Tag Archives: essays

Blasphemous

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The state of my heart is incarnate in Snoopy. The collective criticism on me is expressed in Charlie Brown.

It’s 10 minutes before regular Saturday Vigil mass begins, and I am sitting on my regular pew, feeling responsible rather than faithful. I wonder if I am being irreligious or irreverent toward the existence of God and the observation of the ancient rite of faith that has been performed for a long thread of centuries from the Last Supper to this Modern Day of Social Media. For my trinity of Heart, Soul, and Mind is not one with this belief when my emotions run counter to the teachings of the Church that seem incongruent with everyday reality. If this sentiment had been read aloud in the 16th or the 17th century Europe, then I would have been labelled an immoral atheist, a pariah cut adrift from the traditional mooring in the canonical faith and morals of Christianity.

My anxiousness about the existence of God is emotional, rather than logical in the working of the intellect, which has been shared by writers, philosophers, and even canonized saints of the Church. According to Professor Alec Ryne’s article of “The fury that filled the rise of atheism” as featured in this month’s BBC History, the workings of emotions and the first-hand experiences of uncharitable Christians and dogmatic clerics laid out a foundation of atheism in the 16th and 17th centuries, which later became nourishment of modern western civilization.

The French polymath Blaise Pascal knew about the power of emotions: “The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.” In fact, humans make the great choices of beliefs, values, purposes intuitively, unable to articulate how and why they have been made. This means that prior to the establishment of conformed sets of moral code and religious doctrines, the Creator has already imprinted moral and ethical guides in the human mind. This can be also meant that you can be an atheist or unbeliever with a good heart because your conscience, the law of nature, can be a guide to an outward moral virtue.

In fact, the Enlightenment’s prime critique of Christianity, that is the churches in a broad sense, was that it was “immoral.” Thinkers, such as Voltaire and Thomas Paine declaimed against the churches because of their moral revulsion. Paine furthered his vehement subjective on religion as a human invention, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, bereft of advanced metaphysical views on the churches. In other words, religion as an institution should not govern human free will to decide moral choices laid out by arbitrary set of invented rules.

Thanks to the works of philosophers based upon humanism, a discovery of belief in contemplative retreat to natural wonder percolated institutionalized belief through individual spiritual reformation. That you can find God in the beauty of nature and the wonder of how the human body and mind work is a way you can affirm the existence of God as a manifestation of God because all of it could not have created itself. As a matter of fact, this natural way of finding the existence of God was St. John Paul II’s favorable method of praying during his lifetime because being a former student theater actor, he could see the clear signs of God in the workings of nature. Which coincides in the Enlightenment thinkers’ views on belief, free from institutionalized doctrines of belief.

In light of the above, my crisis of belief was more of emotional than of intellectual. The temptations that there was no God, also sprang in the minds of St. Therese of Lisieux, St. John of Cross, and other saintly men and women. Even Jesus on the Cross cried out, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Which indicates the workings of emotions in the face of existential strife, a vantage point from which belief they had steadfastly held no longer or momentarily felt true. From angry unbelief that religion was morally intolerable to anxious unbelief that religion was an ethical institution, the history of atheism has ironically redefined the notion about belief, authentic faith, by pointing out the corruption of the churches and purifying the understanding of God as the modern world is familiar with. For me, it’s high time I went hiking on the nearby mountain trails to seek a manifestation of belief for My Own Reformation of Belief.

How they stole Christmas spirit

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They dispirited Joy to the World; no more Christmas carols, no more resplendently colorful lights of Christmas trees, let alone no more exchanges of Christmas gifts. Instead, they brandish a Five-starred Red Flag, chanting party doctrines and Chinese cultural manifesto amid a flow of flashy foreign imports and an ostentatious charade of manufactured exports produced in high volume sales at a low unit margin of profit in world market. To paraphrase the universal Shakespeare, I must be cruel, only to be kind: Thus truth begins and reality remains behind. It is indelible truth that in this time of global community, indispensably interconnected by mutual needs and benefits, what is reckoned an Orwellian idea of totalitarianism as fabulously satirized in Animal Farms and 1984 is really happening in our time.

