Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reading Response – Of Change

Normally, I reserve my "Reading Responses" for articles I've come across and my "Bookmarks" for books I want to review/comment on. But as 2011 comes to a close (good riddance, I say), I will reverse that for the moment.kafka
Last night I finished re-reading Franz Kafka 's novella The Metamorphosis. This has been one of my favorite stories for some time, largely because I find something new about it each time. The first couple times I read it, I took the transformation of Gregor Samsa into a bug quite literally. By the way, depending on the translation, Gregor becomes a "bug," a "cockroach," or "vermin."  I have no idea which word is most accurate. I prefer, at this writing, the latter, because of the reading I am now discussing and it's broad application. Anyway, as a story of fantasy or science-fiction (pardon my ignorance of such genres), the idea of one turning into a vermin works and makes for a fascinating study on how the world reacts to those who are different.kafka1
But as I read the story yesterday, informed by Jason Baker's introduction, I could not help but look at the story differently. Well, a little differently. The literal reading makes me angry at the family, lazy and inept, who turn on their son and brother after all the work he has done for them, and all the sacrifices he had made for them. Now, it is difficult for me to not also see the transformation from hard working human to burdensome vermin as a metaphor for a the nervous breakdown. At the risk of committing the biographical fallacy, I did notice that Kafka's own life, particularly his relationship with his father, bears this reading out somewhat.
What many think of a nervous  breakdown is when someone is so overwhelmed by life or stressed by unusual emotional circumstances that one acts in an irrational manner. But often that "act" is really to stop acting altogether. We have seen those who just, for no clear reason, stop moving, appearing to stare straight ahead, no longer reacting to those who are around them. The person many seem to be in a catatonic state, appearing to be awake, but not responding to anything or anyone around them. Without going into details, and noting I am no expert on psychology, I know more of this condition than I care to. The person may well be aware of what is happening around him, but feels paralyzed, unable to move. The person may sometimes think she is moving, is reacting or speaking, but that no one around her understands what she is saying or doing.
Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis-720368Gregor Samsa has worked tirelessly, sometimes cheerfully, on behalf of his family for years, and one can say his body colluded with his mind while he was asleep, during the only rest and happiness he ever had, to just say no to the world upon waking. No to demanding bosses. No to ungrateful parents and sister. No to conventions that require one person to labor without reward as others grow more and more rooted to the couch.
At this time of year, people make many resolutions, but do they really want change? I don't think so. They want to be changed. Sure, many of work to change ourselves (lose weight, quit smoking, etc.), and many of those changes fail for a variety of reasons. But given the opportunity, we would rather have the change come upon us, as if we could wake up one day and be different in ways we desire, with none of the attendant complications.
We also forget, and The Metamorphosis reminds us, that change does not affect only us, but also those around us. Ironically, when Gregor suddenly cannot work, we not only see the selfish sides of his family and the heartlessness of the rest of the world, we see his family forced to get out of the house, to work, to be something. Previously, they were just, for lack of a better way to say it, slugs. The tragedy is that Gregor does not get to choose his life and when his body/mind changes for him he does not reap any of the benefits.
A pastor once told me that in difficult times, the body and mind may conspire not against us, but for us to momentarily bring us a needed mental vacation. Perhaps the difficulty lie in recognizing this need and learning how to care for (not about) ourselves before we are paralyzed or transformed into something we have less control over than the people in our own lives.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bookmarks -- The Universal Monk

Those who know me, know that I once considered becoming a monk. I have always been interested in finding how to incorporate as much of monastic spirituality into modern life as possible, while living in a world that is, for now, where my calling lies. John Michael Talbot's The Universal Monk is not so much a how-to as it is what-is. This book serves as an excellent primer for what has been called "the new monasticism." In addition to the rich and interesting history, Talbot's book provides insight into the elements of spirituality monastics primarily focus on and how they (and we, one senses) work toward the selfless, self-emptying life that Jesus lived.

The Universal Monk includes warnings and reflections on why monastic life is not for everyone and where monasticism fails for some individuals and why some communities fail or struggle to achieve their goals. Talbot reminds us that Americans often find it hard to live in monasteries because it "requires a voluntary relinquishment of one's self-will and self-determination under a rule and leadership that simply runs counter to the American ethos." I am of the opinion that much of that ethos is what may well be hurting the country, and that much in monastic spirituality could easily restore our country without us losing what is good and unique about American life.

What American Christians, in particular, can learn from this book is the need to seek God and find renewal in our relationship with Him before setting out in ministry and work. So much is hampered and unhappy in our lives because so much is about the hurried (and harried) need to get this or that done, and that includes ministries and "expressions" of our faith. We worry too much about what we are to the world, and too little on what we are to ourselves and to God. Before we can address anything wrong with our world, we must do even more than get the planks out of our lives. We must get in real touch with the God we want our world to be changed by. We need this renewal, not just once but every moment. As Talbot writes, "our real person is often very different than our personality. Our personality is often the persona we have learned to put on in order to hide from the often difficult and even violent outer world. The sad thing is that we often get confused and think that our personality is our person. We lose touch with ourselves and with everything around us. We end up living an illusion because we do not really even know who we are anymore. Jesus comes to restore us to ourselves" (emphasis mine).

Though just over 200 pages, The Universal Monk is expansive, and I think I'll need to re-read it. But even on my first read, I was awestruck at the simple and profound life that is drawn here. I say life, because this isn't a book of mere ideas. It is about what the author calls "conversion of life." And wherever we are, such conversion is needed and can be most powerful, not only to the individual, but the larger communities where we dwell.

Excerpts of the Talbot's book can be read here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Meditation IX -- Requirements

He has told you, O man, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?

It occurred to me today that rarely in Scripture does God ever say to someone, "Do this one specific thing" or "Avoid doing this one specific thing." Even when Jesus told the rich young man to give everything he had to the poor and follow Him, Christ did not say "Give 20 percent of your stuff to these people" or "Make sure this poor person has been living a righteous life before giving money to him."

In Paul's letter to the Colossians, the church is told "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." A little further on, he writes, "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you" and proceeds to list, not specific wrong acts, but the qualities and characteristics that bring us to wrong acts. For even the evil manage to avoid many wrong acts. But getting rid of (or putting to death) the characteristics that lead us to do bad things is much harder. It takes time and grace and a willingness to put on a "new self."

