Do your dharma” is commonly used phrase in Eastern religions. It means “do your duty.” Do your dishes.

[i] The level of stress a volunteer dishwasher takes on in one load of 2.5 hours’ worth of dishes can take its toll. When I was asked with several other volunteers to do evening dishes in addition to morning dishes, the sight wasn’t pretty. About 30 minutes in, we found ourselves dazed in a mirage of soap n’ bubbles as if we were taking on some task like crossing the Nairobi Desert. In a heroic, maybe more so sporadic, attempt to cheer up one of my fellow volunteers in our grudging work, I blindly grabbed a wet knife fresh from the dishwasher machine. My plan was to emphatically stab the knife into the rubber carton that the cutlery was cleansed in as I shouted a “this is Sparta” line. Let’s just say in this not-so-bright moment, chaos got the better of me as the oddly-shaped cheese knife slid up out of my grip, and through my pinky finger. No cutlery was harmed in this scene. No blood was spilt either, so all health freaks, calm down. (We even ran that batch of silverware back through the washer.)

 

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Written by Jack Viere

March 22, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Map vs. GPS

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Today, there’s a readiness and willingness to accept information from machines at face value with no discernment. Technology is just a machine, a computer at best. There’s no human judgement values, personal experiences, or wisdom in technology. Specifically, GPS’s are not really giving you an actual destination. It’s a computer that is taking you from point A to point B in the GPS’s system. A simple equation. (We use to be able to solve it with a thing called a map.) The problem arises from our believing that the GPS is really depicting an actual, tangible place. It has the undetectable illusion that is presenting the driver with a real place by showing qualities of the destination. Just because a computer can intake data and spit it back out to the user does not mean it discerns like a human mind.

Google has the ability to run specific search engines that evolve regularly due to its tracking bugs that automatically find new data to intake.  A person had to preprogram the logarithm for that bug to have the illusion of working self-sufficiently. Technology is the extension of human discernment that is propelled by our seeming growing need for convenience. Technology is NOT its own entity that should outweigh or completely for stomp out the individual’s ability to make decisions, especially those affecting him or herself.

I felt motivated to write out the above reflection as a reply to a classmate’s self-righteous exclamation: “Do you even know how to use a map?” Directed at my professor, I couldn’t help but smirk at his idea that maps are already outdated. Maybe they are, but I thought it was quite the assumption to make. Anyways, to me, it sounded like someone saying, “Don’t you know that 2+2=4?” to a college professor. Of course it was said with the tone inclining some sort of rhetorical question. Our professor said he preferred maps over GPS’s; I concurred at which the classmate proceeded to say that maps are susceptible to being outdated. I don’t think you need Garmin and MapQuest to tell you that, buddy. I think the cartographers  back in the day were well aware of the fact their product was susceptible to change when new information and details were procured from further research. On reflection, this gradual process of receiving and editing new data seems more plausible (in my opinion) than the GPS saying, “Turn left now,” leading you into a ravine, which (I’d argue) most people would do as they have their heads down, texting away on their iPhone 4s’s. When the smoke clears, and we crawl out of the ditch, we would then proceed to say, “Stupid GPS! It did not update itself!”

So basically that argument is whether you trust a map that will become outdated or you trust a voice on a GPS. That’s really not my point because it boils down to preference. (I don’t think a map has ever misled its user into a ditch though…even if the roads are rerouted, we don’t follow the road as intently as a GPS, hunched over, waiting for Mr. Australian Accent to lead us to the next point within the list of directions.)

My point is to question why or how do we find ourselves so ready to accept information from technology. Why do we have a desire to let things take control (like machines) as we sit back and take the passenger seat? Is it really out of convenience? If it is, how are we any better than animals if our rationale is only to make our life more convenience? (Medicine, machines, weapons, computers-making everything a little easier for us, allowing everyone to take the passenger seat and let technology take us for a spin.)

I think Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity all point to being in control of one’s own actions and one’s own mind.

Buddhism: the Eightfold Path has a few points worth mentioning. Falling under a broader category of Mental Development, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration all speak of  self-control. There’s really no presence of those three in our lifestyle when we take the backseat with technology.