110179To come upon an article from the Internet issue of The Guardian on Chinese government’s banning on Christmas celebrations spurred me on to write this piece of short essay. The journalist objectively reports that the Communist government crack downed on Christmas celebrations, dismissing as “western festivals” that have no cultural values on their Chinese cultural heritage, which should be in turn actively promoted among the comrades. The governmental institutions, schools, and bureaus relayed a directive at the behest of Xi Jinping, disapproving of observation of Christmas as well as practice of Christian religions, under the pretext of “maintaining stability” and cohesiveness of Chinese cultural legacies. Moreover, the myrmidons of Xi, the cult of Communism, ingratiate themselves with old-fashioned propaganda that urges Chinese people to refuse all other foreign (especially, western) festivals because they will corrupt the purity of their culture and weaken their party ideals.

However, such is not a sudden raid on non-Chinese customs or anything that might look threatening to the despotic hegemony of the Communist Chinese Party. It has always been there, but now the tip of the iceberg is beginning to show by Xi’s political ambition conflated with his proud Chinese ethnocentrism. With respect to religious freedom in China, it has not been changed since the Cultural Revolution. For instance, China does not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and it has its own version of schismatic Chinese Patriotic Church of China, which the Vatican does not recognize. Not only the Catholics but also other Christian denominators are persecuted. The article informs the reader that the police raided a children’s Bible class, shut churches, and arrested the members because they practiced the religions outside of officially sanctioned institutions, which are in fact none other than governmental institutions vested with the ostensible canopy of a few de rigeur religious objects.

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Woe betides Xi, his myrmidons, the extreme Chinese jingoists, and their sympathizers who blindly declaim about their cultural superiority and proud ethnocentrism lasting for centuries despite their historical losses against the British, the Japanese, the Americans, and the Koreans. According to Ma Jian, a Chinese-British writer whose wife Flora Drew is his English translator, in China Dream, a satire about the Chinese communist totalitarianism, the Party developed a neural implant called the China Dream Device that is inserted to a person’s brain to wipe out his entire memories and dreams and to enter the Party ideals for the glory of New China built upon a gauche mixture of blatant consumerism and blind nationalism. The result is a Big Overfed Child who only thinks for himself and behaves without a decorum of civility common to Civilized Man.

Xi and the Party should first learn by heart that Christmas is not a byproduct of western materialism – which ironically has become their chief god – or an epiphenomenon of western imperialism under the aegis of European Christendom. Christian or non-Christian, Western or Eastern, Christmas is a joyful, a feel-good day that has been celebrated for centuries. It’s a most celebrated holiday season around the world that imparts a sense of warmth, togetherness, love, and hope. It does not require of anyone a special membership to enjoy the spirit. Besides, Jesus of Nazareth was not western but eastern because Israel was and still is geographically located in Asia. In light of the aforesaid, what the leaders and its Leader of the Party should understand is the cultural, religious foundations of not only Christmas Day but also all other legacies of humanity that transcend the subjectivity of time, territory, and tribe because as Edmund Burke also attested: “The standard of reason and taste is universal in all human creatures as regards principles of judgment and of sentiment common to all mankind.” Without the knowledge, China will still be clothed in the Old Mao Suit that does not fit.

 

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Kinship of Aeneas, George Orwell, and J.K. Rowling

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I see them almost every day with carts chockablock with their haggard belongings at a coffeeshop in the morning. They come in disheveled, reeking of abandonment of hygiene, but they seem past caring of it, let alone resigned to unwelcome glances of strangers. They are no less than Mendicants, Vagabonds, Tramps, Panhandlers, Beggars, or the Homeless themselves, defying the laws of social evolution and Marxist dialectic changes. You see,  they have withstood epochal changes.

It was one Monday morning while I was perking up my spirit still under the spell of weekend reverie with a cup of coffee in my regular Starbucks shop nearby my workplace when a homeless woman approached me and cadged for money to buy coffee. I conceded her plea because her forlorn spirit manifesting in her once beautiful face evoked pathos, which would have stung me with a pang of conscience if I had let it foregone. Besides, the fact that she was a woman living in the street, where all foreseeable and unforeseeable risks were lurking to violate her dignity as a fair sex, vexed my mind and heart. It was all too a fortiori opportune to read the article with the lethargic face of the homeless woman still fresh on my mind.

Never mind piousness, didacticism, and self-righteousness. It goes against the grain to decry poverty at the door of the poor themselves, which is always easy and convenient to pin down based on personal faults, but that would attest superciliousness of being not one of the unfortunate kinds. That is to say, the homeless is the result of addiction to substances, laziness, and careless ways of modus vivendi; therefore, the homeless are unworthy of sympathy nor empathy.

