What Does This Image Say?

ImageWhat does this image say to you?  Clint Eastwood’s bad boy westerns appeal to people because they’re full of the “take it into your own hands” machismo, the rugged individual, the “I don’t take nothin’ from nobody” images.

What this says about the current state of the Republican Party:  lawless, take things into your own hands (see vigilante), whatever we want at whatever cost.

I don’t believe in this.  I believe that we, as people, are bound by law, laws made of, by and for the people (corporations are NOT people, my friends).  I believe we do NOT take things into our own hands, but rather, if we want change we talk about issues with others and work within the system (as broken as it may be) to make changes.  That means that we must send politicians packing who don’t listen to us but listen to donors and lobbyists.  That means that we invite everyone to vote, not just those that we know agree with us.  We talk, we listen, we do NOT attack someone just because they don’t think about things the same way we do.

My problem right now is with those who organized the convention and chose this image to represent the  Republican Party.  Regardless of what Clint Eastwood said, or of what anyone said in response (he was shooting from the hip, took us all by surprise, he was improvising), the organizers selected the image to put up behind him and made a visual statement for the entire convention, the party and Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee.  Shame on them.

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Life in My Lane

Life is slowing down as the holidays approach. I work at a university and today is the last day of finals.  The student population is thinning as each finishes and leaves for home, faculty are more scarce as they wrap up classes and can do more of the leftover work at home, few deadlines right now — just a collective catching of breath.  People stop and visit in the hallways, little gifts appear on desks with grateful notes, and one occasionally catches the illusive fragrance of shared treats.  Quite lovely actually.

I love this time of year — most people do.  I love it for the slowing down, the visits, the camaraderie, for the reflective time, the catching up time, the time to do those things that were low on the priority list but should be done.  I love the sights, the smells, the flavors and textures of the holidays.  I love the crispness of the air, the warmth of coming indoors, the snuggly mittens, hats and scarves.

And so, for today, I’ll put aside the contention, the anger, the anxiety of life as we live it, and will cling to the warmth, the kindness and good things of living in this beautiful world.

Peace for Every Living Thing.

The 99 Percent Movement!

Think this protest movement doesn’t include you?  Think again!  Do you think the protesters are “freaks,”fringe,”radical left,” “mobs,” “anti-American?”  I’m telling you that YOU are part of the 99 Percent so be careful what you call them!

"stars" and stripes, Credit: thinkprogress.org

Although this image is pretty telling, it isn’t the whole story.

This movement is not necessarily against Wall Street, corporations, government;  it is against Wall Street influencing Supreme Court decisions and governmental policy.  It is against corporations being called “people” and being allowed to buy politicians and votes anonymously by the Supreme Court (see Citizens United) and politicians like Mitt Romney (see: “Corporations are people, my friend“).  This movement represents people from all communities, all action groups, all people who have had their voice and vote stolen by lobbyists and special interests that are buying the votes of the representatives of you, me, WE the People!  It represents all who want their representatives and senators, both state and federal, to listen to the 99 percent rather than only the 1 percent.  This movement includes Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers.  This protest is not against the government, it is for the government listening to the people and being held accountable by the people.

The corporate media, when they reluctantly give coverage to the movement at all, claim there is no coherent message or agenda.  You’ll hear and read that nobody really knows what it’s all about— is it anti-government? anti-corporate America?  Is it environmental activism, pro-jobs?  Who are these people?  Unemployed slackers? Liberals? Conservatives? Students with nothing better to do? Small business owners? Women’s and Civil rights advocates?  Who ARE these people?

THEY ARE US, FOLKS!  WE ARE THE   99 PERCENT!

That means this movement is about making OUR voices heard — even if I stand next to someone who wants something different than me, we just want our voices to be heard rather than just the 1%!  We don’t have the money to buy the votes and influence legislation (see Koch Brothers), and even if we did, we wouldn’t do it because that’s not what this country is supposed to be about!  This is a Republic.  Representatives are supposed to be making policy based on what their constituents want.

Speak up, Everyone!  Make your voices be heard, finally!  And, if you can’t attend a protest, at least support those who do!

Education Week Revisited

I wrote most of this post three years ago but, it is Education Week at BYU again this week, things seem to be as they were, so I decided to pull it out, brush it off and give it a ‘recycle.’

Just a note before I get started: This post addresses and uses terms familiar to a specific audience, anyone associated with Education Week at Brigham Young University (BYU), most being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). If you are not a member of this church you may be unfamiliar with many terms used here. That’s not a bad thing! I’m just giving you a heads-up that you may not “get” everything that I’m saying. For more information you can link here for the Church, here for BYU and here for Education Week.

Education Week (hereafter referred to as Ed.Wk.) at BYU has been a source of irritation to me for several years and I’m speaking out. Before anyone feels the need to condemn me for being a smug, secular (aka “godless”) elitist, you need to know that I have personally attended this esteemed gathering. I have faithfully carried my folded, dog-eared schedule, post-it notes with recommendations, alternative class options and mapped routes from one class location to another and, with my worthiness badge around my neck, plowed my furrow through the fields of expectant faces to plant myself at the feet of those who preach.

