Christmas Presents

You cannot buy happiness. For anyone- not yourself, your spouse, your children, or your boss. You can buy a brief period of satisfaction. How brief? Watch the kids tearing into the next present..and adult attention spans aren’t that much longer.

The GREAT LIE in America is that happiness (as defined by television script writers) is available to anyone whose means and desires coincide. And advertisers keep the sweet carrots dangling just a little bit beyond everyone’s reach, so that no one is ever quite there, where X marks the spot that happiness, true happiness, will finally begin. (Even Lottery winners get the blues: there are many sad stories in that chapter of the New American Dream.)

Last week, I stood in line at the local Fred’s behind a couple who were juggling two credit cards to buy what looked Round One of their Christmas gift orgy. Among the items was a battery operated model of Bill Clinton playing a saxophone. Here’s what it looks like:

Yeah, that’s all it does. How quickly will Uncle Bill tire of that thing? That thing will be in someone’s yard sale by April. Along with probably 25% of December’s Gross National Product, which is quickly becoming China’s Very Gross National Profit. How many gallons of foreign oil were used in this year’s manufacture of those Bill Clinton saxophone toys? And, how much landfill space will they still be occupying 30,000 years from now when the plastic in them finally begins to break down?

So here’s my point: There are alternatives– places where you can spend money and affect the future in positive ways for generations to come. Here are three:

logoLeafy3

Kiva is a micro-lender. You can make loans to small business people in places around the world. Your $25, $50, or $100 is added to similar amounts from other lenders to finance the $500 to $1500 loans being requested. The payback rate is close to 100%, and when your money is paid back, you can either get it back or re-invest in someone else’s business.  Some people on my list this year are getting KIVA gift certificates so they can experience the same fun I’ve had giving six women and three men on four continents a real hand up in their lives.

sevalogo 

The SEVA Foundation is also in the business of fighting poverty and disease through self-help projects. And the array of those projects is fascinating. Last year, my wife received a gift from me, given in her name, which enabled two Mayan women in Mexico to be trained as mid wives.

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The Heifer Project is an elder statesman in the world of really good places to share your resources. Last year, each of my three children received a flock of ducks, going to Cambodia. Others received from me a flock of chickens, a goat, and some trees. All of these things are given to the recipients with the understanding that they will use the gifts for both food and income, and that they will give away some of the new chicks, kids, and saplings that result from their work. They are gifts that keep on giving for real.

Two years ago, I received from friends a llama in Ecuador and part of a community water well in South Africa. I’ve never seen either of those gifts, but they are the ones from that Christmas that I remember best. They are making a continuing difference in the lives of people, as they continue to make a difference in my own.

It’s a pretty cool bandwagon. Jump aboard! We’ll meet there at the X where real happiness is always waiting.

Build a Shelter of Light and Air..

I ran across this phrase, and it fascinates me:

shelter light and air

It is fascinating to me because of its Simplicity and Truth. And that Simplicity and Truth is found not only in the images or recollections which the phrase gives rise to in our imaginations or memories; it is the clean nature of the statement itself.

Build a shelter of light and air

Stated in the imperative, it is like a command that has been waiting to be spoken. It is a place which I am perceived to be ready for now- by whom?- and being invited to enter. But first- the imperative- there is work to be done, assembly to be undertaken.

The first task, for me, is disassociation from those things- things, stuff, material- that I have allowed to define me and, in the process, bend me. Because that is what stuff does, it bends the shape of the Image of God, the humanity in us, into the shape of whatever shiny baubles attract us. I have learned to feel my way in the dark with my wallet. I breathe in the smog of others’ desires for me to have the satisfaction that only they can sell to me. I am vulnerable and I have been injured, over and over, because I have traded too many times the security I was born with- the security of community with others- for the individual and illusory safety of bank account numbers and one more gadget.

I have forgotten so much about sharing. But I have remembered enough to know that holding my hands outward, toward others, is eminently more rewarding than holding them clenched and thrust within my pockets. I want to make room for the Image of God to be growing again, through the presence of others, and not stunted any longer through the weight of all my stuff. So it begins there.

The second task is to “let there be light.” Yes, that Light. The Light that comes not from the sun, and certainly not from any incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs; I want more of the Light the ancient rabbis called First Understanding. I want the Light of more Knowledge, yes, but even more than that, I want the Light of Appreciation and Acceptance of what I already do know. I want to spend less and less time criticizing, evaluating, deciding, and then second-guessing, than I do in feeling passionately about and cultivating the facts, ideas, and opinions that are already in me and that I know to be valuable. I want to continue moving from whatever is dark in me, toward that which is Light, and awaits me.