Hinduism: the Eight Limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga; I’ve been reading a lot into this in one of my courses. Pratyahara, control of the senses. Dharana, concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness. We might be shutting down our senses (and survival skills at that) when we choose to allow technology dominate our decision-making. We really have no shot of cultivating any type of awareness, more or less the inner perceptual kind that many faiths shoot for.

Christianity: this could prove to be a little more difficult since there aren’t many lists in mainstream Christianity. I’d point out that in the Catholic context (which has many a good list) the Seven Deadly Sins has a little something-something called sloth and gluttony. While that may be a bit extreme in the instance of the GPS, taking the back seat in faith (which is a part of every day life, even when we choose to make it not,) is still letting other people”’ and other things do our work.

On a final note, in summarizing, I don’t think technology is wrong at all; that’d be to argue that all the scientific advances (like medicine-that does fall under that category) were for the worse. Absurd. But in the field of something like medicine, it’s not the meds that are making advances on its own. Its the researches, scientists, and physicians that propel medicinal advances.

So why, then, do we take the back seat?

Written by Jack Viere

November 16, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Service as Duty? What the Hell?

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Wait. What? Service is a duty that we as human beings, social creatures,are supposed to perform? Get out of here! I want my Facebook! I worked hard inthis capitalistic society. I ain’t giving nothing away to nobody that ain’tearned it. I don’t care if it’s my time, my prayers, or money. I sure as hellain’t giving freebies away.
               Immanuel Kantstrings his metaphysics through Christianity’s New Testament teachings. “Thisvirtue is greater when the benefactor’s means are limited and he is strongenough quietly to take on himself the hardship he spares the other; then he isreally to be considered morally rich.”[1] Thisclearly originates from Mark’s Gospel of the widow’s offering.[2] Fromthis mixture of metaphysics and theology, Western society is heavily predisposedtowards a distanced relationship with others. Nevertheless, whether it isthrough daily interactions, service, or familial relationships. We have duties.To others.
               Today. We haveJesus as God on earth doing the impossible; loving one another as I have lovedyou, turning the other cheek. Saints are those individuals that aim for thatinverted, unworldly perfection.
Language is a powerful, manipulativetool in both the philosophical and theological arenas.[3] Languagehas created this everlasting Schism over good works as means for salvation,which is to suggest the profundity of the Saints is dulled. Still, somewherealong the way, we become caught up that we all can’t be Saints. Similarly, worksas the pinnacle aspect to our very being, our purpose or goal in life, issomehow bogged down by this Schism. What we get today is some watered-down versionof what coincidentally happens to be the Corporal Works of Mercy; done out ofthe sake of our…for our…
Our what? Our Christian-human nature? No.Christians cannot even agree on whether the implicit biblical language that stressesour human nature is to serve others through works or to be some sort of resultfrom that very nature.
               But wait. Oh,there happens to be this other half of the world called the East. And what isthat one Jewel of three called in Buddhism? Dharma is it? Transliterated asduty? And there happens to be six qualities of it too! The first being: Svakkhato. “The Dharmais not a speculative philosophy, but is the Universal Law found throughenlightenment and is preached precisely.” (Thanks Wikipedia!) Is this to saythere is no gray area in what’s to be done in the Buddhist tradition?[4] There’s noastonishment in duty being part of our nature when it’s esteemed as theUniversal Law. 
               Yet, I could sit here and drawparallels between Buddhism’s interpretation of dharma as well as Hinduism’s; the Tao Te Ching, Christianity’s Beatitudes-allof which are interchangeable for what is to be seen as life’s duty (or a guidefor it.) It’s no mere coincidence that world religions share similarities onthe emphasis of duty. What’s irksome, though, is philosophy’s-particularlyWestern philosophy as seen through Kant’s metaphysics-assertion to rationalizeour duty when all along it’s within the very essence of our being. Not to takephilosophy out of its historical context, as it seems to be so often in orderto continue being dubbed meritorious in modern times, but the emotionalrelationship that the religions listed above (and others) foster existed longbefore metaphysics enabled the world to empirically understand human nature.
