A Conflagrancy of Dunces

paper-dunce-capWe all have moments when we question our relevancy.  For me it happens on a daily basis, usually in the midst of a conversation that is just on the edge of nuclear.  More times than not, I side with Occam’s razor when it comes to problem solving.  Summed up simply: when you have two competing theories, the simplest is usually the best solution. Embracing simple is never the case at my house, and sadly, just as often outside my house.

Who wants the simplest solution?  It’s usually boring, demands personal responsibility and often times self-incrimination.  Why embrace simple, when it’s so much more fun to move to the dark side of insanity, invoking unsubstantiated and immaterial information  and challenging the relevance and intelligence of any who would offer a safe and sounder solution? Talk to any parent (specifically mothers) with teenagers, they will vouch for me.  I am relevant because in the end, when it all plays out, the simplest solution is almost always the answer.  And when the dust settles, I am the one standing to lend a hand and say, “let’s try this again.”

Angels in Disguise

holy spiritIn a world where so much goes wrong, it can be easy to wonder where all the heavenly help has gone. You know, you hear all those stories of mystical beings springing out of nowhere to save the day, never to be found again to be thanked, but I wonder…is that the exception for angelic behavior, or the rule? I know Jesus inferred many times that heralded help may not always be what it appears, wolves in sheep’s clothing, thieves in the night. So how do we know? Is it a good standard to escape the pain and difficulty that are almost essential to mastering the game of life? Is it logical to surmise that when things go our way, heaven is behind us and when they don’t we are being punished or plagued by a demon? I say unequivocally, no it isn’t logical…but then again neither is God. That isn’t to say that God can’t behave logically. God just isn’t defined by it. Logic is a human invention to help make sense of life and discover truth. It will never be a primary tool to uncover and understand the divine.

So then, it’s complicated. If heaven is beyond and not limited by our comprehension, how do we know when help is near…and more importantly when it’s not, and we are just being duped into deeper and deeper illusion? That’s when I rely on the teachings of Jesus. I truly believe in the realm of angels, because Jesus did. And while I may not understand all that entails, I do understand Jesus when he described the different kinds of people who would follow his words.  The parable of the sower in Matthew 13 is a perfect description of those who abide by his teachings: there are those who are more shallow and the words never take hold, those who don’t hold them deep enough and forget the minute things get rough, those whose would use them for their own thorny purpose and choke the life out the message, and finally, those who let them deep into the soul and nurture them till they bear fruit. I always pray that I am of the latter, but time and humility will tell.

That’s how I feel about angels. I am aware that I need a lot of help if I am to nurture this seed of faith that I’ve been given. In hindsight, though, my personal magical moments hardly ever consisted of being swooped up and saved by a heavenly messenger, rather it usually meant knowing I could survive the pain of heaven peeling away the darkness and replacing it something brighter and more pure, whatever the situation. Angels don’t make our lives easier, they help us make it better, and that sometimes means harder. They direct us down a better road, often the least traveled or obvious. They help us defy and ascend logic by demanding faith in that which we cannot yet see, but have been told to be real. Their presence is with us all the time, yet because of free will, requires our permission to assist in sowing the sacred soil of the soul.  The fruit of which, is to extend an angelic hand to someone else, not necessarily to save, but to serve.

The In-Between

roads-divergingWhile I don’t claim to stand in the middle on every issue, knowing how passionately I feel about some things, I do venture there all the time.  Mostly, because I don’t trust my own bias.  I have learned throughout all my studies, in theology, education, leadership, and the law, that a singular perspective rarely reveals a complete truth.  Looking at an issue from inside the shoes of an opposite view can reveal a lot.  I have to admit I’ve understood a greater truth when I’ve ventured off my polar end and visited the other side of an issue.  What saddens me the most is that I get the distinct impression that acknowledging bias is akin to admitting a deep weakness or lack of faith in one’s ideals.  Even more so is the judgment from both ends that to venture off my post is being a flip-flopper or worse yet, a challenge my commitment to this country.

