Thursday, December 22, 2005

Love and Letting Go

ABN aphorism for the day:

We never throw away the people who love us best and most or whom we love best and most. But sometimes we do let them go.

Or get let go. So it goes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Jesus According to John

Well, no, not THAT John, the Baptist, but our John, John Lennon:

"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink.... We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first-rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

That got the thinking man's Beatle into hot water for the rest of his life and a good bit of his afterlife as well.

But what's really bigger than Jesus these days? What's bigger than the Beatles? Bigger than Iraq and Bush and Reality TV and anything else?

The most blogged person in 2005, that's who.

...Britney Spears....

She's bigger than Jesus. Oh, what a species we are!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Judge Jones & Jesus

Good week for "Jesus Week" here, what with the breaking news about Judge John Jones' decision in the Dover, PA, case brought by parents against the school board for insisting that "intelligent design" be mentioned alongside "the theory of evolution."

Actually, Jesus might not have a whole heck of a lot to say on the matter, seeing as he was a New Testament sort of guy, not all caught up in the (even in 30 AD) rather dated allegories of the Old Testament. But that wouldn't and WON'T stop his modern sheep from bleeting their brains out hoping to send us back to the dark ages, flat earth around which the sun revolves and all that. Jesus' humility seems rather passe among the proponents of ANTI-nature/ANTI-reason. They prefer a load of supernatural hokum and HUBRIS.

But praise the lord, and pass the ammunition.

Judge Jones' ruling is to ID what the Gettysburg Address was to war fatalities.

In a stroke of succinct genius (definitely a sentence intelligently designed), Judge Jones said: "The supernatural may be true, but it's not science." And he went on to say that things besides and beyond religion are moral and that the purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to overcome it. Wow, and this from a Bush appointee!

Goodness gracious, now THAT'S a festivus for the rest of us.

And yes, this just in: Just like the rest of us, Judge Jones was also "creaded in God's image."

Monday, December 19, 2005

It's Jesus Week Here @ ABN

Yep, last week was "Gift Week." This week it's "Jesus Week" @ ABN.

I'll be digging up some quotations attributed to Jesus - and not in that high falootin' King James english, either. We here at ABN don't subscribe to the old addage, "If the King's English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me." (That was Ma Ferguson, former governor of... Texas.) No, we recall that Jesus was: a late bloomer, a commited bachelor, a footnote of the contemporary counterculture, a cultist, a mearly homeless man of the streets, an outlaw, at times a flowery idealist and at other times a bitter cynic, full of fire and brimstone. And he wasn't a Christian, ironically enough, or the idolatrous member of any particular church or congregation. He was a nomad and in many ways not the institutional monolithic, megachurch big whig preacher man of his times, not the John Wayne or the Ronald Reagan or those devilish Pats of the True Blue Right. He had more in common with Michael Moore than he did with the devoutly "born again" Reagan aid Michael Deevers. Yes, it turns out Jesus was a rebel with a fairly unpopular cause, one the government AND the rabble considered dangerous at the time. Spiritually, Jesus was the James Dean of his time.

We must also remember that no one who ever knew the man personally ever wrote about him. All accounts are second hand, third hand and many times more removed from their mysterious and enigmatic source.

But back to that source, if we can, here are a few things Jesus supposedly said, some in the frustrating midst of his penultimate conversion to pacifism:

"Be as cunning as snakes but as innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16b)

"But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one." (Luke 22:36)

"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luke 12:29)

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword." (Matthew 10:34-36)

"The reason I speak to them in parables is that 'seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.'" (Matthew 13:13)

"Woe to you when all speak well of you." (Luke 6:26)

More surprising golden nuggets tomorrow, sans The Golden Rule (which Jesus was not quoted as having proclaimed).

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wishlists & Mine

OK, Monday I took the high road re: gifts, but I also made a list of a bunch of things, fairly ordinary things, really, that are personal to me and which I do truly cherish.

Christmas is best if it's both: the remembrance and attention to humble virtues AND a little pile of nice things. Things aren't bad. Things are wonderful, and things are a reasonable way to express our caring, as I've said. Not everyone can become our personal parent or savior or shoulder, so they give us things instead, and that can be very fine.