And then, to breathe. I want to breathe through walls which separate me from the pulse of the world around me. I want the Air, the lightness of being which surrounds us all, to be the only barrier between myself and others. I do not want to fight for air behind musty walls of tradition, or within stale spaces of ancient standards. I no longer want to gasp for air within the stench of dogmatic death.

I want to feel the ruach, the breath of God, always blowing against me, always being drawn into my being. I want to feel led by the Spirit into open spaces, and not pushed by the status quo against the brick walls of fear built by others.

I want to build a structure of Light and Air with others, for others, because of others, and live there, too.

That is the only structure, a structure of Understanding and Freedom, that will withstand the onslaught of those who live, instead, in forts, ready to fight and die for the beliefs they cherish and store within dark, thick, impermeable walls. It is the Structure of Light and of Air in which I will live and toward which I am moving.

I beg you to come along. We will need each other, to help each other disassemble, unpack, and even tear down some of what we thought, by ourselves, was precious. We will need each other to remind the other that the Light is sometimes uncomfortable but always illuminating, and that the Air is often harsh and cold, even as it is life-giving and clean.

We will build a structure of Light and of Air and we will say, “Welcome” to all who come nearby.

Christmas will be on a Tuesday this year..

aluminum xmastree2

It’s always on the same day of the week as my birthday, which was two days ago, a Tuesday. I discovered that “same day” fact at some point in seventh or eighth grade study hall, after I had (no doubt) broken all available pencil leads drawing cartoons of various teachers, gone to the restroom several times, and finished reading whatever James Bond book was in my possession that day.

Be that as it may, and all that is to say, the Christmas spending orgy is about to commence. Jesus will, again, be honored best this year by pushing our Gross National Product through the retail roof! Walmart, Target, and L.L.Bean will again become the hallmarks of American holiness as millions prove their love for baby Jesus by spending, spending, spending themselves into a January nightmare.

But what are a few more 29.9% maxxxed out credit cards compared to the half hour of joy to be experienced by children of all ages as they tear through carefully wrapped gift packages before finally settling down to watch the Christmas Edition of “The Price is Right?” After all, isn’t that exactly what was set in motion by God in that Bethlehem stable 2000 years ago- the right to keep and bear arms full of plastic things molded in China and cloth things sewn in various parts of the Pacific and Caribbean rims?

I notice you can get a jump on Christmas tinsel-spending by jumping on the Halloween lighting bandwagon currently being driven into our collective consciousness by the Chinese-American Plastics Consortium (motto: “Americans Will Buy Anything We Tell Them To!”). There are more orange-colored lights hanging on doorways this year than last year and, barring natural disasters, there are probably less this year than there will be next year. By that time, the Halloween light trend-setters will be needing to replace their antiquated sets from 2006 and this great new niche in the Useless Stuff marketplace will have taken on a full life of its own!

halloween lightset

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and this year he’s wearing a wool/polyester blend with genuine baby seal trim from Abercombie and Fitch. And you can demonstrate your own holiday spirit this year with a matching outfit- only 495.oo! (hat, boots, and other accessories, extra) Self-indulge yourself this Christmas with 2007’s versions of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; you’ll be glad, for all of ten minutes, that you did!

Or….

logoLeafy3

Go to Kiva.org. Find a small business person somewhere in the third world and help them get the amazingly small loan they need to expand their business. Dream for him or her. Hope for their families. Then lend as little as 25 bucks to them in the name of someone on your Christmas list, instead of buying that someone a tie or bauble for their already too-heavy charm bracelet.

Baby Jesus will smile.

 

Televangelist Juanita Bynum prepares to mine the Church’s pockets some more..my take on 2002’s "Cute Christian Couple" of the Year..

Two weeks after her husband, Bishop Thomas Weeks, wrestled her to the ground in the parking lot of an Atlanta hotel, beat her, and then was pulled off of her by a hotel bellhop, Televangelist Juanita Bynum has filed for divorce. (Read about it here)

This chapter in the marriage of Christian Nobility comes just five years after the million dollar televised extravaganza of the couple’s wedding ceremony, which featured a wedding party of 80, 1,000 guests, a 12- piece orchestra, and a 7.76-carat diamond ring. The black-tie wedding featured flowers flown in from around the world. “My dress,” Bynum said, “took nine months to make. All of the crystals (Swarovski) on the gown were hand-sewn. The headpiece was sterling silver, hand-designed. (Source)

They are the personification of Bling Bling Christianity and Self-serving Sham Spirituality. The glitz of the world is just stuff to be accumulated by them, shown off by them, flaunted and fought over by them, at the expense of thousands of slavish admirers who they have cowed into believing that the Jesus they preach is the Jesus who wants nothing more than to line YOUR pockets with the kind of cash that Thomas and Juanita have in their pockets (and designer purses).

