Saturday, January 28, 2017

I'm Scared

            Maybe this is where I should have been all along. Here, writing, and on my knees, praying for this country, the United States of America. Donald Trump has created more fear and anger in his first week than probably any President in American history, with the possible exception of Lincoln. (There the comparison ends.)      
            Here is what has happened in the first eight days of Trump’s presidency:
·   On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered all regulatory powers of all federal agencies frozen.
·   On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered the National Parks Service to stop using social media after factual, side by side photos were posted of the crowds for the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations.
·   On January 20th, 2017, roughly 230 protestors were arrested in DC and face unprecedented felony riot charges. Among them were legal observers, journalists, and medics.
·   On January 20th, 2017, a member of the International Workers of the World was shot in the stomach at an anti-fascist protest in Seattle. He remains in critical condition.
·   On January 21st, 2017, DT brought a group of 40 cheerleaders to a meeting with the CIA to cheer for him during a speech that consisted almost entirely of framing himself as the victim of dishonest press.
·   On January 21st, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a press conference largely to attack the press for accurately reporting the size of attendance at the inaugural festivities, saying that the inauguration had the largest audience of any in history, “period.”
·   On January 22nd, 2017, White House advisor Kellyann Conway defended Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts” (lies) on national television news.
·   On January 22nd, 2017, DT appeared to blow a kiss to director James Comey during a meeting with the FBI, and then opened his arms in a gesture of strange, paternal affection, before hugging him with a pat on the back.
·   On January 23rd, 2017, DT reinstated the global gag order, which defunds international organizations that even mention abortion as a medical option.
·   On January 23rd, 2017, Spicer said that the US will not tolerate China’s expansion onto islands in the South China Sea, essentially threatening war with China.
·   On January 23rd, 2017, DT repeated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing him the popular vote.
·   On January 23rd, 2017, it was announced that the man who shot the anti-fascist protester in Seattle was released without charges, despite turning himself in.
·   On January 24th, 2017, Spicer reiterated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing DT the popular vote.
·   On January 24th, 2017, DT tweeted a picture from his personal Twitter account of a photo he says depicts the crowd at his inauguration and will hang in the White House press room. The photo is of the 2009 inauguration of 44th President Barack Obama, and is curiously dated January 21st, 2017, the day AFTER the inauguration and the day of the Women’s March, the largest inauguration related protest in history.
·   On January 24th, 2017, the EPA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to freeze all grants and contracts.
·   On January 24th, 2017, the USDA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to stop publishing any papers or research. All communication with the press would also have to be authorized and vetted by the White House.
·   On January 24th, 2017, HR7, a bill that would prohibit federal funding not only to abortion service providers, but to any insurance coverage, including Medicaid, that provides abortion coverage, went to the floor of the House for a vote.
·   On January 24th, 2017, DT ordered the resumption of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, while the North Dakota state congress considers a bill that would legalize hitting and killing protestors with cars if they are on roadways.
·   On January 24th, 2017, it was discovered that police officers had used confiscated cell phones to search the emails and messages of the 230 demonstrators now facing felony riot charges for protesting on January 20th, including lawyers and journalists whose email accounts contain privileged information of clients and sources."[1]

