Thursday, April 24, 2014

I ♥ My Church


There is a new t-shirt in town where I live.   I am seeing them everywhere.  It says “I ♥ My Church.”  I’m wondering why I find that offensive.

It took me while, but I think I’m onto something, finally.  I think the thing is that people don’t go out and make t-shirts.  I myself have never made myself a t-shirt, but I have bought a few, which infers that someone else made them.  I think what is rubbing me the wrong way is a church manufacturing t-shirts for people to wear.  Advertising is one thing, but advertising by manufactured affirmation seems a little icky for a church.

This made me feel like a prude, so I considered what would make me feel warmer.  I think it would be perfectly valid and actually wonderful if the church had manufactured t-shirts that said:  “My church ♥’s me.”  To me, that seems like a much greater affirmation.  Still weird, but not as weird to me as the other way around.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Extermination

I was walking through a small group at a large event when my own ears heard a woman utter these very words:

"I love Richmond.  Of course, there are parts of it that would be better if we could exterminate some of the people who live there."

Not making it up.  Not being dramatic.  Not misunderstanding, I heard it clear as a bell.  Actually, it was pretty easy to hear.  The woman didn't make much effort to conceal the statement.  What's more, her friends agreed.  I'll say it again in case you missed it.  They agreed.

I am at a complete loss of what to think.  Should I have done something?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Shame, Atonement and Worthiness

What I have found is that the opposite of shame is worthiness.  The pathway from shame to worthiness is atonement.  Atonement with those you have directly let down or injured.  Atonement with yourself.  If you believe so, atonement with God.  I have found that atonement takes work and is not easy. I realized that I don't really have a choice.  I can postpone it, delay it, or deny it, but eventually, the call to worthiness is too great to ignore.  

The good news is that unfulfilled atonement is what we call guilt and it is an entirely preventable syndrome.  Universalism tell me that God is alright with me, and for that matter all of us.  It's up to us to decide if we're alright with him, with our friends and family, with our community.  The other thing I realized is that you can't vicariously atone.  You can't be alright with yourself by getting right with everyone else.  You have to do that too.  Probably first.  People say that it's not all about you.  With atonement, it actually is.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What is our primacy worth to us?


I am reading the recent Doris Kearns-Goodwin book about the people in the Lincoln administration and I am in awe of the similarities between those times and ours.  It's so easy to fall into a bias of thinking that what is going on right now, whenever that is, is so novel that the seemingly accidental solutions that eventually render themselves are equally novel.

But is there any risk in looking at history and finding comfort that our situations (personal, interpersonal or global) will work themselves out because history repeats itself?  Can we become complacent?

Has there ever been a period of time when a declining empire like ours has been coupled with such immense global destructive military power?  We can start a war just about anywhere in just a matter of months and if we get seriously threatened we have the capability of destroying millions of souls without ever setting foot on the lands of the people we aim to destroy.

What is our primacy worth to us?  This is the operative question.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

We’re all addicted to something, aren’t we?


The easy ones to pick out are the ones that facilitate some additional dysfunction that has been identified by society.  Alcohol and narcotics abuse are the big two in this category.

Others are harder to put your finger on.  Food, sex, money, power.  You can mask being egomaniacal to your friends a lot easier than you can mask being stoned at work, for example.

The subtlest are the ones that are most common.  We are addicted to being safe or loved.  We crave and can’t live without hearing that we’re pretty/handsome or smart/creative or fast/strong or generally superior.

So by its pervasivness, being addicted to something is completely “normal”, the societal concern isn’t necessarily the addiction itself, but rather its affects. For example, it is in society’s best interest to curb things like chronic excessive alcohol consumption because the affect of such addictions is often unexpected, unpredictable or unpleasant results and behavior.  Some addictions are almost guaranteed to cause unpleasant results.  Nicotine addiction, for example is conjoined with cancer and other ill-health.

As is nearly uniformly the case, what is in society’s best interest is in conflict with what is in our individual best interests.  Collective efforts to empower individual wholeheartedness would be far preferable to the current model, which is to react to addictions on an individual basis and then deploy the fastest possible deterrent/cure to insulate ourselves from unpredictable or unpleasant results.

I wonder if that is even possible.  Do we actually infuse each other and ourselves with the self-doubt that fuels the addictions, or are we hard-wired to feel these cravings?  It’s the nature or nurture question in reverse, I guess.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Prayer for the Epiphany

It is not a testament to our lives to say that we have succeeded, because life (despite the current and loud admonition to the contrary) is not a business in which there are winners and losers. Life  is about the trying, business is about the succeeding.

The only sure way to fail is to avoid the risk by never trying.  But success is incumbent upon our own efforts not in a vacuum, but in an atmosphere in which multiple contributions to success, some small and unnamable hold up the attempt and give it a head start.  Failure after effort is dismissed as a manifestation of personal faults, not a reflection on the lack of a suitable atmosphere.  This personal attachment to failure and success diminishes the value of the effort itself, scaring people away for fear of failure.  This imposition of economic measurement on life is one of our greatest failings and here laid bare for the world to witness.

Many shudder at the thought of on their death bed, sitting in self-judgement reviewing their accounts in some giant ledger.  We live our days in this under the assumption that this accounting (or reckoning) will occur, but for some reason, in the end we regret that our lives are not much more than a compilation of our days.  Living each day makes for living a meaningful life.

Monday, December 31, 2012

A Prayer for a New Year


My beloved America is transitioning from de-facto superpower to vital member of a world community, presumably making a stop at "first among equals" along the way.

