Goodenough Gismo

  • Gismo39
    This is the classic children's book, Goodenough Gismo, by Richmond I. Kelsey, published in 1948. Nearly unavailable in libraries and the collector's market, it is posted here with love as an "orphan work" so that it may be seen and appreciated -- and perhaps even republished, as it deserves to be. After you read this book, it won't surprise you to learn that Richmond Irwin Kelsey (1905-1987) was an accomplished artist, or that as Dick Kelsey, he was one of the great Disney art directors, breaking your heart with "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," and "Bambi."

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Impressive. A personal and imaginative sociology of religion. I think you're onto something. Especially the last bit about the hard work of being human in an increasingly stressful world. Almost got Hannah Arendt's Human Condition on me.

Raymond Sigrist

Hi Amba

re: "It’s for you hard-core wonderers and wanderers – my scattered tribe – that I want to send up a flare, pitch a tent, put out some desert rations."

Thanks for the flare, I love the rations.

I encounter God (or what ever one might want to provisionally call it) by disregarding all my beliefs about her, including my insistence that she must exist. So far she has not seemed to mind one bit what I think.

Anytime I want to dance, "she" says "Let's dance."


Marcus Cicero

There was some segment on the evening news a few years ago that set my head spinning -- Peter Jennings, I believe. The segment was about the power of prayer. Apparently, some scientists had been studying the effect of prayer on the human condition, with the usual tests of groups who pray versus those who don't. The report showed how those who pray are healthier and happier, perhaps even living longer.

What struck me was how the news people went right up to the edge of saying the following, without actually doing so: "Prayer, as a way of communication with 'God' -- if there is a god -- is probably bunk. It's simplistic and based on outdated religious notions. But as a health therapy, prayer is very positive. Prayer is like meditation, which relaxes the body and enhances internal physiological balances. Scientists approve of prayer because it is healthy and reduces health costs, not because it means anything beyond what can be understood by science."

Like I said, Mr. Jennings didn't go as far as to say that. But the segment was dripping wet with the idea that religion is at best a sweet, well-meaning activity that at worst has ghastly side effects -- wars, ignorance, stupidity, pro-lifers and brainwashed kids selling crosses.

You said:

"Fundamentalists may be in denial of 21st-century reality, but denial has freed them to seize the day and reshape that reality, while freethinkers founder in a quagmire of nuance."

Indeed. Faith leads; rationalizing follows. But we must be careful. Go back to the year 1400 and it was faith that ruled the world, sans rationality. And not always for the better. The Enlightenment happened because clergical orthodoxy was a yoke on humanity. Classical liberalism has evolved quite a ways distant from those days. It has made us who we are, though its current incarnation has corrupted so much. We should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

You also said:

> These are fruits of the Spirit that require pruning of the self, and
> that therefore flourish best in the orderly orchards of tradition. It may be
> the strongest argument (short of the inarguable “God wants you to”) for
> submitting to an organized faith. When I look at my cousin’s and friend’s
> choices from this point of view, instead of “How could they do that?” I ask
> myself, “Why can’t I do that?”

Why can't you do that? It might be because something's not coming from deep within -- it's either not there (unlikely) or it's blocked (likely). Me too.

In my case, my dad converted to Catholicism in 1955, and became the classic convert. He was and remains very religious, and has more than embraced the Church in his life -- he's practically become a maniac about it -- church everyday, rosary everyday, reads nothing but Catholic literature, etc. I was sent to Catholic school, where we kids joked about 'toilet plunger religion' classes. By the time I was a teenager, relentless rote religious indoctrination filled me. Clearly, God was a bureaucrat, Who would punish me for not going to church on Sunday. Clearly that was a bunch of crap. Catholicism killed my sense of spirituality for a long, long time. I went through the usual paces of religious detoxification in my twenties and thirties.

My dad found and embraced the Church. He didn't go to Catholic school. I am expected to carry his flame, the one he found and picked up. Implicitly, that means he had a choice that I am forbidden. He doesn't understand this in the smallest way.

Now I am at the point where I yearn for the symbolic, simple aspects of my religious youth, if only that could be separated from the more notional aspects of it. And my wife and I have a daughter, who turns one year old in a week. I have been worried about what to do with her as she gets a little older, with respect to faith.