They are darlings of the Fraternity of Christian Television Truth-benders who have molded the message of Jesus into a message of Prosperity (for themselves), who have turned The Way of Jesus into a driveway filled with Mercedes, leading to the front doors of their palatial estate homes, and who justify themselves by bestowing titles (Prophetess, Bishop, Annointed) on each other.

Now, since her beating, Bynum has said her ministry will focus on Domestic Violence. Well, good, that is always a timely topic. But I suspect these prophetic pimps (and pimpettes); I suspect Bynum of capitalizing (with cash and credit cards) on her recent problems. Yesterday, she appeared in the backseat of the Pimpmobile- Trinity Broadcasting Network– to proclaim her ‘forgiveness’ of her husband and to announce her new ministry to women victims of DV everywhere.

How about some time off from the cash flow machine, Ms. Bynum? How about telling women to do what they need to do to get their abusive spouses behind bars, and THEN cry their crocodile tears of forgiveness? How about showing your sincerity by liquidating some of your massive assets (does anyone really need TWO homes?) and seeding some women’s shelters for women and children who, unlike you, have NO financial or human resources to fall into the arms of? Or maybe take that 7.6 carat wedding band off and sell it to another Pimping Pastor, while you give the blood money assets to the Africans who mined those stones for virtual slave wages?

“Follow me,” Jesus invited the Sons of Thunder, and you, and me. Not to a choice of manors in the country, not to a million dollar orgy of self-appreciation, not to yet another New Pitch for funds, and certainly not for the seeking of ego-swelling sympathy and misdirected compassion. He invited us to sacrifice, and to a cross. For the sake of others, not ourselves.

Can I get a witness???

Can I?

Thou

Thou

I’m adding another blog to which I will occasionally be adding pieces. Whatever else I may be writing about, I believe the stuff there will reflect my greatest passion: the need for me, you, all of us- all of humanity- to begin or continue changing the ways we see and understand the Earth and the universe, and our own places within them.

All I can do, all any of us can do, is let loose memes into the imaginations of each other, and pray that some of them take root, and grow. Our old answers have cumulatively led to a world on the brink of nuclear and/or biological catastrophe. It is time to either re-think our viewpoints, or remember the attitudes buried deep within our DNA that enabled humankind to flourish cooperatively with the Earth for over a million years.

The underlying reasons for my doing this blog- Thou– and for the mindset which gave rise to it, are what follows. However you can help me understand and participate in this Great Story, as Thomas Berry has called it, please let me know.

Martin Buber’s book, I and Thou, published in 1923, examined the language of interpersonal relationship and dialogue, and how that attitudinal language can affect the nature of our personal realities. He said that humans have the opportunity of adopting one of two attitudes about themselves in relation to their world: I- Thou, or I- It.

The I- Thou relationship involves the individual engaging the world in its entirety. That relationship does not isolate the individual within a special set of circumstances and characteristics; rather, the individual is in a dialogue, a mutually enhancing, learning and growing relationship with everything, with all people and all things.

The I- It attitude isolates the individual into a special, usually higher category of circumstances, which makes an equally and mutually beneficial relationship between that individual and their world, more difficult. That attitude is the gateway to all types of exploitation, abuse, and injustice, as the individual is prone to regard all of that which is outside of himself, as lesser than himself.

I am not a philosopher. I can barely hang onto most philosophical treatises and esoteric philosophical discussions. But Buber’s ideas resounded in me the moment I first read of them, many years ago. I began to feel a sense of liberation, which continues and expands to this day, from attitudinal chains around my mind and heart that would bind me to a particular role or place; from color-leeching filters over my eyes that kept the world’s true vibrancies from being seen by me; and from particular lies of self-perception that were hindering the world’s love for me, and my own love for the world.