Today he began the banning and deportation of people from seven different (Muslim) countries. This act was overturned as unconstitutional, but that probably will not stop Trump from doing more damage. His office also did not mention the Jewish people on Holocaust Remembrance Day (today).[2]
I don’t know what to think anymore. I know there are people who argue better than me, maybe even people who know more than me. Maybe they are even right. But all of the events of the last week seem wrong. This whole week, when reflecting on these events, I’ve felt nothing but fear and rage. Perhaps then I’m not reflecting, only reacting, but I’m scared. Every day, yes, every day, there is something new that scares me. And I don’t know what to do with my fear and rage.
Some say it’s just the media and we should all unite against that entity. Except the media is not one entity. It’s liberal and conservative and moderate and radical left and alt right. It’s television and radio and talk shows and newspapers and, for better and worse, social media, each arm with its own agenda. Perhaps some are doing their best to be impartial, but if even half of what is being reported is true, then things are scary.
Some say we need to fight for or against the current administration. I hate fighting. I hate conflict. But I really wonder if we aren’t sliding into fascism and if I might need to fight. Often, when someone doesn’t like a President, that President is compared to Hitler. Obama certainly was. Now I think we have a President who might really be like Hitler. A family member said I shouldn’t criticize Trump because as a naturalized citizen I could be deported. Will I have to fight for the freedom of speech that was already mine?
Some say things will be fine. I have a friend from the South who said people in his are weren’t worried at all. This was before the inauguration. I wonder how he’s feeling now. A cheerful and optimistic co-worker said things would work out. Maybe they will, but if that belief is based on past American history, I’m not sure. Trump’s election, his complete lack of experience in government, the law or the military, the protests and his low approval rating before he even took office, are all unprecedented. He really does want to build a wall and he’s working on it now. (One thing I will say for Trump is he is doing everything he said would.)
Here’s all I know to do at this point:
·         Study, read, and write.
·         Follow my passions.
·         Love people, even those I disagree with, but don’t take abuse.
·         Love people who need a lot of love during these days.
·         Call or write my representatives.
·         Fight for what I think is right until or unless I see that I am wrong.
·         Pray.
·         Breathe. A lot.
·         Get Started.
·         Keep Going.



Monday, January 23, 2017

The Lord's Prayer - Part I

Our Father
Yesterday at church the pastor encouraged us to pray the Lord’s Prayer five times a day for thirty days. Being the kind person he is, he said that if some were not able to do that, they could do it once a day for the first week, twice a day for the second week, and so on. Being the less-than-kind person that I am, I told him praying a simple prayer five times a day would not be too strenuous for anyone[1] and that he should retract that statement and push us harder. He wisely declined my less-than-gracious offer. Despite this small difference of opinion, I thought his idea was powerful and potentially life changing.
Growing up Catholic, I had, like many good Catholics, memorized the Lord’s Prayer (we called it the “Our Father” or Pater Noster in Latin) by the time I was five or six years old. (I also knew the Hail Mary prayer.) But, as Bloom’s taxonomy, a hierarchy of learning, shows us, memorization, while important and necessary, is only the beginning of learning. And, as with many things done by rote, I rarely reflected on this prayer. So, to keep the Lord’s Prayer from becoming a “vain repetition,”[2] and to understand what I was really praying, I decided to reflect on the various parts of the prayer.
The version I am using is from Matthew 6:9-13:
Our Father, which art in heaven,[3]
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.[4]
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us.[5]
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen

            The first words I reflect on are “Our Father.” The pastor said that this comes from a Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) prayer. First I think of the word “our.” It is interesting that Jesus did not use the word “my.” He was the only one who could claim being the Son of God but he said “our.” He was sharing.  He also said “our,” not just for His present audience but for anyone who prayed this prayer throughout all time. Our – all of us.
Then there is the word “Father.” The concept of the Fatherhood of God was all but absent in the scriptures until this moment! (Let that sink in.) God as a father was mentioned fifteen times in the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament whereas the concept is used over 165 times in the four gospels.[6] While the term father may not always have positive connotations for everyone, it brings the relationship between God and people to a whole new, more intimate level.
God, then, is our Father, mine, yours, ours, all of ours. He is the Father who helped me to Get Started and the Father who helps me to Keep Going.


[1] I was able to say this prayer aloud and at a normal pace in 23 seconds.
[2] Matthew 6:7: But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
[3] I may have learned it or am remembering it incorrectly, but I remember it saying “who art in heaven,” not “which.”
[4] I also remember “on earth,” not “in earth.”
[5] I remember “those who trespass,” not “them that.”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Not "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay

“Tell me, what is life without your love?
Tell, me who am I without you
By my side?”