Some ask for wish lists, and that's ok. Not everyone can zero in on giving much appreciated gifts. Some like to feel around covertly and some, with the wish list, overtly.

So, we come full circle this week, back to things.

Even living on fumes this season, I've been playing Elf L quite a bit the last few weeks, and some wish to reciprocate. Wishlists can be a roadmap for reciprocation, with grace, a good thing.

Here are a few things on my list, and I've checked it many more times than twice.

First off, I have a rather ambitious (and laborious?) wish list at Amazon, now creeping up towards 600 things. I reviewed it not too long ago, and really, that's good stuff for me. As one friend said, it even reveals not only a record of my interests but now, cumulatively, the RANGE of my interests. It's an artifact in itself. Explore it, explore me.

And how 'bout those lovely Timberland Carlsbad shoes in black, conveniently available in the L. L. Bean catalog, size 10 1/2.

Right there, too: Sherpa zip front cardigan sweater, L. L. Bean, size med.

And those nifty Wildcat slip on snow boots at the Bean, size 11, granite.

I've been craving some of those nifty Keen Newport sandals in dark blue nylon, size 10, REI and elsewhere.

For my epic hikes, I'd like to upgrade to a Black Diamond Vector IQ headlamp, also REI and elsewhere.

Target's always got things I want. About now, those brushed nickel torchiere lamps with reading lights are great, and I want two to redo my living room.

Target's also got the Brinkman 9 LED Flashlight and the Leatherman Juice S4 multitool, real guy stuff - and classic Coyote Guy stuff.

Emerson stainless steel front .9 cu. ft. microwave, "Pro Series," recently on sale at Tarrr-ghay.

A new refridgerator, small (10 cu ft or less, even 4.4 is ok), "Energy Star" rated.

Remington 3.25 HP 16" chainsaw, on sale at building supply behemoths.

Oster stainless steel convection oven, recently on sale at Sears.

Of course, what I really need is a bill payer and a benefactor, but who likes that behind-the-scenes stuff? It's quietly impressive, but alas, real saviors don't shine under (or on top of) the tree. Still...

World Peace? Wishing myself there were a god out there so inclined, but it seems not.

Back down to Earth, another fave store: Campmor.

That Smartwool Smart Beanie in sapphire at Campmor seems a keeper. It's a $16 heirloom.

And that Mountainsmith Phantom backpack (size large) is on sale for $100 off. Wow, I could go places with that lightweight beauty strapped to my back.

Other out there gear: Jetboil stove, Thermarest Prolite 4 short sleeping pad, Katadyn Mini Filter, and fleece, fleece, fleece.

My gosh, if I have a religion for things, it comes down to a few categories really close to home - or close to the heart: FLEECE, good shoes, blankets. What I said earlier this week about sweaters not being love, it's no wonder that so many people give so many sweaters at Christmas.

There is warmth and comfort in the box, and that's getting closer.

Happy gift giving to ALL. Remember, whether it is a dollar or a dinosaur, a glass of water or a flute of champagne, a toaster oven or a toasty sweater, give with flair and you're there!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Crunch That Stole Christmas

Overheard in the long line at the post office:

"I think it's easier to just send money."

Certainly the Crunch, when you and those around you are in the spirit, is part of the fun - seeing others mulling over and snapping up and wrapping up stuff to give to others can be a joy, surely ought to be a joy.

But then, we Americans in the Material World do go overboard.

Heard on the radio program "Marketplace" this evening: The total national debt, including government debt, corporate debt and personal debt, for every adult and child in the United States is: $136,000.

So overboard we go, when somewhere there's a faint echo of that melancholy Charlie Brown chorus, the shaking off of dried pine needles, the Christian call for utter humility. Not just overboard but doing the Big Disconnect at the same time.

So yes it's hard to keep it all at bay and to do the season and the day the right way.