Looking at a problem from a 360 degree angle is the best way to understand it.  I have said it so many times before that I’ve begun to wonder if too many people have drunk the Kool-Aid offered by those who simply want to perpetuate the vitriol.  I am sickened by our Congress, just sickened, with law suits, temper tantrums, and hypocrisy.  It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that there are problems in this country, and I believe it is not unpatriotic to make that statement.  We are not the best anymore.  It is not the fault of our president, or the 1%.  We all have had a hand in the mess we are in, created by this horrible partisan war that is so stuck on blaming someone, in the most horrible fashion I might add, that we are no different than the Hatfields and the McCoys.  The response no less stupid, childish, and dangerous and plays to the weakest flaws of humanity.

So let me share these conclusions after hanging in the in-between: guns are a problem in this country…too many people have died, especially children.  So, second amendment extremists: just shut-up.  And to the invasion of privacy by our government: knock it off, we are not the Soviet Union.  Regarding the income disparity: The 1% have too much power, because money does talk…period.  To those who are struggling: I know how you feel, but working hard and innovation does work, feeling sorry for yourself and succumbing to being a victim does not.  I am amazed and proud how many helping hands are out there for those who are willing to invest in themselves and not rely on someone else fixing the problem.  I have honestly come in equal contact with innovative wealthy and poor, who are great hard working people who should be honored and not pigeon-holed into a stereotype.  It just isn’t fair.  But I’ve also met my share of slimy, entitled assholes too, both wealthy and poor, who would sell their soul for a better piece of the pie.  Neither end can claim freedom from skeleton’s in their closets…humanity is just too flawed.

What I worry about the most, though, standing in the in-between, is how little outrage there is, beyond hating the president, and immigrants, guns and the 1%, for the future of our children.  Sure, I’ve heard both side make claims that it’s the children they are fighting for, yet our public schools are still failing; children are deteriorating, both physically, mentally and spiritually.  The programs that could help them never come to fruition because there are too many powerful lobbies that keep standing in the way…and personal bias.  Our children are our greatest resource…we should be investing the most money in them, yet we don’t.  Any way you look at it is always a bad thing to allow children to fail.

There is one concluding issue I want to address while I am standing in the in-between.  It is a balancing act to hold true to a principle and yet remain open to the best way to handle it in a country of varied principles.  Yet, for this great American experiment to continue working, that is the most important commitment of holding a governmental office.  I know that those elected can’t always support my personal agenda, most intelligent people would understand that.  And I don’t use the word intelligent lightly…because I think there is an astonishing lack of intelligence in government today.  There is a definite blurred line when it comes to who has the proper training and credentials to run for office.  We should demand only the best and brightest to take on the complicated business of running our country…which is why I take great offence to people like Joe Blow who think they can do a better job, just like I wouldn’t want a plumber to do surgery on me, any more than I would want a plumber as a president.   I mean no disrespect to plumbers…I trust them implicitly by having them fix any and all problems at my house. As one who studied law, though, I do believe that lawyers better understand the intricacies of all that the constitution demands and are better suited for higher office.  That is my personal bias, challenged quite often, which is why after my venture to the in-between, I learned to be open to those who are committed to service because they are called to do so…but only after they become prepared by understanding the workings of government and putting personal agenda’s aside for the whole of their constituency.  That is a rarity today…it just is.  Sound bites from positions on social media and cable news prove how little understanding there is about how government works.  It astonishes me, more than I can convey.  The people who claim to think they can actually do a better job with so little background is as bizarre to me as the same person thinking that they could perform surgery, without the proper training…  I believe that to the bottom of my heart….I took government and constitutional law…it’s hard, for a reason.

The one final thought I would implore those who embrace their own polarity, don’t buy into the bullshit that those on the other side are evil.  They are not.  There are wonderful people on both ends who want the same thing and are grown up enough to hammer out their difference to come up with greater solutions.  Go find them.

