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Ursula's fab...

I love Ursula K. Le Guin's books ... young adult or adult, doesn't matter. Here are some favorite bits from "The Left Hand of Darkness," the fourth book of her Hainish series:

The unknown, the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God, there would be no religion. But also, if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion.... The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty. (p. 71)

To oppose something is to maintain it. They say here, "all roads lead to Mishnory." To be sure, if you turn your back on Mishnory and walk away from it, you are still on the Mishnory road.... You must go somewhere else; you must have another goal; then you walk a different road. (p. 153)

How does one hate a country or love one?... I know people, I know towns, farms hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? (p. 211-212)

Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death,
lying together like lovers,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way. (p. 233-234)

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969, Ace Books, New York. ISBN: 0-441-47812-3.


Pear-Apple Pie recipe

Crust (top & bottom) for 12-inch cast-iron skillet:

4 tbsp iced apple jack brandy (can include ice in the measure). set aside for the ice to make it good and cold as you mix other ingredients

1.5 cups brown rice flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp xantham gum (found mine in baking aisle next to specialty flour)

mix above dry ingredients very well to be sure xantham gum is evenly distributed.

cut in 2/3 cup very cold butter (if you don't have pastery cutter, use a sharp knife to make small bits, then use tines of fork to make tiny bits)

then mix in 2 tsp molasses

in small portions, add the brandy. add as you fluff the butter-crumb mixture already in the bowl with the fork, almost like you're tossing a salad with the dressing.

clump into two balls, one slightly larger than the other, and put in bowl in fridge for at least an hour.

Pie filling:
Peel, core, and cut into 1/2-inch wedges:
7 medium size Anjou pears
2 large Jonagold apples
3 small red delicious apples

Toss the fruit with 1/3cup sugar and 1/8 cup lemon juice.
Put fruit in collander over a bowl to drain for 1.5 hours.

In a bowl, mix:
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp tapioca flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh-ground Grains of Paradise
2 tbsp jelly (preferably apple, but you're mainly using it for the pectin content, so any will do)
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp apple cider

when fruit is done draining, set aside the drained liquid, then combine the fruit and the preceding mix in the bowl. Also set aside.

Spray your baking dish with "Pam for Baking" or grease it some other way.
Take out the larger of the crust balls leaving the other in the fridge.

Roll out the dough between wax paper until rather thin and large enough to cover the inside of your baking pan. Remove the top piece of wax paper, very lightly dust the exposed crust with some rice flour and then fold from left & right toward center, then from top/bottom toward center. Lift away from bottom wax paper and place in center of baking dish and unfold. Lightly press crust into dish.

Fill with fruit mix and set aside.

Take out smaller crust ball, and roll out between wax paper until rather thin. Remove top paper and put exposed side on top of apple filling. Remove backing paper and crimp edges with bottom crust edges. Poke holes in top.

Put the drained juice reserved earlier into small sauce pan with just a dash of cinnamon. Cook this down to about half it's starting volume. Then brush onto the top pie crust, but avoid crust edges.

Put pie pan on cookie sheet on lowest rack setting at 425 degrees (F) for 30 minutes. Then, rotate pie a half turn and turn oven down to 375 degrees for another 15 minutes or until you see a bit of filling liquid starting to boil and ooze out of the pie.

Let cool at least an hour before serving.

The above is an adaptation of two different recipes: Super Apple Pie by Alton Brown and Gluten-Free Pie Crust attributed to Arrowhead Mills.

If you're on Facebook, you can check out pics of my pie fresh out of the oven.

I was VERY pleased with the way the crust turned out. It wasn't just "good for gluten free" it was really good without qualification ... my husband was surprised to hear it was gluten-free (i.e. didn't taste like non-wheat crust). Using the Grains of Paradise in the filling was a really yum change of pace while the reduced-apple glaze on top added an nice, sweet crunchiness (though it does darken the pie quite a bit). Only thing I'd do differently next time is maybe do the 425 for just 20 minutes and the lower temp for the remaining 25 minutes in order to have the crust be a little bit lighter.