This transitions being fought by Americans of resources through their government.  Loathsome of falling out of a place of primacy, the fight is on.  The recent Presidential election gave us a birds-eye view of the fight, with both major candidates waxing rhetorically about the necessity of America to "be out front", "lead the world", "support democracy" and generally to be the alpha-dog on the block.

The incumbent was often criticized for having on occasion "lead from behind" which was a strongly understood euphemism for "weakness".

The American Empire is here and we are beginning to recognize it.  Our financial interests run very, very deep and very, very wide, and the cost to insure these interests will only grow more expensive if we continue to play the role of enforcer.

This new years's day, I pray that as this transition comes into clearer view, it is not met combatively, but rather welcomed and managed.  Without proper recognition and management, this transition will become violent.  We know this for watching any such struggle and we already have a view of this with the September 11, 2011 attacks which we clearly interpreted as a challenge to our primacy.  Had we rather chosen to interpret these attacks and all the attacks since as a tap on the shoulder to let us know that our primacy may not be working for everyone,  we may have learned more about ourselves and our role in this world.  Instead, we quite possibly began our trip down the bumpy road to membership in a world community by denying the trip and the bumps.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Prayer for a Merry Christmas

Peace has come to me this Christmas season. My family is away and I am working nearly non-stop on personal thing to prepare for what should be my penultimate classes on my masters degree.  I have had the additional blessing of becoming stark-raving sick, confining me first to a hotel room (I was traveling for work) and then home for the vast majority of a week.  I have ventured out of my shell only four times during that time (five times if you count the three hour drive home) and two of those were to the doctor's office.  I have two presents, one from my mother, one from my daughter and her boyfriend sitting on the kitchen table.  I am blissfully peaceful - I even found and lit some incense, something I haven't done in years.  I wish you could have the same, whatever that means to you.

I also have received the gift of prophetic words from over a century ago.  These words came packed in (what seems like) thousands of pages of required reading, most of which borders on incomprehensible babble.  Rising above the babble like a chinese bottle rocket, William Ellery Channing said:

"To live in the truth or divine spirit of Christ is to be freed from the always-evil desire to dominate any other human being."

Print that, wrap it up, put it under your tree or in your stocking, and when you open it, it's me, wishing you a Merry Christmas.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Thank you, St. Anselm


I am coming to a clearer understanding of how people interpret or use the word "faith", and it is quite different than the way I use it in a rather disconcerting way.

Saint Anselm of Canterbury was a Anglican archbishop, an academic theologian and philosopher.   He proposed the notion that G/god is that which exceeds our knowledge.  To put it in simpler terms, think of numbers.  A young student will probably eventually ask what the largest number is.  To this, the teacher would respond that there is no largest number, because you can always add one to the prior number, and so numbers are infinite.

The universe is also infinite, but unlike numbers, it's infinite-ness transcends our ability to understand it all.  Reason, evidence and science can advance our understanding, but we will never understand it all.

And we arrive at faith.  I am learning that one understanding is that faith is a tool used by people to believe the unbelievable, which puts faith in conflict with reason.  For me, that is not a definition of faith, but rather a definition of imagination.  Like reason, faith has a strong relationship with imagination because imagination forms the foundation upon which learning occurs.  But faith is fundamentally different than imagination because faith emerges from an experience.  Properly understood, neither faith nor reason attempt to prove or disprove the unbelievable, they just both attempt to articulate an understanding of the world using different forms of measurement.

Faith and reason are co-dependent.  Faith forms the backbone of reason, for you must have some faith in reason's potential benefit to undertake it in the first place.  Without faith in humanity, reason would eliminate itself and without reason, faith would be indistinguishable from imagination.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What is sympathy?

I am reflecting on yet another gruesome manifestation of brokenness in our lives that intersects with freedom and the result is 26 people who will never come home for dinner again.

When these things come up, I think about sympathy. If one loved one dies or is gravely ill due to disease or accident, sympathy comes from interpersonal compassion and is a way of communicating that our hearts and minds are with those living with the change. Through sympathy, we simultaneously express our love, our concern and that if we knew what we could do to provide any support, we would.

In cases like Sandy Hook, sympathy can seem both self-indulgent and inadequate. How do we meaningfully express sympathy to strangers from across the country? We can promise to them that we will do better to see that things like this don't happen anymore. We can promise to tell the parents of the kids who hurt animals that their kid might need some help. We can promise to live as a community, not as isolated "free" individuals. We can promise to develop ways or devices to enter into and maintain the crucial conversations that we avoid out of discomfort or embarrassment, standing behind some ill-conceived notion that individual freedom trumps community well being.

Signing a sympathy card on Facebook makes us feel better. It might make the community at Sandy Hook feel better, but mostly it just tells them that we have access to mass media. True sympathy that originates with compassion means promising real, tangible change about yourself that will make this better. Stationing an armed guard at the door of every classroom - like we did with the airports - just makes us feel better, acknowledges our ideological-driven blind-sides and shifts responsibility back onto the nameless, faceless government. We can do better than that.

Friday, December 14, 2012

If faut casser des oeufs pour faire d'omelette, baby.


The increasing tension between ideology and results is beginning to cause some tension in me.

More and more, or maybe just more apparently to me, the focus of decision-making is on loyalty to an ideology rather than the projected results.

