Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Trepidations and reflections on faith in Lent

We are not to simply bandage wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spike into the wheel itself. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

In spite of injunctions like this, we have mounted huge systems of “mercy” that purport to “bandage wounds of victims of injustice”.  And we have elevated millions to pedestals of heroism for having joined those systems. We have even created schools for mercy training, in our search for relief of our own shame and guilt and yet the wheels of injustice continue to spin beyond our control.

In Christian circles, there is a debate about the application of the concept of salvation, as to whether or not that applies to the individual primarily or to the community itself.
 Logically, there can be no complete separation, given that the saving of the community would have to include the individual. Salvation, considered the key to the eternal life of the kingdom of heaven, seems to require a transformation of the heart/mind/spirit/body from a sinful and secular self-directed impulse to a more spiritual, ethereal and elevated commitment to a different way of being, as a disciple of a Risen Christ whose death on the cross at Calvary and Resurrection were an atonement for our transgressions. And who are we to presume to know better than God whether our sins do not qualify for such forgiveness? Millions of people, having read and studied and prayed about their relationship with God, have foundered on the shoals of their own false humility, playing God, in their own lives, as if they knew better. Neither false humility nor false exaggeration of one’s sacred and ethical purity will open one’s eyes to a full appreciation and acknowledgement of the full truth of one’s spiritual fitness. And what if our spiritual fitness is never questioned by the God of unconditional love?

It is Lent, that part of the Christian calendar that posits a critical examination of our lives in light of the forty days and forty nights in which Jesus is reported to have wandered in the wilderness, prior to his crucifixion.  Some put ashes on their foreheads, on Ash Wednesday, as a symbol both of belief and discipleship in the depths of suffering Jesus experienced, and holds out as a model for our own potential transformation. Without suffering, we are and will be unable to enter into the Kingdom.

Transgressions, suffering….forgiveness, resurrection, rebirth….these are words bandied about in Christian circles, in our stumbling attempt to make sense of how our faith and the story on which it rests intersects with our lives. And any attempt here by a mere mortal to make a final explication has to be considered tentative, faulty, incomplete and open to deep criticism.

It was St Paul who wrote that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. And while there is no denying our sinfulness, (in those things we have done and those we have failed to do), there is another lens that we can invoke through which to look at our sins. John Milton reminds us that we are not punished “for” our sins, but rather “by” our sins. And there is an inscrutable sense in which none of us is blind or deaf to our own sins of commission/omission. The Christian church has, in the words of some cynics, kept Satan (the opponent, adversary of God) in business for thousands of years. So deeply ingrained in the theology of the Christian church is the sinfulness of human beings that some argue this quality of sin, imperfection, weakness, (of the flesh, of the mind, of the spirit) is the primary qualifying trait of humanity.

Some proponents of the faith argue that, without a moment of miraculous realization of the gift of God’s forgiveness, and its acceptance, “being born again,” one is not and cannot be “saved”. Others, (among whom count your scribe) prefer a protracted life-long process of both openness to and receptivity of God’s grace, that gift which we struggle to find, and struggle even more to explain, by which humans come to a conscious (and unconscious) awareness that God’s love is so mysterious and so ubiquitous and so penetrating that for most, only those moments when we are, have been, and will be experiencing the darkest night, is there some kind of light that penetrates our personal cave.

The narrative, from scripture, that depicts the supreme act of love, as humans would be able and willing to conceive it, emerges from the story of Good Friday, the commemoration of the death of Jesus (that man/God figure in history who never claims to be God, but rather walks and talks as the Son of God). Crucified, Jesus is reported to have been missing from his burial tomb, although witnessed by Mary Magdalene, and then, the story says, He ‘rose’ into heaven. This story of the triumph over death, Resurrection, is symbol of not only God’s power and also the power of forgiveness which accompanies belief in, faith in, acceptance of and following the path of Jesus’ teachings, prayers, and memorial acts such as The Last Supper, now celebrated in the Eucharist, the Mass, or the Communion.

Much has been made, by church teachings, of the need for humans to repent, confess and move beyond their sins, some would argue, as a singularly potent teaching by which to seize and to maintain control over parishioners. The Penitential Rite, the act of Confession, has been imprinted in both the practice and the prayer books of some religious communities, and clergy have been instructed on how and when to “hear” confessions, a process considered integral to the path of Christian discipleship. As one who has been on both sides of the “confessional,” I am conscious that the act of telling another of the burdens of the heart, soul, mind and spirit can be healing, and when linked with the potential of the forgiveness of God, conveyed through the clergy, at a time of significant import in the life of the penitent, the elevated impact of such a moment is frequently long remembered.

There is evidence, also, that psychiatrists have referred troubled clients, seemingly near the end of their clinical therapy, to the client’s clergy, for additional healing, from a spiritual perspective. And there is little doubt that one’s turbulent mind and heart and spirit, depending on the trauma through which they have passed, can be ameliorated, and integrated into one’s full conscious with the help of a skillful therapist and/or an empathic spiritual director.

Moments of tragedy, births, deaths, divorces, serious calamities….these are all moments which know no ethnicity, and no religious affiliation, and no clearly prescribed healing process. They are, however, moments that have indelibly imprinted themselves on the parchment of our mind and spirit, leaving scars and tares and tears, and a memory cache of pain, often more than our conscious being can tolerate at the time of the occurrence.

Consequently, those emotional and psychological bombshells lie like hidden mind fields in our unconscious waiting for the time when, often after decades of avoidance and relegating to the attics of our memories, somehow the time and the circumstances make their unpacking feasible and perhaps even necessary. At such times, the search for a professional partner to walk beside the unpacking process takes on a meaning and an urgency that was never present previously.

