Obama’s Speech to the School Kids- What I learned on the way to the end of my fears

At Booker T. Washington High School in downtown Dallas, they gave President Obama a standing ovation when they saw him enter on the large television screens. Booker T. is my daughter’s alma mater- it’s the performing arts high school. It’s Norah Jone’s alma mater, too. And something she is proud of, also.

So, when I saw the kids there jumping to their feet as the President appeared on-screen, I knew that the people to whom the president was aiming this speech were going to hear it. And as was evident from their comments, they heard it loudly and clearly in a way even most of us adult supporters of the president could not have heard it.

“He was speaking to me,” one small 9th grade boy said.

“He makes me want to get all As this year,” said another.

Many adults, especially- it appears- those of the Caucasian persuasion, were fearful of what the president would inculcate their children with today. I heard them breathing hard and sweating into the cameras pointed toward them as they screamed that the president had no right to tell their children what to think. Maybe they were afraid he would reveal the secret message of the fist-bump to curious fifth graders, or describe the joys of his parent’s interracial sex to shy high schoolers. Given the level of anger and suspicion many of these parents displayed, it is hard to even guess at what kind of jive they were afraid the president would brainwash their un-brainwashed children with.

And, despite the fact that even Laura Bush and Newt Gingrich endorsed the content of Obama’s speech, we know that in today’s America the facts don’t matter nearly as much as what a person wants to believe. If you want to believe Obama is a Muslim, there’s nothing anyone can say, show, or demonstrate that will dissuade you from that belief. In America today, among a certain crowd of fellow believers, you will even be applauded for hanging on to a belief despite the Truth that lies dying in the ditch nearby.

And there are still people waiting for the release of Michelle’s “Whitey” tape and for the Belgian Congo birth certificate of the president. And they’ll wait and they’ll wait because they KNOW they’re right and it doesn’t matter that that astronomy reveals the sun to be the center of the solar system, you silly fools, you can see that the sun rises and sets around the Earth, can’t you?

So here’s what I’ve learned today: All of that noise was preceding the speech was irrelevant. A whole lot of parents kept a whole lot of children out of school and away from the Internet and television today because they were afraid of something that bore no fearful meaning whatsover- liminally, subliminally, or otherwise. They were people being afraid, and that’s all. They would probably call it being protective, but they could have been protective at home, with some intelligent conversation around the dinner table tonight. They could have introduced their children to genuine critical thinking. I assume most of them are capable of that.

Since the noise was irrelevant, I should consider it so as well. AND SO SHOULD THE PRESIDENT! My argument with the president so far, indeed, my disappointment with the president so far is that he is spending too much time trying to be friends with people who don’t like him, did not and will never support him, and whose candidate in the last election was convincingly defeated.

President Obama: those of us who voted for you voted for change, significant change to happen. We wanted our country out of the twin sinkholes of Iraq and Afghanistan that we were lied into. We want war criminals tried, if that is what a grand jury deems them to be. We want sexual preference among adults to not be a factor at all in a person’s enjoyment of their full civil rights. Those are the changes we voted for above and beyond the need this country had for a president who was smart and who didn’t look like every president before and who was running with a vice-presidential candidate who didn’t scare the living socks off of us as we imagined him possibly becoming president. That’s what we voted for, Obama, not how many friends you could make among the people who had gotten us into the military and economic quagmire we are in now.

So, while many many, many of my friends are Republican, most of whom I would take a bullet for (and they know it), I must tell them that I will not listen to their political views with any more fear. Theirr politics are coming to an end. The world can’t be the way it was in the 50’s; they’ve spent us into a hell hole of unimaginable depth, and while they can try to blame the other party for that, the statistics of Reagan, Bush, and Bush tell another story. Unfortunately, I voted right there beside them until 2006, when I saw the light. It’s not a bright light- Pelosi and Reid are both standing in it after all- but it is a whole lot brighter than the dim fluorescents pirated out of Enron’s headquarters.