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When decisions based on ideology result unfavorably, causation lines are deftly redrawn to protect the ideology from blame.  That's what suffering is for, if it wasn't meant to be, than it wasn't meant to be.  We even have language to institutionalize the primacy of ideology: "The ends can't justify the means!" is one of my personal favorites.

People who actually do justify the means by at least considering the ends are considered immoral.  We call them "Machiavellian" after a misunderstood Medieval philosopher, meaning that ethics are purely situational - a concept surely threatening to the powerful.

Why is it socially or culturally acceptable to scrutinize the ethics of a process that had positive results and intentions but required bending of rules or questionable tactics?  Or the flip of that question, why are the ethics and intentions of someone who cased harm but "stuck to their guns" beyond reproach?

Surely, the ends can't universally justify the means, but the opposite is also true, the means can't justify the ends, either.

We need a balance and that comes only leadership.  There is an old French saying - you have to break a few eggs if you're going to make an omelette.  For ethics based on ideology to evolve, they have to change and that means at some point, someone, somewhere must break them with positive intentions to gain positive results.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Ethic of Community

Liberty University, a private Christian school has lodged a legal challenge to the universal health insurance plan (the Affordable Care Act, or ACA) being implemented right now. Its complaint is founded on the notion that its forced participation in the plan would cause the university, as an employer, to provide benefits for medical services that conflict with its religious beliefs. The focal point of its concern is that the university would (indirectly, through the plan) offer to pay for abortions and birth control.

The complaint is obviously based on an assumption that a corporation has its own civil rights to religious freedom. If it does, can its rights legally trump individual civil rights by association? Liberty is so convinced of this ideology and in its religious convictions that it has chosen to risk the embarrassment associated with disclosing that it knows that its employees’ morals aren’t uniformly aligned with its own. [If it were confident in this uniformity, it would not be so aggressively opposed to offering a benefit which would effectively go unused by individual choice.]

As someone whose religious beliefs are nearly uniformly in some degree of moral conflict with the current manifestation of Western culture, I am bombarded by violations of my morality. Maybe I should stop paying my taxes until I am free from the things that assault my morality. Off the top of my head, I can think of that death penalty thing, corporate personhood, concentration of media ownership (especially radio) and the use of government resources to transfer corporate risk onto individuals.

The true test here is between an ethic of community and an ethic of individual.

An ethic of community prioritizes the welfare of the community over the welfare of the individual. This means that by choosing to live in a community, we are incented to ensure the welfare of each other first and from that individual success, preference and convenience will be possible. The natural resting place for authority in an ethic of community is in a system of “power-with”, or stewardship of each other for the purpose of empowering individual happiness (success).

An ethic of individualism assumes that for the community to succeed, it must first be populated by successful individuals and therefore prioritizes the welfare of the individual as a path to community success. The natural resting place for authority in an ethic of individualism resides then in a system of “power over” to ensure that individuals are empowered to attain their own success and therefore ensure community success. As it evolves, individuals are incented to influence authority using a system created and curated by the powerful. In an ethic of individualism, authority can become a self-serving cycle in which power and influence feed off each other with only casual and gradually reducing attention paid to the welfare of the community.

The Liberty complaint is an experiment in testing which ethic is authentic. Will the result of this complaint confirm that true authority means stewardship under an ethic of community, or will it rather authenticate and possibly formalize an ethic of individualism?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Kids (already) are religious.



I had the honor of serving as a chaperone at a religious retreat for high school aged kids.  Watching them together participating in their own formal worship and fellowship, I came to a realization that these are very religious people, it's just that their religion looks different than adult worship.

As I considered what I was witnessing, I was reminded that babies are a manifestation of God, their path to adulthood is often a drifting away from their inner deity which too infrequently they manage to find again later in life.

These kids seemed to me to be deeply connected to each other.  Adult worship is oriented primarily to the individual and produces collective by-products.  These kids' worship was primarily collective with individual by-products.  It is we adults who force divisive notions of right and wrong into their heads.  For us, religion is a math equation.  For them, its an exploration of each other and the rest of things.  They fight it at first, but eventually, they give up and we win.  I guess.

Maybe, at church, the real worship is done by the youth while we adults sit in a row and face forward.  Maybe we don't send them out of our services to get a little peace and quiet, they send us out of theirs to get rid of our silliness.  And then when we take that away from them, they disappear, never to be seen again.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

'Tis the season for sharing, after all, dammit!

The sign above the donut case at the coffee shop this morning read:

“’Tis the season for sharing!”

As I waited, I considered what that makes all the other seasons. 

Abruptly, the patron on line behind me demanded faster service from the haggard soul working behind the counter. The patron who was wearing expensive business clothes demanded that the worker who was covered in powdered sugar pay due respect and honor people’s time constraints. (PS, it didn’t quite come out that way, but that was the jist).

When the worker handed over the long overdue coffee, instead of “Thank you”, the patron said “finally”.
The worker responded “have a good day”, but I’m pretty sure that the words didn’t match the thoughts at that moment.

Maybe a bigger sign would help?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fallen Soldier Tribute

A young man from my South Carolina town, Sgt. "Bo" Hicks died while serving with the US Army in Afghanistan

I stopped by the side of the road to watch the procession that came before and after the hearse that carried his bones to their final resting place.


The procession was probably larger than most, but probably not out of the ordinary in size or other characteristics for someone who died with honor at a young age.    That funeral procession personalized the Afganistan war for me, even though I hadn't know Sgt. Hicks at all.  Sitting there, in my car, I felt a deep sense of grief.  Was this whole procession possibly a collective confession of our guilt for having sent the young man out to fight a war in the first place?

