Views on politics and current events

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Time For Progressives To Grow Up

By Frances Moore Lappé
Thu, 23 Dec 2004

Beyond Lakoff's strict father vs. 'nurturant parent,' a 'strong community' manifesto George Lakoff's new best-seller Don't Think of an Elephant has been heralded as the 'bible' for battered progressives searching for direction in the post-election doldrums. Lakoff himself has become the Left's answer to Frank Luntz, the focus-group genius behind the branding of Bush's death tax, Clear Skies and Healthy Forests initiatives.

Frames, according to Lakoff, are the key to understanding how political ideas are received. Human beings don't absorb information as raw material; we sift input through frames of meaning carried in the language we use. Lakoff's central idea is that conservatives see the world through a 'strict father' frame emphasizing discipline, self-reliance, forceful defense, while progressives see the world through a 'nurturant parent' frame-supportive, nourishing, emphasizing mutual responsibility.

Lakoff claims that thirty-five to 40 percent of Americans fall into each camp, although most are some sort of mix. The Right, Lakoff points out, is extremely good at selling their policies in clear, easy to understand 'strict father' frames. Progressives, on the other hand, too often seem to offer laundry lists of issues lacking any overarching moral framework. So,it's easy to see why progressives are rallying around Lakoff's call to arms. Since polls show majorities actually agree with the progressive agenda on many key issues, including the corporate power, the environment and abortion, focusing on 'framing' issues in ways that Americans can understand them seems like the answer they've been praying for.

Certainly, much of Lakoff's advice about communicating progressive ideas is powerfully insightful and right on target. But two big dangers loom. First: Too narrowly focusing on getting the frame right might delude progressives into believing that's all they need to win, since we all share a common, democratic playing field. No. The radical Right plays by different rules.

In this, David Brock's book Blinded by the Right was my wake-up call. Because Brock was not so long ago a radical right-wing insider himself, his experiences inside this mean-spirited, ends-justify-means mindset of this group is chillingly convincing. He depicts people willing go to any lengths, including lying (as did Brock himself in his character assassination of Anita Hill) in order to vanquish enemies. (See his new book: The Republican Noise Machine) In 2000, leading Republican Congressman, Majority Whip Tom DeLay distributed a pamphlet to all his Republican colleagues entitled The Art of Political War: How Republicans Can Fight to Win. Its author David Horowitz writes, "Politics is war conducted by other means. In political warfare you do not fight just to prevail in an argument, but to destroy the enemy's fighting ability. In political wars, the aggressor usually prevails." (Read more in Banana Republicans)

On his final episode of Now, Bill Moyers spoke with Richard Viguerie, a founding father of the modern conservative movement and author of America's Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power. Viguerie couldn't have described the Right's Macheivellian outlook more succinctly, speaking about the vicious pre-election attacks on Kerry: "I just wish he [Bush] could have done a little bit more [against Kerry]. I thought it was just great. And we're not gonna play, Bill, by the liberal establishment¹s rules. They say, 'This is acceptable and this is not acceptable.' Those days are gone and gone forever."

I got my own taste of Viguerie's anything-goes world, where the facts are irrelevant and, as he told Moyers, all journalism "is opinion." Campaigning in late October for Lois Murphy, who challenged incumbent Republican Congressman Jim Gerlach in Pennsylvania's 6th district, I experienced the power of a lie. Gerlach campaign telephone message ads linked Murphy to the Taliban (MoveOn supports her, MoveOn 'supports' the Taiban, ergo Murphy = Taliban-lover). Who would swallow that, I thought, especially since Murphy is a feminist? But it worked. "Are you with the Taliban lady?" said a potential voter when I approached his door. He threatened to set his dog on me.

Most Americans would be appalled if they knew. There's no evidence the majority of Americans approve this ends-justify-means, destroy-the-enemy approach. So here's one point progressives might want to savor as they think about frames: A broad swath of the American people may share the 'strict father' frame just enough to be vulnerable to manipulation; but this does not mean Americans broadly, deeply share the worldview of those in power. The Left must get much better, not just at placing its issues in a compelling moral frame, but at exposing and holding the radical Right accountable for its lies and deception without, and here is the tricky part, making those who have been manipulated feel ridiculed and put down.Time to grow up.

Second, the frame Lakoff identifies with progressives 'nurturant parent' itself needs critical thought. Nurturant parent? What could be worse for progressives?They're already stereotyped as coddlers of the lazy poor; dubbed 'bleeding hearts' who refuse to require people to take responsibility for themselves. A nurturant parent framing may confirm the caricature. Lakoff is careful to distinguish his parent model from 'mother', but I fear it is too easily received as a soft mother alternative to strict father.

The question few seem to be asking is: Are 'strict father' (Right) versus 'nurturant parent' (Left) our only choices, or can we move beyond the nuclear family metaphors?If the Left is indeed stuck with nuclear-family metaphors, they're seriously out of luck; in scary times like these 'strong father' will win out over what is seen as 'soft mother' every time. Thankfully, the narrow, Western psychoanalytic, nuclear-family frame itself is becoming dated. Maybe we¹re entering a new stage that has much in common with eras before the invention of the nuclear family. Maybe, in many respects, we're moving beyond hierarchy, which any parent-centered frame necessarily must be.

Big shifts are underway. First, the communications-technology revolution is allowing us to experience one planet. Billions of us can now see and converse with people on other continents. We experience the events of 9/11, our fellow humans starving in Darfur, and the battles in Iraqi streets in real time.

Second, the ecological revolution is infusing our consciousness with an awareness of our interrelatedness far wider than our immediate family. Ecology teaches us that there is no single action, isolated and contained; all actions have ripples, not just ripples up through systems in hierarchical flows, but out through webs of connectedness in what we might think of as lateral flows. Ecology teaches us that the world is co-created through complex networks of relationships, no one of which is dominant.These revolutions are unconsciously but profoundly reshaping human identity, the definition of self-interest and our place in the world. We're realizing that we exist in community with each other and the world. We therefore share needs, interests, and experience with many communities far beyond our immediate families.

