27 June 2010

Hobbling Toward Hope

What's your weakness? Not your temptation, mind you, the thing you give in to like chocolate or shiraz or or chick flicks. I mean the thing about you that is not as strong as it ought to be?

You can recognize your weakness if you are ashamed of showing it to people, if you organize your life to avoid it, if it frightens you. And one more thing, it reminds you of your mortality.

For me it is sleep. Almost forty years ago I had a case of crashing insomnia before heading out to college. It was certainly an expression of my worries about being up to the task, fear of failure, and all that.

Ever since, I have been afraid of being unable to sleep. And I am ashamed of this because it is a small thing compared to afflictions like disease and disability, and yet it has exerted disproportionate influence over my life choices. Fear of insomnia has kept me from staying up late regularly. As an aspiring musician in college this was a key part of leaving that path (That and not being both talented and obsessive enough to pursue it). Fear of insomnia kept me from making early morning appointments or commitments, so no power breakfasts for me.

Allowing it to shape my life so much is what makes it a weakness. What could be more pitiful, after all, than being unable to do what is as natural as breathing?

This last week I have had trouble sleeping. Nothing as awful as when I went to college. But it only takes one night of struggle to awaken the midnight dreads of long ago. Last night was the first time in four nights that I fell asleep easily and stayed there, mostly, for nearly seven hours.

I could go on about the spiritual and symbolic meanings of all this, but what matters right now is that everyone has something that makes them feel weak, pitiful, ashamed, and afraid. We spend vast amounts of our life hiding them and hiding from them. What if we could all be more frank about having them?

What if we could agree that everyone has a 'limp' of some kind and that this is no failure but a universal part of being human? How much better would life be if we all admitted this, accepted this, and even helped each other deal with them?

Maybe if we didn't have to hide our weaknesses so much we could all be a lot stronger.

17 June 2010

Cleaning the Basement

After three years of saying it, I am doing it. yes, I am cleaning the basement. That means throwing things out. And that means admitting defeat.

For years I kept issues of journals and magazines with pithy articles that I would reread and then lard into sermons of uncommon pith themselves. How I admired those adroit academic preachers who could cite scripture, Chomsky, Dillard and make it all both engaging and erudite. So I kept them, and dragged them, house to house and church to church.

This spring, facing regular puddles from a less than watertight basement, I confessed my twin sins of pride and sloth and pitched the lot. Well, a lot of the lot. There was the relief of confessions in doing it, the more bearable lightness of being free from shame.

Sharing this is to encourage you to do the same. Relinquishment is intoxicating stuff. Sort of walking around naked which ends the question of how to dress, but without the embarrassment of showing moles and wrinkles. Already I am looking at what can go next.

Well, one thing is the Sunday Business section from the Times of June 6. I saved it to share a series of 'metrics' about health care in the US. Part of me wants to keep it for a future sermon or something, but honestly I know I won't use it soon enough. You read it. You share it. I can now recycle it.

Free, free, free at last!!

12 June 2010

New Look

Yes, it's time. In these fast paced visually electric times static is dead. It has been months, and Blogger has a new tool that non geeks can use easily.

But speaking of fast paced, I was up early this morning and stopped by MTV for a while. Not being a rock/rap/R&B/pop/whatever fan, I do this to get a taste of what is happening in the wider culture. Sometimes I flip back to vintage music videos which MTV also runs on cable.

That's when I noticed something. No image in a current music video lasts even a second. Three to five a second is normal. That's almost a strobe. The music can be quite slow, as rap often is when it comes to the beat, but the video is rapid cut. As little as a decade ago there were seconds long takes, almost lazy by comparison.

If this were just happening in music it would be curious. Watch something else quite carefully sometime, though. Turn down the sound. The editing is much faster now, especially in commercials. Toggle between old movies and new ones, old shows and new ones.

Does this mean anything? Not sure, but if we wonder why young folks text/talk/watch/drive and so on simultaneously maybe it's because the world they see tells them to chop themselves into a dozen pieces. And then, when they come to church now and then, no wonder they're bored.

If you're reading this you are likely older than 40 and wondering how you fell behind the culture curve. Perhaps you are feeling the first twinges of curmudgeonness when what you call spiritual is called dull, what you find dignified someone else finds gloomy.

