You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2007.

Going with this theme of self-evaluation, I have also decided to reconsider my piece on “Leading the World to Hell.”  Yes, I am a little bitter, but there’s no sense in proselytizing a message of unity or tolerance with a sermon soaked in damnation.  Besides, my image could really benefit some authentic placement of warm fuzzies.  (:  I know at first glance I may appear schizophrenic, but bear with me as I experiment with metamorphosis. 

The USA is the leader of the free world.  We are truly a brilliant beacon of light, guiding the world out of darkness into a period of infinite prosperity.  Despite a total population of only 5 percent of the planet, we manage to produce more wealth than any other nation and provide billions of dollars of global aid.  But building and maintaining the world’s most successful economy does not come without a cost to our environment.  It is now well-known that the US leads the planet as the top emitter of greenhouse gases, producing 25 percent of the world’s pollution and two-thirds of the world’s toxic wastes.  Yet despite undeniable evidence that our American lifestyle is contributing to global climate change at an alarming rate, we continue a consumption culture that is literally devouring the world as we know it.  

At the United Nations conference this month in Bali, Indonesia, 190 countries (out of 194 that exist) confronted the US for our position as the only industrialized nation to refuse ratification of the Kyoto Protocol climate pact.  As part of their criticism, world leaders questioned the US rejection of mandatory emissions regulations.But our representatives were quick to defend our greedy and gluttonous ways, touting a recent 1.5 percent decline in carbon dioxide emissions and insisting that voluntary emission cuts will be sufficient to produce the necessary changes.  Nevermind that our own Department of Energy credits this reduction to favorable weather patterns and higher energy prices.

It is time for America to live up to our reputation as the hope of the world.   As the most powerful country on the planet, we have the responsibility to provide an ethical example of balance and self-restraint . We must recultivate the values of frugality and thrift that shaped our humble beginnings and we must serve as the quintessential model of sustainable consumption.  Remember, we make up only 5 percent of the world’s population, but consume 25 percent of the world’s oil, one-third of the world’s paper and cars, and 27 percent of the world’s aluminum.  The environmental impact of one American is 12 times greater than that of one person from India and 250 time greater than that of someone from Sub-Saharan Africa, even with recycling. Despite a growing “green” movement in this country, Americans still consume 2 million plastic bottles, 1 million aluminum cans and 60,000 plastic shopping bags every 5 MINUTES. 

Yet, we remain a country of tremendous strength and ingenuity, overcoming great challenges through perserverance and grounded in our commitment to fairness and righteousness.  We are capable of anything when we unite for a common cause.  So as we stand here on the precipice of a global environmental/energy crisis, Americans must decide which direction to lead the world. 

Are we the naïve Captain of the infamous Titanic or are we a lighthouse in a perilous fog?

 Ok, I totally get that if I want to avoid hypocrisy, I need to follow my own advice.  Therefore, I have rewritten “Jesus vs. Santa” with an intent to remove the hurtful tone that alienated my audience.  This is serious introspection here, folks.  But feel free to mock me if my humility seems insincere. 

America is truly a unique collection of diverse faces and faiths, and no place is this more evident than in our holiday celebrations.  But across all winter traditions, this season remains a time of love, joy, and peace.  While Christmas is the most widely honored winter holiday in the country, its origins come from a variety of religious and non-religious practices and it is one of many winter holidays celebrated by Americans. Although Christianity remains the most prevalent organized religon in the US, there are millions of Americans who celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Ramadan, Winter Solstice and other winter traditions.   It is a marvelous testament to the unity of our people to see a growing movement toward a secular holiday with both a public and personal emphasis on tolerance and respect. This desire to blend the winter holiday celebrations is not an effort to exlude any particular faith, rather it is recognition that each American celebrates this season as a unique representation of their heritage and beliefs.  Many have elected to send cards with more inclusive messages, and businesses, politicians and mainstream media have molded their efforts to appeal to our ever-changing populace. 