Paul does not leave us with bad to avoid, but also more characteristics to "put on," as one does clothing: "compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience." These are not good acts that replace bad ones, though it may look that way to us and to outsiders. Paul calls the church he is writing to "holy and beloved," and that is not just what we are, but what we are to be. We are to be separate in characteristics from the world and to live as people who are loved dearly by our creator.

And so we do not perform just acts: we do justice. Justice is our action. We do not perform kind acts: we love kindness. Kindness is what we spread and act as God's agents to create. And we do not act humble: we walk humbly, the loving Lord of the Universe beside us and within us. We step deliberately, getting to know the one whose power and light become the hallmark of all our movement.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Music Notes -- A Dreamer's Christmas

For some reason when I have tried listening to John Zorn, I've run into his more (for me) avant-garde recordings, which have been interesting and energetic, but not work I could listen to more than a couple of times at a sitting. But just in time for what is likely to be a crappy holiday is A Dreamer's Christmas, a real treasure that has me feeling good each time I listen to it.

There are a couple Zorn originals here, and they are really fine, but mostly we have some fascinating, lively, and accessible interpretations of Christmas favorites, from the opening keyboard and vibe driven "Winter Wonderland" to the closing "The Christmas Song" (with Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton), this is an album that has me smiling throughout. And to be honest, I can only say that about a dozen of the hundreds of Christmas albums I've heard in my life.

There are some terrific improvisations on A Dreamer's Christmas, which is good because most "jazz" Christmas recordings are dull, I'm sorry to say. But what makes the project a bit unique may be the instrumentation. Marc Ribot is excellent on guitar, and Kenny Wolleson's vibe playing is delicious. The rest of the band is good as well, but these two stand out for me. Some of the arrangements are also really fun, quirky at times without getting nuts. "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" gets a treatment that made me actually like the song again.

Perhaps the best tune on the CD is the Vince Guaraldi favorite, "Christmas Time Is Here." As NPR's Tom Cole wrote, "It perfectly captures no only Charlie Brown's holiday angst, but also the mixed feelings a lot of us have around this time of year." But then the album takes a more upbeat turn with "Santa's Workshop," a tune that seems to reflect the frentic running around of the season. It goes well with the sped up, wonderfully wild parts of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town."

The songs here do focus on the more secular side of Christmas, but I don't think that should put off more spiritually minded listeners. These are secular not in the sense of crass commercialism. In fact, I get a sense that parts of A Dreamer's Christmas pokes a bit of fun at that element of the season. But the album seems to highlight the wonder and dreaminess of Christmas, something most of us, if we could watch with the eyes of a child, can easily understand.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reading Response -- Of Wilful Ignorance

Some people, for a variety of reasons, struggle to get a good education. Some people choose stupidity as a way of life. Such is the case of Professor Paul Derengowski.

Derengowski resigned, he says, under pressure when two of his students filed complaints about his teaching practices. Most specifically, the World Religions instructor told his class that Islam is a cult.

Now before you go screaming about the First Amendment and all that, note that the problem was not Derengowski's opinion (or his goofy understanding of what a cult is), but that he had done much more. He handpicked the most inflammatory statements from the Qur'an, deliberately offended the Muslim students in his class, and claimed ex post facto to be opening a dialogue. He calls the complaints against him "jihadist actions."

First of all, whatever you think of Islam as a religion, one must note that Derengowski's definition of cult comes from little reliable theology. It is an actually cobbled together to fit pretty much anyone who isn't his brand of Christian. Second, he avowed states he is "against Islam." He has no interest in communicating the rich and varied expression of Muslim belief systems (yes, I meant that plural). In fact, his only goal is to incite anger and violence.

I find it ironic that he is worried about two students who went through the proper channels to complain about an instructor who devalued them and did not allow anyone to fairly challenge his misinformation. He published the two names on his website in an attempt of his own to harm those who dare to question him.

Paul Derengowski claims that what he teaches in his class is in defense of Christianity and that he has a Christian perspective. "Christians," he stated in a Chanel 11 interview, "are not supposed to stand by and let that go." Let what go? Well, Mr. Derengowski, this Christian is not going to stand by and let you pretend to represent my faith with your bile and baiting bullshit.

This alleged teacher claims that he set up his blog to defend his faith. But there are a couple of problems with this. First, he is defending himself (not Christianity) against attacks, that by and large do not exist. Second, he has a right to spew his misguided message on his blog. He does not need to defend Christianity in his classroom. He is to teach. Clearly he does not know what teaching is. Being a Christian does not at all mean his perspective or point of view is Christian. And what he has done is not Christian in any sense of the word.

Mr. Derengowski has a right to his opinion, and even his twisted interpretation of the facts. He has a right to proclaim what he believes, even if he is wrong. But he has willfully chosen ignorance, and that is something that must be stood up to. Teachers and Christians need to cry out against his kind, especially in a climate where education and true religion (see James 1:27) has been demeaned and demonized.

The truth is there are Muslims who are so radical in their beliefs, so intolerant of anyone who isn't like them, that they believe they have a god-given duty to kill Christians, Americans, and other Muslims for that matter. But this is not the majority. They are the ones on television (and I keep hearing of some "liberal" bias in the media), and the ones Faux News points out. Derengowski says that a picture of a Muslim kid with a gun is "history." Not really. It is the sort of vile manipulation of images that turns on the fence Muslims against us. It does nothing to education or represent the majority of Muslims in this country.

I am honestly shocked Derengowski has not been sued for posting the names of the two students who complained against him on his website. Hasn't this joker ever heard of FERPA? This doesn't take into account the slander of said students who did not (by all reports so far) threaten him, but whom he called "terrorists." He has put them in danger, not the other way around.

And what the hell is going on with a school that allows such a person to teach in its classroom? He's been there over three years and hasn't been shown for what he is, a fraud? Tarrant County Community College should be ashamed that they either 1)did not do their due diligence in researching this man's credentials and teaching or 2) knew about him and were too weak to get rid of him until a student complained. This is a man who was put in a position of power and has attempted to use that power to push his agenda.