On "All Things Considered," host Michelle Norris did a piece about her LFTs or Least Favorite Toys, most of them loud, all of them to any sane person, somehow obnoxious. And they're popular, too. Plenty of Americans like obnoxious gifts. Seems there's a mean streak in there somewhere, and what would any peace loving person say about that? Ninja fighters for Christmas? Spank Me Elmo? A little mayhem under the mistletoe?

And parents say they are victims and that their children are victims, that the culture and the TV made them do - or kept them from not doing it. A sure sign of overboard and blinders: have so many really lost the ability to say "no"? And the wisdom to know when and how to say "no, I know those things attract your attention and are popular, but we've got better things to play with and better things to do"?

So the Crunch that's stealing Christmas is not just the crunch of crowds and credit cards and surly last minute shoppers, it's the crunch of lilly-livered weakness, the fear of principle, the fear of restraint, the fear of how to make less really be MORE - more value, more heart, more soul, more substance, more astute amibition, more peace and quiet, more quality time - and less quantity of STUFF that, sooner or later, is all headed to the landfill.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Give of Yourself

A good gift is about two people or more, never just one. A good gift is about the giver and the given to, and it is meant to symbolize, even literally materialize, that relationship, that social or emotional bond.

Seems there's been yacking about the over comercialization of Christmas for decades. "Miracle on 34th Street" certainly touched on the theme over 70 years ago, and Charles Dickens had his take on it, too.

Now you may want that flat screen TV piled high on a pile of stuff as high as the Christmas tree, but maybe that might embarrass you a little, a bunch of boxes of gear. (And what is this with wives buying their husbands 3-packs of plain briefs to go under the tree? Too practical, isn't that kinda pathetic, even a guy needs underwear? Get it on sale after New Year's and give a cup of nog. The humility of briefs aside, a cup of nog or a $1 candle would be more sporting for something that's meant to be festive.)

So if the over commercialization bothers you ever, it's not too late to do something about it. You can scale back today, tonight. Go with what you've got. Wrap it in fun ways. Make a ritual of opening things. Have the nog and candle handy. Sit back. Keep your pajamas on not just for an extra hour but for a few extra days - including the day after Christmas - that mad dash out the door the next day seems like a big set back to me. Are all those dashers just downright addicted?

And, of course, give of yourself. A flat screen TV is not love. A new computer is not love. The L. L. Bean catalog and the folks at Lands' End might like for you to think a cozy sweater is love, but even Mr. Rogers' sweater he wore himself is not love. Time is love. Attention. Relaxation. Nothing better to do. Being together, just being, being thankful, smiling. From Jesus to the Beatles, love escapes us in our mad dash to get there, ending up other places.

So hone in, focus, and give of yourself, and you'll be reminded that love is not all we need, but it very may well be what we need most.

ADDENDUM: Here are two novel sorts of gift lists to help steer one's friends and relations and well-wishers: 1, Things I Have Enough of For Now, and 2, Things I No Longer Use or Need.

1, Things I Have Enough of For Now:

denim anything
bicycle clothes
bicycle gear
crew neck sweaters
most anything cotton
books (except on my Amazon list)
magazines (renewing very few)

2, Things I No Longer Use or Need:

button down shirts
plaids and patterns
plastic items
games, puzzles
bright colors
purple and green
car accessories


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Thought That Counts

So if it really is the thought that counts, why don't we mind thinking about gift giving more - and more often? I think, in a particular, snotty materialist culture, we're really kinda afraid of giving gifts - wrong size, wrong color, last year's model, doesn't fit, isn't compatible, don't like it and say so, secretly don't like it and actually resent having received it!

Let the thought count for the first 24 hours, and you've got it made. Wallow in the care, no matter how little actual care is there. We don't need to weigh every ounce of care. That it is there is enough, most of the time.

But then, don't be so afraid, I would say. There are ways to nuance gift giving to encourage courtliness and good manners and a modicum of gratitude. Don't press. Don't insist each and every person open their gifts right then and there in front of you. Don't watch them like hawks for their reactions that may, honestly, have to be acts, partly, to be gracious and grateful. Such aggressive gift giving reveals the gifters own insecurities - and may press the buttons of the recipient's insecurities and sensitivities as well.