Third is the 'revolution in human dignity.' We've lived so long under the spell of hierarchy, from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses, that only recently have we awakened to see not only that 'regular' citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.

Besides, few of us (unless we're scared into it) are prepared simply to take orders. With 'regular people' stepping up as public problem-solvers on every continent and on so many levels, it¹s hard to identify this change for the revolution it is. Some measure it in the explosive growth of citizen organizations, now totaling two million in the U.S. alone. In just one decade, the 90s, they jumped 60 percent. And they're being noticed: more national governments, global corporations, as well as the U.N., are inviting citizen representatives to the table.This growing appreciation of the power of each one of us also means students gaining a role in mediating their own disputes and in school governance; work teams spreading in factories; citizen boards in major municipalities now making significant budget choices from Sao Paulo to St. Paul; and patients increasingly enlisted in their own healing practice. Everywhere, citizens themselves are involved in decisions affecting their futures, the better the outcomes for all.

A desire to break with parentism in favor of fellowship and a hunger for healthy, strong community is not a progressive's pipedream. It is palpable. It is everywhere. Three far-flung illustrations come quickly to mind.The open source revolution. Consider the revolution underway in computer software: the widening embrace of Linux (an open source operating system)and nascent rejection of Microsoft, with its top-down control of 90 percent of the world¹s software market. Recently Munich, Germany, decided to convert 14,000 government computers to the Linux system despite the personal intervention of Microsoft's chief executive. Founder of the open software movement that created Linux, Richard Stallman, said this about why he left the proprietary, exclusive, top-down control software world: In that world, "the first step in using a computer was to promise not to help your neighbor. A cooperating community was forbidden. The rule made by the owners of proprietary software was, 'If you share with your neighbor, you are a pirate.'" Stallman considered this approach immoral. So he created the opposite software rules and culture: one that encourages mutual help and mutual learning. And it's catching on. And now the business pages are fretting about Microsoft¹s future.

Or turn to another, land-not-cyber-based, expression of community: The community-food-security movement (See springing up from Brooklyn to Iowa City, from Oakland to Burlington. Farmers' markets, community-support-agriculture, school gardens, buy-local campaigns, restaurant-farmer alliances, fair trade purchasing all reflect a sense of strength through interdependence and face-to-face relationships. They emphasize self-responsibility in community and are rejections of top-down, centralized solutions. And here in Boston, local Catholics are upset that several parishes are closing, sunk by the huge cost of sex-abuse scandals. Some parishioners are 'sitting in' in their own churches to protest. Refusing to leave in what they call '24-hour vigils,' these Catholics have said no to their priests and bishops. They are saying that their parishes are their communities and are as essential to their happiness and well being as are their nuclear families. Such renegade communities are now forming an association in the Boston area.

In a sense, these parishioners are rejecting the strict father in favor of community. (Just as soldiers in Iraq recently publicly challenged Rumsfeld while their 'community' cheered.) "Support is growing," one parishioner said on the radio recently. "People are slipping money under the door to keep us going." And the result? Our area bishop declared that two of the parishes slated to close would instead remain open."

New metaphors, new 'frames,'are called for to capture these profound changes in ways of seeing ourselves and our world. We need to ask: What frames best embrace the growing appreciation that human beings are going beyond one-directional communication, moving from 'one-to-many' directives toward 'many-to-many' multi-logues? What frame suggests mutual responsibility, cooperation, teamwork, dialogue, synergy, inter-connectedness, and the co-creation of meaning? Any parent frame fails the test; it is inevitably one-directional, and hierarchical. So let¹s bury the family metaphor and search for a more robust frame, one that suggests communities that work for all because they are connected, responsible, compassionate and therefore strong.

When Lakoff expands on his nurturant parent frame, he also notes that "the basic progressive vision is of community; of America as family, a caring responsible family." He includes 'mutual responsibility' and 'community-building' as central pieces of an effective progressive framing, suggesting he, too, chaffs within the limits of the nuclear family metaphor. And his examples of progressive reframing are more embedded in a community than a nurturant parent metaphor: such the progressive rationale for taxes being 'membership dues' contributed in order to reap the benefits of a community to replace the Right's message of taxes as an affliction for which they offer 'tax relief.' Here his progressive frame is about mutuality, not nurturing.

A New Frame: Strong Communities

In times of war, when fear is being consciously stoked to keep a populace in 'freeze' mode, the Right's strict father frame carries strong appeal. Fearful creatures duck for cover. We try to cast out those who might rock the boat. Frightened, we look for a strong protector. And this is precisely why progressives must not fall back on nurturing themes. In addition to holding the radical Right accountable for its mean-spirited, anti-democratic outrages, as mentioned above, we must get tough in at least two other ways. First, we must more effectively show just how our security is threatened, not secured, by today's strict-father 'protectors.' We can show how dreadfully ill-prepared to defend ourselves we are when anti-government ideology has its hold on Washington, leading to under-funding our first responders; to 15,000 highly vulnerable private chemical plants in charge of their own security; and to health care dependent on giant drug companies.

Progressives can also show that society is weak and vulnerable when we are divided, rich against poor, white against Black, Evangelicals against other faiths. Americans intuitively know that divisions weaken us; it's one reason we¹ve responded throughout our history to calls for basic fairness, such as the Civil Rights movement. Second, in a positive vein, progressives can show that the more engaged and just a community, the stronger and safer we all are. The more we know that we can count on our neighbors, our schools, our health care providers because we know them and because they are adequately funded the safer we feel. Immediately after 9/11, a public health expert pointed out an obvious link between fairness and community safety. With over 40 million people lacking health insurance, if there were an act of biological warfare against us, an infectious agent could spread swiftly, he pointed out. For how could it be contained if millions of uninsured delayed seeking medical attention? Obviously a case in which unfairness and the fact that so many can¹t afford insurance threatens everyone¹s safety.