I have little patience with students who choose ignorance over education. These are the ones who will do no critical thinking, will read almost nothing (even about the ideas they themselves have) and will call a professor a bad teacher when they hear something they don't like (such as, "You plagiarizing your essay means you have earned a zero for the assignment." or "You have not done the assignment correctly." or "Please do some research about this topic before you make bold pronouncements of your authority on such matters.") These are the students who say things like "I don't need to do research, because I already know what I think" and "My professor is getting big kickbacks from the publisher of his textbook" and "I got a bad grade because he doesn't agree with my views." I have endure such students with difficulty because instead of coming to school with an open heart and a desire for learning, they wish to be rewarded for their candid stupidity.

And "Professor" Derengowski is just such a teacher. What he tries to do is a blight on the profession of teaching. It is no wonder that so many politicians and pundits decry advanced education and try to strip it of any power to build a stronger nation.

People like Paul Derengowski do more harm to Christianity than a hundred Madelyn Murray O'Hares and a thousand Christopher Hitchenses. To the profession of teaching, people like him do harm that too often cannot be repaired because his most ardent students eventually become twice the children of Hell he is (Matthew 23:15).

Meditation VIII -- Storms

"And the men marveled, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?'"

These men might have asked themselves, "What sort of man is this that sleeps through storms?" or they might have asked "What sort of teacher rebukes his disciples for a lack of faith they didn't even know they were supposed to have?" But the disciples, still in awe at the miracle of their salvation, could only wonder at the one they had not yet learned to see as the Son of God.

Had not Jesus recently taught them "do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" and "your Father knows what you need before you ask him"? Yes, but the disciples had not been made ready to put the words of the lesson to the actions of life. They were not thinking of "tomorrow" at all, and it had not occurred to them that "tomorrow" might mean any moment in the future, even the few minutes from now in which they might perish. They could only think of that moment, the few minutes before their possible deaths. And they could muster in their minds only two certainties: they would die and Jesus could save them.

God, we are told by the psalmist, "never slumbers nor sleeps." However, the disciples had not yet seen the God that Jesus is. All they knew was the powerful man, the one who not only told the elements what to do, but also spoke words of comfort and encouragement to a people poor and oppressed, who expected of them both more and less than their other teachers had. He had the peace that passes understanding so that he could sleep in storms and could know how to handle such a "little" thing as a tossed about boat.

Christ continues to baffles us. This was the one who would choose, after all his miracles, to not save himself. This was the one who would defeat even the final reality, death. And only when that happened, did the whole of his teaching begin to make sense to the disciples. They began to remember what he had told Him about living, and started to proclaim His Life.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Music Notes -- 3 singles by Richard Souther

Richard Souther calls his nearly 50 minute, one track project The Burn "soaking music," which allows the "setting aside of oneself to focus and meditate on God for renewal of strength and peace." I've been listening to it for the past few days, and at least for me, it well achieves its goal.

Souther improvises at the piano over an electronic soundscape, and the result is beautiful and calming. It is like a suite for the soul. Souther knows well how to use the space he has created, playing just at the right time, and certainly the right notes. It is nothing short of inspired.

Souther is making some of his best music these days with The Burn and his Prayer Closet series (Volume 3 of which is yet to come). At $2.99, this is an easy addition to one's quiet time library.

"Jacob's Ladder" is an electronica piece designed as a soundtrack for Joaquin Montalvan's short film "Prayer of the Mantis" which can be seen here. The music is a fine piece of electronica, but combined with the movie is rather stunning.
Prayer of the Mantis from Joaquin Montalvan on Vimeo.

Souther is donating the proceeds from the sale of his recording "Barbara Allen" to Friends of Animals Utah, and a beautiful song this is for them. Souther writes he "became aware of this 17th century Scottish ballad through the 1951 version of Charles Dickens' Scrooge." This version is a good companion to Souther's2008 release, Reminisce.

Richard Souther also has a number of fine holiday recordings available, and I recommend each of them. But give yourself a gift this Christmas, and get one or more of these tunes. The price is more than right.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Meditation VII -- Light

"on them a light has dawned."

Mathew notes that John the Baptist had been arrested when Jesus began his preaching ministry. In a time when the powerful may seem to have quashed the voice of God, another voice seems to arise, one that says, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand."

But that voice was always there. It is always here. It will not be silenced, no matter what powers think themselves rulers of the air.

"The people dwelling in darkness," Isaiah said, "have seen a great light." And today I wonder at others, and at myself, who stay in that darkness having caught a glimpse of the Lord.

But why wonder? The darkness is comfortable, warm, easy. Christ's light reveals us for who we are, and who wants that? That light exposes us as the failures and self-centered people we really are, the "good enough" people we want to believe ourselves to be.

Christ's light is not always, however, a mere candle, showing us step by fearful step, out of a dank and cold cave. It has dawned, like a sun, sometimes obscuring what we might not need to see, but always providing the heat and energy and life we need to live in Him. It brings us, after every sleepless, awful night, nothing less than hope.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Reading Response: Of Fox and the Drug War

In a recent WFAA story, Vincente Fox, former president of Mexico, was quoted as saying that the drug problem in the United States is all the fault of the United States. He said, "If you don't consume drugs, our problem is solved. We're doing our part. We're paying with 50,000 dead."

What Fox means by you is the entire United States. What he means by we is the entire country of Mexico.

So of course, he's wrong. Well, mostly wrong.

First of all, not all of us are using drugs. Get that shit straight, Mr. Fox. Second, bad policies, exploitation of the poor, and corruption in Mexico dating back decades, are as much to blame as demand from the United States for below the border supply. Third, don't throw around a number like 50,000
as if Americans have not lost many lives on this front.

One might as well state that the United States has a problem with illegal immigrants because our country is more desirable and safer to live in than almost any other country in the world.

Now it is true that many Americans want the illegal drugs that come from and through Mexico. Even in a rough economy, many find the resources to pay for the poison that brings death not only to addicts, but to their families, friends and to hundreds of law enforcement officials on both sides of the border. Adding to the problem is the fact that the medical profession, in general, has fostered a culture ever more dependent on medication, substances that most really do not need. So many problems seem to be "fixed" by taking drugs.

And if we keep up the demand, we are likely to continue to have a supply, and all the headaches that comes with it.