Gluten-Free Pear-Apple Pie

I went gluten-free for six weeks while seeing a Natropathic M.D. a couple of years ago. Lost 15 pounds in a month without calorie nor fat counting. Did also eat more veggies and home-cooked rather than out meals, but I think it was the absence of gluten that made the biggest difference. Also cleared up my flakey scalp and eliminated skin breakouts.

However, it's hard to do the gluten-free thing long-term, so I tapered off over time until I was back to old ways. Got a suggestion recently, again, that I should really go back to avoiding gluten products, even if just 90% of the time.

Hence, when I went to the store today to get pie crust ingredients, I stepped over to the specialty area that's predominantly Hodgeson Mills brand products and picked up a bag of Brown Rice Flour, a bag of All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Mix, a bag of Xantham Gum (boy is THAT expensive!!), a box of ground Flax Seeds. Wanted to get the Quinoa Flour, but at $13 a small bag, I will wait on that. Would have gotten Chick Pea Flour if they'd had it, since it is in several of the gluten-free recipes. I already have Tapioca Flour at home and figured that might work in place of the chick pea.

After much searching, I found several gluten-free pie crust recipes. Most asked for lots of ingredients, some of which I was missing but hope to find for next time because the recipes look really good. I did find one recipe that had mostly all stuff I had on hand and I only had to modify it a tiny bit.

A while back, I saw an episode of Good Eats with Alton Brown that was all about making Apple Pie and have wanted to make one ever since. I googled that recipe and made some modifications so that I could use ingredients and tools I already have (which is to say, I substituted like crazy).

Pie should be out of the oven in just a bit. Hope it turns out well. I set timer to 30 minutes so I could turn the pie around in the oven for more even browning and noticed it's already rather brown despite supposedly needing to cook another 20 minutes. So, turned oven down a bit and set timer for 15 minutes instead of 20.

Believe it or not, the most exotic ingredient listed for the pie, I already had ... Grains of Paradise, which I bought at a Renaissance Faire a couple of years ago. Haven't used them much, so was happy to have an excuse to use them, which is what really drew me to Alton's recipe. Apparently, he feels that cinnamon is too strong and overpowers the apple flavor in a pie and suggests the Grains as a better, subtler flavor that enhances rather than covering the apple flavor.

Granted, Alton also suggests putting the apples into the pie shell one slice at a time, in a spiral. Nope, sorry, I am NOT going to take the time to do that. I don't care that it's pretty and maybe makes a more compact, apple-y pie. I'm just not going to onesey-twosey the apple slices into the shell. He suggests getting a ceramic "pie bird" to put in the middle of the pie to expel steam more efficiently than top crust slits and also suggests a specialty pan that allows the whole pie to be removed from the pan before cutting. I hate specialty kitchen stuff that gets used rarely and refuse to buy it. So, I used my trusty old 12-inch deep cast iron skillet and poked lots of holes in the top crust.

I also used fig preserves (not apple), apple juice (not cider), lemon juice (not lime), and about half pears (not just apples) so as to use what I already had in the fridge. And, of course, the gluten-free crust recipe rather than Alton's. In the crust recipe, I used molasses instead of honey (was out of honey) and did incorporate one of Alton's crust ingredients ... Apple Jack Brandy ... in place of the crust recipe's water.

I just heard the one-minute warning beep on my timer, so off to get the pie out to cool. Will let you know how it turned out. If it's good, I'll post my exact ingredient list and process. (fingers crossed)



I mentioned back in January that I was aiming to get healthier. Since then...

I have been much more conscious of my eating, but I did fall off the nonsmoking wagon at the end of February. I made it 7 weeks without smoking and plan to try again soon.

