Monday, December 31, 2012

for a better new year

Well, we made it to the end of the apocalypse yet. We all look forward to the new year with a mix of anticipation and dread sometimes. We remember the good years and the bad years, and wonder which one this will be. Usually they are a mix of good and bad, successes and failures. But just like each day, each year is an opportunity for growth and progress. There are plenty of things we can't control but there are things we can and should do. How about we make a point of trying to be better on one thing like  being a positive influence on others?
      One thing that stood out in this past election year was the nastiness of the rhetoric. This isn't anything new, but still it bugged me. No, it saddened me. There are many people, including candidates, who couldn't just differ... they had to bicker. They couldn't just say they disagreed with someone else's position, they had to label it as  destructive or un-American... or even evil. They had to malign the character of an opponent, question their morals, attack their family, etc.
      For example, recently Secretary of State Hillary Clinton caught the flu and became dehydrated, then fell and suffered a concussion -- something that is stressful and dangerous for anyone, but more so for someone who is in her 60's. Rather than express concern for her welfare and recovery, which would be the decent thing to do, many commentators questioned the report of her illness and asserted that she was using it as a ruse to get out of testifying  about her department's handling of an international incident (Benghazi). Besides the question of whether  Clinton would duck a controversy (I think it unlikely), there is the question of why people are so quick to assume the worst about someone and refuse to extend kindness? And considering that she now is being treated in the hospital for a blood clot near her brain, there are a number of vocal people out there who need to offer a sincere apology... it is common decency.
      In contrast, when former President George H.W. Bush went into the hospital with a high fever (high enough to necessitate an  ICU stay), there were many extensions of well wishes for his health, including many from those who didn't share his politics. I read one article where the comments were very encouraging (with the exception of one or two negative comments). That is how it should be.
       I guess it is part in how we were raised. My mom's favorite phrase was "accentuate the positive". I was raised to believe the best and expect the best of people. If they behaved badly then they got criticism, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt, especially in matters of health. I do not like to see anyone suffer, regardless of their politics. 
      What do you say? Can we make this a year of doing our best to try and make others' lives better...Even if it is just a kind word, a hello, a thank you. We can't control the future, but we can infuse our surroundings with the light of our smiles and the warmth of our hugs. Thanks, and a Happy New year to everyone. May it be the best one ever!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Too Much

We live in a world of too many guns and too much fear.  That is my take on the recent shootings in theater, mall, and now elementary school. Too many opportunities for those in fear or instability or anger to do great harm to others. We have cultivated a climate where violence is seen as the answer to all our problems and where peace, compromise, and diplomacy are scorned as weak and ineffective.

We have even now many who really think that the answer to gun violence is more guns? Those who would arm teachers, make every meeting place and public gathering an armed camp. And that is supposed to make us safer? They would dare others, in the words of Charlton Heston, to pry (their guns) from (our) cold dead hands". They swear allegiance to the America, but at the same time spread rumors of conspiracies by the same government to take away their precious guns.

Many of these same people who are so committed to their ownership of guns proclaim faith and trust in God. Yet their white-knuckled grip on their weapons and their eagerness to believe every plot rumor that comes down the pike I think speaks against it. It would seem to me that they are placing their security in guns, not in God. There is nothing wrong with careful planning and reasonable precautions against potential danger. But when you hold onto something, anything, to the detriment of friendship and peace, something is seriously wrong.

Those who would put limits on weapons , or call for improvements to our mental health system, are addressing part of the problem. But the solution does not reside solely in these improvements. We must combat our fears and foster peaceful resolutions, so that people are less likely to seek violent answers to their beefs, whether or not they are armed. There must be an active spreading of the message of peace and modeling of it. We must make sure that we are not the cause of conflict, as much as it is in our power to do so.