America has always been a diverse nation, but  over the course of a generation or two we have diversified to the point where non-Christian religious practices have become far more popular than the times of our grandparents.   Although some traditionalists resist a government  acknowledgement of a secular winter holiday tradition, the foundation of this country rests upon a bedrock of personal liberty and religious freedom preventing the government from making laws that “respect an establishment of religion or prohibit the free exercise thereof.”   When our leadership recognizes these months as a season of giving, no citizen is excluded. Everyone may decorate their homes as they choose and attend religious ceremonies in their places of worship, while partaking in the national atmosphere of  brotherhood and acceptance. 

The current trend to remove nativity scenes and other Christmas symbols as government sanctioned icons has been met with displeasure by some well-meaning Christians.   Yet, these changes promote an environment of tolerance that, if embraced by everyone as a conscious desire for inclusion, can only serve to unify us as a nation.  When we agree on a united secular representation, we come together in a national celebration of the magic of the season.   

Afterall, this is the season of family and forgiveness.  It is only fitting that we should recognize this period in a way that welcomes every American and every person as a valued member of the human family.  

This is only my second winter in New England and, after spending most of my life in tropical climates, I am still mezmerized by the sacred white flurries and their magnificent accumulation.  The weatherman instructed me to prepare for a winter storm at the three o’clock hour, but when I arrived at work this morning the flakes had already started to swirl in silent pirouettes.  I emerged from the warm cocoon of my VW Jetta with a face full of tiny wet kisses.  As I unpacked my teaching supplies from the backseat, the soft snowfall began to gather along the shoulders of my coat and in the tangled wisps of my unkept locks.  My inner child grinned with wild delight at the magic of it all.  Much to the amusement of several groggy college students, I squealed like a small girl and spun in frenzied circles in the busy parking lot.  It was an innocent moment between us, their curiousity captured by my playful display.  How were they not utterly enchanted? Where was their sense of reverence and wonderment?  I laughed out loud and one young man answered me with a cautious chuckle. 

“Not from around here, eh?” he inquired.   

I shook my head as I threw my gaze skyward and welcomed the taste of tiny water crystals on my tongue. “The sky is falling! The sky is falling! And I love it!”  I shot him a toothly smile as a waddled across the slush and ice to the safety of our front lobby. 

Hours later, after our final classes were complete, I threw open the double glass doors to greet the life-size version of a well-shaken snowglobe.  It was marvelous, hypnotizing, and fierce.  I stood speechless and spellbound on the frozen rubber mat, staring out into an unfamiliar world that left me simultaneously invigorated and terrified.  Oh my God, it’s beautiful! Oh my God, I don’t have snow tires or four-wheel drive. 

I dashed out into the blinding white, this time squealing more frantically than before as I leaped to avoid puddles of salt and sand.  My eyes locked on my feet, I shuffled around the parking lot like a walking meditation labrynth, until finally stumbling into my car.  I brushed the snow from the back window with the sleeve of my coat, then pumped my electronic key fob and fumbled for the door handle.  With the assistance of my wipers, the fresh power flew from my windshied in an arched spray.  I slipped the gear into reverse, then realized my freshly cleared rear window had quickly been returned to zero-visibility.  What the hell? I pressed the accelerator lightly and prayed for the best.

 I don’t think I ever broke 25 mph on my 12 mile drive home, but at some point I realized my hands were cramping from the death-grip on the steering wheel. 

In the many translations of Biblical scripture, the words “awe” and “fear” have often been used interchangeably.  Today, God demonstrated to me how that is possible. 