 

 

You Want the Truth? You can’t Handle the Truth!

jack nicholsonThat is one of my favorite movie lines from all time, and it was what popped into my head when I worried about how to continue my discussion on illusion.  I thought of using “breaking bad”, but since the series just ended, I didn’t feel right usurping any searches that way.  While I think the first instinct for most people is that they would really like the truth, to see it, know it and live it…I have to be honest and say that I don’t believe that for a minute.

I didn’t sleep much last night, and as I often do, I prayed hard that God may break any illusions that may hold me prisoner, and to bless me with even greater truth.  And that is exactly what God did.  Except not at first, at first there was just silence…so I turned on the TV, as I often do when I can’t sleep.  As I pressed the guide on my remote, there was a movie on called “Desert Flower”, thinking that it might  be an opportunity to get an answer to my questions, I watched it.  It was about the life of Waris Dirie, a super model who suffered the humility of female genital mutilation, or female circumcision and became the world’s foremost crusader against it.  I’m not shifting gears into this heroic struggle, but there was a point in the film, when she flashes back to when she was a three year old girl, playing and kissing her mother and the graphic horror of what happened when held by two woman who mutilated her without anesthesia .  I sobbed long and hard, of course as a mother at what pain and horror that baby went through, and because of the horrible subjugation of women that still occurs around the world.  Through my tears, though, I still wasn’t ready for sleep, so I kept watching T.V.

The movie that followed, was called “The Magdalene Sisters.”  It told the stories of four young women in 1964 Ireland who labeled”fallen” by their families, were sent to Magdalene Asylums to suffer manual labor doing laundry and other penance as appeasement for their sins.  The abuse and humiliation these young woman suffered all under the tutelage of the Roman Catholic Church, was just as painful to watch.   Again, I don’t want to talk about that injustice right now either.  Here was my uncomfortable truth: In this moment of time, I have it unbelievably easy, I have control over my body, my mind and my voice, and I won’t be punished for it.  I am free to choose the life I live and choose what I want to believe, the operative word being “choose.”

While it is not perfect, my country allows me this freedom.  I am grateful for it, and proud to live as an American citizen.   Of course, that isn’t the greater truth.  The greater truth is this; All of our voices matter.  We, the people represent different ethnicity’s, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, socioeconomic status, intelligence and gender.  That is why we have a republic, a representative government.  Coming up with solutions that will represent all of us is tricky and hard.  I think Congress has forgotten that fact.  In this crisis I have become biased, and angry that one small group of people thinks that their voice matters more than anybody else’s.  So I’m using my voice to declare loudly, “Knock it off!  put your dicks back in your pants and pass a CR to reopen the government.  Quit pointing the finger at each other and COMPROMISE!  and that doesn’t include what has already been made into law and upheld by the court.  DO A BETTER JOB.  QUIT CLAIMING TO SPEAK FOR ONLY THOSE THAT THINK LIKE YOU DO AND TRY AND WORK FOR US ALL FOR A CHANGE…that is what we elected you to do.

To conclude, let me just say that I had to be reminded of how little power many woman have around the world before I was challenged to exercise my own.  I will do better.

Shadow Masters

plato-cavePlato, in his allegory of the cave, gives a perfect illustration of how we can become captive by illusions.   As a result of believing the shadows on the wall to be true reality, the world becomes a fabrication, like the old tale of the Emperor’s invisible clothes.   Like the fundamental assumptions that society believes often without question or in many instances fails to even notice, the world’s illusions seem to have snuck up on us slowly, so much so that it appears that we have lost the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is simply a shadow on the wall.  What is most frightening, though, is the level of ferocity (even violence) with which we as individuals and as a society have chosen to hold on to illusions, rather than recognize, grieve, and surrender the deceptions we believed and then move upward and outward into the light.