A 'strong communities' frame might require progressives to stop, for example, talking about the 'environment,' which non-progressives can hear as a 'soft' distraction in war time, and frame ecological challenges as threats to safe air and water and food. We might stop talking about poverty, and alleviating it, which evokes images of do-gooders, and talk about fair-chance communities. Stop talking about reforming criminal justice and talk about results-based crime prevention.Let's salute George Lakoff and his colleagues for rallying progressives to frame our 'issues' in a compelling moral vision. But rather than reacting to the 'strict father' frame by searching for a better use of a 'nurturing parent' frame, let's reframe the entire conversation to one that begins with a definition of citizens as responsible grown-ups, not helpless children. In this progressive moral vision we strive to live in strong communities, safer and more viable than ones that rely on a strict father, who on deeper examination may turn out to be only a stubborn loner, a bully bringing on the very threats from which he claims to protect us. Let's choose frames that capture what most people intuit: We all share one small,shrinking planet, and our real hope therefore lies in creating strong communities.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A Response To A Letter About Freedom Of Religion

The 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Now, I can't see where this amendment says I must have any religion at all, if I so choose. So it can be interpreted to mean that indeed there is freedom OF and FROM religion as I so choose.

What has displaying Jesus or the nativity have to do with remembering we don't have a state religion? If a government office that is subsidized by all the taxpayers, whether they be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Athiest, etc. displays a symbol of any religion, then it can be construed that that government office is promoting that religion. Whether a nativity, a star of David, ANY religious object from ANY religion. The 1st Amendment prohibits the 'making of any law that respects the establishment of religion'.

As for your comment "and you're not supposed to have your front yard decked out in God, like someone would their favorite sports team. Any fool could do that, it doesn't mean you believe, it means your trying to convince someone you believe." Well, I suppose that could be so, but who says you aren't supposed to? But if the media, judges, government, is indeed trying to rid society of 'God' and 'Christianity', a person most assuredly doesn't have to buy into that. A personal, conservative statement of your belief in God would not necessarily mean to fill your yard with holy relics. It would mean to try and counteract the smothering of God by society by practicing what you believe.

As for not protesting and turning the other cheek? To me, that doesn't mean to let folks run all over you and your beliefs. Combat the unreligious TV shows, movies, newscasts,newspapers, by not watching or reading them. Support the many organizations on the 'net and TV that try to promote religious values in society.

It's true that the 'F' word is heard in public far too often, but pray for the people that are rude and unknowing that use foul language. A person's spiritual beliefs are, in my opinion, a very personal thing. Jesus taught the way of love and forgiveness. If people practice love and forgiveness, then God will not nor ever be excluded from society.

Yes, a truly spiritual life will be fraught with protest! Not a chest-beating, banner carrying, shouting protest. But an inner protest that if taken to its logical conclusion will not only change you, but can change society. It can lead to the protesting of world hunger, war, injustice, and the list goes on. If eradicating God and religion from society is wrong, then it is up to each individual to resist it according to their beliefs, and in their own fashion.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Election Process

In a country that professes to be a democracy, honest and fair elections are absolutely essential. The debacle of the 2000 national election still hangs over our country, and now some are saying that all was not well with the election of 2004.

Is this hue and cry from a minority merely sour grapes from folks that supported the loser of the election? No doubt some of it is. But as long as there remains a question about the legality and fairness of an election, it can create doubt in the minds of the voters. What's the difference if a person votes or not if there aren't guarantees that the election is fair?

As long as the spectre of the 2000 election and the questions about the 2004 election remain, our entire electoral process is in jeaopardy. A democracy only works if the citizens participate, at least by voting. There should be appropriate non-partisan investigations, and a push for election reform. If there was any wrong-doing in these elections, it's time to uncover them and rectify the system. Regardless of the fact that this election resulted in the Republicans gaining further control of congress and maintaining their position in the executive branch, it's time to study and investigate and make the appropriate changes as needed.

This country will no longer be the hybrid of a republic/democracy without election reform. The stranglehold that the two major political parties have on the electorate will continue to create disinterest and apathy among the voters. It is time for the citizenry to make their feelings known to all of our elected officials. We can no longer afford to have only the rich be able to run for high political office. The rich will only work to sustain their self-interest, no matter which of the two parties they happen to belong to. The two major parties have made it so difficult for a third-party candidate to get on the ballot, even to the point of the Democrats suing Ralph Nader to keep him off. Suing someone because they want to run for office? Is this democracy? Does this reflect what the founding fathers had in mind for this country?

So let us as a nation scrutinize the election returns of not only Ohio, but the entire election. Let us smoke out the corruption and incompetence if it is there. Let us see to it that election reform is implemented, and release the power of the two major political parties so voters might actually have candidates to vote for that reflect their own beliefs. Our entire government and way of life depend on it.

The Heavenly Father

We were all born of parents, and those who were fortunate were raised by parents or parent figures. The time came for most of us to rebel against the loving care of our parents and make our own way in the world. A wise parent understood that rebellion was part of maturing for their children. While it may have been painful, the good parent accepted it and the child that once depended on those parents for everything now was on their own, hopefully mature enough to make their way in the world and be responsible for their actions.

If that is the normal process of growing up, then can the same process be valid for a person's spiritual life? I was taught in Sunday school the stories of the bible, and of God the holy father. Like any good parent, God tried to teach me right from wrong through the bible and the teachings of the sunday school teachers. But there came a time that I rebelled against the notion of a heavenly father. Was I to be a spiritual child all my life, when I did not remain as a child to my parents?

