A Defining Moment

A Defining Moment
Feb 28, 2018

Two weeks and about nine hours ago, seventeen families went about their daily rituals. Clothes were donned, breakfasts gobbled down, parents went off to their jobs, some started their daily chores, and children went to school. They came from all local ethnicities and walks of life. Their common bond was in their routines and their shared location. Those mundane moments of February 14th were probably sprinkled with expectation of the day being Valentine’s Day as well as Ash Wednesday but at that time of the day, it was the routine that took precedence, None realized that those mundane moments would become defining moments, the last they would share with their beloved high school students.

Time stands still when you are in the middle of such moments as experienced during the shootings at a high school in Parkland, Florida that day. Time takes much too long if you are a first responder trying to render aid or a parent trying to locate one’s child. Those defining moments become echoes as we strive to recover from such a tragedy and the philosophy of who we really are becomes self-evident.

In the nineteenth century philosophy became something of a tongue twister at times. According to Arthur Schopenhauer, “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” Georg Hegel believed in what he called a “system” of philosophy but maintained that reality was a historical process, examples of changes in the Spirit as a whole. Ludwig Feuerbach believed almost the opposite of Hegel. He believed in no spiritual realm and felt reality was, in the end, immaterial.

Interestingly enough, these different viewpoints formed the basis for a huge shift in political thinking and laid the groundwork for the history of the twentieth century. A student of Hegel rejected an individualistic state of nature and believed that mankind’s life was social. Thus, human nature was an expression of labor and activity, all done for the benefit of mankind or, in the trendy term of the period, society. He expressed Hegel’s theories in terms of material rather than spiritual terms. History to this student was a series of class struggles and his vision for the future was to create a classless society. His name was Karl Marx.

Born to German Jewish parents who then converted to the Lutheran faith, Karl Marx believed “criticism of religion is the foundation of all criticism.” Marx wanted to make history a science and believed that in doing so the problems of the past could be alleviated. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

Throughout its history philosophy and religion have been together – as friends and as enemies. Since the beginning of philosophy was man’s quest to determine what life was, what the world was, and what mankind itself was, the various creation theories and/or myths that exist had to be considered, studied, and related. It is simply impossible to separate philosophy from belief and yet, for the most part, they seem to be at odds with each other.

For many, philosophy strives to explain an anguished existence in an irrational world. For others, philosophy seeks to prove what they believe through faith. Thus is the question for today: Is philosophy what we believe or is what we believe contradictory to the study of philosophy? For some, the study of philosophy is blasphemous. For others, it is a refreshing proof of their beliefs.

As we try to answer that question, I ask you to consider how you show grace rather than how we live as the answer. Philosophy is the science of thinking but life is the art of doing and what we believe is evident in what we do. If I say I have love for my neighbor, based upon Christian beliefs, then I cannot hate those who are different. If I say my life is dedicated to Allah, then I must live the peace the Qur’an speaks of in my daily living. If I believe I am a child of persecuted children of Israel, how can I fail to have sympathy and empathy for others who are persecuted, even if they are of another faith? In all of these examples and if you consider yourself to be a spiritualist, then what part does grace play?

Karl Marx is famous for having said “Religion is the opium of the people.” Having absolute certainty is one’s knowledge might also be said to be addicting, even lead to the ego-driven state Marx so harshly wished mankind to avoid. We all believe in something. Does our manner of living and interacting with society bolster their beliefs and make them evident, defining us correctly, or do they seem at odds with our words, making a mockery of both our faith and our living?

In 1726, Daniel Defoe wrote in his book “The Political History of the Devil”: “Things as certain as death and taxes can be more firmly believed.” In 1789, writing to a friend in France, Benjamin Franklin wrote, in giving an update on the newly formed country and US Constitution: “…nothing is certain except death and taxes.” All we can be truly certain of is what we are doing.

There are many ways to define living and most of them do involve spiritual and/or religious beliefs. However, what really matters is that we have tried to live as we believe. Whatever our philosophy is, we need to make sure that it ascends to the primary core of our actions, that it is the reason behind those actions. Then our personal philosophy will be one we support and believe. To quote Mahatma Gandhi: ““Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.”