I started working out on weekday mornings as of March 22nd. I joined http://www.therush247.com/ on Patton Avenue (they had a special running in March that was too good to pass up). My friend Dianna also had a membership there, so she's become my exercise buddy. I also started tracking my eating and exercise on http://www.thedailyplate.com/, which is super easy to use and free. Highly recommended!!

I had a couple of suspicious moles removed on April 1st and am waiting on the lab results, which I hope to get back sometime in the next week.

I had a physical in February and all my blood work came back pretty good. I'm a bit anemic, so have started taking iron in the mornings (when I remember ... trying to remember more). My total cholesterol, triglycerides and HDL cholesterol were all good, but my LDL was a bit high which put my LDL/HDL ratio a bit high as well. Everything else on the blood panel was smack in the middle of acceptable range and my blood pressure was good too. Vitamin D wasn't one of items on this panel, but I know I've been deficient on that before, so should really get back in the habit of taking that in the mornings too!!

I had a follow-up ultrasound done to see what my fibroids are up to. That news wasn't so hot. They say my uterus is about the size of a 20 week pregnancy, which explains why I have to pee pretty often. The fibroids are still growing and there are a few new ones since the ultrasound a couple of years ago. There are 5-6 over 2cm each and the largest one is about 8cm. Doctor seems pretty sure that I'll eventually elect to have surgery. She says there's nothing dire about the current state of things, but as they grow it can cause new problems like pinching nerves, back pain, smooshing surrounding organs, etc. I'm not so convinced that it will get to that point before menopause, after which they should all shrink some (estrogen makes them grow). Also, losing weight should help since that should also lower estrogen levels.

I've lost 3 pounds in the last two weeks and hope to lose at least a pound a week to reach my 145lb goal by the end of next July. Getting down to 145lbs will get me a "normal" BMI and put me in a size 14.

Next thing to work on is trying to eat more fruits and veggies and less protein-heavy foods. My total calories are alright, but the nutritional breakdown isn't so hot. Now that it's spring, the produce will start looking better and that will be easier than in the winter when all the supermarket veggies look wilty and anemic.


Public assistance...

I put a blurb on my Facebook page the other day about how I really wouldn't mind being laid off from work. Facebook doesn't give you enough space to fully explain a comment like that. I should have known better than to say that without the accompanying explanation. So, I got a comment back about how it's better that I have a job than being on the dole by being on public assistance. I deleted my Facebook post to avoid further misunderstandings. But, really, when you think it all the way through, you realize I'm already on public assistance, with "public" narrowed down to my coworkers.

Our employer has been spreading around hours cuts rather than laying off another person. We're a small business, and those hours cuts add up to 40 or more hours total, everybody combined, per week, which is to say, the equivalent of a full time position. For months now, it's been clear to me that I am the most logical person to let go. I try to stretch out what little work there is, and there still isn't anywhere near enough for us designers to be just barely occupied throughout the day. There's no reason why one person couldn't do the work alone, and if there was an occasional spike, there's already a cross-trained person who could swing back in to help.

So, what does it mean when there's an employee you could easily operate without, and instead of laying them off during an extended lean time, you spread around hours cuts? It basically means that all the employees, defacto, wind up paying that "extra" person's salary. Since I'm pretty sure I am that "extra" person, that means my coworkers' hours cuts are paying my salary. So, instead of "public assistance" getting spread out over millions of tax payers, my 10 or so coworkers are bearing it all. And no, I can't afford to just quit.

Now, I could imagine that they might keep on some "extra" folks so that they're prepared when/if business picks back up. But, I've already told them I hope to leave in 5-6 months -- smack dab in the middle of what is typically our busy season -- which nixes my usefulness for the hoped-for high season if it ever materializes.

So, no, it's not about just sponging off the public fund. It's about not sponging off my coworkers when there is absolutely no justification for it. It's about not sitting around feeling my brain cells die of boredom. It's about what makes good business sense for all concerned. And, yes, it's also about taking advantage of these practical reasons while getting the bonus of being able to finish school AND sleep more than 5 hours a night, which was my average last semester.