Do I believe in God? A qualified 'yes.' Do I believe in an afterlife? A qualified 'maybe -- sounds nice, why not?' Do I believe in Jesus Christ, God's son? A qualified 'I like his teachings, dunno if he's God.' Do I believe in the Ten Commandments? A qualified 'yes' -- except for Commandment #4, keeping the Sabbath holy. I just don't. Do I think God is love? Yes -- yes, yes, yes.

How do I shut down the qualifications and just believe? Honestly, I look at believers very admiringly. How do they do it? No, I don't think they're stupid, or duped. I think they have gone to a higher plane than I inhabit, no matter how many essays I write for Winds of Change. I can write a thousand bibles worth of text, and not get to that plane. I know that.

This irregular, bland, qualified pseudofaith of mine will need to come up with some answers for my very young girl soon. And like you said, I note that religious children can be radiantly polite. I was one such child. I remember my grammar school years with God very fondly, and it genuinely helped provide structure and purpose for the boy Cicero; I remember the nitty-gritty blueprint catechism in my high school years, that drew me away from the Church. As though they literally talked me out of faith. How tragic.

For some reason, I have no desire to join some other Christian sect, positive as they might be. It would devastate my family, for starters. But beyond that, I'm not really interested. It's Catholicism or nothing. I think I am looking for a resolution with the Church -- some kind of rectification of what it made me, versus who I am, and what the Church is. That is still in the works. I need to be sure that I don't make my daughter into a pawn of my need to set right my own past.

Anyway, that's a bit of a rambling response to your essay. Thanks for being Jewish -- I have found a lot of congruencies between myself and my Jewish friends. Very similar conflicts of the soul. Thanks for writing me, and best of luck with your book.


Fantastic Fantastic writing and I too feel I am a spiritual nomad. Just want to point out that really (fundamentalist esp) Christianity can ALSO be about submitting to the will of God, not just Islam. But anyway, wonderful blog keep up the work it's beautiful and insightful! WoW!


oh my goodness, have i been looking for you for a while! i got to your site through the mighty middle, and i am glad! i have been yearning for someone like me for so long, it seems like i have only found people very far in their faith or very far out of their faith.. and then the people on the fence like myself don't want to ask any questions or delve into what they are feeling at all! i am so right there with your thoughts.. i wasn't raised christian, so it is really hard for me togo to a church service and listen to the crazy thing they say that don't seem to have ANY connection to the life i live, besides the basic moral message underlying, which you can get many other places.. at sixteen i started studying zen and really liked it, but my inquisitive mind goes farther than 'just sitting' too often.. please let me know when your book comes out, for i am an avid reader and would devour it! thanks for the flare!


Your book rocks, amba. Look, this tradition thing is not going to persist forever. Once we have defeated or substantially weakened radical islamist terror, people will come out of their holes. To me believing that God is benevolent, cares about me personally, and is fair and just is sufficient. I don't know why people feel the need to retreat back to the holes. I've gone back to church for family events on several occasions--and while I like Christmas Carols and the decorations etc.--I hear them recite the creed, and I'm like, "Jesus Christ (pun wickedly intended), when the hell are they gonna update this thing? Haven't they read the latest scholarship or perused the gnostic gospels?" That's what gets to me, I feel sometimes that Jesus himself would have a hard time getting them to change their theology if he came back down. They'd probably call him an impostor and cite Bible verses against him. It's like these people could care less about the facts and would just like to stay in their cocoon perpetually.

I am an eternal optimist and we will prevail amba. I'm almost 24, and us youngins' won't let you down. Fer chrissakes, look at our company. Jefferson proclaimed that he was, to his knowledge, in a sect all by himself. Einstein had similar leanings. In fact, look at Jesus and Buddha: they took on the superstitions of their religions, Judaism and Hinduism respectively. Remember Jesus's 40 days in the desert, remember Buddha's temptation by Mara. We will prevail.

Don't let your "ambivalence" drag you down. You've said that we don't think we can improve on the truths of past religions--where's your ambition, girl? Of course, we can improve on it. It can be some stunningly beautiful synthesis of the best of all relgions, science, and philosophy brought together by stunning new insights.