               I don’t know why it is incrediblydifficult for humans to grasp that our essence implies “relationship” as ourdistinguishing feature. (Distinguishing us from animals with that rationale wepossess and so many philosophers like to draw out as profound.) Where does onehuman come from? The sexual relationship of twoother human beings. And while hermits intentionally deny themselves topartake in that inherent, rudimentary distinguishing feature-that is to say therelationship-mass society liveseither in harmony, disharmony, or an amalgamation of both. I heard thatmorality is the balance of the relationships shared in a community. Morals arethe pillars that uphold society. This is to say morals are a measurement of thegravity of relationships (e.g., a stronger communal support for morals impliesa more united community.) From our relationships derive our world; we eitherchoose to establish and nurture our relationships or to cripple and damagethem.
Therefore, morality, the same found within world religions,implicates we have a duty to others. We can call this service, we can call itlove. Language of today suggests that what we now deem as charity, thismindless, almost worthless giving of financial aid, is of lesser value.[5] (Lesser whencompared to social justice enacted through service.) Language of yesterdaysuggests that charity comes from the Latin word caritas, and as any Christian might get giddy over, caritas derives from Greek’s agape. What we know about agape in the Christian sense is that it’sdefined as love of fellow man.[6]
Social justice. We can similarly use language to tracejustice to iustus, which we can breakdown to ius, meaning law. What Ireally like about this etymology-dictionary site I am using as a point of referenceis that it takes ius a step furtherto ious. “‘Sacred formula’…thatoriginated in the religious cults.”[7] Here we arepresented with several points I would like to emphasize. Some circles,particularly theocracies, enact certain morals as laws. Second, this etymologyemphasizes the bridged gap between human nature and morality with religion. Itis no mere coincidence that Kant intertwined beneficence with the widow and thecoin.
Nonetheless, the misinterpretation of charity of today (Imentioned above,) is incorrectly separated from social justice. Themisinterpretation itself is enough grounds to suggest that the truer sense of charityalone holds more value than the misconception of this sort of aimless giving.But the fact that social justice has roots in this concept of sanctity can befurther driven by charity’s truer meaning of love of fellow man. Social justiceis charity. Charity is social justice. Because human nature, emphasized bymorals, is to foster a relationship with others, both charity and socialjustice combined are to be seen as an intrinsic duty.  
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[1]Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals. Mary Gregor, trans. (New York:Cambridge, 1991.)
[2] 41 Jesussat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowdputting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in largeamounts. 42But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.43 Calling his disciples to him,Jesus said, “Itell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all theothers. 44 They all gave out of theirwealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had tolive on.” (Mark 12:41-44.)
[3]If I might add, I personally findtheological language more focalized and straightforward than philosophicaljargon. Here’s why. Theology aims to explain nature in a way for believers tounderstand and follow. Philosophy is a constant dialogue that is questioningnature’s qualities. Both, however, evolve from inner circles of either faith orreason that propel their explanations forward. Theology’s objectivity differsfrom philosophy’s in that faith enables for a more accepting reception ofevolution because it happens more rarely. Philosophy cannot be pinpointed byits believers and subscribers because it is often subject to change.
[4] Yet, there still are divisions in Buddhism.
[5] My classmates made this distinction when the wordsCHARITY and JUSTICE were written on the whiteboard. Charity became thisseasonal tithing during the holiday season; lowered to a sense of tangible giving.Justice was therefore elevated to the only giving (of time) of value.

Written by Jack Viere

October 29, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Hell No! I Ain’t Gonna Do That