For me, I sucessfully rebelled against my parent's authority and made my way in the world. Fended for myself, used what they had taught me to survive and thrive. And while I rebelled, I did not lose respect for my parents. I was fortunate in that both of them were not only the people that brought me into the world and nurtured me, but became good friends as well.

It is the same for the heavenly father. For me there no longer is a 'father' in heaven that watches over me. I have not lost respect for that notion, for it still is a very big part of many people's spiritual lives. But that heavenly father has now become integral to me, dwells within me. Is as much a part of me as the color of my eyes. Is that a sign of spiritual maturity? Perhaps.

But I am certain that the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke so often about is not something that will happen with the destruction of the world and the final judgement. It has already happened. It is here right now. For all people, for all races, for all cultures. What was once called the heavenly father to me has become the spirit. And it shows us the way if we are able to see. Not a spirit full of wild-eyed miracles of people raised from the dead, the healing of the sick, the parting of the sea. The growing of a sunflower from a small seed to a plant ten feet tall in but three months is miracle enough for me.

A spirit that not only is present within me, but present within every living thing. A spirit that represents love, and shows me that the only one I need to answer to is myself. The spirit is not authoritarian, does not judge, does not condone. It can nag at me to do the things I should through my conscience, but yet give me solace within myself for the inevitable times when I do wrong. The heavenly father has come down to earth, and resides in me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Romans Chapter 13, In Times Of War

Why Romans thirteen? In this time of war this Chapter of the New Testament, especially verses 1-5 are being used more and more to justify the right of our leaders to wage war in Iraq. Furthermore, anyone who does not support current foreign policy has had their patriotism questioned, and these verses have been used as divine law to try and prove disloyalty. I do not agree, and my arguments are contained in this essay. To begin, here are the first five verses, Chapter 13 of the epistle of Paul to the Romans:

Romans 13 : 1-6
(From the NIV)

1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.

4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

Verse #1- Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Whoever is in power has gained their authority solely because of the will of God? No doubt this passage was used as a justification for the ‘divine right of kings’. But history is full of cruel leaders that gained power to rule through bloodshed. If you believe in a heavenly father that pulls our strings like we were his puppets, then perhaps this verse is justified. Nothing happens without the direct intervention of the heavenly father; hence whatever happens is what should happen. No matter how much harm is created, no matter the consequences. It is God’s will. Even an Idi Amin, an Adolf Hitler, a Genghis Khan, or a Saddam Hussein is God’s will. Even if murder, deceit and other evil acts may have been used to gain authority, that authority must be obeyed.

It must be remembered the times in which Paul wrote this epistle. Around the middle of the first century, Christianity was a fledgling religion, and Christianity was an offshoot of Judaism. Most of the first Christians were born Jewish. It was a time of the Roman Empire, when going against any kind of Roman authority, even in trivial matters could cause you great harm, even to be crucified. And consider that the authority that Paul told the Romans to obey was a pagan roman emperor. Paul says that the authorities that exist have been established by God. So whatever the Emperor said had to be obeyed, for God had established him as ruler, even if the ruler did not believe in ‘God’ as the Christians did.

So to my mind, Paul was warning his Christian brethren to love one another and not openly refute the Roman authorities. Paul was much concerned with not only his brethren’s behavior but their survival as well. I believe he took his calling to ‘spread the good news’ very seriously. There would be no one to spread it to if the early Christians would have refuted Rome’s authority at every step.

As for the divine right of kings, when our country was founded the divine rule of kings no longer applied. In our democracy, there is but one group that ‘gives’ the authority to rule to anyone, and that is the people of the United States. In our democracy, God has given the populace the say via the election process to determine our leaders.

So to look upon this first verse as a law from God is a mistake. It was written two thousand years ago in a very different world and circumstance.

Verse #2- Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

With any country or state, and especially a democracy, comes responsibility to follow the laws of the country. Without civil authority there is chaos. But civil authority does not mean the authority to crush peaceful dissent. Indeed, if a citizen doesn’t agree with a specific law or policy, they can have a hand in changing things. Look at how much has been changed over the years by people who have disagreed with current law. Whether you agree with the changes or not, such examples as the banning of prayer in school, passing of child labor laws, and many other changes prove that a person can make a difference. Whether a person agrees with the changes or not is of course a personal matter. But a person has just as much right to protest the banning of prayer in school as in protesting a foreign policy, and just as much right to try and change it.

If a person that is in favor of prayer in school tries to lead a classroom in prayer, naturally they must be prepared for the consequences. And if a person that is against foreign policy chooses to break into a military installation without authorization, then they too must be prepared for the consequences. I’m speaking about the right of U.S. citizens to peacefully dissent and to peacefully congregate if so desired to express their opinion. These actions do not denote rebellion, no matter what the issue is. These actions do not denote anti-patriotism, no matter what the issue is. Furthermore, these actions do not denote a breaking of religious law with God. Again, we the people of the United States have given our leaders the right to rule. Hopefully, with reflection and prayer we can elect the right leaders. What would have happened over two hundred years ago if the colonists put their faith in the literal interpretation of this verse? Rebellion against King George would be tantamount to rebellion against God, and there would be no United States of America.

Verse #3-For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.

What is Paul speaking of when he says ‘do right’? Does he imply by that a blind obedience to anyone that is in authority? Does ‘do wrong’ mean anything that is against the authorities wishes? If the above questions are answered with a ‘yes’, then of what use is our Constitution? If the above questions are answered with a ‘yes’, how can we have a democracy?