And I know this: that the loudest among you old-timers- those who fussed the most about Obama’s Svengali grip on the minds of school kids, some you made asses of yourselves. And your kids saw you doing it. And while they no doubt still love you, they have seen you be wrong, over-reactive, maybe even goofy. Statistics show that that has happened a lot recently. During the 80s and 90s you preached and preached and preached about the takeover of schools and government by those with a gay agenda. You made bogeymen out of young men dying of AIDS so that you wouldn’t have to confront the sympathetic response you deeply felt toward them. (We all know it is easier to fear and hate than it is to give in to love, especially if that love- holy cow!- might be misconstrued as fag love!).

The point is, you painted the homosexual community into something it wasn’t. At all. Your kids went to college, got jobs, and moved into apartments near and with these men and women. They even became friends with them! They found out that you had been wrong about them, and that some of you and some of your preachers had been lying about them to you. They even found out that there seems to be a direct relationship between the loud rantings of an anti-gay protester and his desire to passionately kiss the object of his fury!

So you lost more young people in your loud and silly protests over this speech today.

Good.

And knowing those things, I won’t be so upset the next time. Your numbers are decreasing even as the spittle from your radio and television leaders is increasing. Even as the crazed rantings of Beck and Limbaugh and Hannity grow louder, more and more young people are hearing them, and the demographic slice of their advertising pie grows older by the day.

(Thank you again, young people of Booker T. Washington High School, Dallas, Texas. I’m giving you my own private standing ovation right now!)

God, Sex, Goliath, and Other Scary Things..

What’s wrong? Here’s the answer:

(These thoughts are complicatedly interrelated as most of the thoughts in all of our minds are. I admire deeply, though, those persons that are able to simplify in ways that I can’t. Bear with me. I promise some new ideas here that will affect the way some of you see the world from this point on. Really!)

Families, Bands, and Tribes

Our species evolved and spent most its communal history in bands of families and tribes of bands. Families bonded together for security and diversification of the gene pool, and crossed the difficult barriers of geography and suspicion to become bands. The people who lived on that side of the mountain needed to get at animals on the other side of the mountain and- “oh, by the way, while we’re over there hunting can we procreate with your people?”

(Trying my best to simplify- I trust you understand. This is cultural anthropology in the smallest nutshell it’s ever been crammed into.)

The bands became tribes. Not overnight and not automatically, but as populations increased and as climate changes (like ice melt), geographical episodes (like volcanoes), and animal migrations or extinctions occurred, the advantages of cooperation over competition were hard to ignore! Now, Americans, think Ojibway, Dakotah, Chipppewa, or Apache. Those are tribes– they lived in districts, many lived in smaller bands, they spread out over a geography, and sometimes at peace and sometimes at struggle with adjacent tribes. What united them was the geography, the resources they learned to share (Apaches and the earliest horses, for instance), language, and shared DNA. A member of a tribe knew they could move from valley to valley without harm, because that was tribal land. They also knew they might have problems on the other side of the valley, over the mountain, because that was the land of another tribe.

Stories

Stories evolve among any group of people over time and every tribe on earth was abundant with them. Stories informed those who heard them how to think, how to act, and what the tribe determined was important to know. The shared knowledge of tribes through the telling of stories is why we as humans are still vital (too vital from other species’ viewpoints!). The Dakotah had stories about the Cold and Buffalo, the Aleutians had stories about shifting ice and Walruses (is more than one Walrus, Walri?), the Aztec had stories Warm Seas and Fish, etc, etc, etc.

These stories were how children learned. They weren’t “made up” stories. They were truths that had been observed, or thought about; conclusions about the world around them were made, and those thoughts and conclusions were made memorable and interesting through stories. The stories contained the most current truths available.

Now, here’s the part that has everything to do with today: One way to make sure children in a tribe knew their place, understood their role, and knew to never go over that mountain was through fear. Fear works. Has, does, and will. It’s no accident that the purveyor of bad tidings in the Garden of Eden was a Serpent (hissss!) rather than a cow or a chicken (yum!). Nor, continuing with the familiar stories of the Hebrew tribe, was it surprising that the awful, horrible, sneaky Philistines had a secret weapon (Goliath) or that the loose-living, oft-married Samaritans were trash. Both were good reasons to keep the kids who were feeling their wild oats blooming, at home, where having no other gods before YHWH was much more manageable.

