Thursday, August 24, 2017

Don't hold your breath on removal of the president

There was a moment, this morning, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, in which the host asked advertising/marketing guru Donny Deutsch how he would advise a CEO from General Motors if that company were alternating between conflicting advertising/branding messages every day (as trump is doing between heal/divide).  Deutsch opened with the word “sociopath”; Scarborough immediately cut him off. “We don’t need any psycho-babble here; tell me what you would tell the GM CEO”….or words to that effect.

The American medical/political/sociological culture has put the psychiatric “issue” off the table, relegating it to the dangerous zone of denial, refusing to fund it, refusing to acknowledge it as a real and pressing problem needing serious and focused, professional and political attention, as if “it” does not deserve legitimacy in a country governed by macho testosterone. America would rather incarcerate thousands of mostly men and mostly black and Hispanic, who are addicted to drugs, both prescription and illicit than treat them for their addiction. And this is just one of the many outstanding issues facing law enforcement and the health care system, another target for gutting by the current administration.How could “real men” ever acknowledge that they might have an emotional/psychological/psychiatric issue if they refuse to acknowledge the mere existence and significance of their own emotions?

And when this morning’s moment on Morning Joe occurs, and Deutsch reverts to “if you say different things on different days, you will lose credibility and your customers will come to pay no attention to you”….(or something like that), you know that the question of trump’s psychiatric state of mind is not to be permitted exposure by lay persons, leaving the issue to the professional psychiatrists. At least some of those professionals, basing their responses on the public utterances of trump, have already declared that he is out of touch with reality. And one of the “lay’ definitions of ‘insanity’ is “doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results”. Nevertheless, it was the advertising/marketing guru who spoke frankly, even if he used a term that was censored by Scarborough.

Of course, an advertising/marketing guru has no professional credentials to use the word “sociopath” to describe trump. The network would also attempt to avoid any possibility of a law suit, should the clinical diagnosis provoke one. And yet, the question of his “fitness” for office is gaining legitimacy and public airing, as it should. Former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, went public this week with his own expression of the danger trump presents, should he, in a pique, decide to unleash a nuclear weapon, an act that no law would prevent, prohibit, or even delay. He is, after all, the president, and he obviously believes that there is no law that applies to him, and behaves as if nothing can or will “fetter” his will.

Section Four of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution reads:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the power and duties of the office as Acting President.

The Guardian writes: In practice what that means is Mike Pence plus 13 of Mr. Trump’s 24 cabinet members would have to agree…..John D. Feerick, former dean of Fordham Law School who served as one of its architects, said Senators who signed the amendment into law were clear it must be based on “reliable facts regarding the president’s physical or mental faculties,” not personal prejudice…..
Within 21 days of being triggered, the amendment requires two-thirds of both houses to uphold the decision. If they don’t then power reverts to the president.(August 23, 2017)

Obviously, this is a very high bar, and one that is highly unlikely to be crossed anytime soon.

The facts that are being reported:

·      that trump has shouted and sworn at Senators McConnell, Corker, and Tsilli for not protecting him in the Russian ‘collusion’ affair, and
·      that evidence now alleges that the Russian “dossier” contains reliable information
·      that there is pressure mounting to make that document available to the public
·      that former FBI Director Comey was fired by the president because he refused to “protect” the president by shutting down the FBI inquiry into collusion with Russia and promising his loyalty to the president
·      that trump is wild about the preparation of a bill that would protect Special Prosecutor Mueller from being fired by the president
·      that the president’s “fitness” for office is being publicly questioned in many quarters
·      that McConnell wonders out loud whether this presidency can be sustained
….mean that these facts are all compounding the political noose that is tightening around the neck of the occupant of the Oval Office.

Yesterday, reports that Vice President Pence had initiated a Political Action Committee, a fundraising organ for his own political purposes, would also be cause for anxiety inside the Oval Office. And Bannon’s firing, “freeing” him from the ‘constraints imposed on him while a White House acolyte, could also beat a little louder on drums that trump’s ears find cacophonous.

