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Monday, September 14, 2015

Doing Evil in the Name of Faith

"In faith, a baker refuses to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. In faith, a minister prays for the president to die. In faith, terrorists plant bombs at the finish line of a marathon. In faith, mosques are vandalized, shot at and burned. In faith, a televangelist asks his followers to buy him a $65 million private jet.

And no one is even surprised anymore.

In America, what we call faith is often loud, often exclusionary, sometimes violent and too frequently enamored of shiny, expensive things. In faith, ill-tempered people mob the shopping malls every year at Christmas to have fistfights and gunfights over hot toys and highend electronics."

These words, written by syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts in a column titled 'Jimmy Carter's Faith,' eloquently express what I, and I suspect, many others, feel about the current state of 'religion' in our country. The faith of these so-called religious people -- be they Christian, Muslim or some other religion -- has been usurped by those with personal agendas. I can state with certainty that the current version of Christianity so much in the news lately is decidedly not the faith in which I was raised. And it is not the faith of so many people around the world. Too many people today seem to pick and choose the teachings of their religion that they try to force on other people, cherry-picking certain passages from the Bible or Koran as evidence of the 'rightness' of their beliefs and actions.

I have always felt that religion is best kept between a person and his/her God. I do not make a show of my faith through overt actions or the way I dress. I don't need to drop to my knees in prayer or point to the sky when something good happens to me. I would guess that none of my friends have any idea what my faith is. Yes, I know that Christ called on His followers to spread the good news of the gospel, and I have no quarrel with those who feel called to do just that. But I don't want somebody knocking on my door to try and convince me to join their church. I do not want others' religious beliefs to be forced down my throat.

I want the freedom to live my life, and make decisions, according to my beliefs. I should not be expected to live my life according to others' dictates. When I lived in Maryland in the early 1970s, I was unable to shop for dog food or typing paper or many other things on Sunday because of that state's 'blue laws.' In New Mexico, people cannot purchase alcoholic drinks before noon on Sunday, because someone believes people should be in church and not drinking alcohol on Sunday mornings. Shouldn't those decisions be left to the individual and not the state? I believe that government needs to be free of all religious influences.

This is not to say that I don't try to follow Christian principles in how I live my life. I donate food, clothing and money to help the less fortunate. I volunteered weekly for two years at a local food pantry. I try to be a good person. But I don't shout my religion from the rooftops, and I don't picket or protest places with whose practices I disagree. I don't feel a need to dress in a particular matter to broadcast to the world what religion I follow. I used to work with a Jewish woman who is not especially religious, and she didn't go to temple. But I noticed after a while that in every conversation she had with other people she always managed to work in the fact that she was Jewish.

Faith should not be loud. It should not be violent. And it should certainly not be exclusionary. Should we not embrace and welcome other people of faith despite our differences? Who is to say that my beliefs are better or more righteous than someone else's? And who am I to try to force my beliefs on others?

I frequently shake my head when I read about anti-abortion advocates who believe it is fine to kill abortion providers. So much for their 'pro-life' beliefs. Or the 'black lives matter' advocates who call for the murder of police officers and white people. Granted, those making such threats are a small minority, but do they feel the way to get justice for the oppressed is to murder innocent people who have caused them no harm?

Kim Davis and others of her ilk need to practice their religion in private. If her conscience or warped interpretation of the Bible conflicts with the laws of the land, and if they preclude her from doing the job she was elected to do, she needs to find a job better suited to her religious prejudices. Imagine the uproar that would ensue if a Jewish official refused to approve a permit for a restaurant because it served pork, or if a Muslim person refused to issue a liquor license to a business that met the requirements for such a license.

These so-called Christians need to re-read the Bible, particularly the passages about not judging others and about loving their neighbors. And then, they should just go away. The world is fed up with their evil acts in the name of faith.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Pied Kingfisher Photo

New wildlife photo of the day for Aug. 28 as chosen by Natural Habitat Adventures!

This photo of a pied kingfisher was taken on Botswana's Okavango Delta. It is available for purchase at

A Welcome Change

Although daytime temperatures here in central New Mexico still reach into the upper 80s, there is a definite hint of autumn in the air.

