June 2007

Make Me One
With Everything.

A man walks up to a New York hotdog vendor and says, “Make me one with everything.”  Ha!  That’s nearly my take on religion.  But then the dogma gets in the way.

I laugh out loud when I hear of a Southern Baptist minister having doubts about presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s religious beliefs. That Mitt is not really a true believer, that he practices strange rituals in his embrace of the Biblical Gods.

Right, and what you believe and practice isn’t considered “goofy” by other religious orders, denominations or faiths. No.  They have “the” word.  That’s right.  “The” word is “their”  word.  Get it?

Last Friday, I was paddling the Juniper River which is about an hour and a half north and west of Winter Park.  I’ve done this river, maybe, 20 times.  It is gorgeous, spring clean, remote, quiet and serene.  It is an unparalleled natural wonder of Florida.  If you are mobile, it is not to be missed.

Such excursions are perfect for contemplating one’s navel, so to speak.   The Greeks had a word for just that, omphaloskepsis.  The contemplation of one’s navel.   My sister Susan and I used to laugh about those Greeks and all the time they must have had on their hands.  Regardless, I started laughing to myself over Mitt’s problems with the evangelicals and one thing led to another and I came up with as a good a reason for religion as any.

Here goes: We may live in an uncaring universe but that doesn’t imply we be. Uncaring.

Religions assert.  All sorts of things.  But, and I loathe this expression, bottomline, nearly all of them boil it down to two things.  Everlasting life.  Satisfying somehow the human desire for it.  And, example(s) as to how to conduct our daily lives knowing the uncaring nature of the universe.

We may live in an uncaring universe but that doesn’t imply we be uncaring.

Now, the faithful will immediately claim the universe does care and the reason they know this is through their faith in a personal god.  And we will never agree on this point no matter how many atrocities, genocides and violent human extinctions I cite which confirms (to me) the uncaring nature of the universe. Simply, they believe, I do not.

Nor, will they concede that you can have a moral culture, lead a moral life absent religious beliefs.

Ah, but sometimes that is not even at issue, one’s morality. For some, it boils down to whether or not I believe a specific way about their god.  Period.  End of story.  Don’t believe?  Go straight to hell. It’s the word.  Their word.  Remember?

On one hand, you have folks going directly to hell (me and my brethren) because I do not subscribe to “a” definition of belief and then you have folks like me who think anyone advocating such nonsense is dumber than a box of rocks. Okay.  Not always dumber than a box of rocks. No, not always.

Two distinct sides: The Hell Bound and The Infinite Goofs.   Boy, and you think the Palestinians and Israeli’s are divided.

This is why it is so critical we keep religion personal, a private expression. Practice your faith as you deem appropriate.  It’s your right.  Inculcate your children, proselytize your neighbors if you will, just keep your dogma out of our public domain.

It makes so much sense that one would think that it goes without saying.  Read a little history.  Watch current events.  Determine for yourself what kind of culture brings (nurtures) our kind of freedom.  Hint: Not one religious text is referenced in America’s Constitution.

You want to wear a hairshirt, be proscriptive, indoctrinate your children, by all means, go right ahead, I want you to.  Just leave my American culture open to all expressions of human imagination.

Mitt Romney isn’t suitable for public office because he doesn’t believe in god the same way you do?  C’mon, you cannot be so restricted in your thinking as to embrace such un-American nonsense.  Oh, yes, we can.

We may live in an uncaring universe but that doesn’t imply we be uncaring.

I’ll judge my politicians by many (my) standards, sure, but when it comes time to pull the election lever, a man’s public protestations of faith are irrelevant (cautionary actually). To me.

I’m going to discuss that idea next week. What are the implications of religion on the campaign trail?  And, in public policy?   And, should we care?

A cosmic hot dog & god!  Make me one with everything.  I see the connections.

Reach Jepson at: Jepson@MEDIAmerica.US


With Great Style

It was said of Seinfeld that his TV show was about nothing, nothing at all. I laughed nonetheless. I just returned from California and Oregon. I spent nearly three weeks doing nothing. If you count visiting museums, old friends and gorgeous locales as doing nothing.

