Hey, God … How about a few answers?

Heresy … or is it blasphemy? I always get the two confused. Maybe this is both.

Whatever it is, I really would like a few answers. I know I’m not a model human. Not in any sense of the term, but certainly not in the religious sense. Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist … the four religions about which I actually know something … I don’t quite fit into any of them. Mind you, I’m not so bad, either. There are plenty a whole lot worse than me.

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While me and mine struggle along, barely keeping our heads above the water, evil-doers of a very high magnitude are thriving their asses off out in the Big Bad World. In fact, there are a whole lot of really awful people doing well, living, as far as I can tell, happy, healthy, and productive lives.

Old South Church from Boston Commons

Is it possible that somewhere beneath the shiny exterior they are deep in existential torment? Maybe, but I’m betting not. In my admittedly limited experience, rotten people are not introspective. They do what they do and they don’t spend a lot of time feeling bad about it. In fact, they don’t spend any time at all feeling bad about it. Maybe if something happens to upset the smooth flow of their expensive lives, they pause and ponder … but I’m not convinced. They probably do something even worse and move on.

So how come they have a “get out of jail free” card and people like me, whose sins are of the ordinary, run-of-the-mill kind, wind up with the world falling down around our ears, wondering how we’ll ever dig our way out from under the rock pile that covers us?  To say that it doesn’t seem fair does not begin to address the issue.

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Like millions of humans throughout the ages and stages of human development, why evil thrives and so often, good people live desperate, miserable lives simply doesn’t make sense. I’ve given every effort to cultivating Christian acceptance, Jewish Nihilism, Existential cynicism, Asian acceptance of unknown Karma … and it still doesn’t work for me.

If there is a God and He, She, It, or They is or are just and good and this Deity loves us, cares for us, wants us to be happy … it doesn’t make sense. Telling me it is not mine to understand because I am a mere human and only God can know God’s reasons seems a thin excuse. I couldn’t pawn that one off on my son when he was 7, and it doesn’t fly well now either.

So I have to ask another question that won’t get an answer: Do we … do I myself … seriously believe God involves Himself in our day-to-day activities? Regardless of incarnation, Jesus, Buddha, Holy Spirit … whatever. You think he’s right there keeping an ever watchful eye on us, ready to stretch out a hand to us? What about Katrina? The Japanese Tsunami? The Holocaust? The massacre of the Native Americans? The hundreds of years of slavery for Black and other peoples? The current enslavement of women in so many parts of the world? What’s God’s position on this? Is he really more concerned whether or not a woman has an abortion than he is about the death of thousands and the enslavement of millions?

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I know the nature of faith is it defies logic and requires a leap. I thought I’d made the leap, but I think maybe I didn’t after all. I’m still standing at the chasm and every fiber of my intelligence assures me this leap will leave me shattered on the rocks below. I guess I’m not going to make it to wherever the faithful get to go when their miserable lives finally draw to a close.

I’ve had several close encounters with at least some shadow of the God or Gods who rule us. I know my life … my existence … has been twice returned to me. I’m not ungrateful, but I’m baffled. It appears I’m going to remain baffled. I’m not going to get the answers to my questions because no one has the answers. Frankly, if I think too long on this, it makes me crazy! I can’t believe and yet, I believe. Stuck forever on the cusp of questions without answers.

Or, as Tom Lehrer so eloquently said it, “Soon we’ll all be sliding down that razor blade of life …” Ouch.

Sensible Violence

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We were up in Worcester, the capital of our middle-of-nowhere part of the world. Taking pictures, happily unaware that something awful was happening 60 miles away in Boston. When we got home and the phone and email lit up, we knew something was up,

Garry and I lived in Boston for a long time. Garry was a reporter. If he were still working, as many of his friends are, he would have been exactly where the bombs went off. I would have been one of the terrified wives waiting to hear if my husband was alive and/or in multiple pieces. Maybe I would have been one of the unlucky ones. I’m glad to have missed the experience.

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A lot of people needed reassurance, wanted to be sure Garry wasn’t working (retired since 2001, but not everyone believes it) and we hadn’t gone to see the Marathon. We had merely taken a drive up to Worcester, looping back via the grocery store and the pond where the swans live. A normal pleasant spring day. For us, anyhow.