As a matter of fact, the liberals wade in with their de rigueur weary blaming of the heartless conservatives for their preferential treatment of the given, the fortunate, the haves, while the conservatives lambast the cry babies’ importuning their sorry states as a tendency of the cossetted dependency substratum. Both of the parties do nothing but grandstanding against one another for their voting rights that exclude these “marginals” of society they could not care less. However, the causes of homelessness are one collective social evil comprising many a factor; it’s a complex one involving mental health issues for sure, skyrocketing rent fees as a result of rampant trend of gentrification, prevalent lay-offs and unresolved unemployment rates, low wages, integration of families, and a variety of personal elements that are oftentimes looked on with insignificance as trifles. George Orwell, whose brief period of impecuniousness upon returning from Paris to London forced him to live as a tramp as plainly narrated in his empirical Down and out in Paris and London, conceded: “… if they [the homeless] are worse than other people, it is the result and not the cause of their way of life.” That is to say, no one wants to be homeless with a will.

Come to think of it, our human conditions are precarious and many times operated outside the boundary of planned stratagem, for human life is woven by unexpected variables and vicissitudes that befall any one like you never know. Aeneas, a royal Trojan hero in Virgil’s Aeneid, became homeless in the wake of the fall of Troy and found himself and his homeless followers dependent upon the kindness of Dido, the queen of Carthage and her people. The great Russian writer Maxim Gorki and the American Jack London were once homeless. And there is J.K Rowling, who lived a life of near-homelessness with her infant daughter without a job before the first book of the Harry Potter series was published. Woe betides anyone who patronized them for the want of the gumption before they became somebody.

Whether or not we like it, the caste of the homeless will most likely to proliferate unless political leaders stop pontificating about their party ideologies that lose touch with the realistic world of everyday life of the ordinary people. They say the extravagant lifestyles of the aristocracy and their haughty treatment of the poor were the sine qua non of the French Revolution, which was the radical reconstruction of the class system that excluded the welfare of the poor. Then why do I yoke the images of the haughty aristocrats to those of the present-day politicians who seem to thrust the issues of rising homelessness into the bottom of a filing bin and to keep pointing fingers at the homeless for their misfortune? Maybe in an irony of fates, if these politicians wake up one morning and find themselves in the shoes of the unfortunate, they might understand it, but I hope it will not be too late then.

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Ditto to ‘On Writing’, by Stephen King

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Flowering Plum Tree by Camille Pissarro –

I have been writing profusely and religiously almost on a daily basis since I created the blog a month ago. I love the process of writing my thoughts and feelings publicly in hope of communicating with the people who can share them and appreciate my writing. Although I don’t have a huge fan base, nor do many people leave comments on my posts, I am not dispirited because even David Hume, the author of Human Understanding received a total lack of recognition upon publication, nor did Athony Trollope’s The Macdermots of Bally Cloran gain any readership. Nary a one bit. What a comfort.

While reading Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, I have been getting many invaluable tips on how to write a story, what to write, and what to possess to write. King’s advice is down to earth, straightforward, honest, and friendly. Also, he is very humble to share his own craftsmanship in reference to his own personal experience which I am greatly appreciative of. Before I read the book, I felt a great distance from the contemporary American writers and their works because they seemed to belong to another world where I could not find myself comfortable with and connected to. However, King with his book On Writing has kindly and warmly invited me to the world of modern American literature and his personal/professional world in a very American way.

His writing style is precise, perspicuous, scintillating, and personal. There are no belle lettres, no plum words, no grandiloquence, no priggishness, and no platitudes therein. Just a straight story-telling as truthfully as possible. It’s both intellectual and entertaining. Besides, the facts that (1) he went to a state university; (2) he’s not from an affluent or a typical middle class family; (3) his writer wife, who also went to the same university as he did, worked at a Dunkin’ Donuts’ to support their family; and that (4) he plays the rhythm guitar in an amateur rock band consisting of his fellow writers have drawn me closer to appreciate his world of literature, his brilliant creations.