Many of us go through deliberate decision process prior to making decisions that carry far less weight than the life or death of a third party.  Have we short-changed these men and women  who are out fighting our silent war?  Is our decision process at least as robust as it can be? 

Sgt. Hicks was only 24 when his life ended.  I almost can't say that out loud without wanting to cry about it.  It will go in the record books that he was killed by a bomb that had been hidden.  But is that really the reason?  If that bomb had been hidden in Greer, I would think there would be an inquiry to find out why it was there.   Who had hidden it?  What would drive someone to be so angry as to hide a bomb?  Clearly someone must have seen the bomb being hidden or known it was there?  Why didn't anyone say something?

But, alas the bomb was not in Greer, it was in Paktika province, Afganistan.  How did he get there?  What really was the reason he was there?  Was the bomb intended to harm specifically him, or was it more of a random act of hatred and anger?  Why was it there?  People don't hide bombs for no reason.  What kind of desperation or hate causes someone to hide a bomb?


I just hope we're not collectively avoiding asking these questions becuase we're afraid of the answers.  If we are, then that funeral procession really was was a confession of guilt and collectively, we owe a debt to Sgt. Hicks that we can't ever repay.

We like to say that we are honoring a fallen soldier.  I don't know.  Personally, I would trade the comfort of having finalized Osama bin Laden and all of Afganistan for just his life.  I wish he were still alive.  He probably does too. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Black Monday

Today was not a good day for me.

Recently, my employer decided to terminate a formerly key employee. This decision was reached after considerable reflection on the part of my employer. This employee had decided to invest heavily in the past and forego sharing the vision of the future that our employer had hoped for. After this formerly key employee purposeefully making life miserable for all around the situation, our employer, after realizing through evidence that the situation was uncomfortably past the point of reconciliation, decided to formally part ways.

I suppose that it is not surprising to learn that this black soul is now about town saying bad things about us and damaging our business and our reputation by his actions. Amazingly, this employee is managing to profit from the very incompetence and other unhealthy behaviours that led to our employer seeking out new avenues for affecting its business plan.

Under attack from self-centered greed and competence based on income and ideology rather than success and results, I am once again dismayed at the state of capitalism in our buyer-beware society.

Black Friday followed, at least for me, directly by Black Monday. I could get so much more done if I didn’t have to unravel mistruths, lies and blasphemy. It takes a black soul to see into the mind of a black soul. I realize that I just don’t have that and I don’t want it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Minimalist Definition of "Christian"

Recently, I had the wonderful chance to come across a minimalist definition of "Christian".  There are just a couple provisions:

1.  You believe that Jesus was both divine and human;
2.  You believe that Jesus' divinity was somehow unique;
3.  You believe that the mere possibility for salvation is due exclusively to Jesus' death.

I have commented before here that I have been told I am not Christian.  I'm still not clear on who has the authority to make those sorts of decisions, but I guess I agree with them.  Now, I'm pretty sure I agree.  If this definition is universally applied by Christians everywhere, I surely don't fit the mold.

1.  Jesus was both divine and human.  On this we agree.
2.  Jesus' divinity was somehow unique to him.  Nope.  We're all divine.  Jesus just knew it.
3.  Salvation comes from Jesus's death. Nope again.  Salvation comes from Jesus' life.

You see, Jesus' life told us a story of our misunderstanding of what had transpired before.  We misunderstood when we thought that we were sinners and by virtue of our "original" sin, (or as Buddhist/Christians tell it, "original suffering") we were unsaved.  We misread the message there.  Being imperfect is what distinguishes us from divinity.  It's what makes us human. It's not something that needs to be fixed, like a flat tire, it is part of the deal.  We read into this that our flaws meant that we would be punished for them.  That was never true, Jesus just helped to clarify that.

What it all comes down to is when you look into your own soul, do you see something that you're in love with, or do you see something you despise?  Jesus' life told you its OK to see something you love.  Jesus' death reminded us that we've got a ways to go yet.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cliff Diving


The next couple weeks here in the United States should be very interesting to watch.

The European Union, which is a union of financial resources, but not political resources, is facing a questionable future as several of its member nations have fallen on hard economic times.  Those member nations who are currently less financially vulnerable have been allowed to control the conversation and are insisting that the financially vulnerable member nations “tighten their belts”.  By their influence these financially more stable nations have chosen to obligate the citizens of the less stable nations to take up a position of austerity, or self-denial by insisting that these citizens inject their own personal cash (by way of taxation, reduction in government spending or currency manipulation) to support the financial solvency of their governments.
 
What will be interesting is watching how this proceeds here in the United States.  Although we have not been directly involved in the European Union’s crisis of financial identity, we have officially concurred with the “belt-tightening” recommendations in Europe.  

Meanwhile, interestingly now coming into fuller view is our own tenuous financial condition.  Our own austerity measures have been built in as a default that is being referred to as the “fiscal cliff”, imagery of destruction intended.  Funny how for Greece and Portugal, it’s prudent and necessary “belt-tightening” but when it happens to us, it’s cliff-diving gone terribly wrong.

It will be interesting to see if at some point we recognize our conflicted opinions in public.

Technically, is it still "cliff diving" if you've been pushed?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Historically Indifferent


Contrary to common wisdom, I've come to the conclusion that history is mostly irrelevant. Personally, I am for the most part completely disinterested in it.