I had been laughing earlier in the day about how seriously New Englanders take their holidays. I had tried to get in touch with my doctor only to discover the office was closed for Patriot’s Day. If you live in Boston, there’s also Evacuation Day, another Revolutionary War remembrance, but affecting only the city. I can’t imagine New York closing down to celebrate a battle that took place more than 200 years ago. New York’s all about getting on with business, but Boston is into remembering and celebrating traditions.

Boston State House - Night
Boston State House – Night

Patriot’s Day and the Boston Marathon are part of what makes the Commonwealth and the city special. Unique. Boston is a big city, but it’s accessible. Even with awful parking, potholes and traffic, you can drive in Boston. You may not enjoy the experience but the city is not in constant gridlock. It’s a great walking city too. There are lots of street festivals, free concerts, and events that are open to everyone and their families. Is that going to change?

Are people going to be too afraid to enjoy the city? Lock themselves up behind steel doors? If terrorists can’t kill us all, they sure can take the joy out of life … if we let them.

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I can’t in good conscience tell anyone not to be afraid. But I lived in Jerusalem. I did lose friends to terrorists. It was black humor indeed to call Thursday at the marketplace “Bomb day.” Yet we went on living because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate and because if you close down your world, the bastards have won.

Yesterday, as we watched and listened to the news, we worried about people we knew until we finally heard they were safe.

I don’t “get” the terrorist gestalt, murdering civilians to make a political statement. What statement can you make based on murder? That you are willing to slaughter people because your cause is more important than life itself? Nothing is more important than life.

I have a feeling we aren’t dealing with an international conspiracy. No one has claimed responsibility for this atrocity. The bombs were built to inflict maximum harm, ugly bombs intended to tear flesh, rip and rend. Any bomb can kill you, but these were explicitly created to maim as well as murder.

If it’s discovered this is the work of a homegrown psychopath, will this make us feel better? I don’t find the idea comforting. Quite the opposite. The perpetrator could be a neighbor … or anyone. That’s creepy, not comforting.

Old South Church from Boston Commons

Garry always laughs at the expression “senseless violence.” As if there’s some other kind. The sensible kind.

There may be times when killing is unavoidable to prevent a greater evil but it’s never a good thing, only sometimes justifiable to protect yourself or others. Killing is never good. Sane people know this. Civilian, military and law enforcement personnel don’t casually take lives. That so many people seem comfortable with murder is deeply disturbing. What is wrong with them … and with us that we glorify killers and turn them into heroes?

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Yesterday in Boston, someone showed his/her/their inhumanity and cowardice. Religious fanatics? Non-denominational crazies? Foreign sociopaths? Homegrown psychopaths? Some other previously unknown lunatic fringe group … or a deranged individual?

Does it matter?

Whoever or whatever … I hope we catch them and make sure they never do it again to anyone anywhere.

From Garry:

I covered the Boston Marathon and other Patriot’s Day events for 31 years until my retirement. They are some of the most wonderful memories in my entire TV/radio news career covering more than 40 years. Patriot’s Day is special in New England, in Massachusetts, in greater Boston. The Revolutionary War re-enactments at dawn in Lexington and Concord were among my favorite assignments.

You could see children getting their first real look at history. Normally stoic or cynical adults looked on with pride and awe. I still see their faces in my sense memory. The Marathon weekend was always a period when the bad things going on in the world were put on hold for a brief time.

You met people from all around the world. Instant friendships were formed. Politics were set aside. Laughter and smiles were the common language. It is hard not to see this attack — even in this post 9/11 world — as anything but a horrible loss of innocence. It is so very sad.

Angels and Oxymorons Abounding

I love this time of year. The holidays bring out the pious hypocrite in us. It’s delightful watching people mouth platitudes in which they obviously don’t believe. There we are, deploring the crass commercialism of the holiday season, how they have become nothing but a huge excuse for everyone to spend too much money. Then we jump in the car and race to the mall to buy those last-minute gifts.

Truth is as bright and flashy as the trees we love to decorate: we adore commercialism. Our national sport is shopping. Christmas is one humongous discount bargain bin and everyone accepts credit cards. All that glitters is not gold, but we don’t care.

What we deplore is not commercialism. We just hate not having enough money to dive into the season and pile those gift boxes high. To quote Tom Lehrer, “Angels we have heard on high, tell us to go out and buy.” If you live in the U.S., it’s inescapable.

When I was a kid, I so envied my Christian neighbors. They had Christmas trees and lights and presents to open. They had Santa Claus. I wanted it too.