Our spiritual life, while not restricted to our psychological health and wellness, is nevertheless integrated and implicated with it. Troubled minds and spirits walk among us every day, some seeking “sedatives” or pain-killers like alcohol, illicit drugs, gambling, sex, and even the respectable addiction (especially for many  men!) WORK. Often emerging from families of origin in which they were emotional, physically, sexually and/or psychically abused, these men and women struggle for the rest of their lives to understand, and to re-envision how they would approach their abuse if it occurred today, and their process of integration, (or individuation, for Jungians) invariably presents the gift of new life in insights never recognized before, in the forgiveness of their betrayers, in the release of their desire for revenge, or perhaps in their renewed attempt to build new paths of reconciliation given a new confidence.

All of these possibilities constitute metaphors for “new life” that rich and potentially ephemeral notion around which the pathways for most humans yearn, hope and sometimes realize.

Realization, however, is never “achievement” and herein lies the great “rub”.
Henri Nouwen, the great Roman Catholic pastoral teacher, speaks of what he calls the “redemption complex” by which he suggests some people seek to work their way into heaven. Their worship, and even their ministry is calculated to “earn” them a permit to an eternal life. And there is some scriptural evidence for “good works” as a consequence of a life of faith. However, attempting to negotiate with God, on exclusively human, and extrinsic terms, ignores the more mysterious more ephemeral and more profound openness to and receptivity of grace, and that not of yourself but from God.

Having spent my early years in a Presbyterian church where I first heard the word “predestination” whereby all events have been preordained by God, including the fate of an individual soul, that revered “permit” to enter heaven. As a theological theory, instrument, by which to divide the “saved” from those “damned” I absolutely reject the concept. While none of us can claim to know fully the mind, heart and purpose of God, I hold a firm conviction that any God worthy of the name is more than capable and willing to wrap arms around every human being, irrespective of the offences they may have committed, planned, supported or omitted. And even this conviction is not without serious conflict among some literal, fundamentalist, evangelical faith adherents. In fact, it is one of the more jagged and cutting knives to slice through the church community, along with many others like the acceptance/ordination of women, gays and strangers.

Perhaps a world view that incorporates a search for a path of reconciliation with even the most heinous of “neighbours”, premised on the clearly acknowledged reality and truth that no man is without stains on his biography and his spirit, is the most faithful iteration and incarnation of a Christian faith to which we can aspire.

And, aspiration clearly falls short of realization. There are some Christians who prefer the notion of God as a surrogate for the word/concept/notion of relationship…and that God is more a verb than a noun…..and there is much to be admired in that view.
After all, we are all becoming, changing, (not only through the replacement of every single body cell) but also through our encounter, re-encounter and reflections on both of the people events, ideas, beliefs and triumphs and disasters we have witnessed and experienced. And God’s revelation, contrary to the strict literalists, continues to be a potential accretion to our sensibility, our insight our imagination and our capacity life a full and grateful life, among those near and dear to us.

Anyone who has had the privilege of participating (not merely observing) an autopsy cannot but be moved by the intricate complexity and balance and sheer wonder of the human being, body mind spirit and the inexpressible whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Anyone who has permitted him or herself to become fully immersed in a Beethoven symphony, or the miracle of birth, or even the awe of the moment of death….and the moment of being so completely and unconditionally loved by another that only an act of such love as the Christian faith points to in Calvary and the Resurrection could be worthy of comparison…

And there is another of the many traps in which we enmesh our perceptions, our beliefs and our capacity to remain open to and thus vulnerable to a relationship with a mysterious, unknown and unknowable God, notwithstanding our perpetual and endless search.

Whatever faith community seems appropriate to our spiritual yearnings, like the Jews, we will forever remain ignorant of the “mind” of God, yet that unknowing will never prevent or pervert our search for a relationship with the power of the universe, whomever and however we conceive of that power to be best presented and adapted to our deepest and highest potential.

And only armed with the kind of courage and discipline and unwavering commitment can we even begin to contemplate “driving that spike into the wheels of injustice, in the name of God! Bonhoeffer returned to Hitler’s Germany, his homeland, as the next step on his path of discipleship and was ultimately killed for his faith and his determination to drive that spike into the Fuhrer’s wheel of injustice. Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor, returned to speak from the same podium used by the Fuehrer himself, as an act of defiance on behalf of his Jewish brothers and sisters. The world is replete with wheels of injustice begging for a spike to bring it to a halt.

Fighting with different faith beliefs, or faith communities, is a sure path to irrelevancy, although, it says here, it will take some a long time to come to that view.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Are we engaged in a compulsive self-sabotage, individually and culturally?

What if Trump is not the disease, but rather the symptom of a larger, deeper and more dangerous illness than his person and his tweets, executive orders and faux pas can begin to capture?

What if Trump is the result of decades of converging forces that humans, by default, carelessness and even fear, have both encouraged and permitted?

What if the objectification of individual people, including both women and men, boys and girls, including the world’s ethnicities, faith communities and all economic demographics were underlying the current political, economic and identity malaise? To be sure, there are nuanced differences in the respective “objectifications”  of men and women, (the former as cheque-books and the latter sex objects), but from a broad brush perspective we have permitted ourselves to become mere functions, measured and identified by our performances, our achievements, our house and car size and status, and most importantly our failures.

