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Home for the Holidays

Around the holidays, the holidays extending roughly from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, we often hear, “Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men.” Let us reorganize. Good will precedes peace. Before we direct it toward others, we must feel good will toward ourselves. It is not easy. Often, we learn early to ignore our own feelings and perceptions to fit in at school and not make waves. People from different cultures are wired differently.

Eiffel_tower-ParisOn the day ISIS/Daesh terrorists attacked Paris, I had planned to attend a lecture at May Memorial Unitarian Church about secularism in the public sphere. What I did instead was deal with the aftermath of some sharp object slicing my tire as I drove through roadwork on East Genesee St. I missed the lecture, returned home to spend the night watching CNN, expressed through social media my sadness over the early and slightly overestimated CNN reports of 153 dead, and reasoned myself out of the thought that perhaps I was not supposed to hear a lecture on secularism and maybe that was why my flat tire occurred. This magical thinking is of the sort of old patterned behavior that in an recent form tells cancer victims that they are still ill because they are not thinking positively enough. Children who learn magical thinking learn it early. I learned in school that good angels and bad angels sat on our right and left shoulders respectively. Right/left, good/bad and male/female dichotomies abound in religious symbolism.

(I won’t go on and on about right/left brain function here, but in a nutshell, the left-brain tends to control the right side of the body, facial recognition, speech, and memory formation. The left brain contains more neurons so left brain damage is likely to lead to more persistent problems such as depression and poor memory than is right brain damage. The right brain is the more abstract globally thinking hemisphere. Brain plasticity allows different parts of the brain to compensate for damaged and/or missing parts. Not all modern neuroscience publications agree on how our mind- body connections function as they do. Early physicians such as Hippocrates and Galen wrote of the effects of head trauma on behavior yet for millennia, people persisted in trying to knock sense into each other’s crania. Well, I guess I did go on and on here. )mri-head-scan-1439617

The religious/ideologically motivated attacks against Paris, as well as the tiny blips on my personal screen all occurred on a Friday the 13th and there was nothing magical or divine about any of it.

ISIS’s press release claiming responsibility for the Paris attack stated that ISIS had “targeted the capital of abominations and perversion, that carries the banner of the cross in Europe, Paris” and that the group attacked to “throw fear into the hearts of the Crusaders in their own land.” Mention of “the cross” and “Crusaders” notwithstanding, I doubt many people, including most members of ISIS/Daesh, perceive cosmopolitan and secular Paris as a religious city. The attack on Paris, like the attack on the WTC, attacked modernity. The terrorists who do indeed persecute Christians in the lands where Christianity began attacked commercial, public entertainment venues one of which was the frequent venue for Jewish entertainers. The nature of Islamist extremists’ targets in the West suggests the attackers dislike Christians, Jews, and secular types. Extremists in Pakistan destroy Buddhist statuary and shoot Muslim girls on their way to school. All of these attacks are target enlightenment.

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Medieval thinking cannot address modern challenges. Whenever one’s first impulse is to demolish someone else, that is medieval thinking. Medieval thinking killed a young man at the Word of Life Christian Church in New Hartford New York. Medieval thinking builds walls and often behind those walls, ideologues violate personal boundaries to control minds and create angry followers who lash out not at those who control them but at some “other” over there, or over here. I am generally a peace person and sometimes people devoted to peace on earth are prone to stuffing feelings, swallowing words and encouraging fellow travelers to do the same. On November 13, 2015, it was my more peace minded friends who chided one another that feeling solidarity with Paris was not feeling solidarity with Beirut. Not so. The world is not either/or. To remain safe in our own bodies and homes, we must make friends with our stronger feelings. I feel most at home with myself when I can breathe, abide in my experience and not apologize for who I am. Who knows how others feel.

I wish us all a peaceful December.

Debra Merryweather