Is there enough evidence, whether that evidence is considered “legal” or “political,” to bring this president down? Perhaps not yet. Nevertheless, if and when the evidence reaches the tipping point, and specific legal steps begin to happen, the world can count on the trump “deplorables” to take to the streets railing against “fake news” and unfair treatment of their chosen candidate for the highest office in the world.

Clearly, the rest of the world is watching with growing interest and probably anxiety and concern as to whether the United States has become little more than a struggling democracy, comparable and analogous more every day to those banana republics where dictators are thrown out by a variety of methods, both peaceful and not so much.
Even the Foreign Minister of Mexico, upon hearing trump announce in Phoenix that NAFTA would probably have to be terminated, declared that the trump statement would be ignored and that Mexico’s delegation would continue to participate in negotiations already officially under way. Canadian representatives today are meeting with the Haitian community in Florida, to discuss the options available to a growing number of Haitian refugees who have been crossing the Canadian-American border, to escape what many believe will be a trump move to terminate their temporary immigration status in the U.S. So there are already serious and observable implications from the instability inside the White House, implications the world neither needs nor has the time or the resources to address.

We can all hope that this melodrama of monumental “ego” proportions, with global implications, will end sooner rather than later and with a whimper not a bang, and we can all begin to breath more easily.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Is the U.S. suffering a collosal breakdown? Methinks yes!

Let’s get away from micro-news stories and start to look at the big picture where various forms, flavours, sauces and condiments are all infected with cultural violence in the United States.

Violence against minorities, against the legal investigations of the FBI, the Special Prosecutor, and apparently even the Senate, against civil discourse, against truth-telling, against accountability, against public access to affordable health care, against the national interest, against collaboration with NATO, against the planet's eco-system, against the mainstream media, against transgender, against an equitable tax code, against moral values and against even hope.....they are all redolent across the American homeland!

There is no moral equivalency to the blame to “all sides” that has been attached to the Charlottsville VA Saturday violence, one week ago. White Supremacists, Fascists, anti-semites …of them allegedly protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee equestrian statue, cannot and must not be compared equally with the “Antifa” (Anti-fascist) movement that showed up to oppose the racist fascists.

However, there is another equally volatile debate emerging on the ‘left’ including the “Antifa” (anti-fascist)  extremists and the Southern Poverty Law Centre. The handbook of the former argues that words have not and will not defeat fascism, that violence is and will be required. On the other hand, the SPLC argues that violence begets only more violence. They advocate non-violent protests.

Violence, as a political instrument, versus non-violent protest, the legacy of Dr..Martin Luther King (and Ghandi, and others)….this argument percolates anew if and when ordinary people are aroused by the culmination of conditions they consider unacceptable. The underlying archetypes are war and peace. And when starkly put, the public consciousness predictably votes for peace. At the same time, ironically, the war machine is injected with millions of dollars, “so that a strong military is needed to mount a strong deterrence to war”. (so goes the argument for the most massive military build-up in history.

And it is not only a massive military arsenal that has gobbled the preponderance of the American national budget allocations. It is a culture steeped in violence and military applications to almost every single one of life’s primary steps, rationalized as merely in service to the capitalist, for profit, corporatist culture. Militarizing video games, militarizing political discourse, militarizing social media, militarizing judicial appointments (all nominees having to be vetted by the Federalist Society), militarizing school yards and MBA training..militarizing neighbourhoods with private guns….militarizing organizations like hospitals and schools….while legitimizing “order” for its own sake, will inevitably generate a culture of Manichean black/white options. Similarly, telling kids at summer camp, in morning and evening chants, “I am a winner” posits the opposite (loser) for those who are not part of the group.

