The Ten Modern Commandments

In my book, Did Jesus have a Cat?, I wrote about the Seven Modern Deadly Sins.  So, readers won’t be surprised that the Ten Modern Commandments couldn’t be far behind.  And they would be correct.  So, with the “wisdom” garnered from life, my observations of the modern world, and considerable humility, I have developed ten new commandments.  Because sometimes you have to update your maps and your tools, to stay up with the times.  So these are the ten that I choose:

1.      Be curious.

2.      Be open-minded.

3.      Embark on a spiritual journey.

4.      Be kind, loving and compassionate to those you meet on your journey.

5.      Surround yourself with people who will challenge and support you.

6.      Always remember you are part of something greater.

7.      Constantly cultivate and improve your self-esteem.

8.      Find opportunities to serve others.

9.      Laugh, frolic and have fun regularly.

10.    Set goals and reinvent yourself several times in your lifetime.

I am not suggesting doing away with the original Ten Commandments, because that would be tampering with 2000 + years or tradition, and I’m not that bold.  But, these ten modern exhortations, or suggestions (?), can be followed in tandem with the existing ones.  The main difference is that with the original commandments you could sit passively in a chair and live a very boring life, do little and engage in life only modestly, and still be obedient to them.  And be very smug in thinking you are leading a “good life.”  However, these modern commandments require engagement, purposeful activity and active living.  I think more is required with the second set.  Also, the original set is based on a belief in God, fear of God and punishment by God for non compliance.  The modern commandments are not based on belief in a deity, though they do not preclude such a belief.  And notice the wording.  Instead of “thou shalt not” (just sit tight and don’t do anything), I use the imperative and action verbs.  And with the modern version, the penalty for non-compliance is not the wrath of God.  But non-compliance may result in a very bland, colorless life – plain vanilla, rather than delightfully flavored (like pistachio almond, or coconut mango).  And it may mean very little communion and interaction with one’s fellow homo sapiens. Continue reading

Evolving Social Mores, or Shylock Was a Prophet


I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?  Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is?  If you prick us, do we not bleed?  If you tickle us, do we not laugh?  If you poison us, do we not die?  And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?  If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.    Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice

If ever one needed proof that misconceptions and prejudices die hard, one needn’t look very far for verification of that fact.  Opponents of Barack Obama say they are against him, not because of his race, but because of his liberal ideas and failed economic policies.  But I wonder.  Prejudice is still alive in many forms:  against blacks, Jews, Muslims, gays, immigrants, the homeless, the mentally ill.  In 2011, a homeless and mentally ill man in Orange County, CA was beaten to death by police.  I know a Jewish woman who claims that a Middle Eastern man backed away from her and would not shake her hand when he saw the Star of David hanging on a chain around her neck.  I know a lesbian couple whose cars have been vandalized while parked outside their home and this incident persuaded them to install a security camera outside their house.  Was it a “hate crime?”  When questioned, those with deep seated prejudices are unable, at times, to even articulate why they feel the way they do.  The best they can muster is “it’s just plain wrong.”

Social mores evolve.  Most of us would say this is a good thing.  Women can vote and own property.  This seems normal and just, but wasn’t always so.  Women used to marry out of financial necessity because they had no legal means or recourse to support themselves.  Now they have options.  Blacks are free, able to vote and own property and live in the same neighborhoods as whites.  Schools and universities are integrated.  Sports teams not only allow blacks, but many black athletes are highly prized and actively solicited for their skills.  Yet some forms of integration are still controversial, in some geographical areas more than others.  I visited Mississippi a few years ago, and while in Columbus touring the area around Mississippi University for Women (MUW or “the W”), learned that a local country club had closed recently.  There had been efforts to integrate the club, open to whites only.  The members objected strongly and refused to give in to pressures to integrate.  Instead, they reacted by closing the place down.  I thought at the time of the phrase “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” Continue reading

The Murky, Morphing Future of Live Theater

I recently went on line to purchase theater tickets for myself and a few friends to attend a local production of a Broadway play.  It has completed its Broadway run, and now is touring the US.  It is coming to Los Angeles soon and running for several months.  I thought this would be a great opportunity.  I go to a lot of theater productions and enjoy live theater.