More To Come

OK, I’m going to continue with this tomorrow, and I will deal with these two ideas:

1. Humans lived in tribes a long, long, long time- longer than any of us have the ability to imagine. Ideas and concepts are as deeply a part of us as our physical structure or repertoire of emotions are, and as our abilities to stand erect and run evolved, so did our need for stories and the structure with which they were told. Stories are in us. We need them.

2. We live in a time, however, when we do not need to be afraid, out of ignorance, of the people who live on the other side of the mountain. Our tribe is global now. The separations no longer keep us alive by insuring our safety. The separations now, exacerbated by fools, are going to kill us. Our stories must be re-written.

A Religious New Year’s Resolution

I wish sometimes, I really do..I wish I could slip into a 24 hour emotional coma where Bowl Games were important to me, where I cared for just a little while about what kind of car I drive, or what Jennifer Anniston thinks about anything.

I would like to breathe, just for a little while- long enough to gather strength against the endless soul-bruising I feel condemned at times to live within- I would like to breathe the foreign air of “I just don’t give a damn.” I would like to be able knock a beer (as the phrase is put in hard-drinking, easy-thinking circles) and know that it would stop the world long enough for me to go to sleep one night without a single nagging needle of over-extended empathy jabbing at my heart.

I would like to experience a whole day someday, a day that would enable me to remember what it was like to not have stories like these from this day acid-raining on my parade:

For Kurdish Girls, An Ancient, Painful Ritual of Circumcision

and

Egyptian Girl Kept As Slave in California Home

These two headlines happen to be fueled by Islam. It would be just as easy on another day to find such stories of cruelty, intolerance, or mythologically-based stupidity rising from Christianity, Hinduism, or Judaism. (If you doubt that statement, and don’t have the ability or skills to go Googling for yourself, message me and I’ll send some examples your way. At this moment, I don’t have the emotional wherewithal to subject myself to more such UTTER, AWFUL, DEHUMANIZING, GODDAMNING, DESPICABLE crap being dispensed incessantly by those who keep the gods of their foul fantasies trapped in the uncritical, unthinking, and unevolved confines of their reptilian, always reactive imaginations.)

Despite overwhelming evidence indicating otherwise, each of us really do have the kingdom of heaven beating somewhere in our beings aching, wanting, striving to find expression in the environments, large and small, in which we each find ourselves.  I also believe that each of us has the ability to cause that kingdom-of -heaven reality to be present and evident for the benefit of ourselves and others when we are aware of its presence in us.

And I dislike to admit it, but I must: that presence may best be found and understood by examining that which makes us most uncomfortable. In other words- for me- it is the boundary-pushing kingdom of heaven in me that makes me want to retreat at times, from it. I’d rather watch a football game and be excited by it, than contemplate the horror of a nine-year-old girl being hacked on because..because.. because NOBODY KNOWS WHY!!!  (“We don’t know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it,” says the mother of a little girl whose clitoris has just been cut off.)

The only thing I know to do is to do something- something, anything, each day, in however many days I might have, to expose, fight, ridicule, or- God,help me-  stand between religious cruelty and its victims. I can bitch, whine, or tilt at windmills, or I can do something.  I can look the other way, pretend my wishes of paragraph #1 have been granted, or stop exposing myself to that which pains me most poignantly, or I can make some tiny difference which- like a seed- may grow.

Therefore, I choose (and promise), beginning today, to do one thing each day to chink at the foundations of religion. I’d rather spread Doubt, than Blind Obedience. I’d rather make an ass of myself doing some thing, than not be noticed at all, doing nothing at all, causing not a single fissure in the landscape of a world where, because of the misogynist dogma of  fear-created gods, there are still little girls..

screaming.

God, damn religion too. Amen.

Was Blind, But Now I See..Part I

Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see. (Blindness, Jose Saramago, pg. 326)

Luke 4:16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

I once was lost, but now am found..was blind, but now I see.. (“Amazing Grace,” John Newton)

I’m not anticipating with any glee whatsoever, what I am about to begin writing. Most of what I write (or think, or preach, or eat, or do) is motivated by Want– I want to write about nature; I want to eat mashed potatoes with hamburger gravy; I want to go to South Padre Island next week. And I will do, because I want to, all of those things.