And we must combat the myths that surround us. We do not have freedom in this country due to armed force alone. We are free because we have been committed, down through the generations, to preserving liberty for all and standing for a unique blend of liberty and law. Remember that the first duty of the President of the US, in the words of the presidential oath, is to " preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States".  Without that and the rights inshrined within it, we are no different than any other nation in the world, and security is simply self-preservation, not protection of liberty.

So what have you done, or what will you do today to spread peace instead of war, love instead of hate, and hope instead of fear?  Blessed are the peacemakers, it is said. Wise words indeed.

Monday, December 3, 2012

end of the world as we know it

Do you remember the story of Chicken Little, who thought the sky was falling when an acorn fell on its head? We laugh at the silliness of the chick, but many times there are people around us who are doing much the same thing. December 21st, 2012 is just around the corner and there aren't that many who still take the end of the world predictions for that date (based on a misread Mayan calendar) very seriously anymore. We all dismissed our fears about 1984, made it through Y2K just fine, and made jokes about Harold Camping's apocalyptic predictions last year.

Yet another kind of end of the world hysteria , all too common as these, has arisen again. The specter of loser hysteria, doom and gloom because of election loss, the hand-wringing by those who can't just accept that their candidate lost (or that the other side won). Those on the right were mad enough that Barack Obama won in 2008. They became unhinged when he won re-election last month. They talked about "the death of my country" , the end of Western civilization, the loss of freedom and the rising of tyranny. And, as often happens, they threatened to leave the US if the results were not reversed. Not that that will happen of course.

There are two big problems with this. One is that they are, like Chicken Little, vastly over-reacting to changes they don't like. They can't deal with thought that their candidate lost and they are pulling the "I'll hold my breath till I turn blue,if you won't do what I want" -kind of juvenile behavior. Losing is not easy, adapting to change can be hard, but it is necessary to grow. Real character is shown in how you deal with loss, even more sometimes than with winning. And there are a lot of people on the right who are showing a woeful lack of character.

The other problem is that the people who are going bonkers in fear are the ones who should be fearing the least  - if they only lived what they said they believed. They claim to be people of faith yet have so much doubt. At this time of remembering the first advent of Christ, we recall from scripture that the second coming is supposed to usher in a time of peace, harmony, and healing for the world. The "end of the world as we know it" should be welcomed , as it becomes the" start of the world as it should be". At least to those who truly look for it and believe in hope. These people, however, are by their words and actions  exposed as religious frauds.

So celebrate December 21st, is the Winter Solstice....when the days start getting longer, the nights shorter, and the New Year beckons:)

Monday, May 7, 2012

I love my parents, and I miss them very much. They were the greatest influences in my life growing up and they taught not just by words but also by deeds. They believed the best about others and expected the best. They taught me to be curious as well as courteous. They taught me a love of knowledge and a love for people, no matter their background or station in life. I am who I am because of them and I thank God fro them, especially when I observe other less stellar parental models.

But when I was in high school and early college they drove me nuts!  It was not an accident that I went out of state to college (4 out of 6 years) i could have saved money staying in-state, but that was not going to happen. I guess it's kind of a teen thing...needing independence. My dad and I got along better years later, but teen time was tough. my mom was a sweetie and gentle soul, but I was the baby of the family and I guess it was hard for her to see me grow up and want to fly away.

My parents weren't perfect, though they tried to do their best. My country is just the same. I love it because it's my home. I am proud to be an American, not because we are perfect, but because we have tried over the years to improve and stand for the right things. We shouldn't whitewash our history, but rather acknowledge the blemishes and learn from them. I say this as one who was not only born and raised here, but whose ancestry goes back to the founding of our nation and long before.

Some people don't want to hear criticism of our country. They chant "USA,USA!" to shout down critics and complain that anyone who calls out national faults is somehow un-American or is part of a "blame America first" crowd. That's nonsense. That's like saying you never should question your parents.

