This is not a political post

This is not a political post, though it does involve people in politics. Think of it this way – if I wrote about the personal choices of a football player, that post wouldn’t be about football. I wouldn’t be saying that I like the team the person plays for more than another team. The same is true when I write about politicians. Writing about the choices and attitudes of a politician does not constitute a judgment on their political party. Now that we have established what should be a self evident point, we can continue.

Across party lines, we are facing corruption and cowardice in government like at no point in American history. A would-be dictator occupies the White House surrounded by yes men and women on a scale that would make Nixon blush. Politicians of all stripes are loathe to stand up against the nonsense that passes for leadership in Washington, making them complicit in the largest threat to democracy America has seen. The great unwashed have elected one of their own. Should we be surprised the whole thing stinks?

Remember when character mattered? Remember when John Kennedy wanted to sleep with every woman in sight but had the decency to know that it was wrong, and so had them slipped in the back door of the White House while Jackie slept and the press looked the other way? Remember when Nixon was regularly too drunk to function and so others ran the country? Remember Teapot Dome during the Harding administration, the corrective for which the current administration has undone?

Okay, maybe it has only been the appearance of character that has mattered. Still, qualifications did matter. The old adage that any boy could grow up to be President of the United States simply wasn’t true. Candidates for President and even Congress were expected to have a certain pedigree that suggested the educational and experiential foundations to effectively serve. We have a man who has made his living deceiving the public now in the highest office in the land, a massively unqualified con man who has very little idea of what he is doing – and was elected on that basis!

Not surprisingly, we now hear that there is nothing more important that pretending everything is normal during the worst mismanagement of a pandemic imaginable. We are told that if only we create the appearance of normalcy, everything will be fine. It doesn’t matter if grandma and grandpa die to create a lie; it doesn’t matter how many workers – most often in poorly paying jobs – risk their lives to open restaurants, bars, and beaches; it doesn’t matter how many teachers and students will get sick and die to reopen schools. This is true not because it will change anything, it will only change the appearance of our circumstances. It will seem like everything is normal if we can just slip the bodies out the back door in the middle of the night and send them to the mortuary without anyone noticing.

Does that make any sense to you?

Good Lord, I hope not. I hope there is enough decency and intelligence left in this county to know that, whether we like it or not, what happens to one of us impacts all of us. We have failed at education and are reaping the rewards of that folly. We have failed at morality and in exchange made money our God. Our politicians worship that God, and we are reaping the rewards of that folly as well. We have taken a deep dive into selfishness from which we may never emerge as a nation.

These days it seems like everyone with a cause wants us to believe that their cause is the only one that matters. Nonsense. There are many, many causes that matter, so many that if they all are the only one that matters we will never make any progress. The way out of this morass is for each of us to find a cause that matters to us and dedicate ourselves to it in the way that best uses our unique sets of skills and abilities. This will take both time and persistence. There are no magic bullets, there are no overnight fixes, but that makes it even more imperative that we start today. Rest assured we will encounter criticism in a country with no shortage of do-nothing armchair quarterbacks. Everyone has an opinion, but that doesn’t mean we need to take their opinion to heart. Don’t read your reviews, solve the problem.

Behavior and Spiritual Credibility

To be completely honest, I have struggled with this issue for years. Living, as we do, in an era where a constant procession of spiritual leaders of all stripes have been outed as serial abusers of those in their charge, I don’t see how we can avoid dealing with the issue and asking the question:

At what point does the abusive misbehavior of a spiritual leader render their teachings invalid?

Craig Bergland

Suppose we attempted to construct a spectrum of abuse that started with a spiritual leader having an adulterous affair with someone not involved with his ministry in any way and progressing to whatever the most horrific offenses we might imagine. For the purposes of our discussion, let’s say up front that consensual sex between non-married adults is perfectly fine. What transgressions are redeemable and what transgressions invalidate a person’s spiritual teachings? It may help to establish some categories of offense for sorting purposes.

Can we agree that any sexual activity involving minors should preclude that individual being allowed to teach? Would it render their teachings null and void? Catholic priests involved in the pedophilia crisis would fall into this category, but so would Rumi due to his pederasty. Many of Rumi’s supposed love poems to God weren’t written to God at all but to Shams, his adolescent protege. To be honest, that turns my stomach more than a little.

