Sunday, March 29, 2009

do your homework

The last point in this outline, the purpose of my starting the blog, is to say "do your homework",check your sources, and be intellectually curious. Don't take anything anybody tells you at purely face value - even me. There are just too many rumors, half truths, bald-faced lies, miscommunications or misunderstandings, and incomplete info out there.

Nowadays there are many ways of getting to original sources and no good excuses not to check them. There are persistent rumors that go around and around and people spend time trying to stamp them out -yet they spread like weeds. One prevalent one in the Christian community concerns Madeline Murray O'Hare and Christian radio/FCC. Having in the past worked at a Christian radio station (10 years) I know full well the trouble the rumor has caused and every time it pops up I do my best to correct people (including directing them to official/original sources) but still it persists. So please check things out,don't just blindly forward something on to others.

We tend to be attracted to these things. A good story ,with intrigue, gets our heart pumping and our mind whirling , especially anything that smacks of conspiracy, or "secrets" or "cover up"s. We often don't stop to wonder if any of it is really true. Take the stimulus bill for example. According to some there is loads of pork in it and they cite examples. Then they say that the bill as found online can't be searched for specifics. Yet the bill as listed does have search capabilities (I have done it) and if you check out some of the most mentioned examples of "pork" (think crickets and beavers and volcanoes, oh my!:) ) you find that there is real value there- only the ignorant scorn what they do not understand. Simplistic ranting by those who have been given a microphone in the public square is not a good way to make public policy and people should not be fooled.

You can search the web for the background info on any project (from the people directly involved with it) and you can also search the stimulus bill for information (contrary to what has been written about the search capabilities there). One good site is the Small Business Administration website :http://www.sba.gov/ . Another good site is factcheck.org.

Think of the term ignorance. There is not knowing ,someone is ignorant - just doesn't know . That can be helped. You can give them the information or show them where to find it. You can reason with them to show them the gaps in their knowledge. Then there is willful ignorance, not willing to learn, willing to ignore what is plain to see. As the saying goes "none is so blind as those who will not see" Those who do not want to see what is true will take advantage of those who just don't know what is true. Be wary of those who talk as if they know things, but do not provide any way to check them out, or question anybody who doubts them. We are all in a learning curve and nobody knows it all.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

creative thinking for growth

One of the reasons we often avoid thinking about what and why we believe is that we have fallen into comfortable patterns of behavior. Unfortunately these can become ruts, which are hard to climb out of. In order to get out of these we sometimes need to jar ourselves or, as one put it years ago, give ourselves a "whack on the side of the head"

From my experience here is what I have done. It is a combination of experimentation and exploration. I am at heart an experimenter - probably started when I got a chemistry set (my grandfather was a chemist) and began mixing chemicals just to see what would happen (I don't think my Mom every knew about some things that went awry in my room:)... I made a cake with some unusual subsititutions that turned out okay anyway (cornmeal for cornstarch),and later on I went through cooking experimenting phases - using some ingredient or other (like yogurt) in all sorts of dishes, with mixed results. My dad...and later my wife...have been very understanding of my urge to try all sorts of things in that area. Don't be afraid to experiment.

I am also an explorer (though not in real exotic locations). When I was younger our family would go tent camping every summer for a couple weeks. We traveled all over the western US and whenever we set up camp the first thing I wanted to do was explore the area. I was always on the hunt for something new or to see what was nearby. When my wife and I first moved to the area we are now I would often drive around and purposely get myself lost so that I would have to find my way back and would travel new roads and find new locations. It stirred my creativity and also helped sometimes when I either was truly lost or just needed an alternative way to get somewhere and now had a shortcut.

I was and am intellectually and irrepresibly curious...And I know that part of the problem today is that too many people are not. Just think about the last 8 years...do you really think our leaders cared about whether something was true or not , or whether they just took somebody else's word for it? Think how the notion of "change" has been received by many people. They fear it and don't want to change ....it takes too much thought. Fortunately many more are eager for and anticipating of much to change. Not for change sake alone, but for a return to a growing society that is ready to roll up its sleeves and work to make things better. For all.