When I went on line, I found that the very cheapest seats in the back of the mezzanine (the “nosebleed section”) ranged from $175.00 to $196.00 apiece.  I thought I had mis-read the price listing, so I checked again.  Yep, I had read it right the first time.

We decided not to attend.  We all agreed that it was more than we wanted to pay.  Some of my friends are retired and try to be reasonably frugal while still enjoying life.  This made me think a lot about the future of theater.  And it also made me think about a trip I took to Boston several years ago; I stayed in a Bed and Breakfast in Beacon Hill, near Boston Common.  Over breakfast, I learned from reading the Boston Globe that Edward Albee, the well-known playwright, was participating in a panel discussion at the library.  With other panelists, he would discuss the future of theater in America.  As it turned out, I was still in Boston on the day of the panel discussion and since it was free, decided to attend.  It isn’t often you get to hear a Pulitzer winner of Albee’s caliber speak.  And for free!  What a great opportunity. Continue reading

Connie and Cats by the Sea

Many and many a year has gone by,
   In Laguna Niguel near the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
   By the name of Connie P
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
   Than to love and be loved by three…(three cats that is).
She had two way back from kittenhood,
   In Laguna Niguel near the sea,
Then an orphan cat found its way to the place—
   And soon there were Connie and three—
And she cared for them with a care that was touching
   And over the top many secretly agreed.
Pandora was black as a raven’s wing,
   In Laguna Niguel near the sea, 
And a calico Mardi Gras was, but shy
   And her fur was orange, black and grey,
With white on her paws and a tread so soft
   You hardly knew she was there,
And once in a fridge she was erstwhile shut
   Yet emerged none the worse for the scare.
Angel cats, not half so happy in Heaven,
   Went envying them and me—
And from her soft heart (as all of you know,
   In Laguna Niguel by the sea)
Connie was moved to adopt Tiger as three,
   Filling and thrilling the rest of that home near the sea.
But the mischief they wrought was stronger by far
   Than the care that Connie could give —
And yea far wiser stopped caring for pets
   From frustration borne of defeat  —
Yet Connie bore on, not easily cowed
   And continued to treat them like queens 
And they ate Fancy Feast and begged for scraps
   And they sometimes ate off of her plate.
Still they dwell, spoiled, in Laguna Niguel near the sea,
   Pandora, Mardi Gras and Tiger, these three.
And they sleep on her bed and crowd Connie at night
   Wreak havoc with toys and up stairs run free
Yet she treats them like queens and still gives them treats
   And thinks it fitting and just to so be.

Pets As Ring Bearers?

I recently discovered a web site for a church that has a link to their wedding services page, and then yet another link with detailed information about how you can arrange to have your pet participate as the ring bearer in your ceremony. Then there was a link to a YouTube video taken at this church of a ceremony in which a dog was the ring bearer. It showed the handler walking the dog up the aisle, with the rings attached to its harness with ribbons. The dog made a few detours into a couple of pews to sniff up some of the guests, but he finally made it all the way up to the front of the sanctuary area, where he was given a treat.

Now I know that certain people have had all kinds of wacky weddings that have made the news – weddings in hot air balloons, planes, at a shopping mall, in parks, at beaches, on boats and ships, at a NASCAR event, and even crazier venues. I even knew a couple who got married during the intermission of a zany, crazy play. The play was so bizarre that the audience didn’t realize it was a real wedding, but thought it was just another part of the play. But the pet angle was new to me. I was surprised, but probably shouldn’t have been. I really like animals and am not opposed to their participation in one’s life in a meaningful way, but somehow I wasn’t quite sure how to react to this, the more I thought about it.

If a dog, then of course why not a cat? You could tie the rings to ribbons and attach them to a cat’s collar. The ribbons, of course, could be color coordinated to the theme colors of the bridesmaids’ dresses. Then a young child could carry the cat up the aisle. The cat could take the place of the traditional satin pillow. Probably would work best with a declawed cat. Or if you have a pet bird — a macaw, a parrot, a cockatoo – it could sit on the shoulder of one of the groom’s men and hold the rings in its mouth. Or a dove could fly up the center aisle with the rings. If you have a trained chimpanzee, it could walk up the aisle unassisted. Or if you are into horses, you could be married in a meadow, on horseback and have the rings on ribbons, braided into the horse’s mane. As you can see, the possibilities are almost endless.