To be in dialogue with the world is not easy for anyone who lives within the predominate cosmology of the day, even as we are aware and learning about that cosmology. It has shaped us, as worldviews have always shaped the consciousness of humans, even as human consciousness is shaping, or reinforcing, the predominate worldview. Humans have a long, long history of regarding themselves as set apart and special, the apex of a Creator’s intentions and artistry. But they have a much longer history, before that present and predominate worldview, of regarding themselves as arising from, in communion with, and vital to the world, as the world was to them.

 I believe that that ancient interaction with our environment- with other humans, animals, the seas, the trees, and all things, in community- is our true nature. And it is in re-establishing that dialogue, that regard, with all that is, that we as a species will be able to survive. Our course, right now, is one hell-bent in opposition to, and exploitation of, all that is It.

 We must begin, and many have, to speak to the world and the universe as we would speak to those most intimate to us- as Thou.

 As you..

God Damn Dog Fighting

(That’s a prayer, by the way..)

It looks like Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick will feel the revulsion of the NFL for his off-the-field pastime of dog fighting, as Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to announce Vick’s suspension this week for the 07-08 season.

Hopefully, Nike and other members of Vick’s endorsement gravy train will follow suit.

Any doubts about what the NFL is doing to Vick? This should eliminate any thoughts of “unfairness” someone might still be harboring:

dogfighting

That’s what a human fingerprint looks like, gouged into a pit bull’s face. If it’s nauseating, that’s my point. It is meant to be.

It is almost unfathomable at times what humans are capable of doing to animals. Dog fighting, cock fighting, exotic animal hunting, and even rattlesnake round ups are systemic manifestations of the religiously chauvinistic attitude that humans are at top of the food chain and, therefore, “have dominion..over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1: 28) That single biblical phrase, twisted in the minds of men who measure their virility by the blood they can cause to flow from other living beings, or by the neglect they have institutionalized under the agenda of economic development, puts us- this generation- directly in the path of what has been called the Sixth Great Extinction.

440 million years ago, 85% of marine animals were wiped out in the First Great Extinction. 367 million years ago, many fish and 70% of marine invertebrates met their doom. 245 million years ago, 95% of all animal species died. 208 million years ago, another extinction of sea animals primarily, but also some land animals took place. And 65 million years ago, 3/4 of all species, including the dinosaurs, were eliminated.

All of these five great extinctions occurred because of volcanic eruptions, meteorite strikes, and changing climates. This sixth great extinction is one we are able to witness and one which we are largely the cause of. (Statistics from Earth Policy Institute)

It is estimated that 10 million species inhabit the earth with humans. And each year, 1000s of these species, including microrganisms, are lost forever. Deforestation, mining, urbanization, and ocean pollution and over harvesting are the primary reasons.

How do the attitudes and actions of Michael Vick fit into this dismal picture?

Perfectly.

As long as our human and predominate worldview is one which regards everything outside of ourselves as, well, outside of ourselves, then the abuse and death of pit bulls behind barns in the Virginia countryside, as well as the poaching deaths of Mountain Gorillas in the Congo, will continue. As long we crush our natural empathetic response to other living beings, with the mechanistic attitude that we’re in control of the toolbox, then it will continue to be easy to regard other species as things– in our way, expendable, toys for our amusement, even trash.

Imagine the outcome of a democratic vote by the world’s species on which species should be next in line for extinction?

Amen

 

 

 

On the Beach..with a BlackBerry

A banker, on vacation in St. Tropez, quoted in an article this morning at Financial Times:

“Everyone is on a high state of alert, so there are going to be many people like me making sure we keep in touch – and that means keeping your BlackBerry on. Normally in August banks run on half or two-thirds of normal staff, which can make it difficult, so every banker has to remain vigilant, even if you’re on the beach like me.”

There will come that one, last perfect day when such a comment is spoken to others, acknowledged affirmatively by others, and embraced by others, both enviously or in agreement. It will be heard that day uncritically, acceptably, without questioning. The importance of the statement will be unchallenged. The normalcy of the statement will further add to that last perfect day’s harmonious discourse.

Then, somewhere, perhaps on another beach- almost certainly on another beach, a mountainside somewhere, in a field full of wildflowers, or beside a trout stream- someone will ask, “Does it matter?” Does it matter that I have more than I need, less than I want? Does it matter that the markets a world away are defining, even here, my relationship with all that I can see around me? Does it matter that I cannot hear the symphonies of the sunshine and oceans for the the digital clatter that is filling my heart?