However, for Fox to make such blanket generalizations and assumptions at the same time he ignores the causes that come from his own country is unconscionable and counterproductive. But what do we expect from
...a politician?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Artifical Intellegence and the Classical Guitar: An Experiment

The idea behind websites like Pandora is to help music lovers use technology to take more control of their listening experiences. One inputs the name of a favorite artist and the service then plays music that fits what appeals to someone who listens to that group or musician. This, one would assume, comes in the form of other music in the same genre. In other words, if I input Earl Scruggs, I don't expect to get Run DMC or Kathleen Battle. Also, the "station" is supposed to "learn" from the listeners preferences. Don't like a song you hear? You can click or tap a button and you should not hear it anymore. Love something? You can click or tap something else to make sure music like that gets played more often. (You can also find a link to purchase said music, but that isn't what this discussion is about.)

I have three apps on my phone for this purpose, from three services that can be accessed from the Internet: Slacker, Myxer, and the ever-popular Pandora.

I loved Slacker when I first started using it, particularly because of my interest in jazz. Almost without fail, I hear the music I was hoping for. Surprises came in the form of deep cuts from classic and not so well known albums. Until I was interested in hearing some classical guitar, the only glitch I ran into was when I input Medeski, Martin, and Wood, and an hour later was treated to Jerry Garcia's plodding, achingly long, and horrifyingly dull rendition of "Shining Star."

I figured that if I wanted to hear classical guitar, the best bet would be to input the name of the great Andres Segovia. What came out was all fine music, but not what I wanted. After a piece played by the Spanish master, I go something from John Williams -- the composer, not the guitarist. Then there was a tune by Michael Hedges. Over the next few minutes I heard from only one other classical guitar player, Christopher Parkening. Tunes came from Django Reinhardt, Paco de Lucia, Leo Kottke, Al Di Meola, Yo Yo Ma, and Itzhak Perlman. At least some of it was classical.

I was drawn to Myxer because I liked the idea of creating a "room" where I could invite friend to enjoy the music I was listening to. The rooms allow one to list up to five artists, which would, one would presume, increase the odds of getting one's desired listening experience.

Alas, it is not to be. The jazz "rooms" were okay, but often went into eras and sub genres I was not expecting. Not always bad stuff, but sometimes this made for a jarring moments and annoying interruptions to my routine. But it was worse when I input the names of Mr. Segovia and others of his ilk.

The only classical guitarists I heard in the next hour were Segovia and Pepe Romero. Perhaps one could say Paco de Lucia plays classical, but none of the pieces I heard were. Again, Django Reinhardt came up, but so did Ottmar Liebert, Badi Assad, Lee Ritenour, and folk musician John Renboum. The biggest surprise came when the sounds of Spanish metal band Epilogo came through my speakers.

Pandora, which was painfully awful when I first tried them out years ago, was the best of the bunch. After several hours of listening, the only non-classical music I heard was an acoustic piece by Al Di Meola. There was great variety, from different periods and different albums, some solo work and some with ensembles, but only the one cut was not from a classical guitar. Songs segued with each other easily and there was a minimal amount of commercials (I'm too cheap to, as of yet, pay for the non-commercial versions of these). Yet after awhile, or perhaps because my body was beginning to reject the experiment, things started to sound the same.

Of course, by Sunday afternoon, I was ready to listen to something else, and I don't know that anything significant came of my little experiment, except I added to my list of life's little disappointments. Perhaps I learned not so much about the services themselves as about the expectations of a lover of great music. We want surprises, something new or something old performed in a fresh way. But we want things to fall into certain parameters, even when we are, as I am, eclectic in our tastes, and those parameters are not always the same each time we make listening choices. So if I cannot completely choose myself material which fits both needs when I create a playlist from my own collection in something like Winamp, then how can I fully expect it from those services with more extensive libraries than I can possibly own?

That I cannot quite answer that question won't keep me from complaining however.

Meditation VI -- Belief

"having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you."

"these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name"

Perhaps because Jesus was a teacher and because he continues to teach us, we think of belief as something that can be learned as one learns a formula or a process. Yet life itself instructs us that this is not so. Even math can get messy, but we are (at least I am) so hard headed and hard hearted as to expect belief to be simple where it is complicated and difficult where it is simple.

We forget the role of grace in belief. Paul prayed for the Ephesians, not that they learn their Sunday School lessons, but that their spiritual eyes be opened to the hope of God. John's Gospel tells us that the story of Jesus has been told that we might believe not only "that Jesus is the Christ" -- a fact we are given no logical progression for -- but also that we "may have life in his name."

What a magnificent leap! I confess there are concepts which are not fully clear to me. But I have hope I did not once have. I have life I could not otherwise attain or even aspire toward, believing in Jesus. This I can testify to.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bookmarks -- Anna Karenina

When I received my Nook, I promised myself that I would use it and other devices (now my phone and an iPad) to read a number of classic works that have, for one reason or another, passed me by. The most recently completed of these, read almost entirely on my iPhone, is Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

One reason I think I waited so long to read Anna Karenina is because it is a story about adultery. Or so I thought. Adultery is fine for subject matter, but I don't like that with even many supposedly great works, the reader is manipulated into feeling sorry for the woman who has cheated on her husband (who is often portrayed, in varying ways, as a louse). Anna's husband is not all that good a person, but he has his moments where he tries to be. In the end, he proves too weak-willed, ironically, to strive toward goodness, but one can see his side from time to time.

Anna may seem like a strong, sometimes courageous woman. But on the whole, she is a nut-dog with crazy relish. I can't say what makes her insane, but by the time she throws herself under a train (knowing this fact should not ruin the novel for you), she has isolated herself from everyone and proven to have no love or loyalty, not for her lover, her children, or any high ideas. She might love herself.

Her story is interesting, but the story that captured my attention is that of Levin, the philosophical farmer, whose love and courtship of Kitty baffles him as it gives purpose to his life, as his vocation and his attempts to better the world around him have not. Levin tries to revolutionize the agrarian system, and finds himself attracted and repulsed by the peasants whose lives he is trying to improve. He is more comfortable with his books and farm, but desperate to win approval for the book he writes, expecting his ideas to set the world on its head. He doesn't believe in God, thinking himself too intelligent for such things, but is moved by the faith of his young wife and others he encounters. In the end, he is strong enough to be what others might see as weak, but he comes to his proclamation of faith honestly, after deep struggle.

This is a thrilling, fascinating book of parallel stories (The draft title was Two Marriages.). It took sometime to finish it, but I am very glad I took the time to do it.