And what is this with, more and more it seems, gift givers insisting they be told exactly what you want? If not having you spell it out for them or even get it for them to be reimbursed (!), they lay in such heavy hints (needing obvious clues), and it sort of spoils the whimsy and grace of so many gift giving situations.

Gift givers do best when they've done a little (or a lot) of rather sly and secretive homework. Gifts are about showing you know the person, at least a little, in addition to showing you care about them. So gift givers, come up with useful and enjoyable but not entirely agreed upon things or even predictable things.

Showing thought behind the thing itself accounts for not just some but MOST of the grace behind a gift.

It is the thought that counts.

Monday, December 12, 2005

It's GIFT WEEK Here at ABN

All this week, the subject is gifts - and not just STUFF but the generosity and gratitude aspects as well as... many others, so stay tuned!

MONDAY: The First Gift: Thanks (and Some Gifts Which Have Mattered to Me)
TUESDAY: It's the Thought (and the Whimsy) That Count
WEDNESDAY: Giving of Oneself in a Material Age
THURSDAY: Things I Have Enough Of
FRIDAY: My Wishlist!

And so... the first gift is what Thanksgiving is all about. The first gift is thanks.

Best if we give thanks even before thinking we might receive. Saw a T-shirt in Target recently that was one of those smirky holiday goofball designs, and it's bold green and red slogan said, "It's the thought that counts," as if, 'Hey buddy, you're gettin' to read my T-shirt. What more do you want?"

What a smirky society we live in. Shame on Target, usually classier than that.

We've belittled generosity and thanks to such an extent that I sometimes get the feeling, as I go around the stores in December, that people are just as excited to snap up half the holiday loot for themselves. And what's this RUSH, anyway? Why a rush to pile it up and make the pile higher and higher? The Grinch stole Christmas, but HE gave it back.

We get some good cheer this time of year and some whimsy, and we get to see grown men even in the grocery store and places like Home Depot wearing silly Santa hats, but we get those long lines and that sneer, too.

I was in Lowe's tonight, and a man wispered under his breath, "fucking lazy bitch" after a cordial cashier directed him to customer service. I went up to her and asked if she'd heard him. She had. She'd admirably let it go, turning the other cheek, as it were. But I commiserated with her, wistful that some/so many just don't seem to get it about the Christmas Spirit.

She thanked me. I thanked her. We felt better, both of us I think, for realizing that letting some things go is an ok way to be. Otherwise, what? Lowe's rage? Target rage? Mall rage? Parking lot rage? It's bad enough that the Christmas Spirit doesn't seem to lend itself too well to our parking lots, roads and highways. There must be something very un-Christian or un-Jesus like about cars, about driving, about being behind the wheel (and the windshield) of a large automobile.

But the idea is to be glad we are alive, to give thanks for that in and of itself, whether or not the latest fad toy is out of stock or not, whether or not some hypocrite just cut you off in traffic.

And whether or not we love (or even need) what we're being given, giving thanks first feels good, and its not so hard. It doesn't have to be sickly sweet and overwrought, just cordial and warm. You can straighten out the sizes and the regifting later, for gosh sakes. Someone has just given you something, even a handful of red and green M & Ms, and it IS the thought that counts. So count it. Feel it.

Give thanks often. I do more often than ever before, even in the face of serious, perhaps unmendable animosity, and I've got to say, I feel better for it.

So thanks has its own rewards, for the thanked and the thankful.

ADDENDUM: In the spirit of being thankful for what I have received, I've been going around the house the last few days writing down everything in site that was given to me - and picking out some of the things, simple and not so simple, that I still use and cherish - and continue in my mind to thank the person whose gifts they were:

*** A white five-gallon work bucket with a red ribbon around its rim that says "joy joy joy joy...", from my sister Laura.

*** A Lands' End leather jacket, plain and simple, from my friend Rhonda.

*** A sage-colored Patagonia "sherpa fleece" jacket, from my friend James.

*** A replica 8' Pueblo Indian ladder, from my friend Judy.

*** CDs, Brahms, Beethoven, Bernstein, Orff, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Shostakovich, from my father Gene.