James Hillman, in his many writings, and especially in The Acorn Theory, proposes the notion that psychology has turned off-road from the primary evidence of its source material, biography, into a myriad of rabbit holes of symptomology and diagnostics and the pharmaceuticals that provide a faux cover of legitimacy in a profession fixated on establishing its relevance. Balkanizing the human psyche and personality and character of individual humans, without the full richness of a complete and comprehensive biography, is like diagnosing and treating a tumor without undertaking a full medical history, and not the kind that can be reduced to what pills you take and what surgeries line your calendar.

Resumes list achievements, both career and educational, associations and something called references, all of them relevant only to the degree that objectification is paramount. In an irony completely missed by the principal of a human resources consulting company, following a series of interviews, the former mathematics teacher uttered these words, “Whenever we ask you a question, you reply with a story, and not a list that would demonstrate the kind of thinking we need.” Without uttering a word, I recall saying to myself, “Well, I do not think in lists; I think in pictures and those pictures are the basis of more stories, stories by the way that illustrate my full answer to your question.”  This encounter followed a personality test from Waco Texas, for which his introduction went like this, “We would like you to take this test, which in no way will influence our decision about hiring you.”

In the exit conversation with that principal, he also uttered these words, completely forgetting and denying his earlier commitment: “You indicate by your answers that you would be too difficult to manage.” A professional student of psychological profile testing later explained, “You dare not tell the truth on those tests because that will doom you! You have to play games with those instruments.” So even from the perspective of this human resource consulting agency (one that brags it does many of the hires for the federal government!), you must repress, condense, minimize and curtail your identity, your truth and your way of seeing the world. If that Pandora’s Box were opened to the ‘consultants, their mathematical models would have to be thrown out the window.

 The sum of the tragic elimination of one’s biography, followed or accompanied by a revulsion to truth-telling, supplemented by a monumental masking exercise covering up our real emotions, including our opinions and our insights and our disagreements all mingled with our emotions, those messy things the Brits have been submerging for centuries under the politically correct rubric, “stiff upper lip,” (or as one writer put it, in a book about the Anglican religion, “God’s Chosen Frozen”)….conjures the mountainous weight of sabotage that encumbers the national health care budget.

 Committing, whether consciously and rebelliously, or compliantly and semi-consciously, to this parade of the hollow ghosts, by definition robs us of our full awareness of who we are, how we are becoming the individuals we need to be and those steps we need to take now, irrespective of the pressures imposed on us by any one or more of several external influences. Among these influences are teachers, parents, employers, and peers although the last are least likely to impose a template.

Add to these forces, the ‘connecting’ devices that ironically permit and encourage more detachment from one another, while simulating a level of contact that might be appropriate in a military march, focused on whether I am “keeping in step” with the rest, irrespective of who is marching beside me and the objectification of the individual human continues. And then, elevate the role of objectification of each of us to the role of consumer, marketer, doctor-patient, lawyer-client, coach-mentee, manager-supervisee, executive-worker…..these dashes do not substitute for the word relationship. In fact, those dashes reduce the encounter to one of function…so that we are modelling role playing, and not full human engagement.

Reducing the political campaigner to the relevance and the breadth of his or her promises eliminates or ignores or diminishes an even more important component to his “fitness for office” just as reducing the job applicant to his resume shoves aside the more important “fitness” of each applicant….those subjective qualities that make a human being a fully developed human being….character, presence, emotional compatibility, and what it is like to be in a room with another.  “Oh but who is really capable of judging those aspects of another’s person?” I can hear from the cheap seats.
And I answer, quickly and unapologetically, each of us is, if and when we are permitted to let such observations rise to the level of being at least as important as those “benchmarks” that may or may not disclose character.

When “the deal” is the primary measurement of any person, such a reduction not only leaves so many other important and complex and perhaps both infuriating and ennobling qualities outside the public consciousness as to generate a collective self-sabotage, potentially generating election results like those of November 2016 in Washington.

In another life, while serving as an instructor in communications for apprentice police officers, rough and raw and rebellious and cantankerous, and itching for power and a uniform, I observed their behaviour within the small vocational college. When confronted with their own attitudes and behaviour, framed in the perspective that, following their stint in this institution, they all had visions of enrolling in police college, the valve through which all provincial police officers had to pass prior to wearing the uniform and the badge, they immediately recognized that everything they were then doing, failing to complete assignments, failing to co-operate with instructors, failing to take seriously their own reputations comprised a blatant act of self-sabotage.
As soon as they were able to integrate the new perspective, their approach turned around. Nothing like rocket science had been inflicted on them; simply an external observation of the full reality of their situation and their approach…really just common sense.

So often we listen to and read analyses of various public situations which seem devoid of common sense. And the principal actors and their media communicators have so bought into the faux-sophistication of their pronouncements that their humanity has been relegated to the dust-balls in the corners of the press rooms, not to mention the corners of the cabinet rooms. It is as if we need some pumping up of our lives in order to make them seem valuable, relevant, engaged, and important. It is as if we need the steroids of a BMW  language, or  Gucci shoes as manifestation of our worth, or legal obfuscation or our participation in some common cause to render both our participation and the cause itself important.

