Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bend but don't break . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is a perfect spring morning.  Birds are singing. Honeysuckle and wisteria are creeping.  The sky is cornflower blue,  my favorite color for the sky.  The early morning air was icy, but it is warming up now.  The view out the window behind the sofa is beautiful and daunting as I take stock of yard work that needs to be done. 

I tried to do a little yard work last Saturday, beginning with removing some leaves which had piled up on part of my roof during the winter.  With my trusty leaf rake in hand I climbed the ladder and mounted the roof and quickly got to work.  The leaves were water soaked and heavy, stubbornly clinging together and holding their shingles.  I pounded the tines of the leaf rake into the brown mass, pulling harder and harder on the wooden handle as it strained and bent against the task.

As it turns out the wooden handle was not meant to bend like that.  It suddenly snapped.  The Herculean force I had been exerting on the handle had to go somewhere.  Amazingly it was transferred to my right fist which was still gripping the short piece of the upper handle.

As a result of the laws of physics I slugged myself with a stunning right cross to my jaw which sent me reeling as I stood on the roof.  It was an impressive lick, the kind that makes you check to see if your jaw joints are in place and your teeth are still there.  It was a TKO.  After lying on the roof for a few minutes I slinked down the ladder, went back into the house and decided to put off yard work for awhile.

Looking out the window this morning I am reminded that I need to clear some saplings that have grown up on the hill right behind the house.  There are hardwoods and pines and I need to thin them out.  

There is a difference between the hardwoods and the pines.  Several of the young pine trees are bent over and twisted, some with almost ninety degree bends in the slender trunks.  These bends are permanent.   These trees were very young a year ago, and when the February snows came and stayed, the needles of the pine trees collected the heavy snow.  The trees were helpless to dump the snow themselves, and as the days went on they bowed down under the weight.  By the time that long February ended and all the snows finally melted, the young pines were bent and twisted permanently, unable to straighten up even though the heavy weight of the snow had melted away.  I remember during those days looking out my window to the frigid white hillside and the crystalline needles of the young pines.  I remember thinking that I needed to go out and shake the snow from their branches so they would stand back up, but I never did.  I assumed that when the snow melted they would be okay, that they would straighten up.  They never did.

The hardwood saplings, on the other hand, stand straight.  In the winter they have no leaves to catch the heavy snow, and never have to suffer from the crushing, cold weight.

The next generation of these trees may not look the same.  The seeds of the bent and twisted pine trees will not create bent and twisted trees.  They will spring from the earth pointed straight to the heavens.  There will be nothing within them that causes them to twist or bend except the innate need to survive if the snow comes.  Their fate will depend on the chance of snow, and if anyone will be there to clear the snow if it comes so early in their youth.

The laws of physics are relentless.  Excessive force can have two results.  The object of the force can be damaged, sometimes beyond repair, sometimes beyond recognition.  And sometimes the object of the force will snap, or explode, transferring the energy of the force indiscriminately, with no regard to who or what is damaged nearby.

Either way, I have learned it is wise to heed the warning, the bending that comes with the weight, that comes with the pressure.

Because ignoring that bending in the world around us, or even within ourselves,  can result in some strange and painful things.

It's like slugging yourself in the face.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Like Putin, I just needed to get this off my chest and Bebe free. . .

Lately I have been trying to be sensitive in my writing.  But I am in a really bad mood for a variety of reasons, and the suppressed anger is bubbling up.  So consider this post akin to a mental rioting in the street.  That's about as crazy as I get.  So, in no particular order, let me toss a few metaphorical Molotovs.

The State of Israel is a small country that is dependent on the U.S.A. for its existence despite having achieved one of the strongest and most secure economies in the world.  The United States pays 3.15 billion dollars in direct military aid to Israel each year, almost one quarter of Israel's annual defense budget.  Israel receives millions of additional dollars in indirect aide.  One quarter of that military aide has been used to build one of the strongest military weapon industries in the world.  The only benefit that Israel offers to the United States is a strategic location and a stable sympathetic government in an unstable region.   It is a right and good thing that we support a secure country for Jews after the horrors inflicted on them during WWII.  I support that right and good thing.  But giving Israel political input into our foreign policy  has no basis in reason.  There is even less basis in reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu to appear before Congress to speak. It was Prime Minister Netanyahu who testified before Congress in 2002, enthusiastically exhorting the Congress to approve the invasion of Iraq, based on what turned out to be gross misinformation.  He also predicted that it would not be a difficult or long mission.  That turned out well. A reasonable argument can be made that the horrors that plague that region today are a result of that faulty reasoning he shared with American leaders at the time.   Netanyahu is a politician who is in trouble in an election at home in two weeks and desperately needs help.  And who can blame him for thinking that he can turn to America for help in his personal campaign.   I suppose some think that the State of Israel is the same as the nation of Israel in the Bible. I do not. No more than I believe that my client Jesus' is the son of God.  I believe the State of Israel is not unlike most countries, seeking security and prosperity for itself, doing some good, and some bad along the way to achieve those goals. Again, I am in favor of supporting Israel.  But this irrational, romantic, intellectually baseless attitude that the State of Israel and its leader Prime Minister Netanyahu know what's best regarding the United States foreign policy is sad at best, and very dangerous at worst.