I’m a real romantic and I like to think that marriage involves linkage to one’s soul mate. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that such a notion is pure folly. Many say that there is no such thing as a soul mate and that once the bloom is off the rose, the romantic love fades or bursts like a bubble, or crashes like a computer attacked by a virus. The rational part of my brain knows this, but some little piece of me wants to believe in the fantasy, and so I am still waiting for my soul mate to materialize. I think he is related to Godot and isn’t likely to appear. But if he does, I hope he keeps the pet home on our wedding day.

If my soul mate shows up, I would want the focus to be on love and commitment and perhaps some meaningful vows we wrote ourselves, or maybe my soul mate would sing a song to me – one he wrote himself. I know, I know, I need to get over myself. But it seems to me that if you involve your pet in your ceremony you are, in some way, sending the message that the vows and commitment are secondary, and it is all about staging and entertainment. The couple mentioned above who got married during the play got divorced a few years later, though there was no pet involved. What if the pet is just adorable and does a great job and you are upstaged? And for years, all the guests talk about is the dog, not how beautiful you looked in your dress, or how beautifully your partner sang to you? Even worse, what if something embarrassing happens with the pet? – use your imagination. It could go terribly wrong. For instance, a cat could get spooked, bolt, run away out the door and up a tree with the rings attached, and it would be hard to get it down. And then the videographer would capture it for all eternity and it would turn into a shameful debacle. And your mother-in-law would, no doubt, recall it at every family gathering until your twenty-fifth anniversary and remind you what a shameful mockery you made of a sacred moment.

If you have a pet in your wedding, how do you top that? What will you do for each anniversary? Your friends and family might expect more and more from you and it will get harder to come up with originally zany ideas. And what about cost? You just might be setting yourself up for big challenges. I have to admit, though, that it would be a great story to include in the yearly Christmas letter. I have a column in my yearly holiday letter that is written by one of my cats – they take turns each year writing it. Of course, it is written by me – my cats are clever but they haven’t yet learned to write. But I write it from the cat’s point of view.

I’m very big on wacky humor as you can see from my examples. It comes through in my writing here and there. I call upon it often when modern life gets to me, which is pretty frequently, given how life can be on occasion. Yet there are just a couple of areas where solemnity should still be honored. I might even allow for a bit of light humor in a wedding, but I think I’ll draw the line at pets.

What’s a modern, frolicsome yet committed couple to do? After all, all aspects of life have their yin and their yang. Maybe the pet introduces needed balance in the final analysis. And maybe the pet could participate in the wedding rehearsal, but not in the actual ceremony. This might be a viable compromise.

The jury is still out. Ask your friends what they think. This might be a great topic to kick around at a party that is starting to slow down – lively conversation after a few beers, or a few glasses of pinot grigio. Love, friends, pets, offbeat humor and a mild buzz. A great mix.

Two Camps, or Justifying My Preferences

A lot of the time I look at my world—admittedly limited—and I think there are two camps:  such as those who prefer mayo vs. Miracle Whip, those who favor dogs vs. cats, American car owners who look down their noses at imports, and those who choose non-fiction over fiction for reading.  Then there are Mac users vs. PC users, and of course, Republicans vs. Democrats and believers in God vs. non-believers.  All this means I am thinking categorically, and I realize that evolved beings are supposed to try to move beyond categories.  But, gosh, sometimes they are useful, at least for having a discussion.

The true reality is that life doesn’t fall neatly into two categories hardly ever, but for the sake of this exercise, let’s say it does.  Let’s start with mayo vs. Miracle Whip.  I happen to be a mayonnaise person myself, and even then I don’t like it slathered on too thickly.  Many times I have been disappointed at a potluck, taking a first mouthful of potato salad or macaroni salad or a deviled egg, only to find that they were made with Miracle Whip.  What a way to ruin a perfectly good dish!  Of course fans of the other product could argue, conversely, that Miracle Whip is the greater good.  And, of course, never the twain shall meet.  What gets me, though, are those who refer to Miracle Whip as mayonnaise, as if it is just another brand – like Kraft vs. Hellman’s.  WRONG! Continue reading

Charms and Talismans

I think talismans are underrated carriers of blessings in our lives.     Rev. Tom Owen-Towle

Wonder Woman has her magic bracelets and special tiara.  Some superheroes have special rings.  They provide power, strength and the ability to perform super human feats.  But I think even we mere mortals all have talismans of one sort or another.