Ironically, all of this masking, only covers over our self-sabotage and renders the experience less meaningful and less relevant and less engaging than, by its own nature it promises to be. It may be true that the consumer market and the academic ivory tower, the law and the church, not to mention the operating and emergency rooms, all embrace the language of professionalism, superiority, specialization and uber sophistication, as a way of segregating the professionals from the masses. Yet, this too is another of the societal and cultural masks that leave us all in the dark, not only of the fullness of whatever situation we currently find ourselves in, but of who we are in those circumstances. Yet, we are unable or unwilling to ask the “professionals” to speak in our language, because we would be demonstrating our truth, that we really don’t know, in many cases, what they are talking about. And we are all, everyone of us, complicit in enabling our sabotaged identity. Surely, we are no less sentient and no less sensible than those aspiring law enforcement officers, (most of whom will never wear a uniform) that if and when we are willing to see our own complicity in our own sabotage, we are unwilling and unable to reverse course.

Nevertheless, to reverse course is no guarantee that another Trump will not rise to the surface of the swamp, just as slime always does, but it does offer the hope that we might be a little more patient, insightful and prescient in our own lives and then apply those qualities to our public tolerance, acceptance and endorsements.

We could start with an endorsement of our whole selves, as a way of putting a foundation under a reversal away from self-sabotage. So many of us “show up” as a mere phantom of our full character and personality, as if to demonstrate our conviction that were we to show up, we would automatically be rejected. So rather than risk rejection for who we really are, we are prepared to risk rejection for offering only a glimpse of who we are, of what we believe, of how strongly we hold specific opinions, and how strongly we reject others.

What an act of cultural self-sabotage, and there is no need for ethnic or any other kind of cleansing; we have already subverted our own truth, in our compulsive search for approval, acceptance, affirmation and endorsement.

And yet, most of those are only half-hearted also….because that is the other half of this dramatic equation. Based on a superficial presentation and a cursory evaluation of the presentation of another’s personhood, how could those assessments be anything but partial, ever-unfolding and unpacking and, in too many instances, based only on a functional premise of ‘what can you do, (or what have you done) for me lately?’….
Let’s reflect on our contemporary madness, shared by all of us, enjoyed by very few if any, and perpetuated by a kind of unconscious and equally detached convention that the world does not want to “do deeper” so we must not either.

And how do we begin to calculate the exponential costs of this reductionistic “interface” of human beings, a far cry from the previous communal sharing of the good and the bad levelling, where the only status that matters is the status conferred by the self on the self?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Is a "carbon law" one of the needed keys to climate protection?

A new ‘carbon law’ similar to Moore’s law* in high tech, sees carbon emissions halving every decade, while green energy continues to double every five years.

Just at the time when climate change and global warming have slipped off the geopolitical radar, and when Trump has joined the ‘deniers’ by gutting the EPA in his proposed budget to the U.S. Congress, and has given final U.S. approval for the Keystone pipeline construction, a voice of something reasonable, optimistic and potentially feasible can be heard whispering in the madness of the current political climate of military build-up, election tampering, truth-trashing, and galloping Dow numbers.

There is a down side to this prediction that carbon emissions will halve every decade while green energy doubles every five years. Glib, facile, easily dismissed as simplistic, and still unproven (when compared with five decades of digital history), the ‘carbon law’ is neither a law nor a given. Human nature will have to come to fully appreciate the economic benefits from the exponential growth of green energy products, and integrate into their conventional thinking the down-sizing of the coal industry, for example, and the elimination of fossil-fueled vehicles, both of which currently ride a wave “aardvarkian” and myopic political cash.

Countries like India, where human survival may be more ‘on the edge’ given the massive number of lungs breathing toxic air may signal the death knell of coal, just as the face masks already required by Chinese civilians in some of their major cities flash photos of their streets lined with covered faces, as a matter of survival, the number of “canaries in coal mines” will have to grow exponentially for the carbon law to prove itself. If the whole world, and especially the intransigent political leaders of major countries like the U.S. and Russia, can be persuaded that their political futures depend on their endorsement of clean energy projects, then lofty words in agreements reached in Paris will not become archived as Kyoto’s were.

There really is a fundamental divide between current needs for jobs and economic growth and recovery in some regions and the longer term need for a clean environment. Achieving the latter by climbing over the back of the former will leave millions out of work, out of income, out of dignity and out of hope. Can we really countenance such a monumental human disaster in the short run, in favour of the long-term goal of clean water, clean air and stable temperatures that do not rise above 2 degrees annually?

This divide is currently playing out in left of centre political camps, for example, in both Ottawa and Alberta.

Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, recently received an award from the fossil fuel energy sector in Huston, for his loudly proclaimed goal of balancing the two competing interests, a healthy economy and a healthy environment. Premier Rachel Notley, the NDP premier of Alberta, is also championing both the Keystone approval announcement from the. U.S. State Department and the White House and  the Energy East proposed pipeline that would move Alberta crude to eastern Canada for refining. Having taken power in a province that has not had a left-leaning government in recent memory, Notley has risked the ire of her national party colleagues in Ottawa, some of whom remain in the “purist” camp on the environment, in opposition to all pipelines. Their single-minded approach, however, could well be the death-bell for the party on the national Canadian political horizon.

“Walking while chewing gum” is the cliché for governments’ managing two competing files simultaneously. (And there are those who would argue that governments do not do even a single thing very well!) The nexus of the problem of managing two competing files with finite resources in a straight-jacket of time is the old maxim of oscillation. Oscillating between the two is too often the result. And words that attempt to cover over the oscillation provide only short-term political cover.

Military combat on the battle field, in the towns and cities, for example in Iraq and Syria, resulting in the death and displacement of millions, while minimalist puffs of peace negotiations like clouds waft through the board rooms of European hotels and conference centres, generating little more than hollow headlines and decreasing hints of hope for peace….these dramas are hardly evidence for an international community starved for an end to the carnage, bloodshed and the culture of violence that provides space, time and easily targeted human victims, now dubbed collateral damage. This model, too, provides little if any real promise of willingness or ability or shared responsibility for resolution, given the deep trenches that separate both the battlefield actors and their international allies.