The different angle of the morning sun is the first indication that the seasons will be changing soon. Days are shorter, with later sunrises and earlier sunsets. Low clouds on the horizon, uncommon during the summer, create fabulous, colorful sunrises. Overnight temperatures are a bit cooler. Cloudy days are more common. Leaves turn from green to a beautiful golden color. Our trees, cottonwoods and aspens, lack the brilliant reds and oranges of maple trees. But the golden leaves are beautiful in their own way. Most of all, there is a feeling in the air that change is on the horizon. Fall truly is a feast for all our senses.

The state's famous Hatch green chiles have been harvested, and chile roasting is under way throughout the state. Chiles are offered for sale in 30-pound bags -- an amount that would last three lifetimes for me, as spicy foods don't agree with my stomach. Autumn has a distinctive aroma unique to this season. Maybe it's the smell of decomposing leaves that have fallen to the ground, roasting chiles and the occasional wood fire or burning leaves.Inside, autumn brings the smell and taste of different spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, and the aroma of hearty food cooking on the stove or in the oven. Whatever it is, it is a wonderful aroma that heralds the arrival of a new season.

Fall has a different sound, too, as geese and other birds fly overhead on their annual migration. Where I live, it's the distinctive sound of sandhill cranes on their trek south that indicates the arrival of fall. We can hear the sound of leaves crunching beneath our feet. Even the wind blowing through the leaves on the trees sounds different as the leaves dry out.

Don't forget the different feel of autumn, as we don warmer clothes. I love the feel of a warm sweater or sweatshirt on a chilly fall morning. The air itself feels different.

This coming change will bring a welcome end to the scorching heat of summer. The cottonwoods and aspens will don their brilliant yellow leaves. Soon I will start going through my cookbooks in search of cool-weather recipes. Capris will replace the shorts I have worn all summer. I will be able to open dining room windows for a couple of hours in the early morning, and to sit outside while reading the morning newspaper. And I look forward to sleeping with a bedroom window open, enjoying the cool night air and if I'm lucky, the sounds of coyotes howling.

So take a step outside, close your eyes and let the changing of the seasons fill your senses.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Mountains Are Calling

"The mountains are calling and I must go."

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”  

“But in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.” -- John Muir

Although I had a vague notion of what John Muir did and stood for during his lifetime, I just recently began to get a broader understanding of how important his contributions to wilderness preservation were. His activism helped ensure the preservation of the Yosemite Vally, Sequoia National Forest and other irreplaceable wilderness areas. He petitioned the U.S. Congress for the national parks bill that established Yosemite National Park in 1890. He also founded the Sierra Club. Muir didn't just talk about wilderness; he explored it on foot, walking thousands of miles during his explorations. He lived in the Yosemite Valley. He was a powerful and tireless advocate for wilderness. 

Half Dome
I am just back from a wonderful hiking trip to Yosemite National Park. Aside from the spectacular views, the gigantic sequoia trees and the soaring granite cliffs, one of the things I truly enjoyed was the smell of wilderness.

A giant sequoia
That's right, the smell of the woods. It was a combination of fresh air, earth, leaves and trees, including incense cedars, oaks, sequoias and others. I live on a 1/2-acre lot with wonderful views of the Sandia Mountains. But being the high desert, large trees are rare except for the cottonwoods along the banks of the Rio Grande.  Hiking through these magnificent forests was a real treat for the senses.

Every visit to the mountains reminds me yet again of how much I value wilderness. I mentioned to one of our trip leaders that I wish someone could bottle the feeling and especially the scent of the forest so I could fill my house with it.

Yosemite Valley as seen from Glacier Point
Don't get me wrong. I love the comforts of home as much as anybody, and my old joints no longer appreciate lying on a thin pad on the ground at night. So my backpacking days are long gone. But I love day hikes in the woods, savoring"y the beauty, the sights, the sounds and the smells of the forest. And from time to time I whisper a prayer of thanks to those men -- John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt among them -- who had the foresight to push for the preservation of thousands of acres of American wilderness. It was because of Muir's persistence that Roosevelt signed legislation setting Yosemite aside as a national park.

Sadly, the battle to preserve our vanishing wilderness continues to this day, more than 100 years after Muir's death. As he predicted, "The battle for conservation must go on endlessly.
It is part of the universal warfare between right and wrong.”

Not everybody is comfortable outdoors, hiking the trails, climbing mountains and drinking in the beauty of nature. But I strive to heed Muir's words to "Climb the mountains and get their
good tidings.Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”