Furthermore, King seems to have read my mind in regards to my arrested development of writing stories I want the world to read. To write good, I have to read a lot consistently. Also, setting up a writing routine on a daily basis is highly recommendable. He suggests any aspiring writer write at least 500 words per day. So here I am writing this long-forgotten online journal. And the most important thing to keep in mind is that I should not lower my level to expose my writing to any external feedback by publicizing it in expectation of receiving praise or even the smallest comment, unless my writing is complete and reader-friendly after satisfactory re-draft of the original. Besides,  I will not canvass for readership because I don’t want my blog to be tainted by internet marketers of dubious origins and their ilks. In fact, the satisfaction results from writing a story that is honest to myself, that is easy to write about, and that is vivid in telling a story abstracted in my brain. Thus, I have decided to publish my blog post upon thoroughly circumspect review thereof. And I will keep this journal diligently and write a short story per week.

I will let go of myself in the world of armature writing and see how far I will get to. And if this is not my thing to pursue, then I will toss it to find another avenue in my life. But for now, I will stick to this writing plan.

*Having done this entry, I have realized 699 words were written! There I go! I have already written a short story of mine!

P.S. Sir Francis Bacon once said, “Reading makes a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” How rightly so.

The rare equanimity of this Sunday evening (also in celebration of denouement of the senseless Daylight Savings Time in the States) allured me to trace back my bygone days, and hence this entry of my interior monologue I wrote on Tuesday, December 8th, 2015, several days after starting my blog on wordpress.com. I have always liked to write since I could read and write, no matter how amateurish it may be.

Although I can’t imagine myself earning the bare necessities by means of writing, an act of writing emboldens my otherwise timid self under the aegis of anonymity. Well, I have my name Stephanie Suh manifested as the author of the writings on my blog, but other attributes of mine are protected by stealth, and it will remain so in fear of losing a magical sense of writing as a ghost writer. (Or sometimes, I feel like Artemis, a divine huntress who vehemently protected herself from the leers and jeering of mortals in terms of her fierce guarding of noble independence. ) After all, writing is an act of discovery of a self, ego qua meaningfulness, a search for sense of purpose in life. It’s also a sanctuary, an elbow room of a restive, lost soul on a life sea. It’s also a cultivation of  plants and flowers and trees in your Secret Mind Garden. 

 

The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages by Sherrilyn Kenyon

The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages: The British Isles From 500-1500The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages: The British Isles From 500-1500 by Sherrilyn Kenyon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although the Middle Ages (roughly from the 5th to 15th century) is often dubbed as “The Dark Ages,” the epitaph coined by the thinkers of the Renaissance, this was the period when many important social institutions, such as universities, hospitals, marriage as a sacrament, and use of surnames, which have become norms of our society, were established. In this book, the author Sherrilyn Kenyon succeeds in closing the great divide of time and space between modern readers and the folks living in the medieval time by presenting general aspects of life in the medieval England ranging from food to medicine and so forth which are not so much outlandishly different from what we are familiar with in one way or another. This review of mine intends to provide the facts on the two of the necessities of the human life, which are food and clothing, plus medicine to share the fun of knowing them and of learning about the misty but not too distant past on an evolutionary clock.

Food
The folks in the Middles Ages were not usually voracious eaters; breakfast consisted of a loaf of bread and some wine for the nobility or ale for the peasantry, partaken of after a daily morning mass. Then between 10:00 AM and Noon, a dinner was served, and supper at the time of sunset was prepared. In the castle of a lord, during a supper time, a traveling minstrel (a wandering singer-songwriter) entertained the host of the castle and received food or coins in return. The most perplexing fact about the medieval table etiquette involves attitudes toward the dogs: food scraps were forbidden to be given out to the dog while the diners were at the table. It further prohibited tossing a morsel of food to the dogs even after the meal.

With respect to the kinds of food mostly available to the folks living in the middle ages, the following were some of the common staples of the nobility and the peasantry:

  • Sugar was a very valuable spice and expensive to import. It was during the 12th century sugar became a common ingredient in England, where sugar imported from Alexandria was regarded prime quality because it was flavored with roses and violets. In fact, England in the Middle Ages seemed to be quite actively engaged in commercial activities in comparison to Spain, France, and Italy as follows:
  • England’s exports: Fish, Cheese, and Ale. Its imports: Raisins, figs, dates, olive oil, wine, almonds, and rice.
    Spain’s exports: Sugar, preserved fruits, and syrups
    France’s exports: Wine
    Italy’ exports: Pies
  • The most common vegetables were onions, peas, beans, and cabbages. However, cucumbers and leeks were considered unhealthy. As for the kinds of fruit, most consumed were apples, plums, pears, peaches, and nuts. Citrus ones, such as oranges and lemons were not seen in England until the Crusades.
  • Speaking of the Crusade, it was said that the French crusaders’ garlic breath disgusted the people of Constantinople for the reason that garlic was used as a main spice to conceal the taste of spoiling meat. There are two other ways to preserve meat: (1) Dry salting by burying meat in salt; and (2) Brune curing by soaking it in a salt solution. However, in many times, the meat, which was a main staple of the noble and the wealthy, became perished, causing a variety of skin irritations, scurvy, tooth decay, and different types of infection.