As we grow we go from thinking our parents know everything, to thinking they don't know anything, to finally realizing that the truth is somewhere in-between. As we grow as citizens we also go from accepting everything in textbooks at face value , to questioning/disputing everything, to seeing things in context and acknowledging the growth patterns.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

amnesty ? yes

In the whole immigration debate there is one word that seems to be taboo.  Amnesty.  Some people use it as a weapon to demean policy opponents and stifle debate. While others tie themselves into linguistic and logical knots in order to explain why their reform proposals don't favor it. But I advocate embracing it. It's easier that way and I believe it is totally consistent with the Christian teaching, something that  amnesty opponents supposedly believe in.

What is amnesty but forgiveness and isn't that the message of the cross? At Easter we remember that we have all broken the moral laws of God. We recognize that we are all in need of his help and that he gave it freely with no preconditions. Why then do we act like we are somehow superior to others who may not speak or look like us, or who simply had the misfortune to be born on the "wrong" side of a border?

Often the refrain comes "but they broke the law". Have you ever driven over the speed limit, gone through a red light, or done something dumb on the road and then were secretly glad a cop wasn't around? All those times you broke the law, but you got away with it. Or how about times (like I have had) when you got pulled over and managed to talk your way out of a ticket? We have all done these or similar things, but in our minds that "breaking of the law" is somehow okay.

There are legitimate issues with border security and reform of our immigration system is needed, but demonizing people is not helpful or kind. To label as "enemies" or "invaders" those born in extreme poverty who come here to make a better life for themselves and their families is just cruel. Some even callously complain that they are overtaxing our emergency rooms (treating their lives as less valuable than ours). It doesn't matter how they came, we should be kind and helpful anyway.

What did you do to earn citizenship and all its privileges? Unless you were an immigrant yourself, and most of us are not, you did nothing. I know I didn't, nor did my siblings, nor my parents, nor any in my family tree, back to before there was a US...because we were born here. We didn't have to take any tests, pass any background checks, learn a foreign language...we all learned English the easy way, we grew into it.

There are many issues in immigration and perhaps I can get to those in other posts. Like the Dream Act - helping kids, who had no part in their parents bringing them here, go to college. Or kids born here to illegal immigrants and their citizenship status (and why it's a no-brainer). Or reform of the system and how some want to devise a "second-tier" residency.

But on this Easter Sunday I want to emphasize one thing. I am totally and unashamedly in favor of amnesty. There are millions in our country who have admittedly come here crossing the border without following all the legal rules. I do not excuse that, but I have seen the conditions in Mexico outside of the touristy border towns and resort cities and I can understand their motivation to come here to better their families' lives. And rounding them all up for massive deportation is just unrealistic.

It is time to bring them out into the light. It is time to stop treating them like criminals or treating ourselves as "perfect'. Recognize their efforts and help them integrate into our society as full partners in this land of opportunity. Give them a chance to unionize so companies cannot take advantage of their silence to cheat them on wages or working conditions. Provide them with classes so that they can become fluent in English and contribute more through expansion of skills.  And, yes, provide them a "path to citizenship"

Some may say that I am just a "bleeding heart", and an idealist. I accept that and wear it as a badge of honor, especially today. I am forgiven and free because of the ultimate "bleeding heart" and I think if people think that that term is a slur then they really need to re-examine their professed faith and what the meaning of Easter is.   Just my two cents worth today.:)

He is risen indeed if he is reflected in our actions today:)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

spring is here

The sun is out, the flowers are blooming, and I am reminded that it is important in our hectic, often troublesome world to "stop and smell the roses"...literally. Life has a way of getting us down, sapping our strength, tying us up in knots worrying about a lot of things we really have no control over, or painting life as only bleak existence. We need to use our five senses to relieve stress and help balance our lives.