Of course, this conversation is an uphill battle.  Most times when I have taken the leap and engaged in a discussion on the subject, the people who take the opposing viewpoint consider themselves to have won the discussion based mostly on being on the popular side of the argument.

For me, history is like watching cooking tv.  You get the general gist of how to do it, but the details you lose in watching versus doing make the watching almost entirely useless.  

History's value for me has three insurmountable problems:

First is that life is lived forwards, but studied backwards.   This means that the results of time invariably tarnish our investigation of history's events.  This goes beyond "the victors write the history". Intention aside, objectivity is nearly impossible after the fact.

Second is that we can study what did happen, but is it possible to study what didn't happen?  The variables that go into any action are so many that understanding them all; the logical ones, the illogical ones is nearly impossible as they happen.  After the fact, they need to be considered irrelevant by objective standards.  Would you perform life-threatening surgery based on evidence collected by the using the same standards?

Lastly is the availability of information.  Do you write done everything you think?  If you are under duress or stress, do you write, say or do the truth, or would you possible disguise your intent?  Would someone years later be able to know the difference?

History doesn't really repeat itself.  Human patterns of brokenness reoccur under different circumstances and we in retrospect recognize those patterns. We recognize them going forward, too, we just fail to fix them based on the acquisition of worldly value.

In retrospect, that gives my nod to cooking shows. The would appear to hold more social value.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Only $7B? Such a deal!


This may be information to you as it was to me.  With the 2012 US Presidential election finally here, I just learned that the total cost of electing the President this time around will exceed USD$5 billion, and like a tip at the Waffle House, the cost of the congressional election was USD$2B.

Has there ever been a more embarrassing bit of news than this?   

Yes.  When you consider the incredible amount of resources that the losers will spend to ensure that none of the winner's initiatives are ever enacted, it's easy to come tot the conclusion that as a nation, apparently, our plan is to spend billions of billions of our own borrowed dollars to ensure that nothing ever happens.

The only upside to this is at least now we know who the enemy is.  It's not "militant Islam"; it's not the Chinese or the Russians.  It's us, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Soul's Rules


The writer of the Gospel of Luke attributes a story to Jesus in chapter 10 that communicates to us through time that there is an awareness of societal rules that thinking souls are free to, and should critically analyze and implement. 

In this story, Jesus is reprimanded for healing a long-suffering soul on the Sabbath.  The temple leaders tell him to knock that off and to just heal folks on the other six days.  Jesus points out to them that the temple leaders themselves water their livestock on the Sabbath as to avoid causing suffering to the innocents.  He then draws that story back, saying that if they should water their livestock, then how is healing the sick on the Sabbath unjust?

It is a good question.  By what rules are we living that comfort us while causing harm to others?  Are we justified in benefitting from this arrangement, or is it our duty to rebel against our own comfort in favor of justice.

It is so hard to deal with these things, especially after knowing they are there.  The brokenness in the world begins with me whether I like it or not, but it is my choice whether or not it ends with me.  How hard to remember that the soul does not need to be captive to the rules under which the body lives.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fear could be an excuse

I never thought of it quite this way, but the appearance of fear might mask actual reasons someone may be averse to change.  In other words, if I'm afraid or appear to be afraid people will go soft.   So, like a baby who learns the value of crying, have we learned that fear can be used as a shield.

This raised its face recently when someone asked me about the currents state of the economy.  I responded that if we eliminated the tax benefit of owning a home (and borrowing a mortgage to buy that home) and saving for retirement the government revenue would snap back.  My point was that saying that we can't pay for a fundamental benefit like health, is disengnuous.  We can, we just choose not to.

This person objected and painted a picture of a future in my scenario in which home prices collapse, people stop saving for retirement and hospitals explode with services being gobbled up by free-loaders.

Really? First! Forget insensitivity of the "free-loader" comment, I will agree on this point that the way we currently ration healthcare has created a large population who have a backlog in need.

But on the other two points, I am not sold.  Does this mean that I would immediately stop saving for retirement and sell my house?

No.  This is fear talking and I'm not buying it anymore.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Out Front of it

Even the most progressive of individuals is relutant to try new things. By this, I'm not necessarily talking about trying a new menu item or style of clothing, I'm talking about things with more risk.  There is comfort in numbers.  

Being a little ahead of the curve in my professional career, many people hear innovative ideas for the very first time from me.  I would prefer to be the fourth or fifth time people hear things. This way what may be new, exciting and different (read: scary) would be more welcomed.

I wish I had the time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Good Hearted Attempts that Made no Difference

I was asked a serious question this week in a serious format.  The question was:  Social justice, does it work or is it just “good hearted attempts that make no difference”.  The question depressed me.  I answered it something like this:

Make no difference to whom?  Societally, do social justice efforts move the needle, even one bit?  We’ll never really know, but that’s asking the wrong question.  If the entire effort of the entire Salvation Army moved one soul toward building or re-building whole-hearted and healthy relationships (with others, God, the universe, family, friends), is that making a difference?  Its good enough for me. Even if the entire effort of the entire YMCA/YWCA through its whole history just gave one soul one meal that allowed that soul to recognize that their oppression was not their doing and free that one soul to live genuinely, it would have been enough.

True social despair is when you realize that you are participating in your own defeat.  To quote Jimmy Buffett, “We are the People our Parents Warned Us About”.   A more accurate title would be “We Continually Choose to be the People our Parents Warned Us About.”  Coming to this realization is true social despair. 