As is my habit after mass tragedies, I have not posted for several days. I do this out of respect for those who perish but also for those who survive. Mostly I do not want to profit from someone else’s grief. We must speak out, though, against the policies that allow such tragedies to continue. Our actions after such events must combine intelligent thought, grace, and compassion. Most of all, we must move forward in respect for the fallen to ensure that such events are prevented in the future.

I propose to you that to whom and in what manner we show grace defines who we are. The purpose of living is not to collect the most objects, toys is you will, but to do the most kindness to others. The worth of a person is not based upon their bank account but rather upon the goodness they leave behind.

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Who Are We…Really?

Who are we…Really?

Feb 12-13

 

In 1974 a politician serving on the national level was discovered in a compromising position with a burlesque performer.  Being a member of the conservative political party, he claimed he was just supporting the woman’s career and was doing so with his wife’s support.  In the next several months the true affair was revealed, a relationship that had involved a pregnancy and an abortion, all the time while the politician campaigned against abortion and touted his own family values.  This was a watershed moment for national politics.  Up to this point, their private lives were just that – private.  In a nation that proudly disavowed an aristocracy or ruling monarchy so that all could be considered equal (and held equally accountable by a justice system that supposedly was blind to class, politicians had been given a free ride based upon their stature as … well, politicians.

 

After a wave of sexual misconduct and corruption revelations following the 1974 Tidal Basin incident, Congress created ethics committees for each chamber and formal processes for reprimands, censures and expulsion. The Arkansas politician involved decided to end his political career amid the negative press coverage of his affair also demonstrated that powerful lawmakers could face consequences for their sexual misdeeds ― even if they were consensual affairs.

 

In a recent article for the Huffington Post, Paul Blumenthal wrote:  “Congress is currently grappling with how to respond to a new wave of sexual misconduct allegations. The effort is occurring amid a national outcry over accusations that powerful men ― not only in politics, but the media and the entertainment world ― abused their positions to harass, assault and rape women, girls, men and boys.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was accused of kissing radio news anchor Leann Tweeden against her will, and he was photographed groping her while she slept in 2006. He has since resigned his Senate seat.  Then news broke that 88-year-old Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) allegedly made repeated sexual advances to women on his staff. He reportedly settled in 2015 a wrongful dismissal complaint filed by one of them.   Several women alleged that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore either sexually assaulted them, kissed them or made unwanted advances while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.  Moore lost the Senate race and is said to be pursuing legal action against his accusers. 

 

Blumenthal also wrote:  “Absent an imminent election, the public sector has few levers available for ousting a lawmaker from Congress (or a president from the White House, for that matter) for sexual misconduct — fewer, certainly, than the private sector has at its disposal for dealing with miscreant CEOs and the like. No lawmaker has ever been expelled for sexual misconduct, and many facing such accusations have simply declared that they would not seek re-election.  But more and more, lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct are resigning from office. A survey of past cases by HuffPost determined that six of the 11 resignations from Congress since the mid-1970s that stemmed directly from sexual misconduct have occurred since 2006. This trend began after a second watershed moment in Congress’ history of dealing with sexual misconduct.”

 

The 2006 reporting by ABC News that Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) had engaged in sexually explicit instant message conversations with male teenage congressional pages brought up another issue – power over the powerless.  . At least 10 men came forward to allege that Foley had sexually harassed them or made inappropriate sexual comments to them when they were underage pages. Foley ultimately admitted he had a consensual sexual relationship with a former page once the page was of age.  Foley quickly resigned from office, but the true scandal was not just about the personal failings and misconduct of an individual. Foley’s pattern of abusive behavior toward underage pages was known by powerful congressional leaders and staffers, and they swept it under the rug. That’s where it stayed, until the instant message conversations leaked to the press.

 

Clearly those in a position of power need to be held accountable but we must make sure that in doing so, we do not ourselves exercise our own discrimination or misuse of power.  Righteous indignation is perfectly understandable and accountability must be ensured but how do we do that?

