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.

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.

 

Jesus Said We Should Eat our Wheaties

He did. In the Bible. Wheaties were a big part of his spiritual program. It’s right there in the Bible. He was also big on isometric exercise. He said so in John’s gospel.

lincolninternetThe most frightening part of those statements is that some people will believe them. I am quite honestly surprised no advertising agency has tried to work out a way to claim that Jesus endorsed products. Oh sure, some people would raise a fuss but a lot of other people would swallow that stuff hook, line, and sinker. They would be arguing with their friends that Wheaties are the most godly cereal even invented and that eating Frosted Flakes is satanic. It is as if life was a card game and much of the world runs around trying to collect trump cards (you should pardon the expression) they can whip out at any moment to win arguments or end debates. The result is that far too many people are invested in nonsense.

gotochurchjesusI just finished a book by Ronald Rolheiser that claimed Jesus taught that four things were non-negotiable, and the fourth one was “go to church.” There are several problems with this statement. The first is that Christianity only arose after Jesus was killed. That means there weren’t any churches until long after Jesus was gone, The second is that Jesus never even said “go to the synagogue,” because synagogues were a development that arose after the destruction of the Temple some forty years after Jesus’ death. The third and biggest problem is that Rolheiser is a Roman shadysalespitchCatholic priest and presumably knows what he wrote isn’t true. His assertion is equivalent to saying that Jesus wants you to eat you Wheaties.

I think I can speak for everyone who has walked away from institutional religion when I say we are tired of the lies, we are tired of shady sales pitches that are easily debunked. We expect truth from spiritual teachers and leaders, not self-serving propaganda. We want to hear truth that will help us, not the kind of lies that we get told at the bar when someone is trying to get in our pants – or the pants of our children, in the case of Roman priests. We seek to be educated, not seduced; informed, not coerced. So spare us the nonsense and tell it like it is or else save your breath. We aren’t buying any longer.

Life is Cheap

Have you noticed? Life is cheap. Usually when we talk about life being cheap we are talking about life in the hood, where nobody really expects to live past twenty-five anyway so why not just kill whoever crosses our path? It’s much safer to talk about life in the hood being cheap because when we talk about other spaces and places it hits closer to home and calls moral people to take action.

Life is cheap when a President can decide to kill a member of another nation’s military solely because it would make a nice distraction from his own unacceptable behavior. What’s more, he can violate the sovereignty of a third nation to do his murder because, well, he can get away with it. He can worry about manufacturing reasons after the fact. Then when that second nation shoots down a passenger jet from a fourth nation allegedly because it mistook that passenger jet for a drone from the First Nation, it apparently becomes a way too complex moral question to suggest that the blame for that lies squarely on the orange head of the President who started this whole chain of events. The reason that it is too complex is that we have become moral midgets.

Sex Secret

I don’t think women do this, but I could be wrong. Women hardly ever invite me to eavesdrop on their conversations about sex. Dammit. Some men do this, however, and it’s them I would like to discuss today. You women can listen in, I don’t mind.

two men whisperingThere are two versions of this practice that break down along sexual orientation lines. Gay and bisexual men will tend to tell stories about straight, or at least publicly straight, men who tried to have sex with them, but they declined. Straight men will claim that they had sex with a woman known to those present for discussion. Perhaps Dice Clay parodied this nonsense best when he joked, “Mother Goose? I fucked her!”

Whether any of these claims are true, and I suspect most of them are not, doesn’t make adice clay bit of difference. The very fact that the claims are made reveals quite a bit about the claimant, and the revelation is not flattering. There is no healthy, mature motivation for one person to share stories of sexual conquest or continence with another. It’s even worse when the story telling occurs in a group context.

In a day in which American sexual understanding and ethics have never been worse, and it seems there is no shortage of people looking to blow up the reputations of select others on rumor alone (e.g. Rep. Katie Hill), we need to see those who recklessly share self serving accounts of their own sexual behavior for the irresponsible, immature people they are. We also need to steer clear lest we become the subject of their next set of fictions.

Holiday Reflections

My wife Erin and I were in a fairly significant car accident Friday night when a pickup truck ran a red light. While we are banged up pretty well, we are alive – and that’s generally not something you think much about less than a week before the holidays. Ironically, the day before that I spoke with a woman whose husband had been rear ended on his way home from work and his car totaled. My conversation partner was on her way to look for a replacement car because they had planned to drive seven hours with their children to their holiday destination. Erin and I had to cancel our holiday trip a mere five and one half hours away because we were going to be able to get our car replaced in time for our trip. What are the odds that I would encounter someone who would foreshadow our holiday turn of events just one day later?

Last week I read a blog post in which the author advised everyone to reconcile over the holidays with any family members from whom they are estranged. Their reasoning was rooted in a rather Pollyanna understanding of interpersonal behavior and a mythic understanding of the holidays. I remember thinking what an absolute load of nonsense the post was when I read it, mostly because such views give a free pass to people who abuse others. It’s one thing to look past petty disagreements. I am all for that practice. It’s quite another to slide into denial about legitimate grievances because of some pie in the sky understanding of the magic of Christmas.