If you're under forty and reading this, boy am I flattered. I still use paragraphs and write long essays which are anathema to the twittery instantaneous world of the Internet. Nary a video or a hash tag in sight either. Tell me what I'm doing right! Believe me I have no idea what it is.

What I do know is that all this is nothing new really. Cult and culture have been wrestling since an old shaman shook a rattle at the sky and a youngster yawned and rolled her prehistoric eyes. Cold comfort I know, but you gotta take what you can get.

I meant to write about health care, but this sort of happened along the way. Maybe in a day or two.

08 June 2010

A Story On A Sidewalk

So, I was walking to the gym today. This is something I most every week day, and it takes me along a stretch of street that is frequented by those who live on the street. You see, the clearest liquor store (and cheapest grocery) is nearby.

As a result, there is always some trash about. Nothing horrid, just not the tidiness nice people prefer which is partly why there are so few pedestrians around here. Maybe it's the other way around, that is, because there are so few nice pedestrians those who litter have no constraints.

Anyway, I am walking down the street this morning and see a beer can. Not unusual.

A few feet further on I see a pudding cup wrapper and discarded container. Also not unusual.

A few feet further on a condom wrapper. Unusual.

Finally, a few feet even further on, the torn label off a box of Plan B - the OTC morning after pill.

A story in four objects, maybe. A whole relationship, perhaps.

Whitman says letters from God fall in the street every day. Perhaps God is not the only one writing....

05 June 2010

The Truth Hurts

Two weeks ago Robert Frank wrote a very fine essay in the Sunday NYTimes. part economics, part psychology, part politics, part anthropology, it speaks volumes about human nature. I don't like its presmise, but have to admit it is likely accurate. Yep, sometimes the truth really does hurt. Read it for yourself.

02 June 2010

Is Everyone Crazy?

OK, that's a little strong, but the whole oil spill thing is beginning to feel like a version of Marat/Sade, that is, the inmates are in charge of the show.

A few weeks ago, the conservative establishment was busy telling us that government was too big, that the president is a crypto-socialist, and cozying up to the Tea Party whose newest spokesman (Rand Paul) thinks that the president was unamerican to criticise BP. But now, the governor of Louisiana and other self proclaimed conservatives are demanding the president do something. Government is too big until I need it to be big. That they can be outraged by government inaction, which is exactly what they want, and shout with all the dudgeon of a 'woman scorned' is beyond hypocritical. It's delusional.

Meanwhile, on the left is the rising demand that government should have done something by now, but it is still waiting for a suitable object, namely, "what?" What can it do? Yes, this is a human made problem, but the result is something beyond simple fixes. Plugging the hole is a whole lot harder than digging it.

It's like a dam that has broken. Once it fails, the laws of nature and physics overwhelm any human intervention. Yes, it's that dramatic. Deep sea conditions are more daunting than outer space - pressure, cold, darkness, salt. There was never a lot of room for error. Failure was inevitable.

And everyone is asking how could this happen? As though this was some remote possibility. It was always possible, especially given the challenges of drilling this deep. I can assure you that no one, including the "nanny state" so beloved by some, ever thought this sort of endeavor was risk free. But hey, nothing is risk free. And if the libertarian views of some prevail, we will be see a rise in overall risk. That's the price of freedom, danger.

And the role of government is to govern the level of risk. Like a circuit breaker or a steam valve, government makes sure that a free society does not set itself on fire or blow up.

But where is the threshold when government intervenes? It varies, but it is never set at zero risk because that would mean no freedom at all. So there is always some risk. The challenges are around us all the time? What price protection from terrorism? Tapped phones? Body searches at airports? How can we prevent more automobile deaths? Lower speed limits? Raise the driving age?

In the case of the oil spill the question is how much risk can we are willing to bear to preserve our petroleum fueled society? It is not whether to have deep sea drilling, but whether to accept the risks of spills and pollution and terrorism as (part of the) the price required for living the way we do.

There is no free lunch. Our automobile dependent, petroleum fueled (from cars to cows to condos) society means oil spills and terrorism and obesity and pollution and so on. To think we live like this without risk or cost is the ultimate delusion.

And while denial is not just a river in Egypt, having the truth forced upon us like a beach full of tar may be what it takes to make us see what we have been denying for so long. I fear it will take far more than this. And that's what really scares me.