Can we agree that teachers who engage in sexual relations with their students have crossed a line? Buddhism in particular seems to struggle with teachers who can’t keep their hands to themselves, assaulting female students during spiritual interviews. Others overtly create situations wherein sleeping with the teacher is presented as being spiritually advantageous, even when the student is married. Perhaps the most notorious example of this in Buddhism is Chogyam Trungpa, who established an entire lineage replete with sexual misconduct. Only recently has anything been done or said about this, but it has been an open secret for almost fifty years. Despite that truth, there is no shortage of former students of Trungpa who still speak effusively about his teachings. What are we to make of that? In the interest of candor, for me, Trungpa’s behavior does invalidate his teaching.

What about with colleagues or the parish secretary? We talk about imbalance of power as being an important factor in determining if a relationship is appropriate, but I suspect that power is much more complicated. There is power in hierarchies, but there are all sorts of power structures in social and cultural settings that muddy the waters. When Jim Bakker had an affair with church secretary Jessica Hahn, there were surely multiple psychological factors at play. It’s hard to know who was being manipulated more, but I suspect there was mutual manipulation at work. Then again, since Bakker’s teachings were vacuous at best, perhaps he is a bad example.

Complicating all of this is the truth that nobody is perfect. All of us make mistakes on a regular basis. That being said, abuse is a mistake of a different stripe. I am not concerned about clergy who fall in love with the parish secretary. I would be concerned about clergy who fell in love with every parish secretary they ever had. I wouldn’t necessarily be concerned about a spiritual teacher who once fell in love with a student. I would be very concerned about a teacher who slept with many or most of his students. These issues are important because we all share a responsibility in ensuring those seeking to develop their spiritual life can do so free from harassment. They are also important because they speak to the character of the teacher, which has a direct impact on the teacher’s ministry and teachings.

A Post-Truth World?

Seriously? What would make us think such a thing was even possible? Who would choose a name like that, a name that implies that truth no longer exists? Of course it means that in our world today many people believe that opinion matters more than truth. I reject that notion! I reject the idea that truth can ever not matter, or matter less than opinion. What we have is narcissism run amok, including in the office of the President. What we have is propaganda passing as news, bald faced lies being presented as alternative facts, and attempts to confuse and distort in an attempt to do whatever we want to do without being held responsible for it.

If this is a post truth world, then I think those who assert that notion must be willing to put the law of gravity to the test. When I was a teenager, every now and then someone would drop acid and decide they could fly. Some of them climbed up onto the roof of their parents’ home and “flew” off. The results were predictable and swift. The next week the family would have a ramp built to the front door so that when young Orville Wright was discharged from the hospital his wheel chair could get into the house. Believing you can fly doesn’t make it so, R. Kelly.

Have you noticed how often millennials begin a sentence with “I feel…” and then go on with content we would have introduced with “I think,” “I know,” or “I believe”? Linguistically, for them, feeling is fact. Except feeling isn’t fact, it is feeling and can be influenced by any number of dubious factors. In fact, feeling doesn’t require fact at all, it’s completely subjective. After the big football game, the fans of the winning team feel happy. The fans of the losing team feel sad. Those who are fans of neither most likely don’t feel much about it at all. The fact is that one team beat another. There are not three underlying facts.

The notion of a post truth world cannot be allowed to continue unchallenged. We must have the courage, when we encounter someone who believes their opinion is equivalent to or more important that verified fact, to challenge that idea for the nonsense it is. We might assure our feeling friends that their feelings are valid and we would be happy to discuss them – while reminding them that they are not, in fact, facts. There is much reeducation to be done, and we need to start right away. We don’t want to build any more ramps.

Do Values Still Exist?

Remember values? They were those old fashioned things that gave us a somewhat consistent outline of what we would and wouldn’t do. Most people would say, for example, that killing other human beings is wrong. Other values included the idea that it was a good thing to be honest, to avoid cheating, to act with integrity, to be a reliable friend and a good parent. Most people would agree that stealing is a bad thing and that fairness is good. Sleeping with someone else’s spouse was frowned upon, even if it was a value to which we didn’t universally adhere. A man’s word was his bond, and a oral agreement was binding.