But, kind of like the occasional serving of greens peas that I eat at a dinner party so I do not appear to be rude, there also those things which I, or any of us, must do. These personal essays about being blind are, therefore, motivated by Must, rather than Want.

(There are few things I find more repulsive to eat than green peas. Don’t ask me why; I don’t know why. You’ve got an illogical, indefinable revulsion about some food, too- I know you do. So I know you know something of the feeling I’m talking about. I put the peas in my mouth, try to keep my tongue from touching them, dare not chew [!], then swallow quickly, and hope I don’t obviously gag.)

After reading Jose Saramago’s Blindness several weeks ago, enough of a new vocabulary permeated the boundaries of my thinking, that previously unformed groups of thoughts, ideas, and even dreads began to coalesce into what has become, for me, a new coherence. Vague feelings of confusion and concern which have a way, when they are inexpressible, of descending (personally, anyway) into anger or depression, seem to be backlit now; I have been able to begin to think about them in new ways, shadowy as they might still be.

I was emerging, with a language, from a very real blindness which had been caused in large measure, by an inadequacy of words with which to communicate, to myself or anyone else. But it was not a good feeling: it was flat-out alarming! I had gotten used to living with a mild, unfocussed alarm over “what it is I do not know specifically.” But vague shapes and washed-out colors have now begun to gel and brighten; I can see them well enough to feel the need (I apologize ahead of time) to shout them.

This entry serves as a warning then: future entries will begin with this same title but be followed by a specific word. You will see words like Life, Death, Religion, Time, Science, Technology, Politics, and Evil following “Was blind, but now I see..” My point in telling you this is that you may not want to see, or you may be highly interested in the particular word of the day, but not want to read about what I am seeing. So be it. Skip that day’s essay, or all of them. My personal therapy is to write, and plant seeds of curiosity and thought in doing so. Some of those seeds will blow away, some will be eaten by birds, some will be washed downstream, but some might take root and grow.

And I think some of them, all of them eventually, must. And soon. We have lived under a veil- luckily, some of us- for so very long that it feels comfortable in the darkness. The air might be stuffy, we may rarely be able to discern real Light, but having gotten used to such things, we don’t even notice we are breathing harder and struggling to see with less and less success.

I think we’ve been blind; I know I have been blind, much of my life, to much of what I have only begun to see, to look at critically, and then to observe contemplatively. While we’ve been blind, others have been dying and suffering en masse because of the majority’s inability to see.

I know I’m not alone in my “shouting.” I am simply one more in a long long line of known and unknown men and women throughout the ages who could not stop seeing, once they had begun. I also hope there are many millions more that will transcend my voice and vision with greater eloquence, insight, and urgency.

Tomorrow’s word: Hope

Salitter

Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road. This book of fiction, perhaps prophecy, follows several days of the journey of a man and his son over the burned and devastated terrain of our planet.  Their quest is for food.

McCarthy’s use of language is razor-sharp and spare. His words slice cleanly and deeply into the ashen surroundings which the man and boy know are all they will ever know. Occasionally, however, we are able to recognize how very finely honed is the knife of McCarthy’s word-crafting skills, as he reaches into time for that one word that will speak his intent. This paragraph, seven lines of hauntingly fluid evocation of the emptiness the pair must face, describes the man’s walking alone onto a road:

The black shape of it running from dark to dark. Then a distant low rumble. Not thunder. You could feel it under your feet. A sound without cognate and so without description. Something imponderable shifting out there in the dark. The earth itself contracting with the cold. It did not come again. What time of year? What age the child? … The silence. The salitter drying from the earth. The mudstained shapes of flooded cities burned to the waterline. At a crossroads a ground set with dolmen stones where the spoken bones of oracles lay moldering. No sound but the wind.[P220]

Salitter.

Search for the word; it will not be found in dictionaries or in recent literature. Search more, though- this is the reader’s quest for spiritual food- and only when I found it did I know how hungry I had been for it.