And, over days, decades, centuries perhaps, that one last perfect day will be remembered as the day humankind began to turn- away from themselves, and toward the Light. One by one, unnoticed for years, first here then there then there and there and there, the Light will be seen, acknowledged, and begin to shine through the darkness born of religious tradition, economic acquiescence, and national historical perspectives. Light will begin to shine across political borders, across chasms of cultural chauvinism, and through masks of ego-driven motivations.

There will be that one last perfect day, before someone, somewhere looks at their BlackBerry one last time, then drops it. And steps on it. And lifts their eyes to see the blue, crystalline waters of the Mediterranean for the first time ever..

Worst Commercial Ever?

This has nothing to do with anything. But I offer it here in the belief that if you have something to laugh at on Monday morning, then laughs might come easier throughout the week..

How could anyone stay away?? It’s just like a mini-mall, after all, after all..It’s just like, a mini-mall, c’mon down, come down y’all..

Bush and Beer

President Bush apparently is drinking again. If he truly did have a drinking problem, as he said he did, then this is the video of a tragic event. It bothers me greatly that the BBC commentator so easily excuses Bush’s absence the next day at G8 meetings on Africa, as being the fault of a “stomach complaint.”

Yeah, I’ve known stomach complaints in the past. Stomach complaints were a pretty normal thing in my life, once upon a time. And you, Mr. President, did not have a stomach complaint.

Relapses are often- too often- a part of recovery from addiction. But they must be met head-on with honesty. If those around the addict make excuses or lie about the addict’s relapse, then they are doing nothing more than enabling the destructive behavior to continue. If President Bush truly was a drunk, and didn’t just say he was in order to garner the AA vote, then he is in far worse trouble than even his already dismal popularity polls indicate.

I’m not talking from theory here. Thirteen years of not drinking did not stop me from fondly hearing that beer being poured (badly, I might add) or wanting very much to drink it. It looked waaay too good, still. But I also know that one beer would lead to two beers, and two beers could easily lead to not stopping at all.

And I (obviously) have too much to say to let that happen..

Good Memes..for a Good World

 

The word “meme” was coined about fifteen years ago to help us understand the transmission of cultural ideas through societies and through time. It sounds similar to the word “gene” and that’s on purpose. Genes are, of course, those tiniest of information carriers within our DNA, which transmit specific biological information onto subsequent generations. Memes act in similar ways to genes, although the actual “thing” that they are, is not as easily identified. Some examples of cultural ideas and actions, passed on widely through space and time, will be helpful:

 

Shaking hands when meeting someone new

Singing “Happy Birthday” for someone’s birth anniversary

Bowing one’s head in prayer

Particular hairstyles

Shoes

The story of Santa Claus

All of these things feel right and normal to some people, perhaps most people. But there was a first time for each of them. They are ideas that are not instinctual, like eating or reproducing, but learned. How and why some things are learned, accepted, and shared agreeably with others who also accept them, are what the study of memes is about. We can view memes with some objectivity, instead of merely accepting them as tradition. Thus, we can also affect the transmission of new ones. The Advertising industry has understood this for quite a long time without having a specific word for what it was they were passing on into society, through time. “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette _______” can be completed by everyone over 45, but no one under 40. It’s a meme that has run its course.

Some memes, on the other hand, are huge (compared to the story of Santa Claus anyway).

Democracy is one, Charity is another. And, like cigarette advertising, there are some huge memes that have run their course, too, and we must do what we can to help eliminate them before they kill us all. Specifically, I’m talking about all the cultural excuses we maintain that separate from other humans. Stereotyping memes continue to be passed on, despite the total lack of any basis for them, we now know, within our genes. Stereotyping- being suspicious of others because of physical or cultural differences- is a cultural artifact that continues to cause people to go to war, die, and live in fear. It’s an artifact that remains from ancient days when it was impossible to communicate, see, or know about people of other races or nationalities. We were afraid of the unknown and acted according.

The communication methodologies we have available today, from printed matter to television to the Internet, have gone a long way in helping all humans to begin to see similarities and relatedness within our species. It’s hard to hate someone whose eyes you have looked into, or who you know loves their children as much as you love yours.

We have the means here on the Internet, to help spread new memes that say we are much more like each other than unlike. These are the kinds of memes than will one day, when as many people believe them as today believe in shaking hands, cause more and more peace and understanding to happen. Here are three sites whose builders are committed to doing that. Tell others about them and help change your grandchildren’s world:

http://www.6billionothers.org

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http://100percenthuman.org (comes with music)

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http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_the_clash (comes with music)

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