Back in the days when we had values, conservatives generally held forth against what they called relativism or situational ethics. Something that was wrong was always wrong, no matter the circumstances. Of course, that proves a rather immature ethical stance that doesn’t hold up, but they tried. You may hold that it’s wrong to go into another person’s home unless invited, but going into a burning house to save someone doesn’t require an invitation. Today those same conservatives seem to have no problem with deceit and outright lying. All you have to do is listen to a politician to know that neither conservatives nor liberals have any problem with selling the Brooklyn Bridge over and over again. What would be the consequence of acting that way in our own workplace? I suppose that depends on where you work and who your customers are.

One thing is certain. A society without values cannot survive long because a lack of values erodes trust. If we cannot trust one another we will not long be able to live in proximity to one another. In America, our society is polarized as never before, and some would counsel learning to get along no matter the cost. I disagree. It simply isn’t possible to get along with valueless, deceitful fools. What we need to do is rise above this nonsense and vote. Those of us with integrity need to reassert our influence in society and speak truth to power and deceit, reemphasizing the value of character. Nothing less will do.

The Demise of Institutional Religion

ventIn case you haven’t noticed, institutional religion is on a ventilator and not expected to survive. The reason is very simple, though many experts would make it very complicated because you can’t write a book with only a few sentences.

It doesn’t matter what religion we are talking about, all religion began with a charismatic teacher presenting new ideas – and never intending to start a new religion. Most often they were simply trying to reform the one of which they were a part. The Buddha sought to address problems in what we today call Hinduism, Jesus wanted to reform Judaism and free it from Roman occupation, Muhammad didn’t believe Judaism or Christianity had quite hit the mark. Protestant Christianity started when people thought Catholicism had drifted off point. The New Thought movement started as a place for overly educated people to gather, Baha’i began as a reform movement within Islam, and New Age started so that people who had serious cognitive deficits from drug abuse to have a place where nobody would notice their issues. The important point is that each of these movements began as small gatherings around a teacher or teachers. As they grew, some of the followers of the tradition decided they needed to build a structure to preserve their new tradition. That sounds great in theory. healing wounds institutional religionIn practice that decision to build a structure is always the beginning of the end.

Once you form an institutional structure around a religious movement you have created an organization in which survival of the organization is the primary concern. The religious teachings become secondary at best. The leaders of a religious institution will only too gladly change their official beliefs to gain acceptance from the local governing authority. There is no small irony in that churches under persecution grow while churches that are officially accepted decline, but church officials crave that acceptance. They see it as key to the survival of the institution despite all evidence to the contrary. They seek that acceptance because they crave power, but power corrupts every time.

End_of_Service_BDThe truth is that the death of the institution is good news for religion, but the dying process can be extremely painful. There is a lot to let go of as an institution dies, perhaps most importantly the need to replace one institution with another before we take the time to learn the lessons from the failure of the last institution. We need to trust ourselves and come to see that we are capable to making spiritual and religious choices for ourselves rather than take orders from “on high.” Just as so-called rebound relationships almost always fail, rebound churches do, too. Can we come to see that, whatever our names for the Sacred might be, we don’t need an intermediary to be in contact with it? Stated another way, are we willing to take responsibility for our own spiritual development – especially since nobody else can do it for us?shit happens tatt

If we are willing to take on the sometimes hard work of spiritual growth, seeing others on the path as companions rather than dispenser of truth from on high, the rewards are plentiful. If we chose not to undertake this path, we will just have to have the tattoo with our old religion’s name covered up yet again and replaced with the new one. One day we may learn not to put anyone’s name on our bodies – but I digress.

 

Unseen Casualties

chronic painThe most important casualties of the current pandemic are those with COVID 19. They are the victims and they are receiving most of the attention – as they should. Then there are those who desperately want to be victims, the conspiracy theorists and those who feel their rights are being impinged upon when asked to wear a mask to protect their fellow citizens. They are the infantile cry babies, and should be ignored completely. In the middle are those of us with chronic conditions who have been unable to get treatment during this crisis. Some of us remain unable to get treatment because of irresponsible behavior on the part of our providers.