Which makes this a perfect time for me to annoy you by pointing out what everyone already knows: Christ was not born at Christmas. Current thinking is probably sometime in the spring.  The Yule celebration predates Judaism and Christianity. Our most beloved seasonal  symbols — Christmas trees — have no religious significance for any living religion. It’s a symbol of a faith long since faded to fable. We love the trees, the lights and those stacks of boxes wrapped in pretty paper and bows. Let the games commence. The holidays are upon us. Spend today and figure out how to pay it off tomorrow. Holidays bring out the pagan in us. Just admit it already.

Not being brought up with Christmas has given me a running start on understanding the spirit of the season. I got to celebrate Christmas because my first husband, may he rest in peace, was not Jewish. He wasn’t much of a Christian either. To the best of my knowledge, his family had never attended any church, but identified themselves as vaguely Protestant, though which denomination they could not say. But they were very big on Christmas. It was my introduction to nominal Christianity and non-denominational Christmas. It was years before I realized that there was more to Christianity and Christmas than stringing lights and making killer eggnog. They really did make killer eggnog. Unimaginably lethal.

So indulge me for a moment on the subject of faith. I have been accused of being anti-religious, anti-Christian, unGodly and on the fast track to Hell. How ironic when I am boringly obsessed with religion and have been for my entire life.  I’m not unGodly, just anti-dogmatic and not Christian. Jews consider me un-Jewish so I am out of step with everyone and everything. I am very far from atheistic or anti religious. Au contraire, I’m just not your coreligionist. No matter what you are, I’m not that. I’m something. If I had a label, my problems would be over. I could answer that aggravating question: what are you?

So what’s with the whole faith thing? How dare I say you can’t prove God‘s existence?

When I say faith is not proof, I don’t mean to imply that faith is bad or wrong, only that you can’t prove anything by it. It’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it, but it would never hold up in a court of law. Any judge on any episode of Law and Order would throw your case out of court. So my advice is to stay out of the court. Keep government out of religion.

Faith gets us through the day. We  have faith that the world will keep turning on its axis, that the car will start, that our computers will do what computers do. There are people who believe it’s faith that makes our technology work. Because we believe in it, it works. Should our faith in technology flag, it will no longer work. It’s magic. Or God. One way or the other, it’s faith in action.

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Thomas Nast’s most famous drawing, “Merry Old Santa Claus”, from the January 1, 1881 edition of Harper’s Weekly. Thomas Nast immortalized Santa Claus’ current look with an initial illustration in an 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly, as part of a large illustration titled “A Christmas Furlough” in which Nast set aside his regular news and political coverage to do a Santa Claus drawing. The popularity of that image prompted him to create this illustration in 1881.

As for religion making us good or bad people, poppycock. We all know right from wrong whether we receive a religious education or are raised by wolves. Education and family values will provide a coherent belief structure, but only sociopaths have no conscience. That’s what makes them sociopaths.

The rest of us know it’s wrong to kill, steal, lie and cheat. You don’t have to be a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or subscribe to any special set of rules. We can argue for eternity about the details and we probably will, but the basics are the same across the centuries, cultures and continents. Don’t kill, don’t steal, tell the truth, take care of the poor, widows and orphans, and be nice to old people, especially your parents. (Unless that group of people over there call God by a different name — them, you can kill.)

But I digress.

That being said what you believe is what you believe. Nothing more. Nothing less.

You can’t prove or disprove anything — which is why scientific “laws” are called theories, like the theory of relativity, for example. When a theory works, it’s a law. If we make a breakthrough and our previous theory no longer fits, we devise a new theory which we’ll hang on to until something else comes along. At which point we’ll revise it again. That’s why I say that all belief is all faith-based. It can’t be proved or disproved. It just is.

Then there’s doubt. Skepticism. Disbelief. Imperfect faith.

Whenever anyone tells me he or she has no doubts, I start to twitch. Doubt is normal; absolute faith with never a trace of doubt? That sounds more like brainwashing than faith. I’ve talked with ministers, pastors, priests, rabbis, Wiccans, wackos, one self-declared reincarnation of Jesus and a Cardinal with strong Jesuit leanings. I’ve talked with born-again Christians and born-again Jews (it isn’t a solely Christian phenomenon). Everyone wrestles with doubt. Life tests faith. I think it’s supposed to. We all have to find our special path through doubt and difficulty to whatever floats our spiritual boat.