It may appear to be the greatest of arrogance for me to tell you that you’ve been staring at shadows your whole life.  So I won’t say it.  Of course if your life is not hunky dory then you’ll have to draw your own conclusions as to the reason why, and let me suggest that the list begins with the primary source…yourself.   The only claim of expertise made here will be from what I’ve learned as a fellow observer, one with the added vantage point of standing in the middle.  Not only is there an equidistant view from where I stand, if I’ve been lulled into believing in shadows, the chances are pretty good that others have been lulled into believing them too.  So if you see room for improvement in your life, then take a chance and read on.  I won’t even attempt to tell you what illusions you may be staring at in shadow form.  The starting point is to simply admit that you may have them.  It will be your job to figure out what those shadows are.  And let me tell you that when you do that, the chains dissolve away.  There is no trick to escape, no enormous locks; it all centers on personal choice.  Those first few steps in relative darkness are the hardest because it demands that you have faith in something that isn’t known yet.  It’s after you take those first steps and go outside that you will understand the difference; the light makes it impossible to transfer one shadow for another, they are lost forever.  But take heed to this warning: the process of escape usually really sucks.  The pain is a necessary part, but like a painkiller I’ll try to dull it a bit.  If you were able to accept the challenge and let go of all the rules you live by and live in cosmic anarchy for a while, then you’re already 10 steps ahead of everyone else.

One of the rules that I’ve adopted (post cleaning my own cosmic closet) is that things are not always what they appear to be, so making rigid judgments about any given situation doesn’t even factor into the movie in my head; when I have done so in the past, the result is most often catastrophic.   Most people are aware on some level that what they see is often colored by who they are and what has happened to them thus far in life.  What trips me up most often is not that things are something other than what they appear to be, but that I hold on to the judgments that I create about them (often rigidly) even in the face of knowing better.  A shadow is a shadow, regardless of how articulate or insightful modern commentary is in trying to justify the truth of its existence.  Real change happens in the heart.  Any person can say they believe in something over and over, but if their heart isn’t willing to follow along, especially in terms of their behavior, then the chains will never be let loose making it impossible to move out of the darkness.

As an observer, besides using my native good judgment in determining at any given time when I’m living in the land of illusion, there is also a process I use taken from the rules of Evidence in the American Judicial System.  One of the most basic rules of evidence is that only evidence that is relevant may be permitted, that is only that material which has the tendency to help prove the truth of the issue at hand.  The most obvious relevant evidence would be something like a murder weapon or an eye witness to a crime.  Even when evidence is relevant, though, it may still be excluded if the value of the evidence is outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues or misleading the jury.  Other forms of evidence like hearsay: a statement made outside of the courtroom but is offered in court to prove the truth of the matter asserted; or character evidence: using a person’s character to prove that person acted in conformity to that character, may not be allowed because of the risk of unfair prejudice. The bottom line is that the rules of evidence are very restrictive because those who decide the case whether it be the judge or a jury deserve the kind of evidence that best leads to the truth.

Unfortunately, this kind of filtering isn’t necessarily applied when it comes to dispelling many of the illusions our culture lives by today.  Look at how most of us receive information, especially from television.  It is common to utilize deeply biased and second and third hand information to inform the public about an issue.  It is also more and more common to attack someone’s character as a means of uncovering “the truth,” or to diminish the validity of their perspective.  It appears that the means by which we prove the truth in our lives would never hold muster in a court room.  Is it because the truth by which we live is less important than the truth that will prove us guilty or innocent?

There are three things that I have found helpful in destroying the illusions that pop up in my life: 1) coming to terms with the judgments of my heart, 2) steering away from that kind of evidence that distracts me from the truth and 3) refusing to engage in “king of the hill” behavior, meaning defending with such vigor those judgments/illusions I have that truth is forced to take the back seat to winning the argument.  Have you ever had an argument with someone and fought to the death even though you knew full well that you were wrong?  Just wanting to be right never got me anywhere, whereas shifting my thinking from a win/lose mentality to an exploration of what new information I may gain, has usually gotten me everywhere.  Take a moment to listen to your innate good judgment and see if there is truth in what others are saying.  Feeling super defensive is a sure sign that it is a crucial time to listen.  Ego thrives on illusion.  I’ve also learned, the hard way, that truth never prevails when the impetus to present an idea is rooted in fear (even if the fear is as simple as not wanting to lose the upper hand).