Verse #4- For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

I do not believe that our leaders are God’s servants to do us good. I do not believe that God has servants that cater to people and groups that have the biggest wallets that contribute the most to campaign funds. I do not believe that God has servants that continually give more to those that have, and continually give less to those that have not. I do not believe that God has servants that cut aid for education, and ask an already downtrodden lower and middle class to absorb an increasing tax burden for ‘defense’. I do not believe that God has servants that allow forty one million people to be without any kind of health insurance as medical costs keep escalating out of control. I do not believe that God has servants that allow big business to pay indecent wages to workers while the fat cats get fatter. Our leaders are merely people. Not necessarily divinely guided, but with all the ulterior motives, faults, blind spots and selfishness that all humans have.

Verse #5- Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

In this era, blind obedience to authority while ignoring conscience is wrong. To truly participate in a democracy means to acknowledge our conscience. The conscience is the dwelling inside of us where the Spirit truly resides. God is not in heaven pulling strings. He is within us all, urging us to do what is right. The founding fathers were very wise men, but they really didn’t invent democracy. The person that told us (the followers of Jesus) we were all equal, no matter if a prostitute, tax collector, Samaritan, or leper, was Jesus. We are all equal in the eyes of God.

So while I fully understand that if I break laws in this country, I could be punished. But peaceful dissent, differing opinion, and trying to change things are not breaking this country’s laws or disobeying God-given authority. These verses of the bible are being used out of context, and being used by some as a permission slip from God that allows our leaders to wage war where ever they see fit, and as a warning from God that we the citizens must support our leaders or face the consequences. Dangerous happenings, when words written so long ago are used as a defense of modern aggression!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

On Being A Non-Exclusive Christian

The term non-exclusive Christian is a relatively recent one. It is a way to define a person and their beliefs within the Christian religion. But what does it mean? A definition for me is:

Someone who has made a choice in their spiritual life to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, but at the same time that person recognizes that there are many ways to lead a spiritual life.

If the span of human history is considered, it wasn’t long ago that for someone to make such a statement would lead to dire consequences. Can you imagine, for example, what the medieval Christian church’s reaction would have been to any member of its congregation saying such a thing? Whether Catholic or Protestant, the answer would be the same:

Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. The only way to the Father is through the Son.

To be a non-exclusive Christian, in the traditional views of the church, would have been heresy, pure and simple. Many people suffered horrible torture and painful death for less radical beliefs, so what would the fate of a non-exclusive Christian be? Although the church no longer tortures or beheads people, the fact is that many Christians would still say that a non-exclusive Christian is a heretic. For these people, their core beliefs have been shaped by two thousand years of official interpretation of scripture by man. For them, there is and can only be one way to salvation and that is through Jesus Christ. Period. Everything else is false.

For me to believe that only Christians are on the right path would also mean that no matter how ethical, compassionate, and unselfish a person may be, they are without hope. They are denied the grace of the spirit. I cannot believe in this. The spirit does not deny anyone grace, nor can I deny anyone their worthiness of it. That doesn’t mean that I agree with everyone, nor does it excuse the evil-doer (which at times includes myself). Does that mean I don’t ever judge when I shouldn’t, or condemn some for their actions? Of course not. If nothing else, I am human, with thoughts and emotions that are sometimes wrong, sometimes inappropriate, and (not nearly often enough) compassionate.

Does a murderer deserve grace? A wife-beater? A pedophile? An embezzler? A thief? A liar? Any doer of anything ‘wrong’ you care to mention? I answer yes. Without a doubt. Our society might rightly forbid these actions and deny the evil doer of their physical freedom. We can abhor their actions, condemn them to life imprisonment or even physical death, but the spirit is still there for them. So if the spirit is there for someone who commits the most heinous act imaginable, then I can’t believe that it would be denied to any spiritual person, regardless of their particular faith.

To deny the believers of a different faith would be to discard my belief in a ubiquitous spirit. A spirit that was, always has been, and always will be, and that doesn’t exist in the stratosphere, but within us all. A spirit that created all of us with a heart to feel and a mind to think. And that belief I cannot discard. It has been a long time coming for me, and was just as much a result of whatever intellect I possess as well as whatever emotions I have.

Being a non-exclusive Christian means to discard many things that were taught to me as a child. And (to use an overused and misunderstood phrase) to be born again of the spirit. But born again with the knowledge that the choice I have made is the right choice for me, and that the spiritual choice anyone else has made, if done with conviction and honesty in their heart, is the right choice for them. Their beliefs do not diminish mine, and mine do not diminish theirs. It means to have courage in what I truly believe, but yet have an open mind to what others believe.

It means to search for answers, even when there aren’t any, to go beyond mere religious tolerance and flow into the grace of accepting others for what they believe and who they are. If the spirit shows grace to all people, can’t I attempt to show grace by acceptance? We are all different, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in large ways. But the key word is different. Being different from some and alike with others can’t be avoided, nor should it be. But when your own personal beliefs (or any given talent you have) gives you a sense of superiority over others, then I believe that is wrong. Different does not mean better or worse. It merely means different.

Non Interest

Words from Oriah Mountain Dreamer, Native American Elder

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for,and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love for your dream for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of future pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain,mine or your own,without moving to hide it or fade it,or fix it. I want to know if you can be with joy,mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your toes without cautioning us to be careful,be realistic or to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself,if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore be trustworthy. I want to know if you can see beauty even if it's not pretty everyday,and if you can source your life on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver moon,(YES)!

It doesn't interest me where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair,weary and bruised to the bone,and do what needs to be done for the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Rambling About Religion

Never in my life have I thought as I do now. In the past I usually floated along with the flow, rather conservative in politics and my life in general. But the older I get, the more my opinions swing to the progressive view of issues. Is this contrary to what usually happens? Don't folks tend to get more conservative as they age?