Think about it.  You may have a favorite ring that was given to you by your mother.  You wear it often.  It reminds you of how much she supported you when you were young.  When you wear it, you feel loved and supported, like you can succeed at almost anything.  You may wear a wedding ring in a similar way, never taking it off, even long after a spouse has died.  Or you might have a favorite pair of cufflinks, a watch, or a military medal, passed down from your father to you.  They remind you of bravery, courage and the importance of fighting for causes you believe in.  If you are a woman, you might have a red power suit.  When you wear it, you feel energized, able to leap through executive glass ceilings in a single bound.  You wear it when you have to give an important presentation to the CFO.  Or you may wear it to an interview, confident that it will help you present the best “you” possible.  Channeling Gloria Allred. Continue reading

Like, Ya Know, We Need to Talk

I’ve come to the conclusion that there need to be high school and college classes in conversational English.  Forget, conversational Spanish, or French or any other second, elective language.  Many of today’s graduates cannot carry on a proper conversation.  By “proper,” I mean correct English speech with sufficiently correct grammar to converse with a supervisor or manager, or respond to an interviewer in a job interview.

I often sit in the lunch room of the corporation where I work, and while eating my lunch, I overhear bits and pieces of conversations throughout the room.  Some employees speak Spanish, and some Tagalog and I understand that they feel more comfortable with their native tongue.  But those speaking English are barely able to be understood, at least by me.  One side of a conversation might go something like this:

   So, I’m like, ya know, all chill, and….

   And then, like, he be all mad and in my face…..

   And then I go….

   And then he go…..

   And then, OMG I be like…..and I be tellin’ him…..

   And then he be sayin’…..

   And so I be thinkin’…..and I just can’t hang……

   Like, you git what I’m sayin’? Continue reading

Something New Every Day

            “Reach beyond your grasp.  Your goals should be grand enough to get the best of you.” — Teilhard De Chardin  

“Something new every day” could easily become my motto.  I am one of those “weirdoes” that becomes energized by learning new facts, trivia, quotes, or assorted tidbits.  I glean them from the web, newspapers, TV shows, radio news, emails, reading, crosswords, lectures and sermons, and travel.  And if you have your antennae sharply attuned, it isn’t very hard.  In short, a goal easily within grasp.

For instance, I was watching “Jeopardy!” (a “must” for every lifelong learner), and the Final Jeopardy question was about an item whose image was fashioned by Gustav Vigeland, described as depicting three naked men with their hands on each other’s shoulders.  And the answer turned out to be “the Nobel Peace Prize.”  Continue reading

Well Bully for You

These days the news is full of atrocious stories about youths and teens being bullied – in school classrooms, on the playground, at bus stops, in break rooms, cafeterias, and on line.  Bullying teens and heads of cliques and gangs, with their allied minions, “crowd” some poor, meek or weak kid and torment him to the point of intolerance.  They might push or shove or trip him.  They might destroy or deface property, break iPods, damage backpacks or rip clothing.  They might smash eyeglasses.  They might make derogatory comments or threats via social media sites or email.  They might threaten to harm siblings or pets.  They may cause physical injury.  Many teens seek suicide as a way out.  You’d like to think that once, or if, a teen makes it through to adulthood, some normalcy can be established and these poor tormented souls can find their niche and begin to fashion a life in an environment free of bullying.

Unfortunately, there now seems to be a growing trend toward adult bullying.  In the workplace, courses are offered in “managing difficult behavior,” conflict management, and dealing with strong personalities.  But what it really is about, stripped down to the basics, is adult bullying.  I’ve seen a lot of it, and the more I see, the scarier it seems.  In the workplace, dead flies and dead crickets are placed in coffee cups.  Lunches are pilfered from the lunchroom fridge.  The air might be let out of someone’s tires.  You might come to your car in the parking garage and find a group of adult bullies standing around, looking menacing, and making comments like “ooh, nice car” to make sure you know that they know what type vehicle you drive and where you usually park.  Some hide knives in over-the-ankle boots.  You are afraid to report it to anyone because you are afraid of reprisal or retaliation.  You start to get physical symptoms – headaches, palpitations, anxiety attacks, stomach disorders.  When you can’t take it anymore, you change jobs. Continue reading