Kathmandu Cafe Mmmmmm....

Went to the new Kathmandu Cafe restaurant in downtown Asheville tonight (90 Patton Ave., next to the Weinhaus, across from Pritchard Park). Nearly everything was WONDERFUL! Many dishes have similar names and descriptions to Indian dishes (tandori, masala, vindaloo, etc.). Not sure if there is any any appreciable difference between the Nepalese rendition of these dishes or not since we intentionally stuck to items listed as more traditionally from Nepal for our first experience.

We started off with house-made hot chai (which they offer free refills of and which is quite good). They automatically bring papadum (maybe the Nepali call it something else, but it tasted like Indian papadum) with spicy tamarind and cool cilantro chutneys.

We shared an appetizer (Bara - mildly spiced fried cakes of ground lentils with tamarind chutney ... though we tried them with the leftover cilantro sauce from the papdum and liked them better that way). Then we shared a bowl of soup (Palungo Jhol - A brothy spinach-stock soup with threads of fresh ginger, nutmeg, and a touch of cream). I liked the soup more than Ronnie did. It really is a simple, yet flavorful, broth with the sparse ginger strands being the only solid in there. I think men want soup to be a chunky stew in order to give it a thumbs-up. The appetizer could have had more spice, but the cilantro chutney livened it up nicely.

For the main course, I got the Bheda Ko Tarkari (lean lamb curry with cardamon and other spices, slow-cooked, mildly spicey to me, which means moderately spicy to many) and Ronnie got the Machha Tarkari (a wonderfully aromatic fish curry with tomato, curry leaf, and ground sesame). Both of these were outstanding!! As was the side of Naan bread we ordered. Ronnie doesn't normally think Naan is anything special, but he LOVED this stuff. They told us their Naan is baked to-order, which may explain it's superior quality.

For desert, we shared a Mango Lassi. It came iced, which I haven't encountered elsewhere, and was rather weak on the mango. So, the Lassi wasn't a hit, but so much else was that it barely made a dent in our experience. Only other minor problem was that there was a mix-up in the kitchen that had our soup delivered several minutes after our entrees, rather than well before. However, this place has only been open since Dec.24th, so some kinks in the process are to be expected. Service otherwise was great, atmosphere was very pleasant, and prices were reasonable (our entrees were $14/$15 (but this was the upper end, entrees start around $10), the chai was $2 each, the app was $4, naan $3, soup $4, and i think the lassi was $3). We kinda splurged as it was our first time for Nepali food.

They also serve lunch and say they will soon have a lunch buffet that will vary daily. They're open 7 days a week: lunch is 11:30-2:30; dinner is 5:30-9:30 (10pm fri/sat). Lunch prices start at $6.50 and we were told that they expect to offer the lunch buffet for about $7. Phone number is 828-252-1080.


Esoteric & Creation Spirituality Links

different days have different themes, for me, when it comes to web surfing. today's theme is emerging as esoteric and creation spirituality:

an interesting blog focused on esoteric spirituality
i especially resonated with Jan. 3rd's post on the undefinableness of God
excerpt: "We realize that any concept of God or the One or the divine we hold cannot exist “really” as it is incomplete, and “God” is complete. No matter how we attempt to hold onto God, he moves away from us. We are then left with an empty space where our previous conceptions were, which can now be filled with God. Though as soon as we do, we limit and must again enter the unknowing. And so it goes on."

while i have not been able to force myself to finish "Original Blessing" by Matthew Fox, who is the most well-known proponent of creation spirituality today, it is a philosophy that calls to my heart and there are plenty of other writers of like-mind to read. as defined on this site, creation spirituality is:
"Honoring all of creation as Original Blessing, Creation Spirituality integrates the wisdom of Eastern and Western spirituality and global indigenous cultures, with the emerging scientific understanding of the universe, and the passion of creativity. It is both a tradition and a movement, celebrated by mystics and agents of social change from every age and culture."