Practical point - try to meet people who aren't like you. Different backgrounds, ethnicity, culture, race, lifestyles, bring different perspectives. It is harder to treat people as them (as opposed to us) if you know someone from that "other group". Visit sites on the web where you wouldn't normally go and try to figure out if there is something to be gained from it - at least understanding of where others are coming from.

Many years ago I read a book called "A Whack on the Side of the Head", by Roger Von Oech. He was (and is) an advocate for creative thinking and how to go about it. He used various puzzles, anecdotes, mental exercises, cartoons,and questions to help people remove mental blocks and unlock their minds. He has a website www.creativethink.com which is a good resource when you get "stuck"

Change is more than just a political slogan, or a movement, it is essential for healthy life.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

living beliefs

Once you know what you believe and why you believe it, you must live it out. Beliefs must never be just an academic exercise. If they are what you truly believe they should influence your whole life, not just part of it. For people of faith what we profess on our days of worship must be what we live out the rest of our days. The pew must meet the pavement.

Involvement by people of faith in government does not mean using the power of government to coerce common beliefs, for belief can only be shared, not dictated. It is a matter of the heart. But faith should influence how,why,and what we decide in every part of our lives and that is true in the large context of society as well as in our own homes. If government is truly "we the people" then it should be an expression of the faith of "we the people".

This crosses the lines of faith traditions. To take one example - the treatment of the poor is a key to three main religions. For the Jewish the practice of gleaning (Leviticus 19:9-10,23:22,Deut.14:28-29) is part of the Mosaic Law as well as "love your neighbor as yourself"(Leviticus 19:18). The New Testament talks about "true religion before God" as including taking care of the widows and orphans (James 1:26-27). Most of the time people focus on doctrinal purity, but forget that first of all God cares about people and their welfare (ref Matthew 25).

And it is good to remember in these troubled days that alms giving -charitable giving to the poor - is one of the Five Pillars of Islam (interestingly the Arabic word for alms - Zakah - is similar to the Hebrew term for charity -Tzedakah) Too often nowadays Islamic charities have been viewed with scepticism, but it is an essential element of the faith regardless of those who misuse it.

How can you work to ensure that the beliefs you espouse are your own? First after examining what you believe and why you believe it, don't be afraid to share them. Try being the first to answer in a group when questions are asked. Sometimes if you always wait to hear what others say first there is a tendency to play it safe and be a "me-too" ,especially if your true views diverge from what seems to be the group view. Listening to others is important ,and just being "contrary" isn't courageous, but be true to yourself and don't just adopt a view that you don't believe in just to avoid "sticking out".

Write down or record audio of your thoughts and views, then read or listen to them again and see if they make sense or sound in any way "false" or "pretend". It is good to be able to listen to yourself and detect when you are not being real.

Walk in others' shoes - try to imagine how others would hear you,how they would view the things you do and maybe see them a different way,with a different perspective. Imaging yourself living somewhere way different from where you are and see how you would view the world.

Finally, focus on being known for what you are for, not for what you are against. There is a time and place to criticize and call others out for wrongdoing, for sure, but too many people are only known for the things they fight against and not for what they support. Aim to build, not destroy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

asking "why?'

Along with knowing what you believe, you also need to think about why you believe it. There is a little overlap here, since in the previous post I talked about the fact that some of your views you may have gotten from your parent's beliefs, often without examination. But we also can start to make decisions on issues from things we read - especially in school, from people we hang out with, or groups we join.

Just take a moment to think about the major issues of the day - the ones that seem to get the most airplay or newsprint. Some examples would be healthcare, the war, the economy, social issues. Now think about what your stand is on them and why you take that stand. Does it match up to what you say you believe, or did you pick up that stand because it fit within the mindset of some group you see yourself affiliated with?