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AH HELL NO

I feel like the last entries on myexperiences at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries have been abstract. At least,after today’s experience, I can now say that all my past reflections revolvearound emotions. My emotions shared through my relationships with members atMNM appeared to be pinnacle of my experience in this ‘gig’ called servicelearning. Up until today, I thought I had reached this experience-this end ofthe line, you cannot go any further ideal. I felt comfortable and accepted inmy new environment, I thought I was making somewhat of an impact on the peopleI was around, and I was likewise impacted by my experiences at service.
               Inwriting, I feel like using the ultimate phrase “I thought I had seeneverything” puts a cap on what you can follow up with your next essay. Hence, Ihate to use it when I am writing several periodic essays, like service learning;unless, however, I can see the end of writing on that one topic (which I cannotwith service learning.) I am making an exception today with that self-maderule.
The Technique
               I thoughtI had seen everything at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries. Easing into my routine,I found pleasure from the growth of my relationships. For anyone who might seeMNM or any type of time-with-others service as secondary to physical labor, youreally have not had the pleasure of piecing puzzles together. I was reallyenjoying this Zen-like trance I could enter into when I was around Ms. Shirleyas she told me about the rights and wrongs of society. Today she went on aboutthis newspaper article from the PhiladelphiaInquirer that I read to her. A seventy-two year old man shot his forty-twoyear old neighbor when the police did not arrive after he phoned in hiscomplaint. Ms. Shirley did not like that one bit; consequently, I listened toall the wrongs the world experiences. Her least favorite crime was apparentlyrobbery as she repeatedly mentioned how jewelry shops happen to be robbed whenpeople need money.   
               Butsomething happened today that I was not expecting. I was just starting to settleinto my newly formed comfort bubble. It was massage day. I admit that the firstthing that crossed my mind was, “Oh great, I really could use one for my soreshoulders,” as I imagined a massage-circle form; everyone was included. Nope. Icould not have been any more wrong. As service learners, we somehow became parttime masseuses. Gloves did not serve as a recompense for this odd, seeminglyout of place activity.
My mind split over what happenednext. Half of me thought this was incredibly weird, for lack of a better term,to just randomly start giving someone I knew for less than a month a massage.Massages are intimate. And after a certain age, when one reaches some level ofmaturity, you do not randomly line up for massages as teens do at summer campsand sleep overs. So I felt a little out of place for two reasons when it wassprung on us to get gloves and cocoa butter; the immediate intimacy and my precedentabout massages.
The Product
My second, more grounded half thoughtthat this was the epitome of service learning. Intimacy. My mind drifted to thecleansing of feet in Catholic tradition from John 13’s Gospel. “Afterthat, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet,drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13: 5.)In the recent past, when I volunteered at Camp Holiday Trails back home inVirginia, I could easily draw biblical parallels to my service. Now, for somereason, I find it border-line hokey to draw out those parallels. Maybe it isthe result of too many comparative religion courses that have opened my eyes tosee that Christianity is not the sole mission-oriented faith. It could also bethe consequence of returning to a heavily Catholic-dominated student populationthat helps facilitate the above misconception I have/had; I feel like I playdevil’s advocate too often when I hear the Bible being thrown around like sometextbook reference everyone knows.
Yet, as I rubbed the lotion into Ms. Gladys’ gnarled hands,I connected to something more than skin deep. I could see actual pain in herhands. And while the concepts of emotions and relationships are not tangible,(yet, both their objects are,) I found that physicality permeated the remainingdistance between me as “servicer” and my “service.” The emotions create,nourish, and hinder the relationship which is then escalated to an incrediblyintimate level. Even in the simplest act of a hand massage. Just to pull somenon-Christian connections into this deeper formof service; I think of yoga’s notion within the word yoga: its literal definition is “yoking.” I see that two sets ofemotions are yoked together through physical touch to form a deeperrelationship. Similarly, isn’t the term islamtransliterated as submission? Maybe it is a stretch to connect that withhumility-both of which I needed in order to massage Ms. Gladys. Confucianism:deep respect for elders.

  

I do not know how, since I had gloves on, the scent ofcocoa butter lingers as I type this. I admit again that I am still shaken upfrom the forced portion of me having to suddenly perform physical service.Nevertheless, it was a learning experience that I am continuing to think abouteach time I catch a waft of lotion.   

Written by Jack Viere

October 11, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Paul and Puzzles: What is it about Lucky Charms?

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   Everyone must feel selfish after having breakfast. I cannot wake up before eight o’clock (thank you university-lifestyle) with a smile on my face. Nothing beats having to taste the remnants of last night’s late night snack on the hard-to-reach part of your tongue. As sour as that flavor might be, I always feel even more bitter; hating that I have to wake up before eight one day out of the week.