 

Earlier this week an Ohio Republican state legislator who consistently touts his faith and his anti-LGBT stances resigned after being caught having sex with a man in his office.  Representative Wes Goodman, who is married, was reportedly seen by someone who is not a staffer having sex with a man inside his Riffe Center office. The witness told Ohio House Chief of Staff Mike Dittoe of the situation early Tuesday afternoon, according to the Columbus Dispatch.  Dittoe told House Speaker Republican Cliff Rosenberger, who met with Goodman. Shortly after the meeting, Goodman resigned due to “inappropriate conduct.”

 

Wes Goodman had made his religious beliefs a major part of his political campaign and life.  He was famous for speaking about what he termed “natural marriage” being between a man and a woman. His campaign website outlined his views on family: “Healthy, vibrant, thriving, values-driven families are the source of Ohio’s proud history and the key to Ohio’s future greatness. The ideals of a loving father and mother, a committed natural marriage, and a caring community are well worth pursuing and protecting.”

 

Goodman said in a statement to the Columbus Dispatch: “We all bring our own struggles and our own trials into public life. That has been true for me, and I sincerely regret that my actions and choices have kept me from serving my constituents and our state in a way that reflects the best ideals of public service. For those whom I have let down, I’m sorry. As I move onto the next chapter of my life, I sincerely ask for privacy for myself, my family, and my friends.”

 

It did not take more than ten minutes for Facebook to be full of his opponents and those in the LGTBQ community to start pointing fingers at the hypocrisy of Goodman’s words versus his actions.  My question is this?  Where is our compassion, our humanity in dealing with such revelations?

 

I think it boils down to living what we profess to believe.  It is not a problem known only to one group of people, one political party.  Society has created the environment that prevents people from living authentic lives.  The media is full of images that contribute to the emphasis on sex and its supposed accompanying power.  We the public encourage this from the media by watching and buying those products, programs, books, fashions, etc. 

 

Joe Camel was possibly one of the most effective advertising campaigns in the twentieth century.  The RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company was seeking an advertising campaign that would rebrand their Camel cigarettes as being right for younger people.  The plan worked a little too well. 

 

On May 28, 1997 the Federal Trade Commission released the following statement:  “The Joe Camel advertising campaign violates federal law, the Federal Trade Commission charged today. The campaign, which the FTC alleges was successful in appealing to many children and adolescents under 18, induced many young people to begin smoking or to continue smoking cigarettes and as a result caused significant injury to their health and safety. The FTC charged that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the seller of Camel cigarettes, promoted an addictive and dangerous product through a campaign that was attractive to those too young to purchase cigarettes legally. In fact, the FTC said, after the campaign began the percentage of kids who smoked Camels became larger than the percentage of adults who smoked Camels….The agency is seeking an order that would bar Reynolds from using the Joe Camel campaign to advertise to kids and would require the company to conduct a public education campaign discouraging young people from smoking. The Commission also may order further relief, such as corrective advertising or other affirmative disclosures, after the trial on the case has concluded…. Consumers who smoke cigarettes risk addiction and long term health problems including cancer and heart disease,” said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, “and the earlier they begin smoking the greater the risk. That is why it is illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18.”

 

Where is the outrage today about the barrage of suggestive material, music, and media that encourages the behavior we are seeing in the highest office of this country?  IN its statement of 1997, the FTC concluded “R.J. Reynolds has conducted one of the most effective advertising campaigns in decades. Joe Camel has become as recognizable to kids as Mickey Mouse. Yet the campaign promotes a product that causes serious injury, addiction and death. It appeals to our young people. It is illegal and should be stopped. Joe Camel must grow up or go away.”

 

Perhaps that is the crux of today’s sexual allegations.  Are people trying to use sexual acts, consensual and harassing, as a means for staying young?  Or have we just decided that whatever a politician wants, he should get?  Have we forgotten why we have a constitution with elected officials instead of a monarchy based upon inheritance and family?

 

I have no easy answers and, quite frankly, do not think there are any.  What does concern me is the religious community’s response.  Being a religious community involves a sense of compassion and humanity and this week, in response to Rep Wes Goodman, there was precious little of that.  Where is our own compassion when dealing with those who have fallen short and strayed from a path they themselves claim to follow?  Can we not see the need for humanity in these situations, kindness and charity for both sides? 