I view this as akin to radical centrism. It strives to go beyond stale democrat vs republican, and we're on a similar endeavor here. We can do better!

Hell, if you believe that God had something substantive to do with prior founding of religions, we may just be ripe for another divine infusion to bring us nomads together. Now, that may sound totally loony-toon, but we've gone an awful long time since a Mohammed or a Buddha or some major event. Certainly, we have to be very careful about not falling prey to those who would exploit such a sentiment, but if you honestly believe that there is some higher plan, even if faintly known, you can't rule it out completely. Even without that, our future is bright.

You have before talked about sadder but wiser. You crazy girl, the real sage sees beyond the maya and illusion and realizes infinite bliss, wisdom, and awareness which is the only true reality. Now, this all may be over the top, but I felt you needed a bit more of a "missionary spirit."

Best wishes and good luck.


Thank you, Adam, it was a jolt of YOUTH that I needed!!

When I say we can't improve on the core truths discovered by the great religions, I didn't say we can't reinterpret them and combine them!! And yes, add to them, why not -- it's about time for a new revelation. (I have a sense that this time it may come collectively -- democratically, if you will -- instead of through one single prophet.)
That's what I'm up to -- how do we today understand the Law of Karma? How do we understand "submission to the will of God"? Our
understanding of these things has changed in the light of science. It has become less cruel, fearful and superstitious. Science has allowed us to make our lives somewhat easier and more pleasant, and that has given us a less cruel view of the universe. But who gave us the ability to develop science?

If you want to privately send me a real e-mail address, I'll send you the first intro I wrote to my book-in-the-works. It was written soon after 9/11 and I think had more of that missionary spirit you miss. (It's in my old computer so I'll have to switch over.) The publishers and agents told me 9/11 was receding and I'd better recast it.

Thank you for the marvelous comments, the encouragement and fellowship.


I'd be happy to send you my email address. I would add that I think traditional religions provide communal support, so that people are gaining comfort from other people and millenia of tradition and faith, in addition to support from God. However, the spiritual nomad's task is much more challenging, because the support is primarily coming from God. We have few crutches to rely on. In many ways I feel this is what Jesus was doing in the desert and Buddha during his encounter with Mara, not only were they overcoming the evil tendencies within themselves they were forging their own personal connection with the divine. So I view Buddha and Jesus as sort of the great spiritual nomad examplars, finding the way on their own, going beyond the traditions in which they were raised. I think a very negative tendency of western religion is to constantly refer to the lowliness of humankind and to the blasphemy of equating oneself with God. Eastern religion takes somewhat of an opposite tack of taking one's attention off the failings and seeking to expand the inner divinity. That is the whole purpose of Buddhism and what I hold to be the true purpose of Christianity, though that has degenerated into a worship of his person than a following of his ways: to become a Buddha or to become an annointed one--i.e. a Christed one. That's why Hinduism is a lot more helpful in that if everything is God you don't feel embarrassed by proclaiming one's own divine nature. I view today's Christianity as kind of a scary fast-food Americanized religion. All you have to do is believe in Jesus, but woe be unto you if you don't. As opposed to the Buddhist mandate of becoming fully a Buddha, but you're given as many chances as it takes. It's both more challenging and more forgiving.

I've been mulling over traditional practices and your comments about polite children etc. Although before I had a sort of jihadist mentionality vis-a-vis tradtional religion--the extremes of youth, what can I say?--I think that it would probably be disastrous if suddenly everyone became a spiritual nomad in that traditional religions are the most powerful force to reign in moral excesses today, provide a framework for instilling virtue in children, and provide a comfortable way for people to connect to God. I think probably the best advice to give to traditionalists is to admonish them to not be afraid to loosen up a little on their theology, base their faith on personal experience with God, and still maintain the traditional rituals and the broad parameters of their faith.

That is not at all to say we shouldn't set up flares to unite the nomadic community--they know who they are--but as you say, to prevent a gladitorial approach, as well as conceptualize how nomads can help the traditionalists.