Music Notes – Guitar Man

George Benson’s latest album is called Guitar Man,  and it is a typical mix of Benson’s excellent playing  and his smooth singing on a couple of numbers.

"Tenderly" opens the album with some gorgeous interplay of chords and melody. May be a little mellow for some, but I liked it quite a bit. The Coltrane standard "Naima" gets the same treatment, and I wonder if I might have liked the project more, if it had been there were more songs arranged and performed as solo pieces, or as this eventually becomes, a trio effort. The solo guitar on "Danny Boy" is gorgeous, bringing a sense of joy to what is typically a sad tune. This is one of the best pieces on the album.

There are three vocal tracks on Guitar Man. The first is a nice rendition of the Stevie Wonder classic, “My Cherie Amour.” It isn’t particularly special despite Benson’s usually distinctive voice, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. The others are “Since I Fell For You” and “My One and Only Love.” Both sound really good, especially with the stripped down sound. And I love the piano work of Joe Sample on “My One and Only Love,” but I would hope an album called Guitar Man" might feature Benson’s main instrument. “Since I Fell For You” has a couple nice guitar runs, but too few for me.

Benson plays a swinging rendition of the classic tune, "Tequila."  The full band clearly is having a lot of fun. "Don't Know Why," which follows, is nice, but sounds much like every other smooth jazz version of the song. "The Lady In My Life" is pretty good, spoiled only by the string sound that makes it too close to smooth jazz and too far from the beautiful melody making that Benson can manage on his own.

One thing Benson does very well is scat along with his lead lines. However, the only song we get much of that is "Fingerloo." At first, I thought it a poor choice to end the album, but after repeated listenings, I am pleased to see the project close with the sort of sounds I associate with this great guitarist and fine singer.

The album has many terrific moments and I sometimes wished I could get a whole disc of pieces like “Fingerloo” or “Danny Boy.” It is still a good listening experience, and I do not think Benson fans are going to be disappointed. But I also think he is better than this outing shows.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Meditation V -- Not a Map

"And you know the way to where I am going."

Thomas, ever faithful, but perhaps over-literal, asks Jesus, "How can we know the way?" For Thomas, like so many of us, is expecting a map, perhaps a formula, to get to Heaven. but if Christ had come to give us a map, he'd be no better than those who sought His demise; He would be less than even the prophets who told of his coming; He would not have needed to die.

For Jesus is not a map, and He brought no formula for salvation. He said He is the way. There is no rule except to look on Him and follow.

Later in this conversation with His disciples, Jesus would tell them, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." But these are not rules or a path to Heaven. In context, we see that this is what Jesus gives us in order for our relationships to God to grow and bear the fruit of peace and joy.

He does not say, "Do this and you will be saved from fire." He does not promise an end to pain or oppression (as the world sees them). He promises peace and he promises joy. He promises the Holy Spirit who will "teach [us] all things and bring to remembrance all that [Jesus has] said to [us]."

Help me, Lord, to rejoice in my troubles as I look on you and find peace and joy.

Bookmarks -- What It Used To Be Like

In piecing together the life of one of my literary heroes, one thing was always missing: a specific picture of Raymond Carver's first marriage, when poverty and alcoholism coincided (or perhaps collided) with his rising reputation. What It Used To Be Like begins to fill in this gap.

Raymond Carver's first wife clearly loved and supported him long past the point he deserved it. Maryann Carver is honest about their troubled marriage. At the height of her husband's drinking, he was physically abusive and unfaithful, and often was unrepentant about his actions. Several times, when life began to get better for them, Carver would uproot the family.

Maryann Carver's portrait is also tender. Even through most of the rough times, she remembered the sometimes generous and thoughtful boy she fell in love with. She played the part -- to a fault -- of a devoted wife who sacrifices her own ambitions and dreams so that the great writer could fulfill his. And while in some passages she unsuccessfully suppresses her bitterness and disappointment, in others she is happy to give everything to the man she fell in love with when she was fifteen and never stopped, even after they had been divorced for years.

There are parts of the book, sentences here and there, which are not well written, and some that are poorly edited. Some prose reads like a freshman composition, and not like what one would expect from someone as intelligent and well-read. The section on the 1970s (the book is divided by decades) seems to go back and forth when the rest of the memoir is chronological.

Overall, What It Used To Be Like provides a fine picture of the seriously flawed man who also was the genius writer. But it also gives the reader an insight into codependency as well as a changing culture from the perspective of one who was too busy holding her family together to do more than watch the country that seemed to be falling apart. And yet Raymond Carver's life, short as it was, might well be a kind of trope for an America wrestling with its demons while finding its greatness.

Meditation IV -- Weakness

You told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Am I weak enough, Lord?

We may not always seek pleasure, but we avoid pain as quickly as possible. I have heard, "No pain, no gain." When is it no longer pain or suffering for our own good (sacrifice), but oppression and/or self-mortification? Most would rather stay as they are, satisfied that they are as good as they will be, and consequently as good as they need be. Some will sacrifice everything for a goal that brings nothing substantial.

Perhaps I digress. We do not need to seek weakness or suffering. It finds us, whether or not we desire holiness. And if we desire holiness -- and every Christian should examine her/his heart to determine if she/he really does -- then we need not desire suffering, but learn to recognize God's grace in these difficult moments.

I say "moments" knowing that our troubles do not last a short time. Perhaps if they were short, they would not trouble us. No. Sometimes our pain lasts a lifetime. However, we must work in the faith that in comparison to eternity this time will be briefer than thought.

I have digressed again. Paul tells us, "when I am weak, then I am strong." Often, I believe, we confuse this sentence to mean that the strength comes from us. With exercise, we tear the muscle fibers, and they are rebuilt stronger. We might think our exercise increased us, made us spiritually stronger. But it is God who created the body to work in such a way. It is not our strength which powers us after weakness, but God's strength which sustains and powers us during and through weakness.

Lord, you gave Paul a thorn to sustain his humility. Help us to recognize your grace in our trials and in this painful life, and to rest in your mercy and joy. Amen.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Meditation III -- Hearing

The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me.

Not long after saying this, Jesus would ask, "I have show you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?" But the words (not deeds) that convicted them in their eyes were, "I and the Father are one." For Christ had already been charged and found guilty by those who did not want Him or support Him. They only wanted some words to pull from out of context -- out of the context of this speech and out of the context of all Scripture -- to serve their purpose in condemning Him.