I am tired of asking politely for everyone to let me be myself, whatever that is. So I hereby demand the right to do my own thing, make my own decisions, and find my path through the thorny thicket of life. I’m happy to share this freedom with everyone and their Uncle Bob. If perchance I don’t wind up walking down the same road as you, it’s a big world. There’s room for all of us. No one owns the truth.

No one has all the answers.

Except me. I have all the answers. If you want my answers, please enclose a check and a stamped self-addressed envelope. I will send you a key that will unlock the mysteries of the universe. The bigger the check, the better the key.

I need the money to spend on Christmas presents.

God, Faith, and Freedom

The never-ending election of 2012 has given me pause to think about God, faith, and freedom. I have felt since the beginning of this campaign that the religious Christian right is out to get me. Not me personally. I’m too old and insignificant to be worth paying any attention to at all … but anyone like me and certainly, anyone like me still young enough to bear children.

I’ve put a lot of thought into this for a great many years and after all the years and all the thinking, I’ve come back to where I began: I don’t know the Truth and neither do you.

Therefore, I will let my conscience be my guide and do what feels right.

You can believe whatever you want, but you don’t know a single thing more than I do. You believe in God, but you have no proof there is one. What you have is faith.  Faith is not proofit is opinion dressed in fancy clothing. It doesn’t matter how many people believe the same thing you do. A few or many, faith is neither fact nor proof. You believe what you believe because you believe it. You can’t prove anything.

You want certainty, but all you have is faith. You’d like me to buy your faith and accept it as proof, but as it turns out, I’m a hard sell.

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We know nothing. We are the proverbial blind men analyzing the elephant. We think whatever piece of the elephant we feel is the whole elephant but it’s just a piece.
I’ve been dancing around that elephant for years and at one point, I came really close to accepting Christianity. Then wham, along comes this campaign and the bullies from the Christian right decide to try and take all my freedoms away. They figure they can push their agenda through, get a President of their own and whatever I, and people like me want doesn’t matter.
Turns out, we do matter because they lost. Big time.  Not that losing has made them give up. Oh no. They battle on, good Christian soldiers that they are, pushing and shoving and complaining that they are persecuted because they lost. They call it a conspiracy; I call it an election.
Meanwhile, Jesus Christ, the guy on whom the entire Christian thing hinges, wasn’t a Christian. He was a Jew. Not only was he a Jew, but he was a Rabbi. One of my guys. If he dropped back to visit, I’m betting he’d play on my team.

A little history

That being said, when Christians decided that they were special and different from the religion that gave them birth, they proceeded to slaughter us at every opportunity.

Christians have a special enthusiasm for killing in the name of Jesus, who was a pacifist. Never mind the contradiction; it doesn’t have to make sense. During the Crusades, the armies of God marched across Europe murdering every Jew they found, often by rounding up a whole village, locking them in their synagogue, then burning it down with every man, woman, and child inside. When these fabled romantic heroes ran out of Jews, they began to slaughter their fellow Christians with no diminution of enthusiasm.

Marauding Crusaders wiped out entire Christian villages and depopulated provinces while on their way to save Jerusalem from the Infidels. By the time they got to the Holy Land, between their various squabbles and disease, they were significantly reduced in number and didn’t get to kill very many infidels . No matter. They had racked up impressive kill numbers of Jews and other Christians. It’s easy to kill unarmed people. It was harder when they actually encountered Saladin and other leaders who fought back.  Then, blood-lust quenched, and Jerusalem still firmly in the hands of the infidels, the victorious armies wended their way home, raping, pillaging, and killing as they went.

This is the kind of history that has made me wary of embracing Christianity. Forgive me if I detect a degree of ambivalence in how Christians feel about me.

Back to the present

This election was the last straw. I believe everyone should be free to practice their religion and customs in peace. But it’s time to stop worrying about everyone else’s rights and start giving some thought to my own.

When I add current attacks by right-wing fundamentalists to several thousand years of  historical persecution by Christians, I don’t get a warm, fuzzy feeling.

I realized today that I’m weary of the endless war. I’m tired of being bullied. I’m tired of explaining patiently over and over that yes, I believe in choice for women. No, I don’t believe that a 4 week old embryo has the same value or rights as a starving five-year old.