To return to a theme, if you think of it, many traditionalists gather around a religion founded by nomads. I've mentioned Buddha and Jesus, but Mohammed was rejecting the polytheistic and animist trends of his times as well. And you could argue that American traditions were in part crafted around nomadic thought such as Jefferson. I believe that none of the first six presidents were traditional Christians, and neither was Lincoln. Bottom line, we nomads have a lot of forerunners, and in many ways nomads are the vanguard of a dawning realization whether it be in government, science, philosophy, art or religion. So take heart.


Regarding the equality of men and women:
Though I am not a member, I know that a basic tenent of the Bahai Faith is the equality of the sexes, as well as the races, spritual traditions, etc.


It's been a while so I thought I'd stop in and see if anything's changed.

Allow me to say that I am religious but am not at home with any religion. I will also say that I have absolutely no doubt about the existance and essential benevolence of God. I wrestle with the rest.

A couple of things to consider: The two dominant sects within Roman Jewish Palestine were the Saducees, who promoted Jewish identity but had enough trouble with doctrine that some of them were agnostic at best, and the Pharasees, who promoted priestly Judaism and reincarnation. What is so often overlooked about Jesus was his radical view for that time and that place of the possibility of human connection to the divine- that God is not impossibly separated from us. For many humans, even many Christians, it is very difficult to grasp a God who would allow us to not accept him. Instead, this God wants us to want to reconnect with him but at the same time realizes that for us to truly be filled with faith we must chose to approach him. God offers; it is humanity that won't accept the offer and, often, is suspicious and hateful towards the offer. God practices an extreme version of the "if you love someone, set them free" idea. God cannot force us to believe in him if he wants us to truly believe. God doesn't try to win us over though he wants reunion. He has set us free and waits for us to come back. And from this comes the true source of "sin," which is all the blocks we put in front of ourselves to deny God, not sex which seems to mess up so many fundamentalists. We get angry with God for setting us free because we make so many mistakes. We despair over God's existance in times of trouble. We blame God for natural disasters. We see the evil acts of people and demand that God do something about it all. In short, we show ourselves to be petulant adolescents wanting others to be controlled but not ourselves, physical sensations of all kinds without consequences, freedom without any responsibility.
Jesus' foremost message, and it is one that has been mangled and corrupted by human beings since his time, was for individuals to face God and deal with an overwhelming welcoming love, one that invites acceptance. Brush away the doctrines, push aside the petty human resistance, put down demands that God prove himself...and see through the eyes of a child.


As many times as I have stopped by your place, this is the first time I've seen this defining piece. Well organized, eloquently expressed. There are so many parallels with a long one I've been working on for a while, working title: "Foundations". I too pitch my tent variously from time-to-time, and sometime sleep out under the stars. It often feels like "stranger in a strange land". Thanks for your work!


I see you haven't had any recent posts, so I'll be the first for 2006! I want to start by saying that I have logged easily a 1,000 hours (if not more) internet time researching spirituality on my own. Yes the internet has soo many venues for so many perspectives. This has been a very long progress for me, this journey I'm on, but in the last few years it has been full steam ahead. I knew I was not exactly a Christian (I was raised in an Evangelical Church going single mother with no self esteem's house...deep breath heehee), nor was I exactly a Gnostic, Hinduh, Buddhist, Scientologist...the list goes on, but by GOD, I was and am something. 1,000 plus hours, weeding through religious beliefs, conspiracies and mind sets had failed to "label" me. I felt as though I belonged nowhere, yet I'm entitled to be anywhere/everywhere. I was/am wandering, not aimlessly, but seemingly so, through the varying spiritual schools of thought and dogma. I'm still scared of Hell on some level, and still want more than anything to belong to a congregation of fellow believers, and you ask "Not how can they, but why can't I?" and I cried when I read this. PERFECTLY stated, not asked really, because we know the answer, once your eyes are open, it's hard to shut them again for any length of time. Now to conclude this rambling of a post I just want to thank you from the warmest, deepest and loving..est (teehee) part of my heart for giving me the "label" my humanity was craving. Loud and Proud... I am a spiritual Nomad.

PS: could you email me to let me know when the book comes out? I am so looking forward to it.


So here's another spiritual nomad stumbling upon you.
Most excellent piece of writing. I'm very happy to have found this section of your blog and I will be back.
Just so you know, I got here today by way of TGB and her link to the 'bottle' picture. :)

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