On the top of every geopolitical leader’s ‘to do’ list the words, “Eliminate terror” is likely to be found. The political ideology that spurs each leader and his/her government will help to shape and measure the size of the effort to which each country is prepared to commit to achieve that one goal. Clearly, the effort and the commitment, including the intelligence and the ingenuity, needed to achieve this important goal is, so far as the general public can see, not achieving its goal. Mosul may be one of the setbacks experienced by ISIS recently, yet we all expect their venom to spread.

Wiping out Islamic terror is neither easily nor quickly achievable. And there is no international binding agreement as to the strategies and the tactics for that goal. Similarly, there is little doubt that international binding agreements will be reached in reversing climate change and global warming. The human agency for preventing that choking and suffocating dystopia seems so disparate, and so diluted and so far out of sight for the average political leader and the media that remains enmeshed with today’s ratings and headlines, as to render any proposed ‘carbon law’ to a brief pastel line on an otherwise grey and black canvas of political narcissism.

“Short-term-ness”, as a defining trait of our political and economic planning and policy initiatives, including the operation of much of our social policy agencies, seems to be one of the more significant cages of entrapment for our time. And, as the old “boiling frog” proverb demonstrates, the poor frog does not know he is dying until it is too late, and the boiling water in the beaker has killed him.
Our collective consciousness about the future, rendering it too far out to fathom or to impact effectively, especially given our intense focus on the immediate, the chores that are right in front of our eyes, ears and bellies, requires a significant shift. We cannot leave the medium and the long-term future in the hands of the ‘gods’ of the future.

We have to own it. It is our’s to own and to claim responsibility, if not for our personal lives and survival, then for our grandchildrens’ survival. And there again, we are limited by our capacity to surrogate for our survivors, given the intense and ominous threats that seem to be growing like a gathering storm on our own horizons today. Political agendas that are defined by the short-term, narcissistic and hubristic psychoses of our leaders and many of the voters are little more than short-term pills feeding a variety of fears and phantoms, each of them planted by those same leaders whose unreal and disproven “reality” is a tent that will suffocate them, and all of us should we be blind and deaf and dumb enough to climb into it.

We need to acknowledge that these short-term political “wins” are also long-term failures, and our trophy-rooms, no matter how filled are the shelves with our ego-monuments, will be little more than dust-traps to our vanity, if our vision extends only as far as our pride.

It is a vision disentangled from our extrinsic trophies, or “executive orders” or our “latest bonuses” or our “prized possessions” or even our “electoral victories” as well as separated from our fixation on the digital crawl of stock vicissitudes, and the latest vacuous tweet from the White House, or even the latest uber autonomous car crash that will help us to achieve the needed perspective and perhaps one or two allies.

And only after we have pried the hands of money and status from the levers of power, dependent as they are and always will be on the “immediate fix” that accompanies and supports their latest “high” (including those highs generated by ‘herbal tea and cookies) and put those levers into the hands of those whose interests and visions stretch far beyond the next election and the next headline and the next “jewel in my crown” might we be able to see hints of a collaborative and a shared and a liveable future, whether some deploy the thinking of the ‘carbon law’ or other equally adaptable constructs that emulate those of our first nations whose reverence for all of nature is and will always be central to our survival.

*Moore’s Law, based on an observation by Intel’s Gordon Moore in 1965 that noted the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention. Moore's law predicts that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Reflections on the new life of Spring...including the dark nights of the soul

Old age is not a disease—it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses. (Maggie Kuhn)

As new life springs out of the ground, running through unfrozen brooks and streams, pushing green sprouts through what was only yesterday frozen earth, how is one not prompted to reflect on previous springs, their gifts and their cross-checks, their births and their deaths, their hopes and their failures.
T.S. Eliot wrote in The Wasteland:

PRIL is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Life and death collide in this season of the wildest wakening following the somnambulance of winter’s silence. Birds hatch their eggs in nests perched on the most unlikely tree branches. Fish hatch their eggs under rocks covered with moss and lichen. Trees hatch their buds and leaves from barren branches and twigs. In Ontario trilliums sprout from dank forest floors, making community with octogenarian maples and oaks, and middle-aged jack and white pine. And amid this pulsating fertility, when least expected, come the tragedies that rip life-long dreams out of their imaginary incubators, phone calls announcing death, report cards spelling doom, and transitions that call for respite care, tranqillizers and therapy.

The epic release of energy overwhelms the nervous system into believing anything is truly possible, only to slam that same system to the mat of crushing judgement, as if Good Friday still needed centuries of reiteration, re-interpretation, and revisiting with a different cast of characters in many different ethnicities and faiths.

The paradox of Lent, an extended wandering in wilderness, attempting to come to terms with insurmountable odds, life-threatening opposition, conflict and virtual emotional and spiritual destruction, bears witness to the undying human need for releasing all the locked and hidden symptoms of anxiety, fear, insecurity and the demons hereto packed away in the attics of our memories. Those demons are both within each of us and in the outer world inhabiting all people. And, whether from within or in the wider world, these demons seems to break out of their winter slumber along with the rest of the natural world. And all of these demons join the throng of new natural generative life as if to warn of limitations when none seem compatible and congruent with the pulsating sap, blood, fertilization and gestation.