HYMN OF THE UNIVERSE by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
contains the entire text, including "Mass on the World," which is just some of the most beautiful religious writing/thoughts i've ever encountered. Chardin could be said to be a proponent of Original Blessing long before that phrase was ever coined.

i have long meant to buy a print copy of this to read, but low and behold, it's available for free online. now i have no excuse other than my to-do reading list being so very long. this is one of the keystone texts for the philosophy of the indefinableness of God.

MYSTICAL THEOLOGY by Dionysius the Areopagite
THE CELESTIAL HIERACHY by Dionysius the Areopagite
two more mysticism texts available free online to add to my to-read list

and if all of the aforementioned to-read online texts weren't enough, here's a site with a whole list of online texts of interest, especially "The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz", which is a fairly famous esoteric text.

Apophatic Mysticism: The Capture of Happiness
excerpt: "According to this apophatic way, in order to engage the spiritual source with the most intense intimacy, at the moment of union the mystic suspends all beliefs and disbeliefs. Taking an empty mind and an open heart, she steps over the mystical threshold and crosses into the realm of the unimaginable. This crossing into the state of complete surrender is the way of the apophatic mystic."

"This is the key document on which the Rosicrucian phenomenon was based. It was first published in 1614 in German and in 1615 in Latin, though there are some manuscript copies in existence dating from about 1611."

1658 English Translation of "Natural Magick" (full text online)
Description from site: "Giambattista della (John Baptist) Porta (1535-1615), was a Neapolitan scholar of notable ability who had devoted great attention to the study of natural and physical science. Porta visited most of his known world to gather and perfect the knowledge utilized in his writings. His first work, "Magia Naturalis"- "Natural Magick" was first published in 1558 in "four" books (written, according to the author, "Porta, " when he was fifteen years old, - see "Preface To The Reader" in "Natural Magick"). It was later expanded to twenty books compended into one volume in 1584. In this form the book had a great vogue, being translated from the original Latin into the principal European languages, and republished in the Latin edition in many places for a hundred years. The version presented here is the final compendium of his life's work, completed when he was fifty years old, transcribed from a original 1658 English translation."


everyone, to one degree or another, is hypocritical in the sense of not =fully= practicing what they espouse/believe to be correct. this is as true of me as of anyone else in that i don't fully live up to what i know is right. and though i must admit to often being hypocritical myself, it still drives me batty when i see others not just being hypocritical in the expected, fallibly human way, but in a way that seems to go over the top with hubris and that seems to be completely unconscious of it's duplicity.

i've wondered if the bothersomeness of hypocrisy is simply a relative matter (i.e. it's only bothersome when others are MORE hypocritical than you yourself are). i do think that's a factor. humans do tend to use themselves as measuring sticks. but, for me, i think it's more than that. i think that, when i am most bothered by hypocrisy, it's a matter of being bothered by a person's willful blindness to their own oxymoronish behavior.

i would NOT like it if a person said "the environment is going to hell, but i'm a spoiled bastard and i'm not giving up anything, and i don't blame anyone else for not giving up their stuff either." but there's something so much worse about a person who says, "the environment's going to hell, but i can't be bothered to change anything in my life. no. i think someone (government, big business, whoever) should do something to fix it, but i have no intention of participating in the change. nay, i'll bitch to high heaven if what's done to fix it inconveniences me in the slightest."

every time i go to a big city, i encounter the latter attitude everywhere. people know there's a problem, but it's someone else's responsibility to fix it, someone else's fault it's screwed up to begin with and woe to the person who suggests that it's all our faults and all our responsibility.

but where do i get off? i could definitely live a lot greener myself. i do a lot more than some but a whole lot less than others. do my own flaws and failures to live up to my own ideals mean that i'm wrong for being outraged at those who are doing much less than i and, worse, have no intention of doing any better? and i guess, for me, that's the difference. i want to do better. i am making progress toward doing better. they may be baby steps and i fall down a lot. but i'm headed, however slowly, in the direction of my ideals. i don't understand those who talk of ideals but think it's the job of OTHERS to strive toward them, who don't feel it's their responsibility to at least TRY to tote their own weight. and if they want to be egocentric, selfish bastards who think they should be able to live without responsibility, then damn it, shut up with the talk about the environment and how "somebody" should do "something" about it and just admit that you don't REALLY care.