   Yet, when I finally dragged myself to the buzzing cafeteria, even after ignoring the over-looming reality that lots of other people are up at this hour, I found solace in a good bowl of Lucky Charms. As another rainbow marshmallow found my lips, I can’t help but think: you selfish bastard! I wake up early to go to Service Learning. This isn’t about me. Well, it is actually. The Jesuit slogan for community service states ‘for and with others’; implying that someone has to be there in order for the preposition with to grammatically work. Service doesn’t work if my body shows up and I’m not there there. Somehow the Lucky Charms fuel me with my passion that brought me to SJU to serve.
   Again, like the last post suggested, I can’t help but see my new home in west Philadelphia with a new set of eyes when I get behind the wheel of a Ford Focus. Traffic somehow snapped my college-oriented mind back to a real world setting. The radio has the similar effect when everyone has PCs or Macs to blare their own tunes off of; no one possesses a transistor radio, and no, the speakers that iPods plug into do not have FM or AM radio. They are strictly car -a symbol of autonomy- items. I chatted with my service partners that it was yet another gray day as we headed into north Philly. 
  We reached Mercy Neighborhood Ministries with five minutes to spare; I casually weaved in and out of traffic to avoid causing a bad first (second) impression. Something changed this second time we parked. I, for one, was not panicking over the MapQuest directions that were off by half a block. This allowed for a better look. What I found was that the lighting changed. It was not the actual light, for the sun was covered by a thick blanket of ominous clouds. It was more of PhotoShop effect in which someone must have toggled with the sepia and cyan tones. (Try it to catch my meaning!) I didn’t feel foreign to my surroundings which could no longer be classified as “new.”
   On entering, we received the same cheerful ‘good morning!’ from the receptionist as last time. Our arrival time happened to be, and will continue being an awkward time between breakfast and the morning’s first activity. There was a lot of shuffling of feet as we seemed to be “thrown to the wolves”; two individuals sat at different tables with a staff member. One of my fellow service members went to the lady on our right while by default I found myself entering a conversation between Paul and Kim. 
   “Hey Kiiimmm!” a voice croaked. 
   “What Paul?” returned a tired voice. It was only 9:05 and cloudy. Yet Kim was wearing sunglasses inside the building.
   “Why are you wearing sunglasses already, Kim. There’s no sun in here,” Paul nagged; a grin hiding behind his pursed lips. 
   “I told you already. I’m taking medication for my ulcer.”
   I chimed in, “Ulcer, that ain’t no fun.” Kim proceeded to explain that her medications had to be taken once every hour (including the night) and a separate pain killer twice a day for the ulcer in/on her eye. Sheesh! Not only did Kim’s sickness explain her preposterous idea of wearing sunglasses inside, but it also set an incredibly high standard for us three new service volunteers. If Kim could come to work under such miserable circumstances, there was no way I could ever come half-assed and not ready to participate in the activities. 
   I couldn’t stop smiling as Paul wanted to pick a fight with Kim if she didn’t make his coffee right and the way he yelled out after staff members as they came and went from the cafeteria. However old  Paul was,  he would not let my smiling and snickering go unnoticed. 
   “What’s so funny? Stop following me with that big goofy smile!” 
Shiva Linga (the black stone represents the godhead of Shiva,
also known as Nirguna Brahman-God in the abstract form.
Shares similarities with the Christian Holy Spirit.)
A further explanation can be found here.
   We eventually found ourselves in the activities room. Other members sat around the TV as Ms. Barbara started to lead current events and gave the weather. The activity that followed hit a soft spiritual spot within me. In the middle of the circle was a plant with a tall vase of water. Libations. Ms. Barbara asked if anyone knew what libations were. The thought that came to my mind was a Hindu process of worship called Shiva Linga in which devotees pour liquids over a sacred rock. 
  While we individually poured a little water into the plant, we spoke a name of one of our deceased ancestors. This simple ritual was followed by the lighting of incense. Using a feather, Ms. Barbara wafted the smoke towards us. Cleansing, as I have learned from my participation in a Lakota sweat lodge earlier this summer, smoke has several uses in Native American practices. It was moving, to say the least, to be in Philadelphia and have a strong recollection of being in Virginia in a sweat lodge. Coincidentally, one of the aspects in sweating and in Lakota traditions is a respect for the elderly. Among the members at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries (MNM), I felt close to God in that quick instance. 
   The other woman we first encountered in the cafeteria was named Shirley. She picked me to be her “tutor.” Ms. Barbara explained to us in our last visit what that title entails for the day. Shirley was illiterate until a year ago in which she learned the alphabet, spelling, and reading. Her tutor would continue helping her learn how to spell and read. I had no idea at what level she would be writing or reading, but when we began to write letters that would be sent to a former employee at MNM, I was blown away at her capacity to write as if she was literate from an early age. I could only think about how a commonly held belief today is that the brain is a sponge. And somewhere after a few years from birth, the sponge dries up and it becomes difficult to learn at the same quick rate as a developing child. Working with kids at summer camp throughout high school, I have no doubt seen that sponge effect work. It’s incredible. Yet I was stunned to watch this woman write so simplistically. I was humbled. 
   But not humbled enough. Puzzles: one of the activities closely related to Bingo as one of the elderly’s activities. Shirley wanted to work on her 300 piece Under the Sea puzzle which was vibrant with two octopi, a crab, and clown fish that she dubbed “Nemo.” Talk about a lesson in patience. She worked twice as fast as I did putting pieces together at a rate I could never keep up with. I ripped through the box looking for matching colors. I thought that would help until I realized there were two octopi…I really didn’t want to separate the two. I felt waves of stress crashing over me as the decisions of where to start looking to put pieces together, what went with what, and how dumb I must’ve looked to Shirley began to fill my head. 
  Time for us to go. ‘Phew’ was all I could think. Puzzle solving had me worked up. And before I knew it, goodbyes were exchanged, my service partners and I were back in the car, and I found myself in our own cafeteria eating another bowl of Lucky Charms for lunch, watching how the marshmallows connected as they floated on top of the milk. Like a puzzle… 