Not too long ago, I engaged my eccentric, yet highly intelligent uncle in a rather lengthy conversation about ethics.  I have, on occasion, taught this subject matter at the college level, and my uncle was curious to discover the substance of my curriculum.  We began our exchange with a brief consideration of the difference between ethics and religion, and then we established our definitions of the word agnostic. We both quickly determined that religious affiliation was not essential for development of moral systems. For the most part, the dialogue remained positive, with both of us agreeing on basic principles of truth and goodness, and defining organized religion as mostly fear-based, controlling, hypocritical, and misleading people from truth and goodness.  We talked about how the moral backbone of America has shifted and laws have shifted to reflect this change.  In his view, the moral structure of this country has been compromised by a movement toward political correctness, and frankly he “liked the way things were.”  When I suggested that the ways things were did not necessarily promote fairness and equality, he retorted “life isn’t supposed to be fair.”  We then spent some time reflecting upon the destructive forces of hate and fear, and how they have been common threads in the evolution of our nation.  Knowing my aspiration for a career in government, he called my attention to the collection of bumper stickers that adorn my vehicle.  Like many of my family members, he questioned whether it was in my best interest to advertise my beliefs so conspicuously.  In my defense, I stated that truth should be conspicous if our intention is to live consciously.  He noted that sometimes even truth can be misleading if it promotes fear or hatred, and he mentioned my bumper sticker displaying the message “If You’re Not Outraged, You’re Not Paying Attention.”  After some contemplation, I agreed that, although I desire to expose others to truth to inspire consciousness and empowerment, outrage is not part of my intended result.             

 Later that afternoon,  I admitted to my uncle that I planned to remove that bumper sticker because it no longer reflects Who I Am.  Somehow this morphed into a conversation about great prophets/leaders and how their message is usually thwarted by assassination (i.e. Gandhi, Jesus, MLK, Lincoln, JFK, etc.).  My uncle commented that, much like these great leaders, America serves a similar role on the planet and he is frustrated by protesters and critics who insist on focusing on our imperfections.  I tried to explain how honoring past suffering, learning from our mistakes and acknowledging room for growth was as important as taking pride in our country, especially when many of the cycles of oppression and manipulation keep repeating themselves.  I expressed that the role of any great leader should include a responsibility for self-evalution, visibility and humility.  Eventually our discussion arrived at the mistreatment of Native Americans and blacks throughout our national heritage. My uncle argued that these acts of slavery, genocide and discrmination were acceptable because the result is a stronger America, the great leader of the free world.  Essentially, the end justified the means.  I asked him if it would be acceptable for someone to rape his daughter if it ultimately led to the passing of a law that saved thousands of lives.  He avoided the question and said our European colonial ancestors HAD to kill the Native Americans because if we didn’t do it, France or some other country would have done it and they would not have made this country the great country that it is.  I asked him if it would be ok for someone to steal his car if they could prove that they were preventing someone else from stealing it and that they would take better care of the car than the would-be thief or the rightful owner.  He didn’t answer that one either, because apparently my uncle does not incorporate logic into his reasoning. 

I then asked if he thought it was important to teach everyone about the Holocaust and honor the suffering of victims and compensate the survivors.  He agreed.  I asked if he thought teaching about the Holocaust and honoring the suffering was unfair to the people of Germany who had nothing to do with the Holocaust.  He said “no, but we should remain wary of Germany because they’ve proven to be dangerous.”  I asked, “because of the Holocaust?”  He said “yes, but they’ve also invaded many countries.”  I said, “based on that logic, shouldn’t the entire world fear America?”  When he asserted that America has not invaded any countries, I started listing countries faster than he could follow.  He interrupted the exhaustive list and said it was irrelevant, because when America attacks other countries we are helping them, defending ourselves, or removing a threat. 

To this day, I am still not certain whether my uncle actually believes these ideas or whether he was just playing devil’s advocate to stir my emotion.  Regardless, his fallacious assumptions were sufficient to wake my sleeping dragon and I told him the conversation was over and started to leave the room.  He laughed and scoffed, “there, I got you.  I made you mad.”  Shamefully, I resorted to personal insult with an emphasis on attacking his lack of formal education.  He paused, and responded in the same controlled, emotionless voice, “You’ll need to get better control if you’re going to take on the world.”