Oftentimes there can be a "group-think" in our associations, whether it be party, church, work, etc. We find ourselves holding to a set of views which we don't think about. We are comfortable with them because either they help us fit in, or we feel we "ought" to hold them. If someone takes issue with a particular position of the group they often face very critical, sometimes even hostile, reactions and may be thought of as less worthy or disloyal and may even be forced out of the group.

Because of this people are often afraid to examine their positions and stifle themselves. I don't say that this happens all the time, by any means, and common beliefs are important to working together in a group. But when strict adherence to a set of beliefs becomes more important than thinking clearly and treating others with respect the group becomes a cage.

I like to think about it in terms of being in junior high. I know, most people don't like to think about that period in life because it was often a difficult period. There were many adjustments to make - being neither a child nor an adult - akward at the very least. But it is a time when the prevaling question is "why?"..."why do I have to do this?" "why can't I do that?" We have so many questions, want so many answers, and annoy those who think they know it all, because every answer is met with another question. Sometimes we go overboard, but it seems as adults we suddenly forget to ask questions - settling for the easy "because ___ said so", whether that be a teacher, pastor, boss, journalist or even the President.

The 1960's were a time of questioning authority and the established ways of doing things. Not everything worked out the best, but there were a lot of accomplishments. Like landing men on the moon, sending hundreds of Peace Corps volunteers around the world to build up ,not tear down , villages in many countries - to show a better representation of what our nation could be to the world. And the Voting Rights Act finally put into writing that color could no longer legally be a barrier to exercising our most sacred right - the right to vote for those to lead us. I think some of the current crowd of naysayers on the right have forgotten what was accomplished then -or maybe they just collected very different memories... I guess they weren't rockers like me:)

My advice today : don't be afraid to examine your beliefs and why you believe them , even at the cost of leaving a group you are part of. If you don't you will only become stifled and cease to truly be yourself.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

know what you believe

Know what you believe...seems like a simple thing,right? Wrong. Many people never take the time to figure this out. They are raised by (mostly) well meaning parents who try to communicate their values/manners/beliefs to prepare their children to face the world. They communicate what they know and believe in order to spare their kids the task of having to figure things out that they (the parents) have already figured out...at least so that they can get a good start in life.

This is good at first - no need to reinvent the wheel - but at some point children need to foray out on their own and establish their own identity and be able to function on their own ,without their parents' help...because parents never last forever.:( This includes internalizing beliefs, making them personal, stuggling through doubt to stronger belief -and sometimes discarding things that don't fit or make sense. It is a lifelong task, which some have short-circuited by deciding to act without thinking -often taking up someone else's prescribed lists of acceptable behaviour and beliefs. We call it indoctrination - whether self-induced or dictated - either way it is destructive. We see it in politics, religion, business,etc.

The antidote is to examine oneself , our actions and attitudes, to find what we really believe and whether that is at odds with what we say we believe. What you believe will determine your actions, so take the time to find out what you really believe, not just what you say you do. For example, what do you think is our responsiblity toward those in this nation and in our world who are poor and powerless? Does your faith tradition/scripture have anything to say about that?
If so, what actions should you and we be taking to do about it?

For my own self I have increasingly become convinced that helping the "least of these" is a moral obligation, a societal responsibility and it greatly affects my outlook on social and political policy. But that's just me. You have to determine for yourself what your viewpoint is, because it is your belief.
Later :)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

first post

And so it begins....I'd like to start by outlining what I want to emphasize and then explaining as time goes on.
I have a handful of things to emphasize...and I do me handful literally...five
1. Know what you believe.
2. Know why you believe what you believe
3. Live out what you believe, in all areas
4. Be creative...forget the box ....give yourself a swift kick occasionaly _(ever heard of A Wack on the Side of the Head?..good book)
5. Remember to do your homework...don't just take what is written/spoken at face value...check for the original sources (stimulus bill, for example, or official sites) to verify what you hear or read.

In the coming days I will outline what I mean by these things, but for now , just think about it.
Resonate with the music of the universe...and it's Maker.