We are consistently, eternally, a dull and dumb species, waking only, it seems, when everything has gone to hell in a hand basket, when hope seems to have fled like green broke horses let loose from the fenced fields. And when the damn breaks, then we all panic, wonder what just happened, and what are we going to do about it. We seem incapable of preventing these demon-insurgencies, whether in concert or in conflict with the natural burgeoning of new life.

For teacher-lifer’s, spring is also not the beginning but the end of the calendar year, when most of our energy is spent, most of those exams and term papers have been marked and everyone is panting for the final day of June and another summer break. Our beginnings climb out of our consciousness in September, when we start with all the hope of firing psychic, intellectual and bodily cylinders forcing our engines into overdrive.

So, there is another irony that our work-life does not dance to the same rhythms as nature.

In my own life, I have, like most, pulled envelops from a mailbox that bore exam results of which I was not proud, in the Spring. In Spring, I have also shifted workplaces, cultures and even nations, borne out of new springs of death/life (they really cannot be and will not be separated!) that seemed at the time like tectonic plates pushing new horizons up into my vision. From the vantage of decades of reflection, however, the trauma of some of these upheavals seems manageable, whereas, at the time of their occurrence, the world in which I lived went deep black.

Guilt, shame, regret, embarrassment, the realization of the depth and ripples of complete failure as a man, as a father, as a professional and as a son and nephew were the constant companions of these personal dramas. Sometimes these emotions writhed through my body for a night or two, sometimes for weeks. Men do not, cannot, give birth to another human being. We cannot know the pain and the ecstacy of that birthing experience.

However, there is such unshakeable truth to the notion that, for every man who has gone through the longest of ‘dark nights of the soul’ there is a monumental gift of the gold that emerges from those dark and mysterious mists, fogs and traumas. While none of us would or could have choreographed our darkest nights, through planning, through preparing, through saving money, through any training program. Nevertheless, like the swimmer who realizes he faces a violent whirlpool, and yet plunges into its chaotic swirling white water, not knowing whether or if he will emerge and yet, somehow, risking it all, the possibility of emerging into the “silver reaches of the estuary” often follows. (References from The Swimmer’s Moment, by Margaret Avison)

None of those dark nights, none of those disappointing report cards, none of those death-announcing calls, nor any of the betrayals and injustices that came my direction, whether earned or merited or not, would have been more helpful had they been directed to another. My life, with all of its hopes and dreams and blessings, including the profound pain and loss of pride, from both a confluence of influences over which no one had control and from mis-steps that at the time I was unable to avoid, is still my own, and the currents that still flow in and through my arteries and veins would not be as strong, or as pulsating or as throbbing with emotional ‘excess’, political perspective and identity insights.

The west wind that pounded a stranger onto the rocks on Georgian Bay outside my bedroom at three a.m., that pushed by Dunlop 65 golf ball far to the right into the bush on the dog’s-leg on what was then hole #6, also blew through my loafers as I pranced to the stage at eleven, stubbing my toe, and falling flat on my face in front of 500 strangers in the Steelworkers Hall in Sudbury in 1951. It was the same wind that turned my head, at twelve, while riding by maroon Raleigh two-wheeler down McMurray street to gawk at a co-ed, just as a vehicle was backing out of a parallel parking spot, throwing my head-over-heels onto the pavement, interrupting my errand for bread to the local A & P. That same west wind blew in the rainstorm on the same day my crew were scheduled to canoe to a distant island in Blackstone Lake, or the first fire-cooked stew in the blinding rain, an afternoon I cannot erase from my memory.

That same west wind blew through my spirit when I contemplated changing careers after twenty-plus years, and then, only three years later to try to follow a life-long dream. That wind has been a constant companion blowing through my conversations, my adventures and my failures. My risk-taking has not found expression in dare-devil rides ( I punctured my lower lip on my only trip down “zoombaflume” at Ontario’s  Wonderland Park!). it has however, found me trying my mettle without formal training in selling suits, coaching basketball, free-lance reporting, and more recently, in organizational and human resource consulting and coaching.

It is Spring that reminds me of every other spring:

·      long and lonely train rides with my father whose patience and love shine like an eternal flame in my memory and heart,
·      long and lonely waits outside the rehearsal room of a professional pianist’s home, with whom my teacher had arranged a formal lesson, although she never did show up,
·      phone calls announcing the untimely death of that first piano teacher
·      another phone call to a foreign land announcing the death of my mother
·      long wait in the lobby of the local hospital while our first daughter underwent bilateral myryngotomy surgery, complete with mastoidectomy at three, following days of a 105 F temperature
·      long walks along the shore of Georgian Bay learning the lines for Jules from the Bella and Ira Spivak one-act play, My Three Angels
·      the long silent emptiness between an inappropriate “trial” of an examination piano and the first words from the two examiners at the Conservatory
·      the silence of the whole night following a bitter and loud dispute that ushered in the beginning of a marriage separation after twenty-three years

And, then there are other Springs when graduations brought family together, and when trips to sunny shores brought smiles to family faces.

Springs, and springs and here is yet another…..filled with all the life that any one of us can fully observe and assimilate and mine the energy of new life that waits our embrace!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Are we watching an incipient despotism in the U.S.?

Is it fear, fatigue, complacency, insouciance, indifference or flabbiness of mind and body that generates despots? Or some toxic combination of all of the above?

Or, in the case of the United States, is there a strong “shot” of misogyny that slices through the political cocktail in a world reduced to binary”ism” that produces the current government in Washington?

For many, these questions are akin to the sophomoric inquiry, “How many angels can one put on the head of a pin?” What does either the question or any potential answer really matter? The fact is there is a despotic administration ensconced in Washington, and the head despot is Trump himself.