Whether he intended it or not, my uncle was teaching me an invaluable lesson.  Right or wrong, good or bad, it’s all irrelevant if we cannot learn to treat each other with respect and approach the diversity of our humanity with the love of our divine nature.  Everyone is living their lives the way they know how.   Even those who manifest horrible suffering or prey on others are merely operating within a framework that makes the most sense based on their experiences.  We should not ignore antisocial behavior or untruths, but if we orient ourselves from a perspective of tolerance and forgiveness we are in a position to produce the most change.  Carl Jung said, “What you resist, persists.”  When hate begets hate, the result is hate multiplied.  But when hate walks into the arms of love, it is revealed as a powerless illusion.

Great leaders understand the way the universe works and inspire and empower others through their example to create positive change.  Many great leaders are murdered because they are a threat to the powerful institutions that rely on fear and hate to control.  There are powerful people who need a system of fear and hate in order to maintain their power.  Great leaders liberate people from the chains of unconsciousness, then direct their focus to the joy of conscious living rather than the retribution of their captors.  

Great leaders ARE great leaders because when all the world is crumbling around them they stay centered in peace and non-judgment and spread messages of unity, tolerance, and love.  If I want to become a great leader, if I truly want to change the world, I must resist the distractions of fear and hate.  Yes, injustices and absurity abound.  Yes, violence and suffering are tragically pervasive.  But if I allow myself to shift focus to resistance of these things, I am only contributing my energy to that which I do not want.  I must learn to find a balance between blissfully ignorant and bitterly aware.   

Later that afternoon, I apologized to my uncle for my angry outburst.  I admitted he was right about hate and fear distracting us from what really matters, and I confessed that I don’t want to be angry or fearful, especially in my dealings with the people I love. He laughed and said’ “I knew I was right.”  I thanked him for teaching me to be a better person, a better teacher, and a better leader, even if I thought his arguments were illogical.  He said I was forgiven and that if he hurt me, it had not been his intention. Then I hugged him…and in his awkward, rigid, emotionally-challenged way, I know he wanted to hug me back.   

While Christmas is a Christian holiday, it was not the original winter holiday and it is certainly not the only winter holiday celebrated by Americans.  However, there is an angry Christian population propagating a message of religious intolerance in backlash to the growing secular holiday movement in America.  Despite a prominent Christian campaign of religious superiority, Christmas actually evolved out of a combination of many non-Christian holidays that existed before the birth of Christ.  The reason for recent American emphasis on “Seasons Greetings” and “Happy Holidays” is a desire to include everyone in the winter holiday celebrations.  It is not an effort to exlude Christians, rather it is recognition that not all Americans celebrate this season as the birth of Christ.  Christians are free to use the word Christmas as they please.  Yet, many Christians have elected to send out cards with more inclusive messages in order to honor the diverse beliefs of their friends and family.  Although some Christians are frustrated by the secular holiday concept because they perceive it as a misrepresentation of the birth of their Savior, it is merely the result of a growing market for non-Christians in America.   Christianity remains the most prevalent organized religon in this country, yet there are millions of Americans who celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Ramadan, Winter Solstice and other winter traditions.  I think it is wonderful for Christians to focus their celebration on Christ in their homes, their churches and their personal lives, but to expect Christmas to be publicly represented as the ONLY national winter holiday in America is selfrighteous and exclusionary.  

   America has always been a diverse nation, and the rights granted by our Constitution extend to everyone, not just Christians.   Contrary to the assertions of some ego-centric Christians, we have not forgotten what this country was built upon, rather we have diversified to the point where non-Christian religious practices protected by the First Amendment have become more popular.  The foundation of this country rests upon a bedrock of personal liberty and religious freedom that prohibits any government interference in the practice of religious beliefs and customs.  How are the rights of Christians threatened by a commerical, media, and government movement toward a secular, inclusive winter holiday tradition?  Christians are not denied the opportunity to celebrate the birth of their Savior or even share their message of salvation with others.  They may decorate their homes as they choose and attend religious ceremonies in their places of worship.   The only thing that is changing is an emerging environment of tolerance in this country.  Politicians have molded their seasonal messages to appeal to ALL citizens, because they recognize that they represent a diverse populace.  Corporations that manufacture and sell products have made a concentrated effort to produce and market goods that appeal to Christians and non-Christians alike because that enables them to increase profit potential. 