I don’t want prayer in public schools. That’s what churches and other houses of worship are for. I encourage anyone who feel a need to pray to attend one.

People who would refuse food stamps to hungry kids have no right to claim the moral high ground and lecture me on the morality of abortion. Moreover, anyone lacking a uterus should really just shut up. Women do not need to be instructed by men in what do about their own uniquely feminine health issues.

I grew up in the world before Roe versus Wade. I remember the terror of coat hanger abortions, sepsis, and deaths. Lives were lost, lives were ruined. In my opinion, if you don’t have a uterus and a vagina, you have no right whatsoever to tell any woman what to do with her own body. I’ll believe that God opposes abortion when God tells me Himself.

I’m weary of being bulldozed by a Christian majority. I’m tired of having my beliefs belittled and my concerns dismissed.

Fundamentalist Christian bullies have done their co-religionists a serious disservice. They pushed until they drove a lot of us from a passive, relatively sympathetic neutrality to active hostility. Even though their agenda has been soundly rebuffed, they keep pushing. It isn’t going to work. Those of you who are pushing should stop. You are not advancing your cause; you are hurting it.

I want my freedom. Keep your religion out of my life, out of my email, and off my website. Believe whatever you like; I will never interfere. Pray in your own schools. Keep Christ in your Christmas; I’ll try to keep fruitcake in mine.

If you are human, you know right from wrong …

I voted for Obama four years ago and I don’t regret it. I thought we needed to do something different. I didn’t think that continuing to do the same things that had landed us in a mess were going to get us out of it. It’s foolish to believe that repeating the same behavior will eventually produce different results.

If Obama had lost and McCain had been elected, aside from living in fear that he’d die leaving us with Sara Palin, John McCain was qualified to be President of the United States. He was not my choice, but he was not ridiculous or evil, just not the guy I wanted as President.

This year is different. Rather than feeling like an election, it feels like a referendum, the results of which will define who we are as a nation. We are about to make a statement that will tell the world whether or not the U.S. retains a moral compass.

No government is entirely on the side of the angels, though every government will protest otherwise. Regardless, there are obviously better and worse governments. No one will argue that Germany under Hitler was merely expressing a difference of opinion with other nations, or that Idi Amin was a bit wrong-headed but his heart was in the right place.

I’ve studied, read, argued and reargued this issue for the past 50 years. You don’t have to agree with me, but I believe knowing right from wrong is the essence of being human. I think it has little or nothing to do with your upbringing. Bad kids come from good homes and good kids emerge from bad ones.

Here’s a personal example.

My husband was raised by Christian parents, attended church regularly. He credits many of the values that have guided his life to his upbringing. He doesn’t push his beliefs on anyone else, including me. He would never presume to force anyone to his way of thinking.

On the other hand, I was raised by wolves. I’m kidding. Only one of my parents was non-human and he was a snake, not a wolf. I like wolves.

My mother called herself an atheist, but blamed the God she claimed to not believe in for failing to prevent the world’s ills. We attended neither synagogue nor church. I have spent most of my life trying to understand why God seems to be persistently MIA when bad things happen to good people. I’m not an atheist, but I am a skeptic.

Garry and I have been married for 22 years. I don’t believe anyone who knows us who would call either of us immoral or without conscience. We hold different beliefs, but respect each other’s points of view.

Garry thinks he developed his morals, conscience and understanding of right and wrong because his parents provided positive role models. He also gives credit to his church. I, on the other hand, believe we are all hard-wired — designed by our Creator — to know right from wrong. I think that is what distinguishes human beings from other species. If we were created in the image of God, but God has no physical aspect, then in what other way than by our ability to know right from wrong could we resemble God?

I don’t think it matters whether you are brought up Christian, Jewish, Muslim Buddhist, nothing at all or any combination of the aforementioned. If you are human, you know it’s wrong to murder, steal, cheat, lie or for that matter, let your neighbor die of starvation or lack of medical care. Even — maybe especially — if it costs you something to save someone else, you know in your head, your heart, and your guts that it’s the right thing to do.

The irony — or perhaps one of many ironies — of this election is that a group of so-called Christian Conservative fundamentalist whack jobs are leading a charge against the very things that every religion on earth values. The very things that Jesus advocated are the things that these phony Christians would abolish.