I flew into San Francisco, rented a car and headed for Santa Rosa in Sonoma County. Played with my brother-in-law in towering redwood forests and then turned south to Santa Barbara to laugh with Candy who’s divorcing old college chum Farshid after 36 years. She’s ecstatic, he’s resigned. Interesting how that works out. Farshid is a nationally acclaimed architectural photographer. They bought a house nearly 33 years ago for $50k. It is now assessed at nearly a million-five.

Candy has an incredible network of female friends. I attended her regularly scheduled book club meeting. A few actually read the assigned book (Kite Runner). Bad news for Hillary Clinton. Not one of these Left Coast gals prefer Hillary as the Democratic nominee.

Met a friend of Candy’s called Las Vegas Lisa who blew into town to get the stitches out of her recently reduced breasts. Now 50, she no longer wants the silicon bo-yo-yoing girls of her 30s. We talked plastic surgery.

I stayed in my first $600k mobile home. Only in California. $500k for the home, $150k in remodeling. Doublewide, of course. It was gorgeous. Really.

Before arriving in Santa Barbara I drove Highway 1 from Monterey to San Luis Obispo. Scenic is an understatement. Took in San Simon of Hearst fame. William Randolph Hearst, publisher, built a home, nay, a castle overlooking thousands of acres of California coast. Redefines the definition of a large front yard. Oh, and according to my tour guide, Rosebud does not refer to any, uh, sensitive body part of starlet Marion Davies, Hearst’s longtime companion (not counting his estranged wife). That Orson!

Saw hundreds of elephant seals sleeping in a bay near San Simon. They have large as silver dollar brown eyes that are as dark and deep as the depths they dive, up to 5,000 feet down. Stunning, boisterous, cantankerous creatures that bellow greetings and warnings alike.

You can lose yourself on this coast, cell phone signals, too. Anyone capable of sitting should make this drive. My first time was in 1968. I hitchhiked over Thanksgiving break from my college in Missouri to San Francisco and traveled Highway 1. It gets more beautiful with each experience.

Next up was Hell-La to visit Ol’Lee. Lee’s ancestors had retail stores in Los Angeles when the streets weren’t even paved. Hard to imagine. An unpaved California. Did the Getty Museum. The facility itself is art. Again, a stunning statement only big money and a big ego can buy. Thank you J. Paul. Thank William Randolph. Oh, and all it costs to go to the Getty is an $8 parking fee.

Lee took me to a museum I did not even know existed. The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. And, shame, shame on me! What a gem! Again, a tribute to a big checkbook and a big ego, Norton Simon. Arguably, he assembled one of the finest collections of art in the 20th century. I’m into Modern Art and Impressionism and he collected those in spades.

An older work (18th century), however, caught my attention. IL Café by Pietro Longhi. He depicted a group of “swells” sitting around having a gay old time. The little placard on the wall had the following explanation: “This painting illustrates beautifully Longhi’s gift for depicting the bourgeoisie doing nothing, but with great style.”

I laughed out loud at this characterization and wrote it down on a museum brochure (borrowed a pen from the nearby guard). Thank you Norton. And thank you, Lee!

Breakfasted on Venice Beach. Quite the delightful sideshow of musclemen, panhandlers, musicians, beauties and rapscallions. Loved it.

Flew to Portland and hung with my homies (Bettie & Pat) for a week. What an absolute joy they and Portland, Oregon are. I once lived there, oh, so very long ago. It is what you want in a city community. Walkable, livable, cultured and laid back. Great Rembrandt show at the Portland Museum! It has it all. Dined with the talented Miss Anna, Frank the Sublime Silkster and other old friends from those sweet bygone days. We laughed.

We did nothing. I’d like to think we did it with style. Mostly we laughed. Can there be anything better than that?  Dear friends & laughter.

One long trip of extended laughter. A vacation doesn’t get any more stylish than that.

Reach Jepson at: Jepson@MEDIAmerica.US