Wednesday, November 30, 2005

God is Dead, Lennon Lives!


Cover story on the Nov. 28 issue of Newsweek:

Darwin gets bigger billing than John Lennon!

And John Lennon said HE was bigger than Jesus.

Guess it's all in how you look at it.

And how history looks at it: Of course deathwise, Darwin did get a 98 year head start on Lennon, but me thinks there is some irony to the old man's top billing, crusty photo and all. Lennon's radicalism was, in the big scheme of things, a fashion, more than the average fad to be sure, bigger than chia pets, bigger than Britney, but a fad none the less. A fad with substance, to be sure, and heart, a keeper. Lennon's legacy is not going away anytime soon.

But then it seems Sir Darwin is here to stay, too. He's even on the British ten pound note - which shows the Brits have more guts than the namby pamby Americans who might well put Ms. Spears on a five spot before they'd give Darwin his due.

It's an interesting juxtaposition on the cover of Newsweek, Lennon up in the corner, Darwin up front center. No one else could have done what Lennon, the artist, did, and his artistry does live on and on "and we all shine on and on and on..." "Imagine there's no heaven." John didn't kill Jesus, and Charles didn't kill God. There is some irony and danger in buying the premise that Darwin somehow killed God. In fact, somebody else would have put the puzzle pieces together - it was inevitable, just as it was inevitable that someone figure out light bulbs and computer chips and the age of distant stars. In the article, director of the Human Genome Project and evangelical Christian Francis Collins is quoted as saying that a faith-based views of how we got here and why we are how we are say "if there's some part of science that you can't understand, that must be where God is. Historically, that hasn't gone well. And if science does figure out [how this all came to be] - and I believe it's very likely that science will... then where is God?"

That's a pretty darn enlightened evangelical, I'd have to say. Most are stuck in the dark ages compared to that.

God is where he/she/it has always been, poised merely as the gap between rational and irrational thought. There is plenty we don't know, but why fear that? We are on the road to finding out, even if not every one of us "understands" or can even imagine the answers.

Science has it's personalities, but it doesn't really depend on specific people. Given reasonable thought and a good method, it's mostly a matter of time, not dependent, as were the Beatles, on one artist, right and ripe for his time. Therefore, science is not mad, and it does have a method. Indeed, after reworking his finding for two decades, Darwin finally raced to publish his famous "The Origin of Species" to ward off the work of younger scientists making similar discoveries.

Any WHO, here's my quick take on why this ruckus now, almost 150 post "The Origin," and already 80 years post Scopes:

Don't take me to your leader.

In the land of the one-eyed king, the majority of his hapless subjects wear BLINDERS.

Hence and thus - how we find our own over-worked, over-wrought and blatantly bedraggled semi-united states today under the 'Chosen One' rule of Cock-Eyed George.

That's one sizeable stumble for a man, one giant boondoggle for mankind.

Cheers anyway, and no way no body here'z abouts Blogland is makin' a monkey outta no body!

And happy daze, y'all.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Gift Giving Season

What's gotten into gift giving and gift giving season?

Of course it's been going on for years, escalating for decades, but I'm seeing these ads for all sorts of tawdry things deemed great Christmas gifts. Loud music? Electronic appliances? And even horrific things like preposterously MEAN-spirited movies and computer games. Great Christmas gifts?

Stuff everywhere, and those who speak out against this tide of STUFF are drowned out by the roar of the tsunami. What about the quiet center of the storm?

What would Jesus give?

Surely, the most likely thing he'd do is break some bread with us, maybe share some wine.

But even in modern America, what would Jesus give? Maybe not Nintendo. Maybe not Spiderman. Maybe not hockey or football tickets.

Maybe some simple, plain foods, a blanket, a little firewood, a sweater (to those most threadbare), maybe a bottle of wine, champagne if he was feeling frisky.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Day After, Let's Go Shopping

The ladies, that is, mostly, and some legions of their sleigh-driving husbands, waiting outside big box stores and malls with the mostest at 5 AM, 6 AM, 7 AM, and after that, it's too late! The holiday shopping season is in full swing by round abouts 8, and it's gangbusters, even if there is, actually, as much milling and looking and mad-dashing as there is actual buying.

But at least now, it's official, no need to hide one's craven urges to spend galore on one's loved ones and SELF, oh by the way. But it was on SALE, and they might not be there later!