Profiteering by the fossil fuel sector, including the coal industry, at the expense of the environment is just one of the many ways by which the despot is enabling what can legitimately be termed “ecocide”…..death by the environment. Barring refugees, Muslims, Latinos, and science, (another of the most hated “forces” for this gang) is another path to ensuring that the hundreds of dying towns and cities will disappear. Reports that Erie Pennsylvania and Ann Arbor, Michigan are two cities whose pulse beats a little more quickly now that refugees have found and taken work in factories for $9/hour, spurring those industries to new life, in the face of the despot’s dissembling on this issue.

Emasculating the State Department, through the surgical scalpel to both its budget and the budget of the foreign aid, while China is dramatically increasing her foreign aid budget, will restrict American influence in the developing world, and enhance the probabilities of failed negotiations and severely restricted options in international relations.

"Vouchering" the public school system to death will clearly emasculate that sector, the foundation of both a healthy democracy and the potential of reasonable and deepening relationship between and among  different racial and ethnic demographics.
Stripping funding from the National Seience budget, the source of the much of the research money that has, in the past, elevated the United States to a position of envied leadership in innovation. Defunding the innovation budget for small business (“the energizer of most new jobs” the stated goal of this despot) is just another way by which the administration seeks to keep their leader’s promise not to increase the deficit, while simultaneously, working in direct contravention of the public good.

If you want to put the ‘spirit’ of this despotism (and most despotisms in history) under a microscope, think about the defunding of Meals on Wheels, a miniscule dollar figure, with a powerful  political punch in public opinion, far above its weight. Add to this, the bonafide projection that some 24 million people will lose their health care should the despot’s plan be finally adopted by Congress.

Completely debunking the news organizations, another of the cornerstones of any democracy, throughout history, not merely in this period, while inflating the military, homeland security and law-and-order budgets demonstrates the despot’s traditional modus operandi: becoming the sole source of “truth” armed and defended by those most amenable to sycophancy, the army, navy, air force, national guard and the police and border security agents.

Some have called this depot a super-salesman; while that may be true, there is a darker side. In every corner, for this despot, lies an enemy. Those enemies are both within the country and outside. The despot requires a world view over which his dominance can pervade, otherwise what is despotism for?

What really wrankles the mind and the spirit is the pretense, the utter hypocrisy that, under this administration, they pretend to support the appearances of a democracy. Not even their hero, Putin, does that! Everyone in Moscow knows and operates under the premise, the edict, that Putin rules, and any indication to the contrary is but a momentary aberration that cannot last.

Or course, if words like apocalypse, Armageddon, and ‘end times’ are the stars in the galaxy of the world view of these despots, based on a reading of both current and probable estimates of the Caucasians being overrun by the mobs of non-whites, and the ultimate and absolute need to “win” whatever major and minor conflict that can be concocted in the infinitesimal cognitive capacity of both the despot and his inner circle (none of whom have divested from their octopus business tentacles)….then all those rural voters who pulled the lever for this gang have been truly ‘had’ as the suckers they have proven to be.

Radical change, especially the kind of change that defies both law and governance traditions, may not have been the kind of change the voters wanted or envisaged. But then, despots never show their whole hand; it is much more effective to keep it close to their chest, and then to disclose conflicting glimpses, keeping everyone off-balance and on guard, thereby fulfilling the predictive value of their world view that enemies lurk everywhere.

There is a deep, profound and potentially long-lasting tragedy to a world view that considers itself the “saviour” against a world of so-called  enemies. It generates a kind of soap-opera exaggerated political drama, headlines, tensions, ambiguities and uncertainties not only among ordinary folks, for whom the despot cares not a wit, but also among other world leaders.

Unconventional, unpredictable, confusing, self-contradicting, blustering, the consumer and purveyor of fake news….these are all benign words attempting to wrap their arms around this emerging despotism. What is much more cogent and frightening is that the people have lost control of their country, in a realpolitik “coup” for which a single gun shot was not needed.

Will we choke on our own attempt to breath before we become mortally sick from drinking the poisoned water? Or will we simply atrophy into meaninglessness as the world smilingly walks away from all American influence and replaces that influence with the potential, and incredibly insightful and long-sighted Chinese?
Will the rich demonstrate any compassion and shame as they strip the cream from every bottle of tax evasion, profiteering, and regulation deconstruction? There is no evidence that the words compassion, equality, shame or even embarrassment are included in the vocabulary either of the despot or his acolytes.

And now that we know from FBI Director James Comey’s testimony in Congress today there is no evidence that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign, as we all suspected all along, this is just another massive hole in the political armour of the head of the administration. Is there a law forbidding such a criminal charge or punishing such a criminal charge, especially one made by a president of his predecessor? And now that the world knows the FBI is formally conducting a wide-ranging investigation into any possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, what are the legal and possibly criminal implications if the findings from that investigation prove positive?

Before any more havoc is wreaked on both the United States and the international community, this regime that begs the question of its legitimacy every day, has to be reined in, and a good place to start is for Congress to find the spines their members seemed to have lost during the campaign (here I refer specifically to the Republicans) and to overrule the budget sent from the White House to the ‘hill’ for consideration.
Spine replacement for the national media would also be health care money well invested. It is not enough to point out the inconsistencies, the inaccuracies and the exaggerations of the despot. The rhetoric used by the critics has to include the kind of exploration currently found on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC each night at 9:00 p.m. Connecting the dots from the sale of that empty and vacuous Florida estate to a Russian oligarch after Trump owned it for only months, without improving it, yet profiting by some $40 million is just one seam down into the Trump evidence trove/cave that the FBI needs to explore.