In the realm of religion, in my younger years I never bought into it. I was raised in the Methodist Church, went to Sunday School and all that, and I was confirmed a Methodist. But I remember just a few days before the confirmation ceremonies, we had to have a one-on-one meeting with the pastor. After some chit-chat, the preacher got to the crux of the meeting, and started asking me questions:

Pastor: Do you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?
Me: No
Pastor (after looking at me over his glasses): You don't believe in the virgin birth?
Me: No
Pastor: Why not?
Me: Things don't happen that way.
Pastor: Jesus was God on earth, He was God's son.
Me: Okay.
Pastor: He was God's gift to us.
Me: Okay
Pastor: He died for our sins.
Me: Whatever you say.

And the meeting went on in the same vein. By the time I walked home, the pastor had evidently called my Mother, for she was waiting for me.

Mother: What did you say to the pastor?
Me: He asked me questions, and I answered.
Mother: Well don't be saying that kind of stuff to a preacher, especially just before you get confirmed.
Me: But it's what I believe.
Mother: That's all well and good, but don't be saying that kind of stuff to a preacher!

Bless my Mother's memory, she didn't try to convince me otherwise. She just wasn't happy that I was so honest, with a pastor of all people! So I was soured on the whole idea. I went through the confirmation ceremony, but it didn't mean much to me. This was my attitude for a number of years. Why in the hell even bother with something where what I truly believe is not to be uttered?

This was the world I lived in. But then I met a man that happened to be a preacher. Met him by circumstance, still wasn't interested in church, religion, spirituality. He was the first person I met that was willing to listen and not condemn. Not only listen, but actually agreed with some of the things I said, blasphemous as they were. This set me aback. I was fairly certain I had all this religious mumbo-jumbo figured out. But I wasn't even close. I had many talks with this man, still do on occasion but not as frequent as before, for he now lives out of town. But he showed me that it is possible to have strong convictions and still be spiritual, if not essentially religious. He actually showed me the difference between the two.

And what a difference there can be! Ideally perhaps the two should go hand in hand. But it often seems that they don't. There are many reasons it seems for folks to attend church. For the social aspect, to show off some new clothes, to do their one-hour duty, and actually to worship. I don't berate anyone for any reasons they might have for going to church. All I'm concerned about is why I started to attend again. Not every Sunday for sure, but a damn sight more than I used to. All I know is that I, like most everyone that is willing to admit it, am a spiritual being. A wise person once said that "We are not human beings trying to live spiritual life, but spiritual beings trying to live a human life". I still don't buy into the dogma, but I also know that that makes absolutely no difference to my spiritual life.

A few times a year I work up a piece for the piano to play for the congregation. Not being a natural talent, I have to work very hard which means I do a lot of practicing on the sanctuary's piano. Pianos are like people, they have their own personality, and it takes awhile to get to know them. I know the piano at church very well. A Baldwin upright, not in the best of shape, it has it's own little quirks, but all things considered it doesn't sound too bad. When I am alone in the sanctuary practicing, the same sanctuary and church that my Mother was so involved with, I can feel the presence of her spirit there. That is but one part of my spiritual life. As my preacher friend has said, "Be concerned with your spirituality. The rest is only fluff and stuff."

Before my Mother passed, I talked to her about the incident with the preacher and my confirmation. She was quite a free thinker for her generation. She told me that I was right, and that if a preacher didn't want to hear what a person really thought, they shouldn't ask. She admitted at the time that she was too wrapped up in the social aspects of church, and that after a long life she had become a doubter of organized religious thought. But she also said that church was a vital part of her life in her declining years, and that the church was her family that she accepted, warts and all. My Mother taught me many things in my life, and probably the most important thing was how to leave this earth with grace and dignity. After eighty-six years, raising seven children, losing one to death at the age of eighteen, and 'raising' my Father too, and prevailing over many trials and heartbreak, she knew when it was her time. She faced it bravely and matter-of-factly, and passed a restful, peaceful, noble death.

The spiritual is what I'm concerned with. Not the supernatural, not some ancient miracle story that some insist is literal fact. A spiritual awakening, if you like. The rest is only fluff and stuff. Indeed!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Bridge

Edwin H. Friedman From the book "Friedman's Fables"

A Metaphor

There was a man who had given much thought to what he wanted from life. He had experienced many moods and trials. He had experimented with different ways of living, and he had had his share of both success and failure. At last, he had begun to see clearly where he wanted to go.
Diligently, he searched for the right opportunity. Sometimes he came close, only to be pushed away. Often the applied all of his strength and imagination, only to find the path hopelessly blocked. And then at last it came! But the opportunity would not wait. It would be made available only for a short time. If it were seen that he was not committed, the opportunity would not come again. Eager to arrive, he started on his journey.

With each step, he wanted to move faster; with each thought about his goal, his heart beat quicker; with each vision of what lay ahead, he found renewed vigor. Strength that had left it since his early youth returned, and desires, all kinds of desires, reawakened from their long-dormant positions.

Hurrying along, he came upon a bridge that crossed through the middle of a town. It had been built high above a river in order to protect it from the floods of spring. He started across. Then he noticed someone coming from the opposite direction. As they moved closer, it seemed as though the other was coming to greet him. He could clearly see, however, that he did not know this other, who was dressed similarly except for something tied around his waist. When they were within hailing distance, he could see that what the other had about his waist was a rope. It was wrapped around him many times and probably, if extended, would reach a length of 30 feet.

The other began to uncurl the rope, and, just as they were coming close, the stranger said, "Pardon me, would you be so kind as to hold the end a moment?" Surprised by this politely phrased but curious request, he agreed without a thought, reached out, and took it. "Thank you," said the other, who then added, "two hands now, and remember, hold tight." Whereupon, the other jumped off the bridge.