The facts are these: We Continually Choose to be apart from the other.  That is true of all of us collectively, but certainly not of all of us individually.  But if you count the wins and ignore the losses and all is well.  Its not a game because at the beginning, there already is a loser, so a win is a win and the loss is a push. Social justice may not be “right” but that doesn’t make its wrong.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Scarcity

We had a yard sale today.  What a joy.

It was for a good cause, a young girl whose family situation makes it financially difficult for her to participate in an activity for which she has enthusiasm and potential talent.  Even that made the pain of realizing that I was about to give away things that I had worked months to buy.  I had bought what was now effectively trash.

This self-loathing that I always experience when I prepare for a yard sale was met with even more profound sadness when I sat and really, really observed the people who came to the yard sale.

I don't know about you, but when I go to yard sales (as infrequent as that may be) I'm looking for something in particular.  I park.  I walk around.  If I don't see it, I'm out of there.

Not these folks.  They shopped.  They were looking for something they could buy with whatever money they felt comfortable telling me they had.

Would you take $1 for this?

My heart broke.  "Sure", I said, but what I thought was "what they heck do you want that piece of junk for?"  I could only pray that the reason they were buying it was something deeper and more profound than they only had $1 and wanted to buy something.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

An Alien at your Mailbox


Let’s say – hypothetically, of course - an alien were to land on earth and the very first thing s/he were to see was you getting you mail out of your mailbox.  He asks you what the purpose of the mailbox is.

Interesting question, isn’t it?

Impartial, empirical observation of my interaction with my mailbox, speaking from purely personal anecdotal viewpoint would lead me to offer this answer:

“A mailbox is the termination of a large, complex and costly system of interconnected service providers whereby one person or group sends small pieces of trash or recycling materials to a distant second person or group.”

To which, of course the alien (fluent in English and our cultural norms) would squint and wince and ask you if what you really said was that you send each other trash.

To which, I would have to respond:  “Yes.” Which would be followed by a reflective pause, after which I would add:  “And other stuff.”

To which the alien would be begged to ask:  “What kinds of other stuff?”

The only answer to which would be:  “I guess other stuff that is slightly more significant than the original stuff I mentioned.  This stuff we would hold onto for a few days or maybe weeks before recycling.”

Totally perplexed, the alien would – after a long pause – ask:  “Does the mailbox serve any other purpose?”

“Nope.  Well, yes.  You have to take out the weedwacker if you want to finish the lawnmowing process.  I don’t know if that’s a purpose, but weedwacking is the second most useful thing that a mailbox demands.”

“Oh, thank goodness.”  The alien would say.  “For a minute there, I thought it was completely obsolete.  What is ‘lawnmowing’”?

“Ok, now, let’s not get into that.  If you can’t understand the mailbox, you’re never going to understand  the lawnmowing”.

Monday, October 8, 2012

$4 Coffee


My wife and I were recently participating in a charity effort and were asked to do the grocery shopping.  We were given a list and a budget.

My wife, of course, took control and sent me off into the abyss of the local Bi-Lo with specific assignments that she thought I could handle.  One was to get coffee.

In my world, coffee is about $12 per pound.  I buy it from local roasters for specific reasons.   I'll go out of my way to get it.  I can articulate why this coffee is good tasting or good for the world (free/direct trade, sustainably grown for example).

How surprised was I to find that the Bi-Lo coffee was about $4 per pound!  I felt embarrassed by my elitist affluence.

I felt like Barbara Bush there for a minute.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Misunderstanding faith.


What is faith, exactly?

Using the Potter Stewart method, you’ll know what it is when you see/feel it.  That may work for a legal/moral issue, but for a word so fundamental to our lives if not our vocabularies, it seems lacking.

Let’s start somewhat psychotically by going into what it’s not – but more specifically what it’s often confused to be.
  • Faith is not simply doubt about doubt. 
  • Faith is not a sense of ambiguousness mixed with hope.
  • Faith is not an abdication of making a choice or a decision.
  • Faith is not belief; no portion of it is grounded in empirical evidence.
  • Faith is not wishing something to be different than the evidence would indicate it is.
And thus, we’re back to Potter Stewart and yet not good enough and language is an impediment.
  • Faith is an awareness that something is right or true in the absence of proof.
  • Faith is a sense that points toward justice without explaining why.
Maybe its both those things.   Years of trying to articulate it have come to this and yet, still a feeling of inadequacy lingers.

Maybe defining it is unnecessary because talking about it is unnecessary.  One person’s faith is another’s lunacy/heresy.

Here's to lunacy/heresy.  What would the world be without lunatic/heretics?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Earth Fare Grape Jelly

I have been sent a sign of my own affluence and my own excess.  You can argue out whether it came from heaven or from hell, from God or Satan.  Wherever its original source, I know it came to me from my favorite grocery store, Earth Fare.

It is:  Earth Fare Grape Jelly. 

So, I have a favorite grape jelly.  And yes, I have a favorite grocery store.  So what.  So, it's a little more expensive than other grape jellies.  So, it has some characteristics (ingredients/costs/flavor, etc) that have a story behind them that make me feel good about myself or at least my relationship with grape jelly.

I know this makes me affluent.  I know that due to my plumbing and my skin coulour, combined with my grape jelly, this makes me hold the trump card.  The mack-daddy.  I know that merely saying "I don't want any of it!" and offering to give it up simply validates that I have it and that I feel so empowered by having it that I have the arrogance to think I can give it up.