He had been drawing a distinction between himself and those who would lead his sheep astray. Could they see the connection that not only was Jesus the True Shepherd, but that they were thieves, who come "to steal and kill and destroy"? For we belong to no one but Christ.

We deceive ourselves when we listen to the voices of the world and the voice of the flesh which tell us everything we like to hear, which tells us that we do belong to God, but to ourselves. His Voice is hard to hear with so many noises in the way. Mammon is quite loud. Christ whispers comfort to our hearts, and even when he shouts to our souls, we do not recognize Him. The world, as the poet says, is too much with us.

We are lost without You, Lord. Help us to know Your Voice.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Meditation II -- Wisdom

Be not wise in your own eyes;
  fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
  and refreshment to your bones.

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
  and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
  and her profit better than gold.

I haven't silver or gold or wisdom; thus I am poor indeed. Circumstances befall me, hurts beyond my control. But where am I likely to turn to solve such painful puzzles (which fall on the good and the bad)? To God, who authors the universe and brings peace to the confused? No. Most often, I trust my own feeble and failing brain, my own devices and schemes.

But where is wisdom, and must it always kick me when I'm down? Does it hurt so much because I am stubborn or because there are plenty to play the part of Job's friends, ready to tell me what I should have done after the fact?

I am not righteous, though I desire righteousness. I am not holy, though pursing holiness is my only true peace. I am not wise. I am not wise.

We are stupid and foolish without You, O Lord. Help us to turn away from evil. Help us to recognize it and turn away. Heal us completely: flesh, bones, mind, and heart.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inmost being,
  and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

How can I, born and living in iniquity, be taught wisdom in my heart, where so much darkness lives? Lord, we are always dark until Your Light shines in us. I must open myself for God's light, allow it to burn the dark gunk, the dross away, and trust my Teacher. I cannot rely on merely saying true words, but allow the transformation of my being.

He shall come to the place in the heart that no one knows. I do not even know this heart. But Christ knows it. It is the place where my true being resides and what my outer core is subject to. For wisdom is not in smart or right words, but in practice.

Practice. This means we do not always get it right. But we keep trying, going back to our teacher as many times as necessary until our thick skulls are penetrated by the Holy Light.

Bookmarks -- Uncle Melvin

Just re‑read a favorite story by Daniel Pinkawater called Uncle Melvin. I say it is a story, but there really is no narrative. The book is a sketch of a mental patient told through the eyes of a child. For me, it is beautiful and heartbreaking.

I know that many who are mentally ill are not as docile or lively or as interesting as Melvin is. But here is a tender portrait of a gentle man with "theories" who talks to birds and wears a bowler hat to keep his ideas in until he's through with them.

Pinkwater's book tells us as much about Melvin's family as it does Melvin. Melvin is allowed to help the family care for the child, and is given space to work the garden or fix things in the basement. The boy's father his son. "I have never thought of Melvin as crazy. In many ways he is the least crazy person I know. He has his ideas ‑‑ that's all."

Pinkwater's illustrations are full of color and don't overwhelm the story. The pictures hint at being impressionistic, but are never fuzzy where details are needed.

For me, this is a sweet story. Yes, a story in that it tells a great deal about readers, building into our imaginations, and leaving us to fill in what is needed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hunger: A Meditation

So you, by the help of your God, return,
hold fast to love and justice,
and wait continually for your God.

After railing against the unfaithful Israelites -- and by extension all of us who have been unfaithful to God, we are told this. God lets them off easy and also puts tough burdens on them (us). These are not so much rules and impossible formulas to salvation or righteousness. "Hold fast," God says. That is all. Cling like the dependent children we are. But can we allow ourselves such child-like holding?

And to what are we to hold fast to? Love and justice. Oh how easy and how hard! "God is love and God is just," we may well believe (though that faith waxes and wanes). Can we trust His love? Can we wait for His justice? We are commanded "and wait continually for your God."

and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
We are not to live for ourselves, but for Him who died for all. But my self is all I can control, all I can trust to appreciate my sacrifices. Who said anything about being appreciated? We do not need appreciation or acknowledgement or anything but the Love of God, which has already been and is continually given to us.

Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.

Oh how I worry, Lord! About my car, my house, my family. About food (despite my gross obesity!). And labor is not only for the money to by food and keep safe and well that we need to live. Work itself is good for my soul and mind and body.

But all these things pass away. They die.

How many hungers I have, O Lord! How I wish for them to die, satiated by your living bread!

How hard it is to work for what we cannot see, for what we know -- even with faith as tiny as mine -- what is the better part. Often we cannot tell the difference between hunger and craving. And I wonder why I try to put myself in charge of such knowledge. Even at this age, I need a Father who can guide me to understand the difference and teach me in a place deeper than my mind and stronger than my body.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Music Notes -- Light the Night & Jazz Praise

As a young man, I ran across these two albums in a phase of life when I wanted to listen to anything recorded by and for Christians. Some time ago they were re-released as a single disc set. I ran across them recently through Slacker Radio, and was pleasantly surprised. While perhaps a little too slick and too close to smooth jazz (what I call safe jazz), for many, I think these projects still hold up as well as anything put together by Spiro Gyra or the Yellowjackets.

The projects were recorded under the names of John Mehler and Kenneth Nash, first rate musicians in their own right. However, it took the talents of a number of then barely known players, like John Patitucci (bass) and Wayne Brasil (guitar), to pull it off.

When I first came across these albums, I was new to Christian music, and so a number of the songs were unfamiliar to me. I got to know them through recordings like these even before I learned the tunes had words. This is the power not only of the terrific playing, warm production, masterful arrangements and electric improvisations, but of the music itself. Thus, even for the non-believing listener, I think hearing these seventeen songs can be an edifying experience. For an "older" believer like me, this is quite rewarding.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Is this a witness?

Recently a Facebook friend not only complained about the slowness of some people, but deleted my response that for a few of us slow people there isn’t much worth rushing for. I don’t know what was offensive about my remark, but what made the incident even more interesting to me is that this person kept the post that made fun of the “abnormally obese” people who, I presume, are also slow, and horribly inconvenient.