My notebook overflowed with gleanings on how it’s important to be a friend to those in need, how to recognize a marriage in trouble, how to be the perfect ‘latter-day grandparent,’ the role that music plays in family and spiritual life, that we need to learn to forgive ourselves, planning for retirement, and to reorganize my “telestial”* house into a “celestial” house– yes, cleaning toilets and decluttering closets can be a spiritual experience. Lest you think that I am making light of serious things, no, — well, yes, but I am being serious as well. There is much good information to be gathered from Ed. Wk.  There are other presentations that I would never sit through (e.g. “How the Difficult and Wayward Child is a Gift and Blessing from Heavenly Father” — I do NOT believe that statement!)  and those will perhaps be topics of subsequent blog posts.  My criticisms here are 1) of the perceptions of those who come, albeit with the very best of intentions, 2) with the often flawed internalization of what they hear/learn, and finally, 3) of the missing application of the principles being taught and discussed.

Attendees spend hours listening to perceived “experts” on everything from Isaiah to potty training. These “experts” are subsequently quoted in informal neighborly chats as well as church meetings with the deference afforded to chosen and called church leaders. Just because this event is held at BYU does not mean that the person teaching your class knows or is guided by the Spirit more than your local Gospel Doctrine teacher. Some Ed. Wk. instructors are deeply sincere and/or spiritually focused.  Others sound like tv infomercials or tv evangelists. They may have had more teaching experience and know engaging ways to present material but your ward Sunday School, Priesthood and Relief Society teachers have been called and set apart to teach. One difference between the two settings is that in your ward/branch classes you are expected to be an active participant, to share what you know with the class and contribute to the discussion whereas at Ed. Wk. you usually just sit there and act like a sponge. Sponges are great for cleaning up messes but they soak up whatever is there, good or bad, bringing me to my second point, flawed internalization.

I don’t know the statistical male/female breakdown of attendance; I see more women though so unless the men are magically transporting themselves from car to class, class to class and back, they are in fact fewer in numbers. LDS women are told over and over, including at Ed.Wk. “Of course you can be the perfect mother, the perfect wife, etc. Just organize your housekeeping and food storage according to this system, and you too can be the next Relief Society President.” I simplify and exaggerate but we are constantly fed examples of perfection – perfectly organized home office, perfect family histories, perfect marriage, perfect children. We have the eternal goal of perfection always before us and often forget that it is a GOAL, something to move toward but will not reach until we are perfected by the atonement of Jesus Christ. Ed. Wk. perpetuates the perfection expectation, even while couching it in such terms as “overcoming perfection” or “living imperfect lives” – I have wished that someone would dare teach a class titled “You’re not going to be perfect in this life – Deal With It!”

Finally, I see masses of people coming to campus to learn about being “God’s Chosen” while leaving common sense and common manners at home. People sit in these classes learning about Christ and how to pattern our lives after Him, but every year in this peculiar society of believers in law – both God’s and man’s – there are several near-misses of people who step out in the street in front of the car that has the right of way, instances of shoplifting in the Bookstore by attendees who “just have to have that CTR ring for my daughter,” or simply cutting in line or cutting people off in the mad dash to get ahead of those less worthy souls who have been waiting patiently in line for food or to get out of the parking lot. What is it that makes one person think that they are the one who really needs to get that sandwich, or that parking space or that whatever? Why is there so often a lack of common courtesy in a setting where we are surrounded by our “brothers and sisters?” How can we ever hope to get along in a world of 6.6 billion people of mixed language, race and culture if we can’t show kindness to those with whom we have the most in common?! No wonder our world is in such a mess!

Now, my conclusion: I realize that I may be considered a marginal member with a questionable testimony by openly criticizing Education Week. Forgive me**, I’m not perfect. I simply ask that people keep it in proper perspective; these may be great teachers but they have NOT been called nor set apart to teach you. They are invited because of their expertise in the field (yes, there are real doctors talking about real skin problems!), or their ability to tell a darn good story or evoke “testimony tears”. Anyone who attends can learn a great deal but should be very careful in the selection of classes. Don’t take on too much, and don’t necessarily try to solve all your problems (example: you have a daughter/son making troubling choices for so you take the class titled “We are a Happy Family”). Lastly, if you attend Education Week please be considerate of each other and of people on campus –yes, some of us actually work here. Obey traffic signals and driving laws – we really don’t want to run over you (although it does get tempting when you “walk” instead of wait). I believe, however, that it can be a great experience for anyone who attends IF the emphasis is on GOALS (and not too many of them), finding our way back to God, enjoying life, and being kind to each other. Thanks for listening to my rant – have a great life.