Quickly, the free-falling body hurtled the distance of the rope's length, and from the bridge, the man abruptly felt the pull. Instinctively, he held tight and was almost dragged over the side. He managed to brace himself against the edge, however, and after having caught his breath looked down at the other dangling, close to oblivion.
"What are you trying to do?" he yelled.
"Just hold tight," said the other
"This is ridiculous," the man thought and began trying to haul the other in. He could not get the leverage, however. It was as though the weight of the other person and the length of the rope had been carefully calculated in advance so that together they created a counterweight just beyond his strength to bring the other back to safety. "Why did you do this?" the man called out.

"Remember," said the other, "if you let go, I will be lost."
"But I cannot pull you up," the man cried.
"I am your responsibility," said the other.
"Well, I did not ask for it," the man said.
"If you let go, I am lost," repeated the other. He began to look around for help. But there was no one. How long would he have to wait? Why did this happen to befall him now, just as he was on the verge of true success? He examined the side, searching for a place to tie the rope. Some protrusion, perhaps, or maybe a hole in the boards. But the railing was unusually uniform in shape; there were no spaces between the boards. There was no way to get rid of this newfound burden, even temporarily.

"What do you want?" he asked the other hanging below.
"Just your help," the other answered.
"How can I help? I cannot pull you in, and there is no place to tie the rope so that I can go and find someone to help me help you."
"I know that. Just hang on; that will be enough. Tie the rope around your waist; it will be easier." Fearing that his arms could not hold out much longer, he tied the rope around his waist.
"Why did you do this?" he asked again. "Don't you see what you have done? What possible purpose could you have in mind?"
"Just remember," said the other, "my life is in your hands."

What should he do? "If I let go, all my life I will know that I let this other die. If I stay, I risk losing my momentum toward my own long-sought-after salvation. Either way, this will haunt me forever." With ironic humor he thought to die himself, instantly, to jump off the bridge while he was still holding on. "That would teach this fool." But he wanted to live and live fully. "What a choice I have to make; How shall I ever decide?"

As time went by, still no one came. The critical moment of decision was drawing near. To show his commitment to his own goals, he would have to continue on his journey now. It was already almost too late to arrive in time. But what a terrible choice to have to make! A new thought occurred to him. While he could not pull this other up solely by his own efforts, if the other would shorten the rope from his end by curling it around his waist again and again, together, they could do it! Actually, the other could do it by himself, so long as he, standing on the bridge, kept it still and steady. "Now listen," he shouted down. "I think I know how to save you." And he explained his plan. But the other wasn't interested.

"You mean you won't help?”
"But I told you I cannot pull you up myself, and I don't think I can hang on much longer either."
"You must try," the other shouted back in tears. "If you fail, I die!" The point of decision had arrived. What should he do? "My life or this other's?" And then a new idea. A revelation. So new, in fact, it seemed heretical, so alien was it to his traditional way of thinking.

"I want you to listen carefully," he said, "because I mean what I am about to say. I will not accept the position of choice for your life, only for my own; the position of choice for your own life I hereby give back to you."
"What do you mean?" the other asked, afraid.
"I mean, simply, it's up to you. You decide which way this ends. I will become the counterweight. You do the pulling and bring yourself up. I will even tug a little from here." He began unwinding the rope from around his waist and braced himself anew against the side.
"You cannot mean what you say!" the other shrieked. "You would not be so selfish. I am your responsibility. What could be so important that you would let someone die? Do not do this to me!"

He waited a moment. There was not change in the tension of the rope. "I accept your choice," he said, at last, and freed his hands.

An Evening In Church

In the quiet that only comes with being alone,
In the gentle darkness, save for the rose window lit behind me
and the small red light that burns over the preacher's pulpit always,
after the light on the piano was turned off,
after losing myself for
I'm not sure how long.
How different this place is when here all alone,
than with it full of people praying and dozing and
children waiting impatiently for their agony to end.
Trying to recall the message given to the faithful earlier
but this house has silenced every word. This house will have none of it.
The darkness has washed this house clean,
with no trace of the morning's activity but for a folded bulletin
in a vacant pew.
The worshippers have gone, and this house now
breathes easy.
No matter how long I go on,
Until my fingers cramp and my mind grows weary,
this house will listen.
For that, and the rose window, and the small red light that
burns always over the preacher's pulpit, I am thankful.
And this house seems to bid me, continue.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Liszt: Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses

I have been playing the piano for twenty-six years. For all that time I have consistantly chosen music to study that is slightly above my technical ability at the time, and now I have chosen two pieces from this set of pieces by Liszt. They are absolutely pushing my technique to the limit.

One of the pieces is 'Ave Maria' from the set. The technical difficulties of this piece are not so far out of reach, but the musical problems abound. Chordal voicing is essential. With a melody that is in the soprano at one point, the tenor the next point, and even falls into the bass, the danger is that the piece can be reduced to harmony that doesn't say much. And the composer's directions in the score must be studied very closely. Liszt is a composer that tells you what he wants in detail. The problem lies in bringing out the details without obscuring the whole of the piece. Not seeing the trees for the forest, or not seeing the forest for the trees is not acceptable. You must be able to see both, have them in balance. Not so easy to do.

The other piece is called 'Funerailles, Octobre 1849'. From what I've read, it is a piece that pays tribute to an attempted Hungarian revolt in 1849 and the subsequent brutal quashing of that revolt. It is a piece that begins with a slow introduction, with the sounds of bells and dissonant wailing. It slowly gathers momentum with an increase in velocity and volume. It finally reachs a climax, and a mournful funeral march begins, with the melody in the bass.

After the funeral march, the music is transformed into a lamentation marked 'lagrimoso'. A gentle weeping for the dead that is developed into a passionate weeping of the soul. This segues into a depiction of a calvary charge with the beating of horses hooves and the sounding of the military trumpet, all played in the major mode. It is this section that has prompted some writers to think that this piece was also a tribute to Chopin due to its similarities with his Military Polonaise. Also, Chopin died in Paris in October of 1849, so this is plausible.