There is a popular myth that this day, the day after Thanksgiving, is the busiest shopping day of the year. Actually, that is not true in dollar sales (Christmas Eve is always the biggest dollar day of the year), but I think there some interesting reasons why so many of us feel it's the busiest:

1. We've just had a whole day off when we couldn't go shopping. We have pent up desires.

2. It's official, as I said, like the first day of hunting season. The deer are ripe and ready for the kill but not so wary of the sound of guns or, in the case of shoppers, long lines, cash registers and credit card bills. The bills come weeks later, and don't you know the credit card companies want it that way.

3. Nog and grog. Too much of the food and guy stuff, games and meat on Turkeybird Day. Too much kitchen time and KP, not just cooking. We consumed internally Thursday. Friday is for consuming externally.

4. more soon

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Declaration of Thanksgiving

Both "Thanksgiving" and "traumatic" begin with the letter T, it seems for good reason. Ever seen the movie "Home for the Holidays?" Well, there are strains (and I do mean strains) of my family in there. But through thick and thin (make that extra thick and extremely thin), I have spent EVERY Thanksgiving of my life with my parents, haven't missed one yet, though the thought of missing (or more accurately boycotting) has crossed my mind. So it is a charged holiday and not only for me but for many, apparently for MILLIONS. Why? Because it is a holiday invested with deep emotions and longings that get exposed or lost or both in all the activity and high anxiety. American families are a far-flung and splintered bunch, and they're reunions are not often low-key, much less seemless. Anyway, after some years of not making a Thanksgiving statment, I decided I had to this year, and just an hour before lunch was to be haphazardly served (or more like offered), I steered clear of the minefields to take a little solace sitting in my car, and like the Gettysburg address Lincoln scribbled on an envelope, I hurriedly jotted down some words on little pieces of pocket-sized notebook paper, not time for editing, much less REVISION. And no turning back.

The heart and sould were so lacking this year, and yet I was so in control of my own absorption of the tension and even the blows, I had to do something to put a little heart back into it - and to play up my newly fresh role as the Dalai Lawrence of the clattering clan.

Gathered round, pre-roast beast, here's what I read aloud to the family gathered at Thanksgiving in the old house on the Campbell Walker farm in Tin Top, Texas:

I propose that life is about virtue - and that Thanksgiving is about of the basic virtues, one of the basic attributes of healthy and honorable people. And that virtue is gratitude.

Some years ago, I read a wonderful book titled "How to Want What You Have." The author said that life is about three things above all: paying quality attention, expressing compassion, especially to those with whom compassion is a challenge - and that third thing, gratitude, showing gratitude.

And so I am grateful to be alive. I thank my parents and family for helping to bring me this life and for helping me to be on this path - not necessarily on a path of their chosing but a path I have learned to cherish and to love.

I thank my friends for the quality attention and knowing compassion we share reciprocally and at least somewhat respectfully.

I thank myself for living a life of fascinating ideas, inspiration, honor and growth.

This year, I have been penniless and proud, scared and brave, depressed and elated, humbled and heroic.

I have learned to live many days as if each would be my last. And recently, I came up with a pet phrase to express my progress. Now, when someone asks, "So how are you doing?" I can say I have found personal peace and satisfaction. Each day, this way, is a trial and a triumph.

In his book "Man's Search for Meaning," Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl said that the only thing that is inalienable to each human being is his or her attitude. I can now take full responsibility for mine, for my attitude. And my attitudes are ofttimes at least influenced by all sorts of virtues - other attributes essential to "wanting what you have."

Openness and honesty top this list as always have, being central as they are to the Golden Rule. No secrets, no deception. Then comes that favorite of the Dalai Lama - kindness, the most basic building block of the honorable life. I am thankful for every kindness I receive and every kindness I offer.

We each want honor and want to feel we deserve to honor ourselves. And many of us are brave enough to wish to and strive to honor others, some even when the challenge to do so is frightening and feels extremely risky.

I give thanks today and now every day to the virtues I work to live by - grace, kindness, patience, acceptance, clarity, wisdom, freedom, choice and bravery.

My thanks to all who aspire to this quest and who make their ways along this journey.

Thanksgiving Day, 2005

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Giving Thanks

Seems we'd be a better nation with a big dose of humility this time of year, and yes, you know me - 365 days a year.

It's just a week 'til Thanksgiving, a holiday based, as are most other American holidays, on EXCESS.