In a few weeks, we get to choose a president — and whether or not we are the kind of people who throw our elderly, sick, disabled, and just plain unlucky fellow citizens under the bus … or throw them a lifeline. We choose whether we will be ruled  by fear, prejudice, and hate … or by our inherent understanding of right and wrong. It’s awful that we’ve come to a point where we are so divided along racial and religious lines that such a choice is part of the electoral process. We appear to be standing at the edge of a deep chasm . I’m not sure we could climb out of that hole once we are in it. No one is pushing us over that edge. If we wind up in the chasm, we get there because we chose to jump.

I have always loved elections. They are my favorite spectator sport. During Presidential election years, I am usually glued to the television watching debates, analyzing political advertisements, reading the latest poll numbers.

I have watched many candidates for whom I voted lose. I was not thrilled about it, but I wasn’t scared to death, either. We’ve had a lot of Chiefs of State that were not my choice, but that’s the way the process works. You win. You lose.

Losing is disappointing, not catastrophic, It is one of the reasons this country is great. In the United States, we peacefully pass the reins of power from one administration to another. We don’t need a revolution to change the composition of Congress or the President. Good choices or bad, we have always managed to retain our fundamental principles, our sense of purpose and identity. We have regularly scheduled elections at which time we can replace former elected officials with different ones. Between elections, we cope and get on with our lives. In the end, to quote Tip O’Neil, “All politics is local.” No matter who is president, we have local representatives to help us. Most of the time, all we need to do to get help, is to ask for it.

This year, it’s come down to moral choices about what kind of people we are. Do we really, truly not care if everyone suffers as long as we advance our own agendas? Are we actually willing to vote for someone entirely because of his skin color? Have we gone so far backward that we don’t remember that we fought a bloody war that was supposed to settle that issue?

You don’t have to agree with me and I don’t have to agree with you. I shouldn’t have to worry that you’ll kill me because I don’t agree with you or vice verse.

Except, this year it is different. The amount of hate in this campaign shows a massive failure of basic civility, of our fundamental sense of fairness. The willingness to believe anything as long as it supports our position without regard to facts, right, wrong, or common sense demonstrates how far we have NOT come.

How many people see that our first amendment right to freedom of religion  is under attack? It’s as if we no longer have a constitution. The conservative fundamentalists who are pulling the strings in this election support the right of everyone to have a gun or, for that matter, an assault weapon, but not the separation of church and state. When did my rights go up for grabs? Didn’t we settle that 250 years ago? Didn’t we duke it out with Great Britain on this very subject? And yet, here we are again. What happened? How can we let ourselves be so manipulated and used to support an agenda that the vast majority of us disagree with?

I am trying to hang on to my belief that Americans are not fools, that we won’t elect a government whose principles are contrary to those of the nation we all love.

The system isn’t bullet proof. We can ignore our own better selves in the name of saving a few bucks. We can let our worst impulses, our hatred, our bigotry, our ignorance dominate our world. We can destroy ourselves. It isn’t easy, but it’s doable.

Here’s how. Instead of reasonable people, elect fanatics, haters,  and folks with lots of loose screws. When the haters, fanatics and crazies comprise a group large enough to form a swing vote, they will be the ones who decide what laws are passed. They will tell us what we can do with our lives, what to believe, what we can do in our bedrooms and of course, with whom we can do it.  They can upset the balance of powers to such a degree that the system stops working.

voting day in a small town
Small town voting. It looks like home to me! (Photo credit: Muffet)
However you choose,  VOTE. Vote for principled men and women who take the job of governing seriously and will work for the common good. Vote for positive reasons, not out of hate. Never in human history has hate been the foundation for anything good. It does not work that way. Karma is a bitch. Finally, don’t assume your vote doesn’t matter. We are as strong as our willingness to participate in the process. We have a good system. Support it. Be part of it. Whatever your feelings, our current problems are a bump in the road. A big bump to be sure, but not the end of the world unless we make it so. Win or lose, it’s a good system. It is my system, your system. Treasure it. Keep it strong. 
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Pride IS a Sin

 

Proud to be an American? Are you really? If so, how come?

Everybody these days is proud of being something. Proud to be from Texas. Proud to live in the greatest city on earth (fill in the name of city). Proud to be white. Proud to be a man, but proud to be a woman. Proud to be Irish, Black, Hispanic, Polish, Greek, Jewish, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Christian, Hindu, Muslim  … any religion, ethnicity, or nationality will do as well as any other.