But rather, I should not choose the easy road and give it up.  I should not choose to make myself feel better by walking away from my affluence but rather by ensuring that the rest of the world has access to the (spiritual equivalent) of Earth Fare Grape Jelly.   The best you can hope for.  The best for me.  If its the best for you too, how am I to not enable the justice.



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My candidacy is official!


My schedule permits me occasionally to bring my kids to school.  They go to two different schools, so it’s two stops each morning.  Two lines of cars in.  Two lines of cars to drop off.  Two lines of cars to turn left.  There is almost always a fender-bender of some description, especially near the highschool where the reasons behind normal traffic patterns have not yet been viscerally embraced by the newer drivers and someone will do something out of pattern (e.g. "stupid").

The other day, kids were brining in their donated "supplies".  The kid in front of us at the middle school unloaded a bale of paper towels.  My daughter was carrying two packages of handy-wipes.

The short-sightedness of is quite evident.  Politicians “win” by “keeping taxes low” which generally seems to mean – at least in terms of schools – to transfer as much of the cost as possible onto the families.  Kids don’t take the bus because there are so few busses that the routes are so long that the kids would be gone for nearly ten hours.  School budgets are in balance at least in part because supplies are seen as novelties and are supplied by the students.  No study halls to keep costs down.  Studying is for losers, anyway, I've heard.

And, through it all, maybe we have it right.  Maybe the long view – the one that says one bus carrying 40 children is more efficient than 40 cars - is really contrary to human nature.  That each student bringing a bale of supplies really does goes unnoticed.  Kids of single parent households can use the bus like a babysitter.  Learning to crash your car in front of the high school is safer than on the throughway. 

I’m going to run for office here in my town under a simple platform.  Low taxes, low services, low expectations, hope is a monetized commodity.  I think I’ll win.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Never stop improving


I got an advertisement today from one of those big-box hardware home-improvement type stores urging me to “Never stop improving.”   They were even so nice as to give me a coupon for discounts, presumably to make my quest easier.

Damn, life can be exhausting, sometimes.  They make it seem like if I’m not buying junk from them and sprinkling it around my less-than-modest home that I’ve somehow managed to allow myself to be frozen in a state of perpetual mediocrity.  Trapped by my own inadequacies.  I hate it when that happens.

Maybe I’m improving myself in some other ways.  And, maybe, just maybe, if it’s a real good day, I’m not self-conscious or guilty about not having improved myself one damn bit.  Maybe this “if you’re not going forward, you’re going backwards” (crap) mentality is good for businessmen and high school athletes, but maybe, just maybe, like a starfish opening a clam, it’s injecting a sense of self-loathing that is mostly imaginary.

“Never stop improving.”  Where would I be without that thought?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lunchtime, Friday, September 7, 2012

This is the day I sat face-to-face with an incarnation of evil.  I got as close as maybe 2 meters.

Gosh, that takes a lot for me to write, much less think.  I can't necessary justify or even fully articulate the reasons I know this to be true, but I do know its true.

This man was a guest speaker at a community meeting.  He self-described as an Evangelical Christian Minister now managing a non-profit center. His topic was the righteousness of capitalism and how the country was moving in the wrong direction, socio-economically.  He berated companies for "giving back" to society (Starbuck's in particular of all companies).  His speech was replete with justifications for his radical positions from the fringes of society.  Bernie Madoff, for example was cited as what happens when you "cheat".  At one point, he suggested that even illicit businesses such as human trafficking and crack dealers were moral because they were simply filling a need and "making people happy".  If people didn't want drugs.  Nobody forced people to do crack.

More importantly, this day, this hour was when I knew that the first part of my life was nearly over.  I had all I could do to keep socially appropriate and not throw something at him.  My cup of tea was closest and I considered it.  The crack dealer comment nearly made me boil over.  I wanted to stand up and yell "blasphemer!" I was personally insulted - not just intellectually - personally.  Wholly.

The kicker was in the verse of scripture that he chose to throw God's weight behind his viewpoint.  He chose Romans 12:2 which has Paul suggesting to the church in Rome: "Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think."   His message, thus was that in a capitalist world - one in which capitalism is not only a path to righteousness, but morally just - what you need to do is to break away and be capitalist.  Huh?

Evil and I met today and on the surface, evil may have one.  But in my soul, I won.  However, I had all I could do to stop myself from crying when I heard the questions that came from the other souls in the room.  I wanted to stay and chat, but I knew I had to run.  Away.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Living my inner duck


I am not a Christian. 

This is not a statement I make about myself but one that has been made about me.  Quite regularly, actually.  I’ve taken to just cutting to the chase and confessing this apparent sin early.

If you ask me, I would say that by the evidence, I actually might be a Christian.  I believe that Jesus was both God and man.  I believe that Jesus was and knew the Kingdom of God.  I believe that what he did here, he did freely.
 
Where I go off the tracks with imperial Christianity is that these characteristics aren't what made Jesus unique. We are all both God and man, we just are afraid to see it.  We all can see the Kingdom of God because its staring us in the face, but it’s too scary to admit and we can all ultimately be free by simply giving up freedom itself.

The Christian empire has self-defined what it means to be Christian and that means they have defined me out of it.  You know that old saying “If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck.”  That all depends on who is defining duckness, I guess, but more importantly, its how you live your inner duck that really, really matters.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The end of the interconnected web, maybe. And Chocolate Cake.


I recently had a great, spontaneous conversation with a very new acquaintance that was immediately onto religion.  Normally not an early conversation topic, I took some risk and let this one run.