Normally the posts of this first person are cheery, and encouraging. I don’t know the person really well – we met through a mutual acquaintance. But I believe the person is a Christian, and that most of the time, the heart is in the right place.

And who am I to complain about complaining? After all, I use my Facebook and my blog to multiply my whining to a world mostly uninterested. People can go back and look at my status updates and tweets and see that I am not always charitable or Christ-like in what I write, and those who have to endure me in person know that I do not always edify with my words. So who am I to talk?

Well, I’ll tell you. I’m a person who doesn’t understand how a Christian can delete a post, that is not an attack or criticism, but can keep the post of someone who vilifies the overweight. Can’t help but take that personally, since I’m the one whose input was deleted and also one of many who are, in no uncertain terms, fat.

A lot of talk these days seems to be about the idea that “words hurt.” But it is like some sort of abstract concept that a bunch of people come up with to protect their feelings, and avoid actual concern over (let alone interaction with) what Jesus called “the least of these.” Okay, maybe I’m taking that phrase out of context, but didn’t Jesus say that what we did not only for, but to, “them” we did to Him?

Here’s the thing: I’ll get over this. No one is perfect, and I would like to believe that the two people involved have no personal ill feelings for me or want to hurt others. I suspect most of us would be mortified if we knew the real results of some of our supposedly “harmless” acts. But will the next person “get over it”? Will the next person they carelessly harm or ignore, someone God is foolish enough to love as much as them, will that be the one who is a believer with problems bigger than a minor inconvenience, something that takes longer to write about than to adjust to? Will the next person be someone on the cusp of faith, who only needs an encouraging word or a deleted response to push them to a critical decision about Christ? About life in general?

I hope I remember all this when I find myself in the same position. (And sure as God is God, I will!) Because it really isn’t about our feelings. It is about who and what we represent. And if what we are about isn’t bigger than ourselves, then not much really matters.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Bookmarks – Saint With a Gun

Some months ago, my friend Glenn decided to retire and not take home all of the books he had in his office. And I’m glad he picked this one for me. The book is old in the sense that it covers the private eye subset of the mystery genre only to its publication in 1974. However, what William Ruehlman has to say here speaks to not only to books and movies in the United States, but to our culture of violence and our emphasis on retribution and “justice.” And in that sense, little has changed.
The book may seem a bit scholarly to some, but it really is a good read, even for those not inclined toward the academic. I wish Ruehlman had included a bit more in the way of counterargument, but he knows his subject well, and his point seems reasonable despite this little problem.
It does seems that this book is sometimes hard to find. But I suspect for most people, it is well worth the search.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reading Response (of sorts) – Of hating an idol

I don’t know why I let myself get sucked into these things. They never end well. But once again, I got caught up in a lengthy debate on Facebook over the worth of person . And once again, I wasted my time.
It started with Sportsnation posting a question on Facebook about Cam Newton’s stellar first game. Anyone who knows me knows I do not like Mr. Newton. I believe he has cheated his way to the top and cut corners at most every turn. He is a very good, talented athlete, and in his first game he was amazing (by all accounts; I didn’t watch it).
But I fell into the trap when I posted “negative” comments about Mr. Newton to Sportsnation’s question: “Do you LIKE what you saw from the #1 pick in week 1?” Silly me.
You see, people don’t like it when you don’t write about how wonderful their favorite athletes are. They say things like “He’s doing really well for himself, unlike you” and “Id like to see u try to do what cam did. Jus sayin” and “Go eat a cheeseburger.” (Yes, these are direct quotes. I didn’t want them to come back and accuse me of misquoting them.)
A couple people, initially, tried to defend Mr. Newton, tried to tell me that he doesn’t have a history of cheating, despite the facts to the contrary. Some were somewhat reasonable, though they did not share my belief that the NCAA allowed Mr. Newton’s to play in the Sugar Bowl, not because of his innocence, but that they couldn’t bear to lose the revenue a Newton-less game would bring.
But then it had to get personal.
Clearly several of these “defenders” had to accuse me of being at “hater.” By their definition, I guess I am. But a hater really is anyone who isn’t gaga over someone you think is wonderful. And if Newton is rolling up the yards and touchdowns, well, I guess any mention of his lack of character is, well, moronic. At least I got called a moron for not praising the almighty Newton.
Some said I was just “jealous” that Auburn “won” the national championship. (One accused me of being an Alabama fan.) Not really. I think pretty much all of NCAA Division I is corrupt. Auburn is just the one that got the big football cookie. This season another so called “school” will get it.
Then several of these “fans” decided that instead of attacking my argument, they should attack me. A few stalked my Facebook page and saw that I was a teacher. So they made brilliant comments about that. I suppose that not “doing well for myself” means that I make less than Mr. Newton or that I do not have the media attention he has. And I’m a loser for being a teacher.
One guy said, “U must be one perfect man whose never made a mistake in your life. Very typical of people like u.” No sir, not perfect at all. But my mistakes are my own and I try to own up to them. Mr. Newton doesn’t admit to making a mistake. He actually continues to defend his actions and the actions of his family. And lots of people actually think that since he is a good athlete, he must not have done anything wrong. When I disagreed with that notion, I was told my logic was off.
Some of the really bright ones decided to attack my weight. Yes, kids, I am fat. Not a little overweight. Really, really fat. And what these geniuses helped me to see is that since I am obese, I obviously don’t know what I’m talking about. I sure am glad nobody told my the college I attended (WHERE I WENT TO MY FUCKING CLASSES AND DIDN’T CHEAT ON MY FUCKING TESTS) about my weight problem. I would never have gotten that Master’s degree.
The thing is I never attacked Newton as an athlete. He is a good football player. He had a great career at Auburn and Florida and Blinn College. What Cam Newton showed us in his college career is that 1) he is a very good quarterback and 2) he has NO respect for education.
I do have respect for education. I cannot praise a man who used his ability to pursue his athletic goals while mocking the ideals of education. I will continue to question the character of a person who has become the poster child for what is wrong with the NCAA, an emblem of their hypocrisy. If that makes me a loser, then so be it.
But I guess I should stop arguing with these “winners” on Facebook. When will I learn about pearls before swine?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reading Response: Of Insanity and Religion