* “Telestial” : the lowest of the three kingdoms of glory; still a kingdom of glory and not to be confused with or misinterpreted to be “hell.”

**On second thought, it doesn’t really matter whether you forgive me or not — I’m not perfect but I’m happy and I hope you are, too!

Profound Thought from Chinese Poetry

This is a quote from the translator of a book of Chinese poetry who explains that the views of the poets are molded by the three basic Chinese philosophies: Lao Tzu (Taoism), Buddhism and Confucius. In aspiring to the larger vision of things, relying on Nature as the model for process, he says:

To Lao Tzu the problem of solving the ills of human life was to do nothing, to be carried along by the mighty current of the cosmos. The way, he said, to clear the world of its dirt and muddy aspect was identically the way one cleared a bucket of muddy water. Agitation, an attempt to be rid of the impurities merely prolonged their evil influence and presence. The thing to do was to do nothing. The sediment would settle to the bottom, the water would clear itself. So with man and his world. With a wise passivity the eternal Way would exert itself (Christy, Arthur. Images in Jade, 26).

Beautiful.

What is it Really? Separation of Church and State, or Separation of Church and Taxes.

Apparently there is a loose coalition of churches that feel that because the government is not being run the way they think it should that they don’t have to obey the laws any longer. One church leader, Rev. Ron Johnson Jr. told his flock that voting for Obama would be the equivalent of “severe moral schizophrenia.” For more details, read “33 Pastors Flout Tax Law With Political Sermons.”

I’m not sure if they realize the full implications of getting their way, challenging the 1954 tax law that specifies that non-profit, tax-exempt organizations, which includes churches, may not “participate in, or intervene in . . . any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.” Just think — now our churches will pay taxes on what we give them and we, the members of those righteous flocks, will lose the deduction for charitable donations to that church because, well, those churches will no longer be tax-exempt.

There is a positive side, however. ALL who work for one of these organizations, be it a church itself or an organization that is owned by the church (e.g. church-owned university) will be free to speak our political minds. No longer restricted by the “no political campaigning” restrictions imposed by the tax law, a dean at a church-owned university or a Bishop or someone like the above Rev. Johnson can now become politically involved and become an advocate for a political persuasion. Just think! We can begin having political lobbying by all sorts of religious organizations: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, etc. You weren’t assuming, were you Rev. Johnson, that only evangelical Christians will take advantage of this newfound opportunity to speak openly? Are you positive, Rev. Johnson, that leaders of all churches agree with the 33 of you? Do you really believe that everyone has the same political opinion as you? Or do you think that perhaps there are just as many or more who think that Senator Obama is the answer to prayer for our nation?

I think most religions, Christian or not, teach their believers to help and support each other, have tolerance and compassion for all, leave the ninety and nine to search for the one. I personally believe that I am responsible for my actions, that I am should love others as myself, that my beliefs are my own and that I can be as conservative as I want in my own actions, my own personal standards, but that I do NOT have the right to impose my standards on anyone else. I also believe that goes for everyone else, too.

The Art of Listening

I recently posted a review of the book The Art of Listening (Back, Les. 2007. Berg Publishers) on Goodreads but wanted to talk about it here as well. I have recommended this book to almost everyone I know, have my copy conspicuously placed on my desk at work. The cover photo (by Nicola Evans, Antonio Genco and Gerard Mitchell) traps the eye, demanding closer study. An entire course on human expression could be taught using this image alone. The book, however, is full of similarly captivating images with their accompanying stories.

Les Back, professor of sociology at Goldsmith’s College in London, ties the images and stories together, fusing interpretation of scholarship and humanity in an easily read and understood style.

“If a writer’s experience and subjectivity is useful we need to think why? Here I am suggesting that these experiences are of little use if they are not put to work in service of reaching out to others. (Back, 160).”

A writer’s experience and subjectivity are obviously highly relevant to readers. The writer completes his/her work and the experiences transfer to the reader who must now make a choice: either leave the words undisturbed on the page, quietly slip the book back on the shelf and tiptoe out of the writer’s room, or drink from the well that will allow our seeds of humanity to germinate, grow and ultimately feed others. Back believes in and paints a pointillistic style of humanity in The Art of Listening; each individual human being has value– is necessary in fact– in the whole. If we accept and truly believe this hypothesis, we must learn to listen to those beings whose lives touch ours on this canvas of life. Their stories enhance our own but only through listening can we learn those stories.

This book has changed my life. I am a better person for having read it. If a reader selects this book solely to learn about Donna, the woman on the cover, her story alone has the potential to cause a life-change. The reader, however, who reads Back’s entire message can learn of the human impact of bias and prejudice, inequity and segregation, and emotional isolation. These destroy hope. Back proposes, on the other hand, that true listening to our fellow human beings builds hope. “This kind of hope is established in the accumulation of small acts that defy division, hatred and mutual misunderstanding . . . . (Back, 167).”

I choose hope.