So stop and smell those roses, or whatever is blooming right now. As a gardener I love my roses, lilac, honeysuckle, and butterfly bush. The smell on the breeze is sweet and relaxing. The scents of lavender. rosemary, and fennel when rubbed between my fingers is invigorating. And even freshly-mowed grass brings a smile to my face (specially since I now have an electric mower:))

The sight of purple and white crocuses, yellow daffodils, and green sprigs of fennel starts break up the gray of winter and signal that spring is here (or nearly so). The leaves of tulip and grape hyacinth leaves are teases to upcoming color bursts. And the purple winter heather blooms and red dogwood stems linger in transition. I love watching the seasons change in my garden.

The sounds of jaybird, robin, and several small birds as they visit my bird-feeding sites is audible sunshine. The woodpecker banging its beak on some neighborhood downspout or signpost is a creature wake-up call. And the unseen, but clearly heard beaver splashes and frog croaks are music to my ears.

The wind and the rain as I walk invigorate me. The sunshine breaks warm me. Sometimes, when it is warmer and drier, I like to just sit out on the front lawn and gaze around, silently taking in the experience of the plants nearby and letting the wider world just fade into the background for a while.

Later, when the strawberries, raspberries, and herbs, bloom, I will savor the taste of freshly picked produce. Maybe this year I will again try my hand at growing vegetables -nothing is as sweet as a freshly picked cherry tomato from a back yard planter). But for now I resolve to slow down and savor my food, try new tastes, and not just eat mindlessly.

I see people out walking who are oblivious to the world around them. They walk with radios/music players plugged into their ears. I am not judging, it may be that they need the music/talking to get them motivated to walk/run, and I am glad to see them exercising. But I just think of what they are missing. I want to hear the birds, feel the breeze, and ponder thoughts with only the company of my footsteps. I want to experience nature, not just travel through it.

My suggestion: take some time to experience beauty. Life is too short to major on what is wrong with the world. There is plenty of time to ponder that. I know, I rant on things, just like I plug into the radio (music mainly) when I start work for the day. But I also like to step away from the madness to experience beauty.

And you now have another avenue to experience beauty. My wife, has started a blog called Adorned in Beauty. I highly recommend it. She has been my "fashion consultant" since before we were married, and she has an impeccable sense of taste. She beautifies my life and I think you'll like the beautiful things she has found. She also created the banner for my blog, as well as doing a recent redesign of the layout. She is my sweetie, the top beauty in my world :)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

personal responsiblity on the take

For about 10 years I was a part-time staff announcer on a small Christian radio station in Phoenix. I started as a volunteer, answering phones and pulling records for a Saturday morning music request program. After a while there I decided I would like to try my hand being on air so I contacted the general manager and started training with him and the station engineer. I worked mainly weekends and overnight and some evenings occasionally. I would run programs, do weather and news breaks, and even had some shifts when I could choose my own music and create commentary to tie it all together.

Since ours was a small listener-supported station we had no commercials, but did have a loyal following, many of whom would call, any time of day. Some would like to chat, or had a record request, or sometimes need advice for a personal crisis(especially on the overnight shifts). When the phone rang, it was my responsibility to answer it, be polite and helpful, being aware that I was representing the station (and God, since we were a Christian station). I took that very seriously, even when I was trying to do several things at once - run programs, pick music, record stuff for later broadcast -and check the news wire.

I was often the only person at the station during my shifts, so I operated the control board, took transmitter readings (making sure we were FCC-compliant), and kept records of what we played, all the while making the necessary on air announcements. One time we even had the power go out while I was doing a station ID break. The engineer happened to be there at the time, so I wasn't alone, but we still had to coordinate calling the airport to alert them our tower lights were out, get the backup generator running, and still answer the phones - people wanted to know why we weren't on the air.

All this came back to mind in the wake of Rush Limbaugh's vulgar and outrageous verbal attack on Sandra Fluke -a woman smeared with sexist slurs, whose only "crime" was a desire to testify before Congress about a matter important to her. It wasn't just the words he used, nor that he has a history of such remarks. The worst thing is that he apparently doesn't care what comes out of his mouth when he opens the mike, takes no responsibility for it, and obviously has no one that he feels he must answer to.