Determining why the same Russian oligarch’s private plane has been observed at the same airports on the same days that Trump was in those towns in the middle of the campaign is another of the seams of the murky trail needing investigation. One has natural resistance to the “co-incidence” explanation some will try to proffer.
The timing of certain releases of emails connected to the Clinton campaign is another of the rabbit holes of potential evidence that needs poring through.

And, just imagine the pressure on the FBI to derail their work, given the kind of pressure that has been the prime characteristic of this, and all other despots, to seek and to gain power, without having to sacrifice any of the conventional divestitures; in fact, this president has already pocketed millions, starting with reports of the cohort of the president of the Philippines pouring millions into the Trump business empire as a way of paving the path of obsequiousness to the inner sanctum. Invoking the emoluments clause is still a riff waiting to be played by the law enforcement arm of the U.S. government, providing that arm is not removed by the new appointees to the Justice Department.

Watergate is starting to look like a Sunday picnic on the banks of the Potomac when seen through the reports of the gyrations of this new despot. Nixon might even be considered a patriot compared to this debacle.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Is anybody else losing sleep yet?

The sap is running.

The sun’s rays seem warmer, even after a frigid overnight.

The robins have been swooping around on the banks of the St. Lawrence, weeks before their usual ‘time’.

The streams are overflowing with ice-edges and there seems to be a burgeoning of the impulses of new life….

OR is all this just projection from a mind and a spirit weighted down with the Trump BS, and the implicit war that he has unofficially declared on the environment, Islam, women, the poor, and all those struggling to join the middle class.

It really does not matter whether the diagnosis blames the corporate state, the ratings-driven media, the nano-second attention span, the blurring of the lines between fact and fiction, (or more appropriately the line between the truth and anything else), the rise of nationalism, or populism, the failure of globalization, the refusal of both qualified and honourable men and women to offer their names for public office …..the results are the same:

Unless and until someone, somewhere, somehow finds a legal albatross to hang around Donald Trump’s neck, and ships him off to the same seas wandered over by Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, the world is stuck with an albatross of its own, the man himself.

Only after his throat is parched to bleeding, and his massive ego wilts under the blazing sun, and his alt-right legions drink themselves into a stupor on the power he has handed them and all of the megaphones within his wingspan are stripped of power, and the other leaders of the world have come to their senses and demonstrate they cannot and will not even talk to him, let alone negotiate with him….and the International Criminal Court finally welcomes the signature of the United States official representative so that charges might be finally brought against this administration….

And even then, there is still no guarantee that this madness will be brought to an end.
And for any termination scenario to begin to take shape, the media will have to refrain, resist, desist and absolutely refuse to give the man air-time. Let him start his own network, as he has threatened to do. Let him fill the anchor and host chairs with his flunkies from Fox, Breitbart and other fringe sources. Let him literally burn up his public “welcome” from over-exposure.

Shipping some 24 million off health care, ballooning the pentagon budget, deconstructing the EPA, the public school system, Medicaid, NATO, the European Union, NAFTA, TPP, and any vestige of respect for the United States still extant among world capitals, while asking out loud, “What do we have nuclear weapons for if we are not going to use them?” and bragging “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any support!”….. these are not the signals the world, not to mention the American people, want to hear, or will tolerate witnessing. And more recently, citing a voice on Fox news as the source for his repeating the false charge that the Brits were the agent Obama used to ‘wiretap’ the current president, and then telling a reporter he should be talking to Fox news hardly garners confidence in anyone let alone the leaders of the so-called free world.

Chris Hedges, tragically, is right: It is time to take to the streets to bring Trump and his minions down, not for just another news cycle, not for just another tweet-rant, not for just another ‘campaign’ rally, but permanently.

I have ever been a fan of Arnold Swarzenegger but recently his retort to Trump: “let’s trade jobs, so the American people can get a good night’s sleep” and his focus on and support for a national debate to end jerrymandering both make eminent good sense.

 A comment heard just prior to the November election keeps ringing in my head. The comment, “I really do hope Trump wins; we are so complacent, perhaps if he wins, we will wake up!” And then there is this horrible and dangerous truth that things have to be proven to be so catastrophic before action, any action, is really taken, in the political world.

The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, allegedly told Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today, “I don’t know” when he asked if her words, and they have been strong words in opposition to Russia at the UN, reflected the thinking of the president of the United States. That is such a remarkable admission that the whole world has to take notice. As some reporters have reminded us about the former credibility of the United States president, John F. Kennedy, when he faced the prospect of informing General de Gaulle, then President of France, about the impending threat of Soviet missiles on Cuba, through the deployment of photos, de Gaulle commented, “I don’t need those; I trust the President of the United States!” or words to that effect.

Imagine a similar situation today, for example, following on the words of the United States Secretary of State today in Sough Korea, that the North Koreans might so threaten military action that the United States would have to respond militarily. That option, along with all others, is on the table, according to the Secretary.

Would the world believe Trump, if he called on the world to unite in a war against the North Koreans, based on the evidence he has gathered and presented?

Obviously, the answer is “No” without a shred of doubt.

The word of the current occupant of the Oval Office is worth no more than it was when he was touting the “birther” claim that Barrack Obama was born in Kenya.

If the United States were a ship, the world could legitimately now say, not that the rats have left the ship, but rather ‘the rats are running the ship’.

Is anybody out there willing to end this madness?