Clothing
Despite the class differences, there was a little difference between the styles of clothing and the types of fabric worn by the nobility and the peasantry at least during the early middle ages due mostly to limited trade caused by poor travel conditions. Merchants and peddlers could not travel far with their carts and wagons as a result of such poor road conditions and a peril of highwaymen. So Nobles made their fashion statements with jewels as accessories for their garments. When the power of kings and nobles grew stronger, they also controlled the roads, decreasing the risk of robbery and violence. Consequently, this new social mobility led to an increase in trade, bringing a greater variety of fabrics and colors. Moreover, the term “Fashion Police” was originated from this period when this deputy of the nobility literally patrolled the streets and checked all to make sure they were wearing clothes appropriate to their social class.

Medicine
I was especially interested in this subject due to my recent urgent medical treatments. What was it like being a patient of painful ailment? Contrary to my previous beliefs of barbarian methods of curing the sick without anesthesia and other superstitious ways of treating common diseases, the medieval doctors were actually quite competent to heal the wounded with surprisingly inventive surgical tools and remedies that can be adopted to tend to the modern day patients. Also, Jewish doctors armed with the knowledge of Arabic and Greek were most highly esteemed and exclusively employed by kings, nobles, or wealthy merchants in their castles or manors. Also, many women were licensed to practice medicine equipped with knowledge of various remedies passed from their elders. Some of these women specialized in eye diseases.

The common types of ailments in the middles ages are as follows:

  • The most common diseases in the middles ages were dysentery, epilepsy, influenza, diphtheria, scurvy, typhoid, St. Vitus’ Dance, St. Anthony’s fire, stroke, heart disease, and leprosy. On the contrary, tuberculosis, cancer, alcoholism, and venereal diseases were rarely recorded despite the author’s thoroughly extensive research.
  • Also, doctors believed in the importance of preventive medicine, advising people to refrain from taking a nap because they followed the Greek belief that the body was made up of four humors that were sanguine, choler, phlegm, and melancholia and three spirits.
  • Interestingly, women gave birth in a sitting stance to allow gravity to streamline the delivery process. Moreover, anesthesia was used in surgeries in the form of a sponge soaked in the juice of opium, ivy, or lettuce and then dried in the sun. It’s re-soaked in water and held to the patient’s nose and mouth whenever it was needed.

Further to the notable medieval medical achievements as listed above, here are some interesting information on how the folks at the time tried to cure their physical weaknesses which I think might benefit us:

  • Acorn: A woman carrying it will have the eternal youth
    Amethyst: the possession of it will prevent you from falling into drunkenness
    Blackberry: If you eat it, it will relieve you of diarrhea
    Camphor: It wards off infections
    Cold: Drinking a warm cup of barley tea will cure you of cold,
    Coughs: A pint of vinegar with a quarter ounce of finely grounded licorice will stop you from coughing.
    Dandelion: A cup of dandelion tea acts as a laxative
    Peppermint: Its tea will relieve you of bloatedness and relieve you of gas.
    Rosemary: If you wash your hair in water full of rosemary, it will make your hair grow.
    Rosewater: Apply it to your inflamed eye for treatment.

To encapsulate, this easy-to-read book is a great guide to the ordinary customs of the middle ages that are compiled by the author’s diligently thorough research on the social/cultural aspects of the medieval England. In fact, as the title of this book presents, it will be also an excellent reference book for writers interested in creating stories set in this time period. Besides, the book shows readers that however arcane or backward the way of life in the medieval time may look to be in our modern standard, the medieval folks lived in what they imagined as “modern” time compared to the ancient Greek and Roman times. Therefore, we should cast away our fallacy of the human ego that makes us look back at the past and think we are better than they were. After all, the medieval was not altogether a grim and gloom dystopia ruled by religious didacticism and scientific ignorance.

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