Although chances are also great that the other person doesn’t know what they are talking about either and are also just trying to win, when you remove the competitive element either the wind will completely blow out of the conversation (being there is nothing left for the other person to conquer) or you will find out the other person is really trying to make a point.  There may even be the not so rare occasion when they weren’t listening to you anyway and just like to hear themselves talk.  Even in these situations discovery may happen.   The focus should not be on the other person, but on what your heart tells you in response to them.  Face it change is hard…in Plato’s allegory, there were plenty of people who wanted to kill the messenger, the one who escaped the chains and wanted to share his expanded frame of reference.  We often shoot down new information if it requires us to shift beyond what we believe at any given point.  Holding onto shadows may be easier, but then one must accept the kind of darkness that will forever shield one from true illumination.  Faith in light beyond the darkness is the only escape.

Native Good Judgement

10026_CommonSenseThe phrase “common sense” means native good judgment and is derived from the Greek koinē aesthēsis which refers to the total perception of the five senses.  If you have senses, then those of you who read this have, potentially anyway, as much common sense as anybody else.  The problem lies in the execution.  Like any other gift, native good judgment must be exercised. Over my lifetime, my mother and father constantly challenged me and my siblings to use good common sense, and it’s never been easy considering the world we live in.  I never forgot those simple edicts that came from my parents: “If you eat all that Halloween candy, you will get sick”; “If you wait until the last-minute to study, you probably won’t really understand the material and not do well on the test”; “If you treat your siblings like crap, crap is what you will get in return.”; “The most important lessons always contain some form of difficulty.”  Those pearls of wisdom created a strong base for much of my decision-making as an adult, (that and scoring the 97th percentile in an aptitude test measuring common sense…which I’ve bragged about before).  Common sense should also never be confused with intelligence-it is not the same thing.  Some of the most intelligent people I know actually seem to be lacking in common sense.  Like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, they really should give diplomas for that kind of smarts.  The scarecrow discovered that the only way to increase the wisdom of one’s native good judgment is not by always doing what one is told, but by figuring it out on ones own and actually taking personal responsibility for those choices that go awry.

Taking personal responsibility for the choices one makes and developing common sense are intimately connected.   Unfortunately one can’t develop without the other.   Based on what I observe in the world at large, be it politics or religion, common sense is on hiatus.  It has simply left the building.  And that is the root of much my of my anger and sadness about the world today.

While in college, I had the chance to study and to meet Lawrence Kohlberg, a professor at Harvard University who was well-known for his theory of moral development.  In his theory, there are three levels of moral development with two stages within each level.  Kohlberg also maintained that individuals could only progress through these stages one at a time, in order, without jumping any stage.  The first level, termed “pre-conventional” is generally found in elementary school age children.  At stage 1, (ages 1-5) children behave according to socially acceptable norms created by an authority figure.  Obedience is compelled by threat of punishment.  At stage 2, (ages 5-10) right behavior means acting in one’s own interest, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”  The next level, “conventional,” is where most of society lies.  Beginning with stage 3 (ages 8-16) right choices are based on being a “good boy/girl or doing what will gain the approval of important others such as parents, teachers or friends.  Stage 4 (ages 16 and above and if they reach it, where most adults remain) is defined by abiding the law and fulfilling one’s obligation of duty.  In this stage, leaders are assumed to be right and individuals adopt social rules without considering the underlying ethical principles involved.  People who break rules, deserved to be punished.