Salitter seems only to have occurred, used in this way, in the writings of Jakob Boehme, a 17th century German Christian mystic. Here is enough of what he says about it, to begin to understand the exquisite choice made by McCarthy in using the word:

“What is in Paradise is made of the celestial Salitter..[it] is clear, resplendent..The forces of the celestial Salitter give rise to celestial fruits flowers, and vegetation.” (1.)

Salitter, as used by Boehme, as used by McCarthy, is the essence of God. It is the essence of God which is “drying from the earth” in this apocalyptic novel. It is the end of the Earth for humanity, and also the abandonment of the Earth by what had been divine.

As humans seeking to know, then understand, then communicate, we are all bound by the language we know. Our language is our always-personal set of metaphors which we grasp at, and sometimes are successful in doing so, in order to describe whatever-it-is that we are perceiving that we need to share. Often, we feel frustrated in being able to convey the depths of meaning, or wonder, or urgency about a particular subject because we don’t have the words we want in the repertoire  of words we know. We feel sometimes like the painter who wants to paint a wildflower field, but has only her fingertips and must smear a wildflower field instead. Some things demand a precision in description beyond the impressionistic display of colors.

I have watched ocean tides, purple thistle blossoms, my dogs’ trust, and babies’ laughter. I have heard cicada songs, whispered confessions, Gregorian chants, and the squeaking of bamboo growing. I have held the hands of dying people in my own and tasted tears of both heartache and joy. I have ached to describe the commonalities in all of these things; I have crumpled pages of text in my inability to convey to my own satisfaction,  the relatedness of all things beautiful, the essence of goodness which permeates all that is.

No more.

I will use it very sparingly and with respect for those who probably do not yet know it, but salitter is one of those words which give me great satisfaction. It means what I have wanted some particular word to mean for many years. It is both transcendent and specific and, for some persons, who might want to know exactly what it is I am describing, and whose curiosity will take them beyond the easy sources of definition, salitter will be revelatory.

Then, should that ever happen, I will have been able to pass on the gift given to me by McCarthy.

1. Further definition of the term as used by Boehme may be found here, in Boehme: An Intellectual Biography of the Seventeenth Century Philosopher and Mystic, by Andrew Weeks, SUNY Press, 1991.

~Further gratitude to Miranda McLeod and Joshua Weber 🙂

Advice from a Local Preacher..

Here’s the handout for a talk I’m giving today to the Senior High School graduates..

5 Pieces of Advice You Didn’t Ask Me For, Didn’t Know You Needed, and Can Dump the Moment You Leave Here, or..

you can kind of listen to them, stick them in a drawer somewhere, run across them someday, and then say, “hmmm..who was the guy that said these really good things?”

Our Town, TX, June 6, 2008

 1.  Never stop asking questions. Be curious, be amazed, daydream, get lost on purpose, and wonder “Why?” every chance you get.

2.  Live in love, not fear. Those are your only two choices. Hold onto someone’s hand during the scary parts, and respect rattlesnakes, angry people, and tornados. But don’t let anyone or anything make you so frightened that you live a half life.

3.  Look around right now. Now is where we live. Now is where we are breathing, sitting, and experiencing. You can throw Now away by regretting yesterday, or feeling anxious about tomorrow. Or you can be alive- right now. Now is the Main Thing. In a little while, it will be something else.

4.  Make your circles bigger. Discover that those people at the edges are really interesting!  Go out of your way to meet someone who is a different race, speaks a different language, who is lost, or afraid, is younger/older, richer/poorer, attractive/repulsive.  Then listen. Ask those questions! See the world in colors you haven’t seen yet!

5.  Realize- know, believe, understand, and accept- that YOU are a vital part of God’s Continuing Creation. We’re not here to take, we are here to give. Takers rarely experience happiness. Givers are swimming in it. Give God a kiss every day- our human survival depends on it!