Consider Advanced Pain Management, a multi-State pain management conglomerate. Closing all their clinics on March 17, they assured patients that it was for everyone’s protection. For profit healthcare rarely does anything to protect anyone other than itself. More than two months later, the vast majority of their clinics remain closed. The exceptions are a few in towns so small they couldn’t even get a bus to stop at the local gas station. Meanwhile, patients in metropolitan areas wait for some movement and cannot get answers. We can get phone appointments, but if we need more than a refill or a phone call we are told to go to our primary care physician or the local emergency chronic pain cycledepartment. Neither of those places will treat someone with chronic pain, of course. They may order imaging or lab tests, but whatever the results we are referred to the still-closed pain clinic for treatment.

You may be thinking we should suck it up, but some of us are risking permanent injury while we wait for our clinics to reopen. In my case, I now have involuntary muscle movement and loss of range of motion. You may be thinking, “find another clinic.” The problem with that is the pain industry has made it very difficult to switch clinics for fear the patient might be trying to get more narcotics – even when your clinic is “temporarily closed.” Further, there is no way for a new provider to get medical records from a clinic that isn’t open. The clinics hold all the cards, and right now some of them aren’t even coming to the table.

Every time I pass a “heroes wear scrubs” yard sign I have to laugh. Yes, some of them do in fact wear scrubs. Others have been withdrawn from the battle by irresponsible employers like Advanced Pain Management, their patients left to fend for themselves. That’s not healthcare, it’s cover your ass behavior by the worst of for-profit medicine. Tell me again that we don’t need healthcare reform, please.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States!

box-rocks-isolated-white-corrugated-cardboard-holds-several-colorful-small-rock-parcels-background-37986604

Unfortunately, the last guy was found to be too damn stupid to continue, so we had to replace him with this box of rocks, which has been verified to be a very stable genius with very large hands.

Yesterday, President Trump actually suggested that a light – either inside the body or outside – might cure corona virus. The he suggested household disinfectants, since they trumpdisinfectantclean surfaces in only sixty seconds, might be injected or ingested as a cure for the virus. CNN suggested that he was reaching for a quick solution. Nonsense. As I watched the video of him making these suggestions to physicians and telling them they should check these things out with medical doctors (does he not know these people are “medical doctors”?), I was struck by the fact that he most resembled a five year old child engaging in magical thinking. This isn’t a man grasping at straws, this is a man engaging in whartonkellytrumpmagical thinking at the level of a preschooler and pulling ideas from his intestines.

The truth is that we were warned about his stupidity. The rest of the truth is that a significant percentage of Americans either didn’t believe he was stupid or didn’t see it as a problem. That would be evidence of the stupidity of those people. You may not have to be a genius to be President, but you do have to be able to grab your own ass with both hands. Trump can’t even grab other people’s asses (an easier task), but apparently is proficient at grabbing their “pussy.” The fact that such behavior wasn’t a problem for American voters is evidence of a societal problem of epic proportions. bellcurve

As I have written before, intelligence – like every other naturally occurring phenomena – is distributed across a bell curve. Average intelligence falls in the middle. Half of the people are of above average intelligence and half are below. For every brilliant person you meet, there is an idiot somewhere that balances them out. Currently, one of those idiots is occupying the White House until the above box of rocks arrives to take his place. What do we do about this?

I believe the biggest thing we can do is insist that education is fully funded. No more defunding education to please the wealthy and provide a docile working population. No more encouraging ignorance to please manipulative politicians who want to be able to convince the voting public they have their best interests at heart as they steal their wallets. No more. We need to reclaim our power and demand better from the selfish pricks we have elected to national office. Nothing else will change our situation.

How Can I Cash In?

quote-the-secret-of-being-a-top-notch-con-man-is-being-able-to-know-what-the-mark-wants-and-ken-kesey-36-63-08When confronted with adversity, most of us try to come up with a way to overcome it. Only the most twisted among us look for a way to profit financially from the adversity others experience. Often, but not always, they are politicians. Other times they are little more than small time crooks looking to turn a quick buck. In most every case, they are sociopaths devoid of a conscience, the most severely mentally ill among us. They don’t get the same attention as the pour souls whose illness leads then to more dramatic outward evidence of their illness, and so they operate under the radar.