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Author Interview...

Great book! I highly recommend!!!

What should "church" mean?

My husband, who attends a different church than I -- one that is fairly new: just over a year in a permanent location and a year or so before that renting space in various spots, proudly boasted about how much their numbers were growing, and I couldn't help respond to his statement, silently, in my head, with a "so what?"

Now, if he'd instead bragged, "We have a lot of folks at my church who actively serve..." ...the needy, the environment, the disenfranchised, etc., or had bragged that their membership actively models the example of Jesus in their daily lives. Then, I would have cheered. But, you're popular and/or good marketers, so what? Lots of things are popular, some good and some not so good. Popularity tells you nothing.

Also, I suppose to the evangelistic, soul-saving set, you might earn bragging rights if you'd brought faith to non-believers. But the vast majority of new members in his church (and most American churches of my experience) are not new believers. Mostly, they're only "converts" of choice or convenience from some other denomination. Again, so what? (...unless you're one of these kooks who thinks their denomination is the only one going to heaven, in which case there's nothing in this post to interest you. surf somewhere else.)

This "so what" thought brought to mind an excellent blog post, entitled What if the church was invisible?", which sparked lively conversation when I posted a link to it on facebook. Boiled down, it asks, "What if church were not a weekend thing, but a people who radically lived behind the cultural scenes bringing God’s kingdom to earth?"

Church as institution makes less and less sense to me the more I ponder it. And when I say church, please include all spiritual traditions' equivalents.

Corporate worship has value as do communities of faith that support one another in matters of spirit as well as body. But the INSITITUTION of church? The acquisition of property, it's upkeep, improvement, marketing, management, internal politics, etc.? And once so much is invested in this PLACE, the allegiance to it as a THING and the subsequent search for validation of the value of this THING and all that entails: insiders/outsides, ours/yours, tenure/newbie status, popularity or lack thereof, ad nauseam. Isn't all of this a huge time and energy investment in something peripheral to the point?

Now, we could concede that in order to enjoy the value of community and corporate worship for groups that have outgrown smaller start-up venues like home churches, there could be justifiable need of a large-ish shared place. But, why be so proprietary about it? Couldn't several groups share one space? Could these groups be of different denominations or even different faiths? Shouldn't the facility be as in-use as possible to minimize investment? Wouldn't the shared nature also avoid a lot of the ego issues of "mine" mentality? Wouldn't it be greener, even, if different congregations each took a day or half day of the week as "theirs" instead of having different churches that are just empty vessels much of the time? Couldn't sharing like this make us better people, more cooperative, more accommodating, more in touch with needs of the broader population that's not part of our own subset?

Also, in the interest of not investing a lot of time, energy and money into something that is meant to facilitate the point rather than BE the point, isn't a minimalist mentality for this shared space preferable? If it's really THAT important to have an icon, statue, or whatever, does it have to be the Venetian Marble, professional artist-made, expensive thing in a store/catalog or could it be paper mache that you made with friends who you consequently SPENT TIME WITH? So what, it's not very pretty or professional, but doesn't it have more meaning, more personal history, didn't it bring you closer in community? Isn't that part of the REAL point? That is, community and loving one another, which requires knowing one another.