Desperately Seeking ‘Victim’ Status

The movie ““Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” opens in general release April 18th. Because of its anti-evolution stance, I have followed the movie’s pre-release marketing to the conservative Christian market with much interest. The premise of the movie is that scientists who entertain the Intelligent Design “theory” of Creation are systematically being discriminated against- expelled- by the larger scientific community.

While there apparently is no overt Christian content being promulgated by the film, there is little doubt that the conservative creationist Christian community is being targeted for the bulk of ticket sales. Piggy-backing on the remarkable success of the pre-release marketing of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, producers of “Expelled” have held special screenings across the country for conservative Christian leaders, school personnel, and others who they are confidant will create a “word of mouth” buzz about the movie. The producers have even created a method for Christian groups to use the movie as a fund raiser during the important opening weekends of the film.

The movie’s website makes much use of the word “Darwinism” as a synonym for evolutionary theory. This over-use of “Darwinism” is, in fact, one of the things which caught my interest concerning the motivations behind the movie. To describe evolutionary theory as “Darwinism” at this point is like describing gravitational theory as “Newtonianism.” (and, yes, the study of gravity still emanates from various theoretical positions. Theories are not, to paraphrase Isaac Asimov, crazy ideas thought up by groups of scientists after a night of drinking and carousing. They are fluid bases for connecting facts and ideas, subject to research and peer review- temporal and historical peer review wherein theories are modified, added to, and subject to sometimes scathing criticism.)

Theories begin when someone, somewhere puts ideas together in a laboratory beaker, in an archeological study,  or some other place of intellectual inquiry and curiosity. The results of combining curiosity with evidence usually results- during those first moments of observation and initial understanding- in an “Aha!” or, most often, in a “What the..?”

“Galileoism ” (Oops, I mean “Physics”) has grown from the publishing of a single paper in the 16th century which was condemned by the reigning Roman Catholic hierarchy of Europe, into a multi-faceted discipline of scientific inquiry that now comes up with far more questions than concrete answers. Which is what any good and valid theory will do! Stupid, baseless theories- Flat Earth theory, for instance- are shunted off to the cellars of intellectualism very quickly. They do not lead to new questions; they lead only to dead end answers based on easily reviewed facts. They remain valid only in the minds of crack-pots and those with Bronze Age axes to grind.

So, “Darwinism” is a buzz word, purely and simply. Darwin saw what he saw, with no knowledge of DNA or access to a electron microscope, and wrote down what he saw, and what he concluded about what he saw, in his 1859 classic The Origin of Species. It was a brilliant work, but it was only a beginning. Like all theories, parts of Darwin’s have held up through time, parts have been argued about and discarded, and parts of it remain open to continuing, complex, ever-increasing, and valid scientific inquiry. Darwin birthed questions by the 1000s, and a few good answers.

Intelligent Design is a compromise by creationists’s with the overwhelming evidence of evolution. It is their attempt to keep their definition of a humanly-imaginable, humanly-understandable, and a humanly-emotional and motivated god in the mix. Their definition of a watchmaker-god is part of the post-industrialist worldview that sees the universe as a collection of fitting-together pieces, rather than as a unified whole. They need answers to questions, rather than more questions, because they are afraid they will lose grasp of God, and be unable, therefore, to control what we know about God, otherwise.

It is shoddy, silly, and confusing “science.” And here is exactly the kind of “intellectual” discussion such goofiness leads to- from the official “Expelled” blog:

“Until the late 1980’s when the generic ‘President’s Day’ became the official holiday that subsumed them, America used to celebrate the birthdays of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

“As a result, “Darwin Day” has now supplanted Lincoln’s Birthday in the popular imagination; both men were born on February 12, 1809.

“We think that that is a shame.”

From a “scientific theory” to claims of victimization, in one utterly irrelevant rant. A challenge: find someone today, anywhere, for whom February 12 has “captured their imagination” as Darwin Day. But when they don’t have any verifiable, peer reviewable, honest and forthright facts to back up their silly ‘theories’ then they must resort to victimization. “They’re picking on me!” they cry to each other.

Yes, IDers, you are being picked on. For a reason: you’re wrong. You are trying to diminish God and you are clouding our children’s education. And, apparently, based on the reviews so far, you’ve made a really bad movie,too.