What I do want to recommend in light of my accident is that you be sure to tell the people you love that you love them over the holidays, and every day, because the truth is that we don’t know if we will see each other again. Life might be taken from us at any moment, and that is also why we shouldn’t gloss over serious disagreements. When we pretend that it’s acceptable for you to have abused me, what we are really doing is saying my life isn’t worth all that much. That does everyone a disservice, and no amount of fairytale holiday bliss can justify it.

Imagine if we wished one another an authentic holiday, a holiday season in which we told the people we loved that we love them and also honored everyone’s integrity by being honest about our disagreements, too. We might also commit to be honest with one another and to value that honesty over any misguided notion that our job is to protect the feelings of others at the expense of our integrity.

Happy Holidays!

Guns, Schools, and Selfishness

At a certain developmental stage, young children are appropriately concerned only about themselves and what they want. At that stage, that behavior is appropriate and we would be wrong (and ineffective) if we tried to hurry them out of that stage. We would interfere with their normal, healthy development, and they would suffer consequences at they moved into adulthood.

When we are adults, living in society, and presumably capable of understanding the world in a much broader way than a three year old does, we come to realize that some of the things we might want to do that we cannot do out of concern for the greater good. For example, we might want to drive through a school zone at seventy-five miles per hour, but children might be hurt. We pass laws to make such things illegal, and no reasonable person objects to those laws.

You might think that same logic would apply to questions of gun control given that high number of gun incidents in school zones. You might expect that reasonable people, seeing the danger inherent in the regularity with which shootings and near-shootings* occur at schools in America, would be willing to change our laws to restrict access to firearms even if such changes impacted their perceived right to own as large an arsenal as they might like. You would be wrong, however.

America is well past the point where there is any reasonable argument in favor of the status quo in gun control. What we have isn’t working. Any politician who argues against stricter gun laws is likely in the back pocket of the NRA and is corrupt and needs to be removed from office. Even the most rudimentary understanding of any of the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions tells us that nothing is more important than the health and safety of a child.

The truth is that when we encounter someone who believes that their need to own a gun is more important that a child’s need to life, we have encountered a moral midget who needs to be ignored. If we are to live in a civilized society, we have to do everything we can to ensure the safety of our children. If you feel you need to hunt, I’d suggest you buy a bow and arrow.

Debating Integrity

When I was a kid, which I must now confess was a few decades ago, We were taught things like debate, argumentation, and persuasive writing. Those things have gradually disappeared from schools in America, and the result is plain to see. Quite simply, we no longer know how to construct an argument and we no longer are embarrassed if we are dishonest in our attempts to do so. This is as true in the private sector as the public.

C-S-Lewis-Integrity-e1368209736261I was sent a theological paper a few days ago that was an excellent example of this. It was filled with short quotes from the individual it criticized, taken out of context, while accusing him of taking things out of context. The author obviously hadn’t done a good job of researching her “opponent,” because she accused him of “making up” ideas that have been existence for over one thousand years. The list went on and on. When I learned how to construct arguments and write papers, my teachers would have given this paper an “F” and its author would have hung her head in shame. The fact that the kinds of teachers who taught us these important skills no longer exist is glaringly obvious, the impact on our communication abilities and public discourse beyond obvious.

We have come to believe that knowing facts, mostly in the hard sciences, is much more important that being able to communicate them effectively. What we say and how we say it matters. In fact, it matters more than whether or not we win an argument because it speaks to a much more fundamental and important value, our integrity. It is much more important to be able to live with ourselves than to accumulate victories.  If you doubt that, just ask Charlie Sheen.

Honesty is Such a Lonely Word

Billy Joel was right, not only about love but also about spiritual and religious circles – though he may not have had that in mind when he wrote his song.

There is a practice that I have seen both in Newage* circles and in Evangelical circles of 220px-Honesty_singleblatant dishonesty about the ideas and even the integrity of other teachers and preachers. If you run in the motivational speaker/Chicken Soup book circles, the odds are you do nothing but heap praise on others in those circles. According to these folks, everyone is wonderful at everything they do. Indeed, some of them are. Others mostly push content that is rather vacuous, largely rehashed and diluted ideas from long ago. The problem is that when everyone says everything is wonderful, people tend to believe them and go out an spend their hard earned money on books and conferences that are largely newage.

In Evangelical circles, particularly the Jim Bakker/Jimmy Swaggert circles, the same sort of things happen on a regular basis. I have seen it for myself. Almost every one of these high profile organizations gets hit with a scandal sooner or later, and they run to each other’s defense – especially if the person currently in the fire stood behind others when they were in the fire. I have witnessed these discussions. The problem here is even worse than it is in newage circles, because quite often what is being covered up and dismissed is serious misconduct that is abusive toward those the offender is supposed to be serving. If you think that only the large denominations traffic in cover ups, you are fooling yourself.

What we need in all corners of our world is a lot more honesty, no matter what the consequences may be. This may cause some sort term discomfort, but it will protect people from getting hurt by the unqualified and disqualified charlatans posing as authentic teachers and leaders. Imagine what might happen if we went so far as to require honesty from politicians!

 

*I borrow the term “Newage,” which rhymes with “sewage,” from Lama Surya Das to distinguish between solid and dubious New Age teaching.