The conversation centered around how busy schedules and life’s commitments had somehow managed to overtake this person’s “walk with God” as a life priority.

I asked if possibly there was no difference between life’s commitments and walking with God.  How sure could you be that you weren't walking with God?  I don’t know if it was out of a true inability to understand my question or just southern politeness, but the question didn’t seem to land in a spot where an answer would have been forthcoming, and we moved onto more temporal topics.

Afterward, I wondered what my question had meant to me.  Do I believe that walking in the “real” or “human” world were somehow different, inferior or less meaningful than walking with God?  Is it even possible to not walk with God?

I came to the conclusion that I don’t believe it is.  Contrary to much popular thought, I do not consider myself to be part of a web of interconnected individuals.  Rather, I am part of a batter into which ingredients go individually which an entirely new thing emerges.  Both God and I are ingredients in this batter and therefore in the result.  

Taking me or God out of the mix would be like taking the chocolate out of the mix for chocolate cake. Still cake, but not the same. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The real reason they don't put knobs on the inside of closet doors


I've lived in my house now for seven or so years.  Just today, I noticed that there aren't any knobs on the inside of the closet doors.  I saw some symbolism here as I had been thinking about how boring liberalism had become.

Where I live, it is clearly not cool to be openly liberal these days.  As a reaction, so many of us are closet liberals. We don’t go to our churches anymore and we don’t put bumper stickers on our cars or we don’t much go out to peace rallies anymore.

Why not come out?  No need.  Liberals deride conservatives for their “rugged individualism”.  You know the kind, proud, card-carrying members of the NRA and Rush Limbaugh Nation who can quote Fox News verbatim.   We drive Prius’ and drink white wine, they drive F150’s and lean more toward PBR.  To each their own, right?

That’s the thing.  To each their own.  When it comes down to it, we liberals are the highly individual ones.  We, so sure of ourselves, avoid political and religious confrontations.  We have so many of us found our comfortable edge of the duality matrix and see no need in discussing anything with those who have yet to find out just how right we are. 

 “To thine own self be true” was a recommendation from a father to a son to avoid temptations that would put the son in conflict with his own self-interest and his own self-esteem. Is it even possible to be true to ourselves while mindfully distant from our communities and still call ourselves liberal?

We hast brought the closet unto ourselves!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Private Conversations


There really is no such thing as a private conversation among the deaf is there?  This week, I had the privilege of witnessing (watching, I guess) two people, presumably one or both of them were deaf, having a full conversation over lunch.

I don’t understand their visual language, but they sure seemed to be having a wonderful conversation in which both were fully engaged. 

I didn’t feel that I was eavesdropping because of course, I didn’t have any idea of what they were so enthusiastically discussing.  It was only after I left and was back in my car did it dawn on me that I wished I knew what they were saying.  What a joy to so fully enjoy the company of others.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Do you love?


Listening to Michael Franti sing "It’s not about WHO you love, it’s about DO you love" I had a personal revelation about the whole societal ugliness around marriage (in)equality.

Prior to this moment, I saw the ugliness surrounding marriage privilege as a power struggle, and honestly, I didn’t understand it.  Digging down into scripture, history and culture, people spent resources (time, energy, money, social capital) well in excess of any potential gain.  Prior to my moment tonight, there were only two even remotely viable rationales for this position:  People actually believed the hype about why marriage inequality was bad for society (whether that stemmed from religious, cultural or historical foundations) or they stood to gain by taking the position - people would like them more if they "sided" with them.

But Michael Franti's song helped me to see the true nature of the other side of this argument.  It’s not about WHO someone loves, it about THAT they love.  The anger about marriage privilege is less a statement of position (or even comment) on homosexual love itself than it is an indictment to the sad state of heterosexual love.

My high-school and middle-school aged daughters have very, very few friends whose parents are the married adults with whom they live.  They say to us in their whiny, melodramatic tones that “Dad, you guys are like the only parents of my friends who are still married.”  It’s actually funnier than that because when they start to list parents who are still married, they’re all friendly with us.  We are attracted to people who are like us, I guess.

So, society (or at least the portion of it so motivated as to devote the resources necessary to control this conversation) probably are embarrassed that someone would risk so much personally and sometimes professionally earn the right to have their commitments recognized on an even field.  Just to love.  This has a society who certainly appears to have collectively long ago ditched the notion of fighting for the right to love someone.  It has become a totally disposable right.  If this one doesn’t work out, endure a little pain and just go to the next one.  The risk of  relationships, family, church, professions, even in extreme cases physical danger - to gain a right that so many have willfully thrown away must seem so foreign that it is threatening and maybe embarrassing to those who have been dealt the cards, everyone else folded and they still ended up losing the hand.  A statement against the rights of another person the right to love – is far and away less an criticism of homosexual love than it is a self-indictment of painfully low-self worth over having had and lost not extending too far beyond guilt or shame.

The good news is that the energy beind the argument on both sides is proof that people still understand the value of love.  They just can’t bring themselves to admit their own feelings of failure.  Supporting the love of those chastised for possessing what they themselves have discarded like yesterday’s newspaper is too much for them to bear.

May peace be upon their souls, I hope Michael Franti and I are wrong.

(Apologies to my heterosexual divorced friends for whom this is a difficult opinion.  This is a sociological opinion, not psychological.  I didn't have anyone in mind.  Also apologies to those who like the less than 200 words format.  I'm way over here, but couldn't distill it much further.)