I once knew someone whose ex-husband was caught on hidden camera by a local news station trying to sell worthless products to the elderly. Most of us would have been humiliated by that experience but, ever the true sociopath, this guy claimed that he was victimized by the television station that caught him, unfairly persecuting him when many others were doing similar things that made his offense seem inconsequential. I ampatriotismlastrefuge quite sure his victims, living on a fixed income and defrauded by him, didn’t find his acts inconsequential at all.

Sociopaths can be quite charming, which makes them ideal politicians. They are more than capable of lying to our faces, saying they have our best interests at heart. They know what our best interests are, they just don’t give a damn. They are incapable of moving beyond their own interest, and for them the rules are something to be bypassed. If you believe you can change them, you are deceiving yourself. The only treatment for the cancer they are is removing them from positions of trust.

Selective Social Distancing

I know these people, really nice people, but dumb as a box of rocks. They are really concerned about keeping their toddler, who they still take to daycare despite not really needing to, away from other people. Except the daycare people and kids, and various members of pregnant couples they have had over to the house to give away some of their baby stuff they no longer need. Then there are his fishing trips in a canoe with his buddy. Oh, and Healthcare provider caring for intubated patient in intensive care unit.don’t forget the occasional friend that drops by “just because.”

That’s not social distancing, people. That’s the kind of stupidity that will delay the curve on this virus from flattening and put other people who are at risk in danger. That’s the kind of stupid shit you would expect from younger adults who haven’t figured out they aren’t invincible yet, but would hope they could see that this is serious. That’s the behavior that will kill your toddler’s grandmother just as surely as if you put a gun to her head and pull the trigger.

A Conspiracy Network for Jesus

***COMPOSITE***Remember this guy? Back in the glory days of televangelism he was simultaneously most successful, most derided, and most criminal of the lot – and there was a lot of competition for that title. In a crude distortion of the Jesus story these con artists claimed to be hawking, was eventually betrayed by colleagues in the televangelism racket and lost everything, going to prison for his crimes. Along the way he had an affair with his surgically enhanced church secretary, who later sold her wares in a skin mag,

You might have thought that would be the end of him in pseudo religious circles, but you iwaswrongbakkerwould be wrong. After his release from prison we wrote a book called I Was Wrong, and for a moment I was fooled, thinking he might truly be repentant. He so clearly articulated what he had done wrong and how he found himself in the position to defraud his followers. I ever felt sorry for the little bastard. It seems what he was doing was plotting the next phase of his life – conning seniors in the best place to find them in large numbers, Branson, MO. His message, like his character, has deteriorated even further from his days at the original PTL Club. Characterized by right wing politics and threats of a coming apocalypse, he is the ultimate huckster. Selling everything you can pack into a five gallon bucket to help you survive the coming tribulation – including a five gallon bucket with an attachable toilet seat so you can eliminate your five gallons of broccoli with cheese sauce while remaining in your bunker. The only question that remains would be how to tell the slop he sells from a used toilet bucket.

foodbakkerNow the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have ordered his to stop selling his latest nonsense that claims to have killed previous versions of the corona virus and so surely will kill this one – complete with a book and DVD, of course. He has forty-eight hours to comply or the fines will begin, no doubt accompanied by his claims of being persecuted. He is the lowest of the low, preying on the very people Jesus told us to protect. Of course, it’s never been about Jesus, has it? Neither for Jim Bakker nor his like in the evangelical, televangelist racket, it has always been about the money.

Have you noticed that televangelists almost never criticize each other? Whether is was harrard_meth_bigJimmy Swaggert masturbating into the panties of a twenty dollar prostitute while he told her how dirty she was, Robert Tilton opening envelopes sent to him with prayer requests and a check but removing only the check, Eddie Long grooming young men to be his sex partners while railing against homosexuality, Ted Haggard blowing his prostitute cum meth dealer, or any of the dozens of other disgusting crimes committed by these frauds, they almost to a person refused to criticize one another. Why?

swaggertThe only reason I can think that a preacher would not be critical of another preacher caught in scandal would be that they all know things about one another that they don’t want revealed. Even a cursory investigation into a few of these people reveals practices that would make Caligula blush. It seems that nearly all of them are profoundly wounded individuals who have spent so much time preaching against the very behaviors that compulsively drive them and have hidden those behaviors behind a code of silence that now compels them to protect one another by maintaining the cover up. The result is that anyone still electing to wade into those waters does so at their own peril – likely at the cost of their bank account.