Americans just aren't really raised much to lean toward humility. That's why our older relatives who talked about humble things and humbler times seemed so quaint even years ago. That's why the Dalai Lama and monks stand out. Americans do seem to be drawn to audacious music stars and sports stars. But we've got just enough of our puritan roots and common decency left to want our American brand of audacity to not run rough shod over ever segment of the evening news.

That's why the more audacious of our political and cultural leaders - especially if they are white - try to keep the shriller threads of their audacity under wraps, a la Mssrs. Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush.

Their humility is not only an act, it is a lie. And unfortunately, we don't have a heroic Churchill or Lincoln or Gandhi when we need one. Their voices would (and do) get lost in the madding crowd, talk-radio blather that passes for culture most days of the year.

But what about now? What about the week approaching Thanksgiving? And the intentionally humble aspects of the Jesus story? The silent night sort of undercurrent now deeply buried beneath rockin' around our updside down Christmas trees and getting schnockered on nog.

Seems with more humility, we would give a lot more thanks and thanks of a higher quality. Glad to have good water. Finding joy in a sweater, in a nice check-out person, in hearing our car start smoothly, in listening to some soothing music.

It's not just quantity of thanks of course - that would lead us back to the problem here, like stuffing ourselves silly: EXCESS. Not even thanks should be excessive, thus feigned and acted and even fake. No, thanks itself needs quality, just the right dance of true love and appreciation for having made it this far alive, having made it to today and tomorrow and this week with even a sliver of hope, a slice of joy, a piece of possibility and some Peace, capital P, peace somewhere, sometimes, for each of us, no matter where we are.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

One Year Anniversary: A Better Nation / abetternation

Yep, amazingly enough, it's already been a whole year since I started this here blog, and I made it well past ten months before I even let my intention of posting once a day, M-F, slip. That was in October, and still I intend to backtrack and fill in the gaps so as to keep by ABN things all on the up and up - better late than never.

And inquiring minds want to know.

I started A Better Nation post Election Blues. Post trauma disorder. Post stress disorder. But of course, the trauma and stress of the last election are still baring down on not only me and the likes of me but on the whole world. So nothing's really "post." It's all ongoing.

Reagan set this whole thing in motion. Though maybe we could say that even Reagan, pre-1976, when he hit his stride nationally and gave the sitting president, Gerald Ford, a run for his money. Reagan just tapped into a growing undercurrent of religious and regressive strife and stress that was already re-emerging in the culture. But he was, sorry to say now, the right man at the right time for that cause. And he changed American culture then and ever since.

1980 and 1984 were the great watershed elections, not 2000, not 2004. Bush is still riding the slovenly coattails of deception and deceipt Reagan's media-meisters invented and nearly perfected.

And so, post Bush the Younger's RE-election, I had to do SOMETHING to voice my concerns for this nation and to speak the truth (at least to myself and a few loyal readers) about what I think, as an American Studies Guy, will make this a better nation.

At times, ABN has delved into the personal, and indeed, my personal posts have gotten the greatest responses - and been the most encouraging to me to persevere. But at heart, my public voice, even when personal, is political, as I consider all things personal to be political - and all things political to be personal.

And so, we've got to keep connecting the two. That's what a vibrant democracy is about - connecting the political to the personal and vice versa, to remind ourselves daily and DEEPLY that an informed and inspired democracy is what matters - not just any old democracy, where nuts for gods and ghosts rule the day but where inspired and informed and INVOLVED citizens participate.

Even if that is only by pounding out their own shreads of information and ideas on a keyboard, posting them day after day to a blog and hope there's someone out there listening - meaning reading, paying attention and acting on what is GOOD, working for... a better nation - and of course, a better world.

Thanks, dear readers.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A World Turning Yellow

I don't think I've ever seen my yard and the views out my windows and around town turn so yellow. The Chinese Pistache, one of the few non-native species I can accept, are spectacular; their yellow is, truly, that almost miraculously BOLD aspen GLOW, not just yellow but glowing yellow, almost effervescent in the afternoon light. And one of my favorite native species to the Texas Hill Country, the Mexican Buckeye, is right there, too, changing all too quickly from lime-ish green to pure yellow to burnished gold, then more slowly to brown (on the ground). But even the floor of my yard is now yellow in patterns and arrangements any fan of Zen could appreciate. It is a marvelous time - and reminds me downright rapturously how precious are the most beautiful days of autumn, my favorite season.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Will Rogers on War, Ours and Others'

As duly noted, yesterday was Will Rogers' birthday. Here now are a few more poignantly relevant quotations from the man who, on the one hand, said he 'never met a man he didn't like,' and who, on the other hand, knew how to skewer the political and the powerful... with a smile.