*** An Indian pattern Pendleton blanket, from my friends Mary and Duane.

*** A canvas L. L. Bean tote bag monogrammed with my "Coyote Guy" nickname, from Laura and husband/friend John/

*** The first burlwood bowl my friend Raul ever made.

*** The book "What If the the Buddha Got Stuck?", from my friend Heidi.

*** Books, "Flow," Einstein's Dreams," "Ishmael" and "The Songlines" from my friend and mentor, Charlie.

*** Four big vintage Love Field brand crocks, from my friend Raoul D.

*** A woodcut silouetter of a coyote my friend Sam made for me.

*** An authentic Mexican Nicho with decorations inside, from my friend Beverly.

*** Two silver rings, one from Claire, one from Gretchen.

*** The red Kirkland bicycle touring panniers my parents gave me as a teenager.

*** Large windchimes in the front yard, from Beverly.

*** The book "Big Bend", from Gretchen.

*** Two mirrors, one from Judy, one from Raoul D.

*** The book "Mayo Clinic Family Health Book", from Laura.

*** Mounds of garage sale fodder, including some good finds, from friends Cecilia, Sandy and Raul.

*** A translucent red glass heart, from my friend Susan.

I could go on, but for now, thanks for all this and more.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Got Your Christmas Card from the White House Yet?

Seems there's a problem with the Bush's Christmas cards, all one million of them just now sent out around the world. Problem (to some) is: they don't mention Christmas. Nor do they quote the NEW Testament, that one and only good "reason for the season" book. No, the Bush's chose to quote the Eye-For-An-Eye-Almighty-On-High OLD Testament. Just in case you're not on the mailing list, here's the message on the card:

The Lord Is My Strength And My Shield;
In Him My Heart Trusts;
So I Am Helped, And My Heart Exults,
And With My Song I Give Thanks To Him.

Psalm 28.7 (RSV)

With best wishes for
a holiday season
of hope and happiness.

George W. Bush Laura Bush

The complainants are getting their danders up anywhere they fear the creeping scurge of secularism - or the existence of any other winter rites or rituals save the baby cheeses. From Wal-Mart to the White House, the Born Agains-ONLY mongers are trying to make PC become CC, Christian Correct.

But when it comes to the OLD (conservative) vs. the NEW (progressive), shouldn't we give Mr. and Mrs. Bush a little credit for honesty here? They're not really NEW Testament sorta folk. OK, Laura probably is at heart but ever so discreetly a New Testament kinda gal, school librarian and all - and not a book burner, I don't imagine. But she puts on a good game face for her wartime hero husband - and seems to swallow whatever dainty live and let live bones might dwell deep inside. Mrs. Bush's holiday diplomacy, as in every other season, is more smile than substance. So Georgie's Born When? churchy friends get their way, cloaked like Noah - or Cheney - and about as out of synch with the 21st Century outside the borders of Kansas.

Here at A Better Nation, we celebrate the softer side of the Happy Holidays brooohahah (sp?).

Happy holidays? Why some say that's sacrilege.

Season's greetings? There's that creeping crud of godless secularism. Season's? Which season? We've got four of them, so says the (secular) calendar, so which one?

Ah, these insisters on Christmas-ONLY salutations are all just Kloset Kwanzaa Killers, BTW, surely. Otherwise, live and let live? Turn the other cheek? Obey the Golden Rule? Really NOT a very brave bunch (since bravery connotes some sort of honor to the act), but hey, at least they've got audacity (and the upper hand - NOT the hand of any god) on their side. And holier than THOU? They own that, too. Trademarked it, even.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

James Thurber's Birthday

So how could it be that James Thurber and Ann Coulter were both born on the same day of the year? (That would be today's date, December 8th, Thurber in 1894, Coulter in 1961.)

Thurber just goes to show how good you have to be to be genuinely funny, while Coulter shows how dangerous it can be (mostly to the feeble brains of others) to take yourself sharp serious self waaaaayyyy tooooo seriously. Thurber suffered early on in life and late - and created some timeless antics for his fellow dogs and other mortals. We owe so much of the glory of New Yorker cartoons to Thurber. Coulter, in a more ancient, Old Testament sort of way, just wants her enemies to suffer.