In my radio work I was very careful what I said on the air. Not only were our supporters listening, but our general manager was as well. If any one of us had uttered anything close to what Rush said (not that we ever would) we would have been promptly fired, no questions asked. Apparently Rush has no one in that position. Plus we were focused on giving encouragement to our listeners, not rile them up to "go on the attack"

The only thing worse than Rush's comments is the silence that followed them, from those who share his conservative beliefs. It really shouldn't matter what your politics is, common decency demands that you treat others as you would want to be treated, and speak up in protest when others cross the line. There are those on the left that I avoid or sample lightly because of their tendency to be vulgar or derogatory. And "false equivalency" comments are just a way to dodge speaking up.

I have never cared for Bill Maher for instance. "Politically incorrect" is a term I loath, because in my mind it is just a rationale to be rude. If we want to be taken seriously when we criticize bad behavior, we must criticize without taking political views into mind. When we were kids and got into trouble it was no use bringing up others bad deeds. All our parents were focused was correcting us, because we were under their roof.

Words matter and we should care about what we say, how we say it, and to whom (and about whom) we say them. Not just for legal reasons or FCC rules,etc, but just because cultivating civility is the right thing to do and helps build better communities, locally, nationally, and globally.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

not my enemy

The presidential campaign and the sideshow that accompanies it has taken a turn towards the absurd. Some commentators have shown beyond a doubt that they have tin ears and blind eyes. It is one thing to be cynical but quite another to be inflexible. I don't think I have to name names, 'cause I think you know who I mean.

It is bad enough to view efforts to provide healthcare for all as dangerous or to portray seeking to have peacemaking a key component of our foreign policy as weakness. It is harmful to characterize calls for civility in our political discussions as censorship. But when an appeal from the president for teamwork and basic fairness is denounced as an appeal for class warfare we have reached the stone ear stage indeed.

We are all Americans, we are all in this together. I think we need to pause and remember that, no matter what our political, religious, or social views. We share this country, and we must remember to share. No one gets to hog it all and whoever is elected in November will be President of all and deserves our respect. That is the American way.

I am a Democrat. I believe in an active government, acting as "we the People" in carrying out the desires of the nation for a "more perfect Union", providing for the "common defense", and promoting the "general welfare" espoused in the Preamble to the Constitution. I believe we have a moral obligation to provide for those less fortunate and not hold ourselves aloof and simply blame them for "not trying hard enough". And I believe that government is "us",not some distant "other" to be feared, opposed, or "limited".

As such I obviously have serious differences with all of the GOP presidential candidates and their supporters in media and in elected office. I will work to oppose their efforts and argue against their positions. But, and this is a very big "but', they are not my enemy. We are not in a war, not for the "soul of America" nor for"civilization", and I refuse to portray our political disagreements in such militaristic terms.

Even when others may slip into that mode, I refuse. If the (to my mind) unthinkable happens and a Republican wins the White House I will respect them as President , just as I have any other President. I will have discussions with those with whom I disagree in a spirit of mutual respect. I will walk away from, but not demean, those who seek fights and refuse to even listen to opposing views. I may brand opposing views as absurd when warranted, but will work to refrain from making personal attacks. As I have said before, we are all Americans and we must all work together for what is best for everyone.

This holds true for our actions in the world. Make no mistake, we have real enemies out there, folks who have taken up arms against us and would seek to do us harm. We must actively oppose that. But we must not go around looking for trouble, nor brand those nations who may differ with us on policies as "not our friends" (like the attitudes of many in the US toward France and Germany over the Iraq war). For those of us who hold to faith in God we have a divine mandate to "seek peace and pursue it" and "as much as it depends on you, live at peace with all men". Blessings are called out for peacemakers, not warmongers, and we should not take that lightly. We all must "share" this world.

Set your "weapons" down and let's all work together to make this nation, and our world, be the best it can be, where nobody goes hungry, or sick,or homeless, or friendless. We all can make a difference...if only we try.