George Harrison – What Is Life?

“Looks like nothing’s gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can’t do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I’ll remain the same.”

Otis Redding – (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay



Suddenly I’m confronted with numerous challenges, all of my own choosing, for which I am thankful. But they are still challenges. I have decided to begin work on a book. The idea of the book (which I’m not ready to share yet) came to me a few weeks ago and I began some preliminary work on it. When I presented that work to my former professor, she challenged me to go deeper, much deeper, and to work harder, much harder. She reminded me of all the methods I learned in my recent Master’s program that would enable me to write a good book. I’m also working on a couple of other projects that will allow me to use my Master’s Degree in History. But as fun as the ideas are, it is all a lot of work and time and discipline. On top of that I’m still a father. And my job recently became more challenging, requiring more use of my time. 
My life could potentially change and the purpose of this blog is to consider that. Because the truth is I don’t have to let it change. I could get by just as I am doing now (which is barely). I could be a perpetual kid for the rest of my life, occasionally bragging about what I’ve done in the past, but all the while knowing that for whatever I’ve done, the bare, dirty, ugly truth is I have not reached my potential.
Externally that shows up in a lack of money. Someone more enlightened may say to content with what I have and to be grateful. I am but I am not. Sometimes people confuse contentment with complacency and gratitude with acquiescence. I am content with and grateful for how far I have come, but that doesn’t mean I want to stay here. The truth is that a lack of money can create lacks in self-esteem, in relationships, and in a fuller more satisfying life. Being poor by default is not romantic or noble. The calm melody of Otis Redding’s song (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay might lull us into believing that the protagonist is a hero, a rebel, a maverick, a non-conformist. But because he “can’t do what ten people tell him to do,” he has no direction at all except two thousand miles he’s roamed just to make that dock his home. Yes, he’s sitting there resting his bones, and we all like to do that, but the loneliness won’t leave him alone. That doesn’t sound restful to me. It sounds like self-sabotage at its worst. He’s broke, he’s homeless, he’s alone, and he’s lonely. This is not romantic or charming or heroic. It’s frightening. Sometimes we need ten people to tell us what to do. Or maybe just one or two. Or maybe we need to have the courage to tell ourselves what to do…and then do it.
Self-direction is not easy. I’m not good at it. At least I tell myself that. And now that I have all these projects on my plate I suddenly find myself playing a lot of online games. I find myself procrastinating.
But…
I also find myself working. I spent several hours doing research yesterday.
I spent over an hour listening to a book about James Madison.
I’m reading my eighth US President book. (I've made it a goal to read at least two books on each of the U.S. Presidents in the next year.)
So I am getting things done.
Perhaps it will help to write down what I want to accomplish in the three to five years:
·         Get my house on the beach.
·         Have at least three books published.
·         Create a course on US Presidents.
·         Be debt-free.
·         Read at least two books on every US President.

There are other goals just as large, but harder to quantify, but they involve personal relationships and work goals. The best way to quantify them is to say I will put more time into both. Because I tell my Muse, ultimately, what are my goals, what are my dreams, “what is life without your love?” And that’s the most important part. I have set these goals, all these goals, out of love – love for my Muse, love for my children, love for my work and the people I serve and serve with, love of history, and love for myself. I Get Started and I Keep Going out of love. And because while I may want a home by the dock, I don’t want to "make that dock my home."

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What Are Your Plans?