No one is asserting that nativity scenes and reference to Christmas should be eliminated from American culture.  The current trend is to remove these Christian symbols as government sanctioned icons in a country where the Constitution prevents our government from making laws that “respect an establishment of religion or prohibit the free exercise thereof.”  Some Christians assert that Christmas should be recognized as the only American winter holiday because our country was founded predominantly by Christians and Christianity remains the most popular religion in the country.  Yet, what is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.  The very purpose of creating a Bill of Rights in our Constitution was to protect the liberties of ALL people and prevent the majority from oppressing the minority.  While it is undisputed that our forefathers practiced Christianity and its influence is evident throughout their early correspondence, it is also undisputed that most of our forefathers were slaveowners who supported discrimination against both blacks and Native Americans.  To base any argument on the rationaliztion that “is has always been this way”, even if accurate, prevents our spiritual evolution as a nation and a species. 

A liberty-loving society is set apart from a theocracy by a professed and demonstrated separation between state and religion.  If American Christians desire to live in a theocracy, there are over 20 countries on the planet that maintain some variety of a Christian state religion.  America is NOT one of them.

Merry Christmas!

  http://www.history.com/minisites/christmas/viewPage?pageId=1252

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas

Denial is a self-inflicted prison.  When we intentionally reject access to truth, we choose to relinquish our power to those who feed us lies.  Critical thinking is about making conscious choices.  We cannot be empowered to make choices when we are ignorant to relevant information impacting those choices.  Absent a scrupulous and thorough exploration of fact, we are merely slaves to popular opinion and fallacies, powerless to control our own lives. 

Perhaps the truth is not something many people want to know, because blissful ignorance relieves personal accountability.  While the Pollyanna mindset has value in maintaining a cheerful disposition, attrocities of humankind are perpetuated when happy people turn a blind eye.    The truth IS overwhelming.   But it is also a liberation from unconsciousness.  Every courageous engagement that pushes us beyond our comfortable illusion provides an opportunity for evolution.  We can only expand our field of view when we shine light in dark places. 

It has been several months now since I made the life choice to become a vegetarian.  Although I had an awareness about the horrors of inhumane practices for many years, I was not moved to change my ways until I forced myself to truly consider the consequences of my actions.  The reality was presented to me in a visually engaging and emotionally raw film titled Earthlings.  I have attached the link for this film for those of you who are willing to look honestly at how our choices impact the world we live in and the creatures who share this planet.  

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1282796533661048967

For those of you who are not, do not judge yourself.   Each of us has our demons. 

Henry Miller once wrote that “the aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”  I think he left out “reverently”.

God Bless the USA!  We are truly a brilliant beacon of light, leading the world out of darkness into a period of infinite prosperity.  Despite a total population of only 5 percent of the planet, we manage to produce more wealth than any other nation and provide billions of dollars of global aid.  But building and maintaining the world’s most successful economy does not come without a cost to our environment.  It is now well-known that the US leads the planet as the top emitter of greenhouse gases, producing 25 percent of the world’s pollution and two-thirds of the world’s toxic wastes.  Yet despite undeniable evidence that our American lifestyle is contributing to global climate change at an alarming rate, our self-righteous government and our willfully ignorant populace continue a consumption culture that is literally devouring the world as we know it. 

 At the United Nations conference this week in Bali, Indonesia, 190 countries (out of 194 that exist) confronted the US for our position as the ONLY industrialized nation to refuse ratification of the Kyoto Protocol climate pact.  As part  of their criticism, world leaders questioned the US rejection of mandatory emissions regulations.

But our smug leadership was quick to defend our greedy and gluttonous ways, touting a recent 1.5 percent decline in carbon dioxide emissions and insisting that voluntary emission cuts will be sufficient to produce the necessary changes.  Nevermind that our OWN Department of Energy credits this reduction to “favorable weather patterns, where both heating and cooling degree-days were lower in 2006 than 2005, and higher energy prices.”