 

Before you starting yelling at me, let me be honest and fully disclose that I have never been a sexual perpetrator but I have been a victim.  I would wish it on no one, not even an enemy, to be so victimized and yet, I must rise above any feeling of hatred to find my own humanity.  Who do we wish to be?  Vindictive haters or compassionate in holding others accountable?  I do think we can be accountable and loving without condoning the illicit behavior.    The choice is ours.  I do think we are better as a race than to allow the incorrect, illegal, and inconsiderate behavior of others to pull us down to lower level of behavior than anyone would want.  The selfish behavior of others should create insensitivity and unkind responses of our own.  Very few, if any of us, are perfect.  We hope and seek understanding for ourselves.  I just think we owe it to others to give them the same respect.  Perhaps that is the definition of being mature – the ability to show concern to those who have not earned it but are still just are human as the rest of us.  I firmly believe perpetrators should be held accountable.  I just happen to believe and hope there is a humane manner to do so.

 

Retreat: All about Living

Retreat: All about Living
Feb 11

I recently took a sabbatical or retreat from this blog. The purpose was to renew and refresh my perspective. This blog is about better living and finding a deeper spirituality, helping to define one’s personal and perhaps religious doctrine. It is about knowing one’s self and then living accordingly. So what did I learn? I learned that philosophy is great but really worth nothing if we do not put it into practice.

The following was an excerpt from an old article in the Fort Worth (Texas, USA) newspaper “Star Telegram”, written by Deanna Boyd. While this occurred in the past, a survey of recent news articles reveals that similar incidents are occurring almost daily. Please note that names have been omitted due to the age of the individual at the center of this article.

On Oct. 4, 2012, [X] called 911, telling a dispatcher, “Uh, I just killed my mom and my sister….”I felt like they were just suffocating me, in a way,” he told the dispatcher, according to a recording of the 911 call. “Obviously, you know, I’m pretty, I guess, evil.”

Responding Parker County deputies found [a woman] and her daughter dead of multiple gunshot wounds inside the house on [XX] Lane in [subdivision and town]. The young man was arrested at the scene. In a written statement, he told investigators that he had devised a plan to kill several family members after watching [a] remake of the movie “Halloween,” in which a boy murders relatives.

“While watching it I was amazed at how at ease the boy was during the murders and how little remorse he had afterward,” [X] wrote in his statement. “I was thinking to myself, it would be the same for me when I kill someone.”

Sheriff’s officials said [X] used a gun stolen from his grandfather, a retired Fort Worth officer, to commit the slayings. [X] told investigators that he had intended to later kill his grandparents and two other sisters. But after the slayings of his mom and sister, [X] — in a state he described as “very shocked and scared” — instead placed the gun on the kitchen counter and called 911.

“I know now though that I’m done with killing. It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”

 

We think we know so much and especially as young adults and teenagers, we can be intensely certain that we think we know something if not everything. Philosophy is about the “knowing” but how do we know? Sadly, many cult leaders never give their followers the chance to reflect upon their actions. These misguided young people searching for knowledge and truth are sacrificed for the greed and egos of others.

 

Philosophy is about the search for knowledge and it is a search conducted without a great deal of physical action, just mental. For that reason, many disdain it and consider it, to borrow from Shakespeare, “much ado about nothing”. Some say that about spiritual sects and religious denominations and faiths.

We study to prevent knowledge from passing us by, from slipping through the hours of our living. The ancient philosophers saw the world moving on and asked why. We need to question our daily actions in the same way. Did what I do yesterday have value? Did I connect with another, friend or stranger? Was there a purpose for my being?

 

I hope that, on our life’s journey, we will continue to delve into the answers and ways of answering such questions. Who, what, how, why… These are the realm philosophy travels. We will each have our own answers and paths of both learning and exploration. The future is, after all, ours to construct and write.

 

Hopefully, in our daily living we will connect with others and thrive. Hopefully, others will look back upon their connections with us and be thankful for them. Mostly, though I hope you never feel what this young man has felt. “It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”

 

Life is not about being haunted. Life is for living and living for the best outcomes for all of mankind. Enjoy today. Live your faith. Exist, believe, rejoice. Mostly, I hope you smile – at another but also at yourself.