What I found most disturbing was Kohlberg’s conclusion that only about 20-25% of today’s adults (most in their late twenties) ever reach the last level of moral development, labeled “post-conventional.”   In stage 5, people do recognize the underlying moral principles served by laws, and if a law no longer serves a good purpose, they actively work to change it through legal and democratic means.  Respect for the law and a sense of obligation to live by the rules is still important, but an individual uses only legally acceptable means to make changes.   Less than 1% of adults ever make a stage 6 moral decision.  Kohlberg believed, theoretically, that civil disobedience was often how a stage 6 moral decision distinguished itself.  In this instance, breaking a law in defense of an individual right can be justified.  Martin Luther King, for example, argued that laws are only valid insofar as they are grounded in justice, and that a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws and accept whatever consequences may come.

It is the kind of strength of conscience that defines Kohlberg’s sixth level that led me to conclude that developing one’s native good judgment is a necessary step in reaching the latter stages of moral development.  It is by exercising and honing one’s native good judgment that acts as a moral compass in not only determining what rules we are going to live by, but gives an individual the internal fortitude and certainty to actually live by them.

In the Judeo/Christian tradition, we are taught that human beings are created in the image of God so the obvious conclusion is that we should have a great deal of faith in our native good judgment.  If we are going to continue to evolve as human beings it doesn’t make sense to think that by questioning cultural rules we would encourage anarchy, rather, it should encourage just the exact opposite.  It is often through questioning that truth itself becomes clearer and that clarity will ultimately shed light on what rules are working in each individual life.  Of course any challenge to these rules most likely leads to conflict but, it was and still is from this kind of vantage point that I make most decisions to co-direct my destiny.

As I mentioned before, exercising the senses to develop that inherent native good judgment is a must.  Lack of use weakens our ability to use them and leaves one vulnerable to outside influences.  Of course, there are many reasons that all of us have, at times, chosen to disregard what we know to be true, subjecting ourselves to a whole other set of unhealthy rules.  Catholic school taught me that they were the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth.  There are a host of others, to be sure, but these seven are as good as any.  Knowing what rules serve a higher purpose doesn’t mean that I was always capable of listening to that inner voice and adhering to them—which is normal because sometimes the best way to learn is by making mistakes.  Note the distinction between discovering what rules are good to follow and actually choosing to follow them; it is very important.  Obviously, the proof is in what kind of choices we have made in our lives thus far and the people who influence us on a daily basis.  However, the more adept we become at using native good judgment, the more difficult it becomes to fall prey to those deadly sins.

It would be inaccurate to assume that “proof” of using native good judgment will always result in being labeled “good” by society.  In thinking of my own childhood a little poem comes to mind: “When I was good, I was very, very good and when I was bad I was clueless.”  The ditty needed changing because sometimes challenging the rules means embracing the willingness to accept judgment as being bad.  Being labeled “naughty” by some of my teachers perhaps was the inevitable result of not behaving as little girls should, meaning I always spoke my mind and never stopped barraging teachers with questions about things that were difficult to wrap my young brain around.  Mind you, I never wanted to be bad; being arbitrary just didn’t come naturally.  All I wanted to know, if I was expected to act a certain way, was the reason why.  Perhaps one of the results of questioning the validity of the rules we follow is to turn up the volume on those innate sensibilities.  So, what does this all mean in practical terms?  Stay tuned…

Bozeman Bound

bozemanSo, the day has finally arrived!  Connor and I are making the road trip out to Bozeman to get him settled into college.  I’m excited and sad at the same time.  His life in crazy town has flown by, and he is ready for his next big adventure.  It hardly seems possible that I have a child in college, when it was only yesterday that I was in the same position…wondering what life was going to look like, on my own.  It has been full and fun, and never in a million years could I have predicted the road I did travel.  The best advice?  Only plan so much and let the road take you where your heart and passion lead you.  Walk with integrity, truth and a commitment to become the best you, and with God’s help you can never be defeated…unless you try to do it all on your own.  Pray for our safe trip and may it be fun and adventurous!