On a related note, what is the deal with some Americans need to idolize foreign leaders?  First Putin, now Bebe. (I did once have a crush on Princess Grace of Monaco, but that was different)  Putin is considered a terribly scary yet comical bare chested buffoon by the rest of the world.  Netanyahu is not really considered much at all.   As opposed to President Obama, who is a reasoned, intelligent, even-keeled leader who speaks of and exhibits Christian values as he struggles to lead American forward in unprecedented treacherous international times. He is also probably the most respected leader in the world.  A serious, smart, Christian guy.  America reminds me of the girls in high school. Always falling for the bad boys.  It is true.  We'll be sorry in a few years after the bad boy gets fat and lays around all day and won't get a job.  The serious, smart, Christian guy will be looking pretty good then. At least that's what my mother used to say.

President Obama's Iran strategy is the best chance to control the nuclear advancement of Iran.  It has been moderately successful so far and is at a delicate and critical stage in negotiation.  The most significant threat to that success has been  Congress pressing for more sanctions on Iran and now the State of Israel Prime Minister pressing for what appears to be a military option, with the United States taking the lead.  He offers no other option.  Perhaps I just do not understand. If someone can explain to me how any military threat or even sanctions that stop the negotiations from proceeding are going to effectively prevent Iran from producing a nuclear weapon, I hope you chime in.  Actually I always hope folks chime in.

What part of "judge not lest you be judged,"  "cast the first stone, if you think you're good enough," or "do not look for the speck in another's eye until you remove the plank from your own," do we not understand?  I'm talking about us Christians now, so those unaffected can skip down if you wish. It is not my job as a Christian to name someone else's sin. It is not yours either.  Take the LGBT issue that consumes so much of the time and energy of the institutional church these days. I do not believe being LGBT is a sin.   But it really doesn't matter what I believe. And it doesn't matter what you believe.  At least in the Christian spirituality sense.  God is the judge of all such things.  Jesus was pretty clear, abundantly clear, that we are not to judge.  Stones and planks. Judging is more often the sin  that Jesus spoke of in such situations.  Strangely he scolded the accusers and not so much the accused. I don't want to be scolded by Jesus. So if I err, I pray that it will be on the side of too much grace.  I can't judge anyone else about this judging issue I suppose.  I am obviously failing miserable tonight.  A real double bind.   But I do believe that the decline of the institutional church is not what we are being told.  The decline is caused by us, the Body of Christ, wasting God's time on gathering stones that should never be thrown.  Let's don't judge. It's a sin. Let's go, follow,  love. serve. forgive. pray.  That should burn up all our time and energy. If we finish all that up, maybe then we can judge. Or maybe just leave that up to God.

The Death Penalty cannot be justified.

Health care for everyone is a good thing. Medical insurance for all is a way to accomplish this.  Why is this not a worthy national goal?  If Obamacare is not perfect, why do away with it? Why not fix it, unless we don't care whether everyone has quality medical care.  Why celebrate the possibility that millions of people who have obtained medical insurance will lose it?  Again, this next note is for Christians.  Jesus said, "heal the sick,"  "tend to the poor."   If that is not being done for everyone, we are responsible.  And for me, that failure is a sin.  Check the goats and sheep story of Matthew 25 one more time.  It is instructive on these things, but really, really scary.
What is the big deal about the Keystone Pipeline?  It's construction has required and is still requiring the government to come in and force some landowners to sell some of their land to private business.  That does not sound like something the tea party conservative or the libertarian would be supportive of.  It poses a risk to the environment.  Maybe there could be a positive economic impact. But it might well be an expensive investment in a dying technology.  But really,  it's just not as big deal to our country as someone is making it.  And certainly not big enough to outweigh the rights of the private landowners and the risk to the environment.

Why do we in the State of Alabama insist on doing silly, stupid, mean things that keep the rest of the country and world from knowing what a great place we live in, with great, kind, loving people, with great creativity and talent and intelligence and abilities.  Why do we celebrate ignorance?  We are so much different and better and smarter than that.  When are we going to admit it?

A good way to begin would be to end the tax system which is overtly regressive and cruelly oppressive to the poor among us. 

Yea, that would do it.  

Let's do it this year.

Thanks for listening.  I feel better.

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