Here now, some things Rogers said that relate to America's war in Iraq.

"We do more talking progress than we do progressing."

'Liberty don't work nearly as good in practice as it does in speeches."

"Rumor travels faster, but it don't stay put as long as truth."

"A remark generally hurts in proportion to its truth."

"What degree of egotism is it that makes a nation or a religious organization think theirs is the very thing for the Chinese or the Zulus [or the Iraqis]? Why, we can't even Christianize our own legislators."

"If we can just let other people alone and do their own fighting, we would be in good shape. When you get in trouble five thousand miles away from home you've got to have been looking for it."

"I have a scheme for stopping war. It's this: no nation is allowed to enter a war until they have paid for the last one."

"There is only one way in the world to prevent war, and that is, FOR EVERY NATION TO TEND TO ITS OWN BUSINESS. Trace any war that ever was and you will find some nation was trying to tell some other nation how to run their business."

"We are always saying, 'Let the law take its course.' But what we mean is "Let the law take OUR course.'"

"We could never understand why Mexico [and can you name a few other countries?] wasn't just crazy about us, for we had always had their good will and oil and coffee and minerals at heart."

"We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others."

Perhaps I'll be brave enough to end here with a quotation that sort of lets these dunce and mad-hatted cronies of imperialism off the hook, just a bit.

"Let's stop blaming the President and the Republicans for all this. Why, they're not smart enough to have thought of all that's been happening to us lately."


But then, I ask you, when it comes to high office, when high crimes are at stake, and high mindedness is supposed to trump high and heavy handedness, since when has ignorance been an excuse?

Alas, oh, what a world. Thank you, Mr. Rogers.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Will Rogers on Bushco & Our Times

Will Rogers was born on this day in 1879 near Claremore, Oklahoma. The phenomenally popular and beloved entertainer and laconically 'plains-spoken' court jester of the commentariat died in a plane crash in Alaska in 1935, but much of what he said about politics and America during his time relates oh so very telling to our time.

Here are some things Will Rogers said that relate directly to our times (specifically the ongoing Reagan-Bush-Bush fiasco) which come to mind.

Will Rogers right on, then and now:

"Well folks, I just finished shooting scenes here in Washington for a movie of the old stage play 'A Texas Steer.' It was the story of a man elected to Washington on bought votes. We are bringing it up to date by not changing it at all...."

"Last year we said, 'Things can't go on like this,' and they didn't. They got worse."

To clarify: "The Republicans have a habit of having three bad years and one good year, and the good one always happens to be election year."

Yes, it's the short memories of American voters is what keeps our politicians in office."

And, "wouldn't it be great if other countries started electing by the ballot instead of the bullet, and us electing by ballot instead of by the bullion?"

Yep, "we'll show the world we're prosperous, even if we have to go broke to do it."

"The principle bad feature [about all the money in politics] is that it will make more men want to hold office, and once a man wants to hold a public office he is absolutely no good for honest work."

"We have the best Congress money can buy."

"You can't believe a thing you read in regard to the officials' statements. The minute anything happens connected with official life, it's just like a cold night - everybody is trying to cover up."

"The Republican Convention opened with a prayer. If the Lord can see his way clear to bless the Republican Party the way it's been carrying on, then the rest of us ought to get it without even asking for it."

... more from Will Rogers ON WAR tomorrow.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Two Great Self-Help Books

In brief, let me recommend two especially good and (I think) effective self-help/psychology books I've read recently:

The first is Excess Baggage: Getting Out of Your Own Way, by Judith Sills, who happens to be the author of another very helpful book I really like, A Fine Romance.

The second is Taking Responsibility: Self-Reliance and the Accountable Life, by Nathaniel Branden, author of many renowned books on self-esteem.

Both authors hold PhD's in psychology. Both cut to the chase. Both hold you accountable without the TV-clipped talk of a "doctor" like Dr. Phil. This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around... this ain't no easy 30 minute TV slot.

These are two exceptionally well-written and insightful tools to help you make changes you might want to make.

I can't recommend books more highly.

Cheers - and cherish CHANGE for the better!