The calvary charge ends in a thunder of octaves for both hands, and a recapitulation of the funeral march. But this time, it has turned into a bitter, painful repitition, with the melody spread out in both hands played in double forte dynamics and the accompaniment chords played in the low registers of the keyboard. It is not a pretty rendition, and a singing tone in the piano is not appropriate to my way of thinking. It should be ugly, loud and harsh.

This recedes into a repeat of the lagrimoso section, albiet with a key change. After a shortened version of this section, the calvary charge returns, this time in a minor key. It thunders under a direction of crescendo molto until it reaches a double forte diminished chord. The piece ends with two measures played pianissimo, with the final measure consisting of a bare octave in the bass on the 'F', the home note of the key signature of the piece, f minor.

While this piece has many of the excesses of the Romantic Liszt, it is also to my mind a bitter denouncement of the crushing of freedom. Even though the piece was written nearly 150 years ago, it still speaks to us of the ugliness of oppression and the cruelty of the powers that be. It is not a piece that leaves me elated, for it hits too close to home considering the same types of horrors we are witnessing today. The bare, dead, dry final octave leaves me in a state of near despair. But I have a driving urge to learn it, involve myself with it. The passions in the piece are passions I can relate to, even if I'd rather not.

The sorrow, ugliness, harshness, hopelessness of the piece seems to be helping me deal with my feelings about the present state of the world. Perhaps it is a catharsis. Perhaps it is necessary for me to get these passions up to the surface so I can deal with them, instead of having them buried within me to possibly taint my soul in the future.

In any case, my course is clear. Whether my technique is ever up to really playing this piece as I envision or not, the journey is what's important. This piece has much to teach me.

A Poem By Stephen Crane

A man went before a strange God--
The God of many men, sadly wise.
And the deity thundered loudly,
Fat with rage, and puffing.
"Kneel, mortal, and cringe
And grovel and do homage
To My Particularly Sublime Majesty."

The man fled.

Then the man went to another God--
The God of his inner thoughts.
And this one looked at him
With soft eyes
Lit with infinite comprehension,
and said, "My poor child!"

Stephen Crane

Yet More Thoughts About Social Security

The diverting of Social Security withholding taxes to private funds would add yet more debt to our deficit-riddled economy.

In addition, I believe the implementation of this plan would benefit current holders of stock and financial advisors more than anyone else.With nothing guaranteeing that this 'new' investment money would be venture capital (new goods and services) there would be a finite number of stocks available. With a finite number of stocks and increased competition to purchase them, stock prices would rise. Who would benefit by this? Certainly not the new investors brought about by the plan. Their rate of return would be lower than the 'older' money already in the market. These new investors would have to purchase stock at an inflated price, and the current holders of stock could sell it at a higher price. The rule of thumb 'buy low, sell high' would change to the reality of 'new money buy high, old money sell high'.

Financial gurus play the stock market for a living. What of the common working person? Do most working folks have enough knowledge to invest wisely? Look at the consequences if they don't, for this proposal is not a restructuring of Social Security. It is the first step in the process of eliminating Social Security. Perhaps a wise new investor would consult a financial advisor, but there goes yet more of their return towards professional fees. When there is no Social Security and people's retirement income depends on how much and how well they have invested, making good investments with a good return becomes crucial.

It takes tremendous non-partisan lack of foresight to allow a system that has been going for seventy years to teeter on the brink of collapse. The Social Security fund should be used only to pay benefits, and not looked upon as a general fund. It is time for the idea of tax cuts without budget cuts to cease. It is time for the programs that exist for the welfare of citizens to over ride pork barrel spending and other forms of government waste. It is time for fiscal responsibility and accountability by our elected officials, from the federal government on down to local municipalities. If irresponsible spending continues, Social Security will fail and the entire economy will follow in its wake.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

On The Privitization of Social Security

From what I understand, SS might not be in such a pickle if the congress gang would've kept their fingers out of it when it was over funded a few years ago. It shouldn't be a source to pay for anything besides SS benefits.

I don't see how privitization will help, knowing that it will create a situation where it will be 2 trillion dollars short of paying existing retirees benefits. Where will this money come from to keep the program solvent for current payees, let alone future payees?

Can't really brow beat the Republicans over this. Both parties have been guilty of wasteful legislation and spending over the years, and I shudder to think that both parties are gonna try and fix SS now. Without a more fiscal responsible attitude towards spending by the legislature and executive branches, SS is doomed. With far more people getting benefits then are paying into the program, higher taxes of some type are inevitable. And if this insane deficit spending isn't curtailed, higher taxes won't even help.

Do you like fried chicken?

In my day to day activites, I get a chance to talk to many people of many differing opinions. But despite the differing opinions, there is always something that we can agree on. Granted, it takes a bit of patience and exploration to find the common ground, but in the end it usually turns out that people in general have much more in common than they realize.

I call this the 'Fried Chicken' commonality factor. The question' Do You Like Fried Chicken?' is a good one to spring on folks with whom you disagree. Of course it could be a question about anything that is kind of off the subject of disagreement. The point of it is to find something to agree on. Sometimes it can lead to dialogue instead of finger pointing.


Hello to all in bloggersville! My blog is for the sharing of opinions. On what subject(s)? Any! With a world that seems to be fed by mass media moguls this blog is for the common person to express an opinion on politics, religion, the arts, whatever may be sticking in your craw, or even something that makes you happy! I believe in civilized dialogue, especially between people that do not agree. When we come together and talk we can not only learn about each other but more importantly learn about ourselves. I believe that all of us on this earth are interconnected by the fact that we are all human and all will suffer the same fate.

So this blog will be full of ruminations from my fevered brain. The subjects will no doubt be vast and various. Feel free to comment on anything.

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