“What are your plans?” someone asked me today. My Muse was asking the same thing. I realized that if there are no plans, there are usually no accomplishments. I need a plan. Before I need a plan, I need to know what I want. Knowing what I want is difficult for the following reasons:
·         Lack of belief in the possibility of success
·         The feeling of not deserving it
·         Fear
Then even when we know what we want we still have to deal with these additional obstacles:
·         Awareness of one’s limitations and failings
·         Lack of self-discipline
Maybe the trick is to believe what Dorothea Brande said in Wake Up and Live: Act as if it were impossible to fail.
Or maybe the trick is to not focus on the results, but the efforts and let the results be what they will.
Maybe the trick is to focus on why I’m doing what I’m doing, so that I don’t waste time doing the wrong things.
Maybe the trick is to do something, anything, that moves me forward.
Maybe the trick is to be present in this very moment and notice the joy here.
Maybe the trick is to write out what I want to accomplish each day, each week, each year, each five-to-ten year period.
Maybe the trick is gratitude.
Maybe the trick is to take care of my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Maybe the trick is to believe that I have created all my circumstances and relationships and that I can un-create or re-create them or refine them.
Maybe the trick is prayer.
Maybe the trick is to start a task and don’t stop until it’s finished.
Maybe the trick is to ask for help.
Maybe the trick is to act as if all the results depended on you.
Maybe the trick is to Get Started and Keep Going.
Maybe it’s all these things.
Maybe none of these things are tricks, but tools to help me succeed.
I have a lot of books and one of the best things about books is that there is a plethora of ideas and inspiration. But it turns out that my plans are the same as they were almost three years ago when I started writing these blogs.
·         I want to spend my life with my Muse.
·         I want to have a healthy relationship with each of my children.
·         I want to leave enough money for my children and their children.
·         I want to have a healthy relationship with God.
·         I want to make a positive difference in the world.
·         I want a house on the beach.


My goals are the same. My plans are the same. I still want to Get Started and Keep Going. That’s a good plan.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Football and Thanksgiving

“The thing about football - the important thing about football - is that it is not just about football.”

Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals

One of my earliest Thanksgiving memories revolves around a moment when I was about six or seven years old. It’s just a moment that I remember and it may not even have been Thanksgiving, but I remember the autumnal feeling of the day so I will assume it was. We lived in Posen, Illinois a suburb of Chicago, but we would often go to my grandma’s farm in Lake Village, Indiana, about an hour away. Most of my mom’s family also lived in Illinois or Indiana. The moment I remember was running around playing with my cousins. I ran into the house and I saw the men, my grandpa and my Uncle Ray or maybe my Uncle Al, watching football and the women in the kitchen. While this memory might cause amusement for its old-fashioned depiction or even rankle feminist sensibilities, I might also add that no one seemed unhappy.
That moment informed my Thanksgiving for many years. From that point on I thought that on Thanksgiving men watched football and talked sports. (I made no assumptions about women.) Yet as I grew older I developed an apathy for sports and especially for professional sports. Most of my childhood experiences regarding sports as a small, thin boy were less than positive. Sometimes I even made a point to let that apathy be known. Then a few years ago I went to Turkey to try to find my birth mother. I did not find her, but the experience changed me in two strange ways in what was a combination of my early Thanksgiving experience.
First, like the women of my family on that Thanksgiving, I began to spend time in the kitchen. I was never afraid of the kitchen but I never really learned how to cook much more than a few recipes. But now I was cooking regularly. I started looking for new recipes. I learned about spices and tastes and how to shop for food. I organized my kitchen and made sure I had fresh food. I shopped constantly. I learned how important timing is in the preparation. More than once, because of not timing things well, a meal was ruined. Once I had a friend visit after I had been bragging about my newly formed cooking skills and I overcooked the meat because I wasn’t paying attention. That was embarrassing, but he was gracious. I had to be focused and when I was, dinner came out pretty good. But there was something else that happened after getting back from Turkey. I suddenly found that I loved watching football!
This was startling. I had spent most of my life ignoring or hating professional sports. I would complain about the overpayment of professional athletes, especially compared to teachers. I considered it all mindless entertainment and except in 1995 when the San Diego Chargers went to the Super Bowl I almost never watched a game. (The Chargers lost to the San Francisco ‘49ers, 49-26.) But, after getting back from Turkey, I could not get enough football. On Sundays I could literally watch games all day long. I didn’t care who was playing or who won (except for the Chargers or the Chicago Bears, my new hometown and my old hometown. I always rooted for those teams.) I didn’t know anything about football. I didn’t know statistics or players or standings or the history of any particular team. I just liked watching the game. And if I wasn’t watching the game I was in the kitchen making food to eat while watching more games. I still like watching football, but I don’t own a television these days. I’m fine with that, but I wish I had one if only to watch football on Sundays. And on Thanksgiving.
Many cultures have no problem dividing gender roles. Men watch sports and women cook. Ironically, going back to a very traditional culture enabled me to comfortably embrace both roles.
I’ve been struggling with finding a direction with this blog because I realize that the discussion of gender roles might upset people. Then I realized that I have to not care because I have to write from what I know and that it’s not my intent to offend. This isn’t a sociological treatise on gender roles. I’m describing what I experienced on Thanksgiving in the Midwest in the 1960s. I also agree with David Deida who says in The Way of the Superior Man that each of us has a masculine and feminine side. In my travels to Turkey I found both. I became a whole person. Or I started to, at least. I became more whole when I met my Muse and started taking responsibility for my choices.
Today I don’t have as much opportunity to cook or watch football. But I can Get Started and Keep Going. I can enjoy life and be thankful for what was, what is, and what will be.




Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I Know This Guy

I know this guy. I’ve known him for several years. He’s probably the smartest guy I’ve ever met. And I know a lot of smart people. I’ve often wanted to spend time with him, one-on-one, but only once did that happen and it wasn’t very satisfying. He was distracted by something and not completely there. I wasn’t upset by that, just a little disappointed. That was five or six years ago. We saw each other in public gatherings occasionally and those were always nice, and I would message him occasionally about something, but that was it. A few months ago I directly asked him if we could get together for lunch. He said no. And it wasn’t a rude “no,” but it was very direct. To paraphrase, he said, his time was very specifically allocated for his work, his volunteerism, and his close friends and family.
I won’t say this didn’t hurt, but after the initial shock I asked myself the following:

Why this guy?
What did I want from him?
Was I looking for a father, big brother, mentor, conscience, or guide?
Was I using him (or hoping to use him) to get my own emotional needs met?

As I said, this guy is probably the smartest guy I’ve ever met. And he’s kind. He’s one of those people I feel I could spend all day with. But I’m also aware that I’ve spent a great deal of my life looking for a father, big brother, mentor, conscience, or guide. I’m always looking for the perfect male role model.
And this guy isn’t it.
No guy is.
More worrisome, though this has decreased as I’ve gotten older, I have often looked for someone to tell me what to do, what choices to make, how to live. I did that for a long time and, as a result, made some of the worst choices of my life. And I never found freedom, true freedom, until I stopped looking for a master and started listening to my Muse, my heart. Because that’s what I was really looking for: a master. Someone to tell me what to do. And no one could. And the ones that thought they could were tyrants.
Some religions and philosophies will say all we don’t need to look to others for wisdom. All we have to do is look within and the answers will come. There’s truth to that. But we do need others. Not to tell us what to do, but to give us ideas and guidance. We need others to confirm what’s right in our own hearts and what might lead us astray. As a rule of thumb, I’ve learned the more important a decision is, the more important wise counsel is. At the same time I’ve also learned that we must each walk our own path. No one can or should walk it for us. That is a violation of the human spirit. My path is study. The more I read, the more I grow. Study has saved my life. Study has caused me to see my failings. Study has caused me to move forward when I was afraid. Study has helped me to see I am not alone. Study has led me to my Muse.
I just finished reading John Adams by David McCullough and I learned that Adams’ greatest love besides, God, his wife Abigail, and his children, were his books. He read and read and read. And he re-read some books almost to the point of memorization. Sometimes when his eyes got tired he would ask Abigail to read to him. After Abigail died, he slept in his library surrounded by his beloved books. Adams also knew a guy, several guys (and a few women) and they all became his father, his big brother, him mentors, his conscience, and his guide.
This guy I know wrote a book. So if I want more from him, I can read it. I’d probably get more from him in the hours it would take me to read his book than a ninety-minute lunch. He can still be my mentor, but not any of those other things. (And, by giving me a kind but firm no, he has already mentored me.)
Because that’s the other thing: everything I admire in this man is already within me if I choose to acknowledge that. I also have to choose who I am, what I want to do, and what I want to be. It can’t be this guy’s choice or anyone else’s to Get Started and Keep Going. I know this because I know this guy. He is me.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Exhausted