Mr. Hitchens, in his Slate article “Rick Perry’s God,” is correct in saying that it is believers who should question Rick Perry’s religious statements, and I am surprised that they do not. I rick-perry-gun-biblealso understand and agree that Perry is only doing the prudent thing in getting himself elected by appealing to religion. It sickens me, but it is what he must do to appeal to those on his side of the political stripper pole.
Of course this appropriation of religion -- MY  RELIGION --, is one of the main reasons why I do not support Perry or any other candidate of his ilk. They use the language of religion to manipulate  an easier and easier to dupe mass of constituents. I do not know if Rick Perry actually believes what he is saying. Concerning the salvation of his soul, it might matter. Concerning the running of the country, it does not. Perry’s track record is the antithesis of practical, practicing Christianity. It seems that many American Christians honestly think that proving one is a Christian consists in the cloudyperrypublic use of certain words or membership in a particular party. Those believers are deceived, not only by the rhetoric machine, but by Satan. (I’ll leave it to theologians to decipher the difference, if one exists.)
What I take issue with is Hitchens’ typical bombastic name calling which is supposed to be argument. For example, in noting that Perry believes that “those who did not accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior would be going to hell,” Hitchens called the assertion “sheer wickedness and stupidity.” Many atheists have dismissed all claims from religious people (even those having nothing to do with religion) based on the idea that if one is religious, then one is “stupid;” therefore, no other ideas should be considered seriously from that person. But Hitchens goes so far as to say that the religious person is “wicked.”
Many people remind me of how smart Mr. Hitchens is. I don’t doubt it. But his logic in this case is worthy of, well, a politician.
While addressing what would have been one logical fallacy – the post hoc connection between Perry’s public prayers and precipitation in Texas (or a lack thereof) -- Hitchens resorts to another: ad hominem. He then doesn’t have work very hard to convince his audience that any religious person running for office is crazy and should be ignored. That reasoning works only for those who share his puny view of humanity.
Sadly, Mr. Hitchens argues well, in the same article, that Perry is sanest of the religious candidates on the right. That he might be right about this should scare the hell out of us.
But he is wrong about faith, and real people of faith.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Could we at least get a score?

soccercupAlright, so it’s very likely that even among die hard fans of FC Dallas, I am in the minority of people who stayed up late Wednesday night to see if rain and lightening would let up in Toronto so that the Champions League game could resume, and I’m  likely in a smaller minority of fans that spent Thursday morning watching the replay of the washed out game via the internet. Okay, I get it. I love a team in a sport that some think is really just played by their under 12 kids. And my obsession might be greater than those that actually know that Dallas has a professional team.
But I am consistently disappointed that ESPN radio in Dallas cannot find space in their Sportscenter updates to provide a brief story or even the score of matches, even the most important ones. As I drove in to work after the game yesterday, I noticed that the bulk of the update was filled with dialogue and filler concerning the beating that the Texas Rangers took at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. Then there was Dallas Cowboy news, something about a guy getting signed for five years and several million dollars, which I’m sure never happens in the world of football.
Look, I know that soccer is less popular than football, basketball, and baseball, and maybe a few other games that are not really sports (don’t get me started on auto racing). And I know that there is a very limited window of time for providing these scores and news headlines. But so much of these “updates” contain material that probably is best left to the shows ESPN broadcasts or just left out altogether. Come on! If the Rangers get beat by more than 10 runs, do we really need to hear Ron Washington tell the world “Well, we got beat. That’s all there is to it.”?
I thought things would change when ESPN started broadcasting Bobby Rhine’s Soccer Today show on Saturday mornings. But no. The link on the website doesn’t even take you to a page with information about the show. I should have known. Last year, when FC Dallas made it to MLS Championship, neither ESPN radio nor the local television news teams could find a minute to mention it.
FCDscarf ESPN needs to quit dismissing the game of soccer, and remember that there are plenty of fans out there that love the game and want to hear about their team. I’m don’t expect the beefheads on the ramble-around-and-say-the-same-thing-for-three-hours commentary shows to cover a soccer story. When soccer is mentioned, it is usually with derision. But how about a score every now and then? How about acknowledgement that Dallas has one of the top teams in the country? Did anyone there notice we were the first U.S. team to win a game on Mexican soil? Did they hear that two of our players were named to the U.S. National team? (Well there is a story about the latter on the website , but I heard no mention of it on the air.)
For now, I’d like to just see some much needed editing in these “updates,” and inclusion of game’s final score.

Friday, August 12, 2011

With Hate Like This, Who Needs Hope?

You told me that I had wasted my vote by casting my ballot for the person I actually believed was best able to run the country. Because that person wasn’t from one of the two political parties, I had, you said, only helped someone else win. A little research proved you were right. So I stopped believing, stopped seeing a reason to vote.
Before that I looked to political leaders who shared my religious ideals and values. Turns out that they didn’t believe in the same Jesus as me, and that if they really did stand for what I stood for (and I have my doubts), they couldn’t really do much about it. But the Jesus they believed in turns its back on the poor, denies education for anyone not in his fraternity, and says that killing foreigners is God’s work. We quote the same Bible, but my Jesus isn’t in theirs.
So after you told me I was wasting my time, I quit voting. Any energy put toward politics was spent in proving that both sides were the same devil in different suits. I believed that there were good people in the world, people who made a difference in their neighborhoods, but that none of these people could serve in government, because no one in governments served the people without expecting a hundredfold return on their investment.
And then a few came along who caused me to question. Just when I thought all was lost, that it was only a matter of time before I had to learn the language of those who conquered our land, a handful came across the sea of fear with a boat. A freaking boat. Your guys had boats, but they were throwing anchors to the drowning and life jackets to those already on their yachts. Some of your guys stood on the shore, told the crowd to get baptized in the sea of fear while their deacons held hoses making sure that sea stayed full.
While politicians were dismantling education, you called me a fool for having an education and supporting someone many other educated people supported. Education has not only been hurt by lack of funding and poor policy and broken promises from all sides of the political spectrum. It has been demonized.
And so I’m back to wondering why I should bother. You see, hate starts all the conversations now. Hate doesn’t disagree or engage in debate. It spews itself violently and dares anyone to stand up against its bile. I’ve spoken out, but having ideas only leads to me be accused of not loving my country. You’ll never know, in fact, how much I do love America. But I for now, I can no longer stand up to the bullies. It’s futile. Keep your damn playground. Nobody plays there anymore.
Take Hope too. You are going to need it.