Written by Jack Viere

September 29, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Multiplicity vs. Polytheism

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One of the common things we tend to do today is interchange multiplicity with polytheism. Especially when dealing with Hinduism, we tend to think of the 330 billion deities as a form of polytheism. However, upon taking a course on Hinduism, I learned a new term that explains for a vast array of deities ranging from male to female, elephant-headed to six headed, and destroyer to preserver: multiplicity. Dictionary.com does a fairly decent job at defining the term; the state of being multiple. How does this vary from polytheism? How does this apply to Christianity?


Kali

 A wide approach to address Hinduism’s use of the term multiplicity is to look at the Six Aspects of Our World. In short they are: We live in 1) A multiple world that includes galaxies, tiers, and cylces, 2) a moral world in which karma is inexorable, 3) a middling world that will never replace paradise as the spirit’s destination, 4) a world in which maya exists, 5) a gymnasium for developing spiritual capacities i.e. “a vale for soul-making”, and finally 6) a world in which lila, the play of the divine in its cosmic dance, exists. (Huston Smith, Illustrated World’s Religions.) The immediate reason for displaying these six aspects is to point out that the fundamental message of Hinduism’s perception of our world, while it was founded in the East well before Abram and Sarai were renamed as Abraham and Sarah, holds many of Christianity’s similar perceptions. But simply put by Professor Jeaneane Fowler of the University of Wales College: “The relationship between the many manifest deities and the unmanifest Brahman is rather like that between the sun and its rays. We cannot experience the sun itself but we can experience its rays and the qualities, which those rays have.” Brahman would be the equivalent of the Trinity complete, all Three in One would compose Brahman. However, broken down into three parts, equivalent to the Trinity’s Three Persons, Brahma is the deity associated as Creator, Vishnu as Preserver, and Shiva as Destroyer. I would personally argue that within these three deities, the remaining 330 billion (minus three) deities originate. How is that possible? And why isn’t this referred to as polytheism?

Devi

The term avatar explains how the number of deities is capable of jumping to a whopping 330 billion. Vishnu alone has ten avatars in which the Eighth Avatar is Krishna (from which Krishnaism branches off from,) and the Ninth Avatar is commonly believed to be the Buddha. With each deity springs up a female consort, wife, or counterpart that ultimately pertains to an aspect or characteristic of the primal deity. Why do these deities exist? Certain aspects are portrayed through a womanly figure rather than a male deity. This can’t be argued because how should a male deity embody maternal characterstics that figures like Durga, who I consider to be a midway point between Kali and Parvati in certain aspects. While those three names are indeed inclusive of three separate persons, they all fall under Devi, the ultimate goddess mother, loosely identified with being the female counterpart of Brahma.