I’m so tired,
I haven’t slept a wink.
I’m So Tired – John Lennon

“I'm so tired I never want to wake up again. But I've figured out now that it was never them that made me feel that way. It was just me, all along.” 

Forever – Maggie Stiefvater




I think I was, without realizing it, exhausted. I think we all are. Especially this week. It’s been a hard week. Donald Trump won the Presidency and whether that is good news or bad news for you, it’s been an exhausting experience. Some people are just now recovering from the shock. All over my Facebook page people are talking about this. Some, normally apolitical, are expressing fear. Most are expressing anger, no, rage. There is rioting all over America. People at all degrees of the political spectrum have been spewing towards and receiving hate from friends, family members, co-workers, and strangers. A precious few, on both sides are calling for peace and to stop talking about politics for a while. Unfortunately, almost no one is stopping. 
Hatred and rage are exhausting no matter if one is giving or receiving it. They produce rushes of adrenaline and although no one likes to admit this, that rush feels good. It gives us energy. It’s a very focused moment and when we’re focused we don’t think whether we are right or wrong. We don’t think about the effect our words and actions have on each other. We don’t realize we’re committing violence with a keyboard as surely as if we were stabbing someone in the chest. We’re like a jilted lover who just caught our beloved in bed with someone else and so without thinking, without control or breaks, we kill the one we love. Almost all of us have been guilty of crimes of passion these last few weeks.
All this adrenaline exacts a price. In her book 8 Keys to Stress Management,[1] Elizabeth Anne Scott reminds us that when our mind brings us to a place of perceived, not real, threat, our body doesn’t know the difference. The blood races. The heart pounds. We breathe harder and perhaps sweat. We’re taxing our hearts, physically and emotionally. We are damaging ourselves. And we are usually damaging others. On my own Facebook page a friend, a Christian pastor, told me she is glad I’m going to Hell because of how I voted. A stranger, a theology student, told me to go kill myself. All this hatred feels good, but then we feel washed up and exhausted. I have felt exhausted.
So today I took a nap. Usually when I take a nap I sleep from ten minutes to an hour. Today I slept for three hours, hard and sound. I turned off the phone and the social media and the world and I slept. Now I feel better. People are still rioting but Donald Trump is reaching out to Bernie Sanders. Maybe it won’t be as bad as we fear. Or maybe it will be. But today is Veterans’ Day and I remember that we have survived the wars and divisions of the past. I think Americans need to put down their protest signs, get off social media, and take a nap. I think America needs an afternoon nap. Then it can make a nice snack and read a book or spend time with the kids or watch a movie or go for a walk or just sit in silence for a while. Maybe we need to start praying for those we have persecuted, those who have persecuted us and even those we might think are going to persecute us. Tomorrow we can make a plan to make things better, more just, more equitable, more civilized, a plan rather than spontaneous violence or hatred or wishes for death or eternal damnation. We can listen to our Muse, always a peaceful voice and be creative rather than destructive. Tonight, America can go to bed early and then tomorrow we can Get Started and Keep Going.  That’s hard to do if we’re exhausted.




[1] Scott, Elizabeth Anne. 8 Keys to Stress Management, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.), 2013.