Here's what James Thurber said that seems rather apropos to my slipping and sliding slats and rants here at A Better Nation:

"The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself."

Me, I'm always willing to be the butt of someone else's joke, even at the risk of discovering that it's not a very good joke. Wits, satirists AND humorists take RISKS. And good, genuine laughs, at the unfair expense of no one, really are the gold of the realm, a real salve for LIFE.

As for Ms. Coulter, it's for people like her that Thurber said, "There are two kinds of light--the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures."

We're in the season of supposed humility, when things are but to twinkle and glow, but it sure does seem like there's still a whole hell of a lot of GLARE out there.

James Thurber grew famously blind as he got older, but like Beethoven going deaf, it is as if Thurber's own vision/senses and light/ear just got better. Happy birthday to that, and to you, Mr. Thurber.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Pearls of Peace, December 7th

It's December 7th, a day that still lives in infamy.

Pearl Harbor this and Pearl Harbor that, the war on American imperialism then compared to the war on American imperialism now. Then they were called kamakazis, today suicide bombers. Then, they were called the proud people of Japan. Today, they are called insurgents. "Their" attacks were and are 'unfair,' while miraculously, ours are not. Ours are the new and improved definition of "freedom" and "liberty," "democracy," and even "justice for all."

Earlier today, mixed with live feeds of G.W. Bush doing his best to redirect our views of "victory" in his 'We Can ALL Be Terrorists With the Worst of You WAR,' there were several reports on CNN showing these ongoing discrepancies, the "them against us," holier than thou stamp of our own insidious imperialism. Most telling: NEWS FLASH! Muslim holy men are saying publicly that there indeed IS a religious rationale for this bloody new tide of cultures clashing. Allah's saying his followers are right and will prevail and get their eternal glories. Seems our "one nation under God" God feels the same way, except he's siding with the fundamental Christians. Hmmm, how could a god or God be wrong? I mean, at least one of these Pushy Paternal Fascist Deities is wrong... wrong, wrong, wrong. Now the gods might want us to suffer mysteriously and even injudiciously, but could they be wrong? And if they are, will they be willing to take the rap?

And now, on CNN, George Herbert Walker Bush is on TV speaking about Katrina and the Japanese and the great dangers of the natural and man-made world (and the glory of a nation's 'strength' to fight back and/or rebuild).

Gotta say, at least there is one thing I can say about Father Bush now, so long after he was voted out of office: no matter what the father says, his son makes him look good.

Peace be with you, George - and George, and you too, Dick, wherever you are.

Pearls of peace to YOU.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Five Step Program

A boiled down dose of Dr. Phil here?

Twelve steps is just WAY too many for most of us. We get sort of lost around that "higher power" makeover takeover.

Seems we could get a few good things done with fewer steps.

How about five?

1. Decide what is best for all.

2. Decide what role and action is best for you.

3. Set some goals.

4. Take some first steps.

5. Follow through to successs... for all.

Monday, December 05, 2005

"Born Again WITHOUT God"

Good title for something. Seems we rational heathens ought to be putting out some pretty good propaganda of our own.

Yes, you too can be "born again," have a renaissance, i.e. GROW UP, MATURE, without God. No god needed, not even any other fallacious falderal, no superstition required to shake yourself a bit, get a handle on what life is about, even what death is about. We are mortal, aren't we. That means we die. What's the mystery? So we're afraid to die. That doesn't mean we have to make stuff up. We were sometimes afraid to go to bed in our dark rooms alone when we were kids, and we made stuff up. Our fears manufactured goblins and ghosts and monsters and dangers right there in our rooms, right out of thin air and shadows. That doesn't mean we have to do the same thing after we're about TWELVE.

It's not that any of us can be "born again," but we sure can recognize anew and make changes. We can be grown ups - even mortal grown ups, maybe even scared but reasonable, rational, REAL.

You can't get real WITH make believe. There comes a time to give up childish toys and play it straight in the world of, for better or worse, human beings and things as they are. What a concept.