Trinity
But immediately, I feel like my train of thought has been lost while trying to correlate the similarities between gods and goddesses. Hindu art especially helps to depict the aspects among deities. To use Kali, Durga, and Parvati again, Kali is always depicted as the embodiment of “tough maternal love” in which she chops off the heads of ignorance from her devotees. Durga is a more balanced figure that is powerful and stern at times, but is not associated with violence, but does not have a soft side like Parvati. Parvati retains qualities that which a newborn child would be treated with instead of bloody acts like Kali. While Durga falls somewhere in between, these three goddesses depict just a few aspects that which Brahman retains.
I find this similar to Christianity embracing their God as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Brahma, the Creator deity consequently is omnipotent. Vishnu, omniscient, and Shiva as omnipresent because where does death not reach? This isn’t to ignore the differences between 330 billion versus 3. However, both 330 billion and 3 boil into one. The means by which each religion explains how this is possible relates through multiplicity, rather than polytheism because many gods would deny the fact that each deity or person (of the Trinity) is not absorbed by Brahman or the Trinity, that each god is a separate outlier. Catholicism is quick to define the Trinity as the Christian Mystery: “In the Symbol of the faith the Church confesses the mystery of the Holy Trinity and of the plan of God’s “good pleasure” for all creation: the Father accomplishes the “mystery of his will” by giving his beloved Son and his Holy Spirit for the salvation of the world and for the glory of his name.” (CCC 1066, Ephesians 1:9.) This echoes Hinduism’s simple structure of Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer. What both religions share is what fills the spaces in between.

I hope to get a Part 2 for this…Please comment on anything that isn’t clear or if it seems like I’m smashing two religions crudely together.

Written by Jack Viere

December 18, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Hinduism, Huston Smith

Complacency

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I have finally found the all-encompassing word that describes the Western thought that America embodies. I repeatedly refer to this “theme” in the majority of my posts. And the word has finally popped into my head. Rudimentary in our society, complacency is this very evil that blinds our faiths and morals. My previous post, and many others discuss and argue how morals are short-lived when we fall for hedonism, gluttony, and excess comfort.
A perfect Hindu term for this illusoriness is maya. (Please read the short story to understand the full meaning of this post.) Summarized, there are several stories within stories. Three, if including the larger context of the Legend of Narada within the Hindu texts of the Puranas. The protagonist of this story is none other than Narada, who has been journeying with Lord Krishna, a Christ-like reincarnation of Vishnu. The story is dizzying, especially since Western thought’s story line follows the outline of past, present, future, rather than disrupting the excess weight of time. How short-lived and ephemeral do Narada’s pleasures and family seem. Ultimately, Krishna remains at his resting spot, waiting for Narada to turn. This emphasizes the incomparable downplay of our venerated, worshiped deities and their lack of need for our acts of worship or praise. 
Instead, we find ourselves caught up in the time spent in our own illusions. 

Rather than return to what is ultimately real, we find pleasure and comfort in distractions. And our Western society has done a tremendous job on having the accessibility to any type of excess of pleasure at any individual’s fingertips. There is much to be said about the harms that derive from a culture that promotes consumerism. But the crucial point to come away with is that though we may find ourselves stooping into the world of illusoriness, our faith in our chosen ishta, one’s chosen ideal of God, allows for us to pull ourselves back out of what is not ultimately real. Again, what is not real is what is ephemeral, temporal, and nine out ten times tangible. If it’s a man made object that’s mass produced, it’s typically going to be a potential distraction, not an immediate one. It is the individual, us, who turn something that doesn’t necessarily have to be a distraction into illusion. This directly corresponds with Moses’ reading of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” (Exodus 20:4.) Similarly in Narada’s test put forth by Krishna, Moses relieves the people by saying ““Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Exodus 20:20.) Between these two traditional stories we find that God wants us to choose what is ultimately real over the illusion. Anything other decision puts us further from our God, and it becomes difficult in discerning what is ultimately real and what is inevitably holy. 
    

Written by Jack Viere

December 16, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Hinduism