Yes, worship can also be the point, but isn't worship not just prayer but how we choose to live? Whether we are in accordance with what God wants or not? And would God rather have an ugly paper mache thing that you made or the expensive pretty thing you bought. Parents: Would you rather have your child's nearly unintelligible drawing that they poured their heart into or something they bought you? Would you rather they invited you over more often even though their house was kind of shabby, or would you rather be invited only when they had time/money to make the place immaculate for you?

And, does God really give a hoot if you're popular, have lots of fans/members, and a fancy meeting place? If it causes people to live more giving, loving, serving lives, then probably. If it doesn't, or worse, stands in the way of those things, then probably not. So, I say to the church-minded set, don't brag about numbers. If you must brag, brag about hearts. Or better yet, don't brag. Demonstrate.

I've really had it up to my eyeballs with right wing Christians being the loudest voices against healthcare reform. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they SAY they're not against healthcare reform, just against the Obama version of it. But, sorry, I just don't buy it. Any healthcare reform idea I've ever run across would in some way violate right wing free-market principles, or small federal government ideals, or their aversion to taxation for ANY reason. Even reforming tort law would vex many folks on the basis of due process, free speech, and human rights protections.

And on the anti-tax issue, their inability to see that redistribution of wealth in SOME form is good for EVERYONE, is just mind boggling. Are they just not able to use deductive reasoning to see that educating the poor helps them not stay poor; improving the health of the poor helps them not stay poor; affordable housing, job placement, and other social services can help the poor OUT of poverty. And, you know what happens when a poor person isn't so poor any more? They PAY TAXES, they are less likely to commit crime, less likely to fill up jails, can ENHANCE their communities. Etc.

Yes, I know, the rich commit crime, the rich often skirt paying taxes, and the poor can enhance their communities even when poor. But, it is PREDOMENANT TENDENCIES that I'm addressing here. It is the poor who MORE often than the rich commit VIOLENT crime. It is the uneducated that are MORE prone to prejudices that lead to hate crime. And desperation can and does force otherwise good people to behave badly.

When we help people out of poverty, it helps EVERYONE, including the rich!!!!! Yes, I know, there are some who do not wish to be helped and are content to live on welfare indefinitely. Yes, I've know a couple of those personally. It sucks. But, there are bad apples in EVERY bunch. Do you just say let 'em all rot? Well, you might be able to make the argument that, yes, yes you should let 'em all rot if those good apples don't want to take the initiative and work themselves to death trying to get out of poverty at three minimum wage jobs all on their lonesome. Maybe you'd argue that we should just build a "great wall" to keep "us" safe from "them" as they rot? Maybe, maybe you could make arguments along these lines, UNLESS you have the audacity to also say that you're a Christian.

And that's what gets me more than anything is that the most holy-rolling Christians who would like to ram a bible down every throat and save everyone's souls really couldn't give a crap about your EARTHLY welbeing, or I should say, they give a crap up and until you try to tax them or cost them anything more dear than some talk. Oh, but that's not it, they'd argue. The rich give lots to charity, and we should let private sector charity handle these issues. Oh really? So, if you lived in an area not served by a charity, you can just go starve somewhere, preferably quietly and out of sight? The point of having something done on the federal government level is to ensure that everyone is served, everywhere, as equitably as possible. Just "leaving it to charities" would NOT accomplish this.

Nevertheless, I can almost buy hearing these arguments coming from a right-wing atheist, but from a Christian? Of ANY political affiliation? But ESPECIALLY the right-wing bible thumpers? The very ones that are perfectly fine with blurring the lines between church and state if it means prayer in school, perfectly fine with blurring the church/state lines if it means outlawing abortion, perfectly fine with blurring the church/state lines when it comes to gay marriage, but OHHHHH NOOOO when it comes to taxes, THEN we don't want to use the state to enforce Christian values. WHAT???!!! Christians are the very people who are supposed to love their neighbor (which is everyone, even enemies), help the poor A LOT (you know .. . you shouldn't have two coats if your brother has none? that's equivalent to saying you shouldn't have anything over the bare minimum if your brother has less than the bare minimum and, again, brother is EVERYONE).