It is laughable and blatantly acrimonious when our Executive insists that the corporations and consumers of the most wasteful, most obese nation in the world can curb an  impending global climate/energy crisis with a little voluntary self-restraint.  C’mon, folks,  we’re not talking about trimming the fat here!  This country needs fullblown liposuction.  Remember, we make up only 5 percent of the world’s population, but consume 25 percent of the world’s oil, one-third of the world’s paper and cars, and 27 percent of the world’s aluminum.  The environmental impact of one American is 12 times greater than that of one person from India and 250 time greater than that of someone from Sub-Saharan Africa, even WITH recycling. 

Despite a growing “green” movement in this country, Americans still consume 2 million plastic bottles, 1 million aluminum cans and 60,000 plastic shopping bags every 5 MINUTES.  If we wait for the evolution of our national conscience to guide this ship, we’ll be cast upon the rocks in a mighty tempest with the rest of the fleet searching in vain for the beams of our lighthouse in a perilous fog! 

God bless the USA!  God save us all!

 

I am of the belief that we all begin our physical experience on this planet at a unique point in our personal spiritual evolution.  Birth is not our initial manifestation; it is merely our latest intiation of a new creation.  Conception is not the beginning of our existence; it is the opening night of our next performance.  Conception is literally the birth of an idea.  Our lives are a collection of our thoughts.  We create our own reality, life after life, in order to participate in whatever lessons we believe will best advance our spiritual development. 

As the director of our reality, we compose a storyline and select a cast of characters to correspond to that plot.  Our life is a summation of our choices.  Of course, when we choose certain people to be players in our scenes, we do not create the performers or their performance.  We can only hope that they are suited for the part based on their audition.  When the curtain rises, there is no guarantee that the actors will follow stage directions or even remember their lines. 

Often we attract people into our life with expectations that do not match their results.  Sometimes we cut people from our lives when they no longer serve our latest creation, but it is not uncomon for us to allow others to rewrite our plot entirely.  Some players serve as inspiration, while others unexpectedly become drama queens who turn any performance into a tragedy.  We are also simultaneously playing roles in the creations of others.  We shift our energy in and out of those projects that appeal to our own character development or allow us to experiment with new genres.  While we can contribute our unique gifts to every part we play, ultimately we do not have creative control over the lives of other people.  If we are not mindful, it is easy to perceive our sudden removal from another’s project as a personal judgment, rather than a natural progression of a script revision. 

 Two of the primary and most influencial players we invite into our life play (or invite to play in our life) are our parents.  We take great care in this selection process, for no other human beings will have such potential creative impact so early in our plot development. The reasons for choosing our parents are not always obvious.  Many times we attract parents who appear to fall short of meeting our basic needs because we desire to experience choices that do not accompany an ideal childhood.  Of course, no childhood is ever perfect, because life is a work in progress and, despite our best intentions, shit happens.  Remember, even with a chronological advantage in this physical reality, our parents are still the evolving product of their choices.  Many people accept the role of parent without a thorough understanding of the character or without genuine foresight that it is a lifelong production. 

This is where I have been blessed.  My parents have not only provided me with an exemplary model for self-exploration and self-definition, they have become trusted and supportive advisors, veracious yet compassionate critics, and humble partners in our co-creation.  So much of what I have done and who I have become has only been a reflection of the admirable examples of my mother and father.  But despite their undeniable influence in my development, they have offered tireless applause to my credit.  Even when I’ve chosen roles that do not serve me or express my best work, they have focused my attention to the positive growth gained from experience.  In my worst performances, they see unbounded potential.  No matter what popular opinion provides, they are season ticket holders to my next creative experiment, always promoting a full house.  And even when I’ve struggled to do more than sit in silence on a dark stage, I have always looked out to a standing ovation of two. 

Life is a collection of choices.  But I’ve had an unfair advantage.