Life is a game of chance. Play well.

We are all so damned proud.

But I ask again: what makes you proud to be something that was an accident of birth? Are you proud to be alive? Human? Proud you aren’t dead of disease, starvation, natural disaster, or war?

I am not proud to be an American. I am glad to be an American, grateful to be free to live in this beautiful valley. I love the United States. I think it’s fundamentally a great nation which, if we stopped screwing around, could be even greater. But proud? What does pride have to do with it?

I’m proud of some of the things I’ve written, some of the pictures I’ve taken. I’m ashamed of things I’ve done, too. I haven’t always lived up to my own beliefs. Has anyone really? I’m proud of what I’ve earned, but I’m not proud of the gifts I was given at birth. I am deeply grateful that I was lucky enough to receive them. To be proud of them would be pure hubris. I didn’t earn them. They came free. What I do with them may or may not give me an excuse for pride.

Photo credit: Garry Armstrong

Assuming, of course, that you believe pride is a good thing and not, as every good Christian should, believe that pride is the ultimate and deadliest of sins.

I am proud of my country’s achievements, but ashamed and embarrassed by other things we’ve done. I believe our Constitution is one of the finest legal documents ever written. That we so often fail to live up to it saddens me, but at least we had founders who weren’t airheads or mass murderers, a burden other nations bear.

Pride implies you actively participated or contributed to whatever makes you proud. I don’t think being born qualifies. Birth gets you get a ticket to stand at the starting line plus a chance to run the race. To live. After that, it’s the life you live that matters.

So I’m glad to be an American. I’m happy I was born here and not in Sarajevo or Beijing. But I didn’t have anything to do with it. It wasn’t a choice I made. Nothing was required of me. My mother’s pregnancy occurred here and not somewhere else. If she had been Mexican or Turkish? Then, by current jingoistic ethnocentric guidelines, I’d surely be proud to be Turkish or  Mexican.

Borders are lines on a map. There are no substantive differences except those imposed by tradition and politicians who live on one side or the other of an invisible, artificial, politically driven boundary. If you live on the border of another country, you are no doubt aware the only reason you are who you are is luck. For that matter, your social status, your class, religion, ethnicity, level of wealth of poverty … all dumb luck.

Liberty Hall, Philadelphia

You aren’t special because you were born to a family that is rich, white, Christian, Republican or anything else. You are not defined by your parents nor by their traditions, religion, politics, or social status.

The life you live will define you. The choices you make, the work you do, the way you treat the rest of God’s creatures as you walk your path determine your character.

Being righteous isn’t special. It’s what you are supposed to do. That’s why you have a conscience and free will. Whatever you got or didn’t get when you were born determines where you stand as the race begins, but you define who you are at the finish.

What you do in this world may perhaps be something to take pride in.  Where and what you were at your birth are not.

Does that make me unpatriotic? Patriotism and love of country should be tempered by intelligence and the understanding that nations, like people, don’t always do the right thing. You are entitled to judge your country, state, and elected officials by the same standards as anything or anyone else. Judge your homeland on its merits, not because an accident of birth dropped you there.

This isn’t the currently popular viewpoint, but if you get it, spread it. No nation gets a free pass for bad behavior. You don’t get a free pass for bad behavior, do you?

Most of us are glad if we break even at the end of the month. We don’t have batteries of lawyers to finagle our way out of trouble. We have to deal with the consequences of our actions. Being “a product of your times or environment” is no excuse for ignorance, bigotry, hatred, or cruelty. It is never acceptable to mistreat people because they are different or your segment of society despises them.

You aren’t special. You just think you are.

Ask God. Ask yourself. Look in a mirror. What have you done to deserve the air you breathe? If you don’t have an answer, you probably should reconsider your priorities and maybe, your life.

 

Morning in summer …

Just after sunrise, the sun low in the sky.

Morning. Although I want to sleep late, I almost never do. On summer mornings, I drink my coffee and watch the early sun filter through my woods. Each day, the world is made anew.

The sun has risen higher in the sky. It’s about 7:30 in the morning.

Cat Stevens’ rendition of this traditional Christian hymn is beautiful, as is the presentation. I ask that you please leave your prejudices behind. It is a beautiful song of praise.

it is the bonus you get if you arise early. Late sleepers, make an occasional exception and see the world in a different light.

And now, coffee finished, the sun is high in the sky and the day has begun.