I know, how judgmental of me to point fingers when I have multiple coats and other things way beyond bare minimum. I know, ranting like this doesn't fall into the "loving" category. But, I don't claim to be anywhere near perfect and I'M NOT THE ONE WHO'S BEING DUPLICITOUS ... I WANT healthcare reform (even if it's imperfect, even if I pay a bit more in taxes, and not for religious reasons, but for the "survive/thrive together or die/suffer alone" principal that is just common sense) =AND= I want church and state UTTERLY separate.

So, no, sorry right-wing Christians, you gotta decide if you're going to advocate inserting ALL your values into politics, in which case arguing against taxes to help the less fortunate is TOTALLY HYPOCRITICAL. Or, if you want church and state separate entirely, then you have to shut up about gay marriage and abortion until you can come up with NON-RELIGIOUS-BASED and SOUND reasons for being against them. Oh, and totally toss out school-led prayer of course. Stop cherry picking and pick ONE!! Then the rest of us can at least respect your reasons and your integrity, even if we still disagree with your conclusions. Then, we might be able to have a civil dialog, find some common ground, and move forward at least a little. But this moving target, change your stance when it suits you thing is dishonest and UNchristian.

It's Really All About God

It's very rare for me to stay up late because I just can NOT put down a non-fiction book. Samir Selmanovic's "It's Really All About God" reels you in with its raw truthfulness, wit, humor, and deep emotions such that it's really quite a page-turner.

This is not a preachy book. It's the story, questions, and conclusions of one struggling believer. Samir has had a variety of experiences in his still-ongoing spiritual development: Croatian, American, Muslim, Christian, and he would say atheist too, though I would have instead labeled what he describes of that era of his life as agnosticism.

You might look at a history like that and say, "Hey, doesn't this guy believe in anything enough to stick with it?" And you might be right in asking that question. But that's sort of the point of Samir's journey: his allegiance is to God, wherever that takes him. He tried having walls of protection around his faith to keep people who didn't share his views out or at least at a safe distance. But that was not making God the center; that was making religion the center.

Now, now, don't go lumping him in with the "spiritual but not religious" crowd either, though he does truly empathize with them. Samir highly values religion and tradition (he is himself a minister) and thinks that the "spiritual but not religious" set are missing out on something that could really add to their spiritual experience when they bypass religion altogether. But religion should be a vehicle, God the destination.

And when Samir puts God at the center, he's also putting people, relationship, and love at the center. He argues against the separation/segregation of holy vs. mundane life. Everything is holy. God is omnipresent. And love is the key to the whole enchilada.

To my eyes, the only weak point in the book was his assertion that a God who limited God-self to one religion and withheld that goodness/god-ness from so many would not be worth worshiping. It's a weak argument because it doesn't matter if God is "worth" worshiping. If he/she/it is God, then they're God. Period. And if God really is God, then it doesn't matter if he/she/it makes sense, is just, is loving, is nice, etc.

A better way Samir could have put it is that God wouldn't BE God if he/she/it were a petty, unjust, hateful being who played favorites and let billions of people in the out-crowd burn for eternity.

Samir does phrase things oddly sometimes because English is not his first language. I suspect, because of later areas of the book where he talks about the egotism of many religious systems that try to limit God or manage God, Samir was NOT trying to say God is subject to our judgment or our human/fallible/short-sighted opinions. But it does come across that way and does so in the introduction of the book, which I fear may put some readers off getting to the core of his message. Don’t be put off! Read on!!

I highly recommend "It's Really All About God." It speaks to believers as well as doubters; the religiously unversed as well as the religiously fluent. It speaks to the four faiths listed on the cover, but its ideas apply to any faith. And best of all, it was a true joy to read -- I reveled in its unpretentious honesty, its comedy, its tragedy, and its inspiration.