Hegel posits “thesis, anti-thesis, and synthesis”….as his approach to philosophy. Thinking is not and can never be satisfied with only two options, no matter how ubiquitous binary math undergirds the new technology. Sealing public discourse and debate into an “either/or” casket can and will produce only what Chuck Todd (Meet the Press host, NBC) calls a “stuck place”. Public support will accrue, in most civil societies, to those proposing non-violent protest, giving them the ‘high ground’ morally. And history gives us numerous examples of the devastation resulting from violence, both military and civilian, creating the “low”moral ground position for those espousing violence. Taking “sides”, a pretense to which the media would have all talking heads subscribe, usually generates more heat than light. Similarly, street protests that pontificate “white supremacy” versus anti-fascism, also inevitably will generate violence, and perhaps even murder as it did a week ago in Virginia.

trump has magnetized the votes of very angry, disillusioned and impatient mostly white voters, including David Duke, the former chief of the Ku Klux Kkan, in spite of Trump’s disavowal of even knowing him. He has also declared a kind of “political war” on the mainstream media, the Washington establishment, most if not all minorities (Muslims, Blacks, Latinos) and spectacularly spared Jews. (One of the white supremacists from Charlottsville, when interviewed by Vice TV, video replayed on NBC’s Meet the Press, said his group was furthering the ideas of Trump, and looking for a spokesperson like him, but one ‘who did not give his daughter to a Jew”.)

We are living on a precipice that evokes memories of the 1930’s when National Socialism, including racial contempt for Jews and other non-whites stomped across Europe. In Virginia, it is lawful to carry a loaded gun on the street, another of the many pieces of evidence that demonstrate the successful lobbying/seduction by the NRA of a majority of members of Congress, at least of Republicans in both houses. Terrorism, whether home-grown or the result of international radicalization, and whether based on white supremacy or radical Islam, has destabilized the sense of security and stability that previously prevailed in most North American towns and cities, and public institutions have been less successful in taming these beasts. Racial animus, compounded by religious fanaticism, co-incident with outsourcing millions of honourable jobs, the demise of the labour movement, and the resulting hopelessness makes a highly volatile ethos, and like a funeral pyre of dried and brittle wood, the ethos is a potential political and perhaps even violent inferno.

Attempting to inject rational arguments, for non-violence, for moderation and for a cooling-off period seem somewhat wistful and Disney-esque. Dante’s Inferno seems more appropriate as an analogy. And there has to be a mountain of both shock and surprise from many that this cauldron is boiling in a country of the most wealthy, and one of the best educated and historically one of the most healthy populations in the world. To say there is a class war merely scratches the surface of the toxic cancerous tumours that inhabit the body politic. Class, race, religion, and even gender (Sebastian Gorka, another incongruous White House freeloader, exclaimed on television that the “pyjama boys have been replaced by the alpha men”). Bannon, upon leaving his perch in the Oval Office declared that he was declaring ‘war’ on all globalists…..and Breitbart, his “weapon” is a strident and hate-mongering organ of white supremacy.
So violence, in words, in bullets, in attitudes and in expectations and even in beliefs, stalks the land…..creating a shadow of ominous fear that cannot be restricted to the 100 km width of the band of darkness generated by yesterday’s eclipse.

Congressman John Lewis was clubbed over the head when he marched as a young man with Dr. King, by police who were determined to keep the black population “in their place”…out of the voting booth, out of the restaurants, out of the city hall and government jobs and essentially out of sight and out of mind. He fully thought he was going to die. Nevertheless, he has persisted, in his shared conviction with Dr. King and others like Andrew Young, that non-violence was to better path.

The fact that a Dartmouth professor has authored a handbook for the Antifa movement, advocating violence makes one wonder how he retains his tenure at that illustrious college. Perhaps, under the protection of the First Amendment, in support of FREE SPEECH, he is unable to be dislodged. However, the American culture and political culture has to accept the need for limits to the free speech protection, and if they are unable or unwilling to curb its use, the country could easily slip into another epidemic of civic violence. Just yesterday, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) announced it will no longer defend those who use weapons to protest their cause. Surely, it is long past time to put limits on the First Amendment, the right to carry and show guns, and the legalization of high powered rifles designed specifically for killing in war.

The world is watching. And while dumping trump will begin a very long process to civility, it will take a series of radical surgeries to eviscerate the tumours that are growing hourly on every organ of the United States body politic. And then “political chemo and radiation” will be required to put the disease into remission.
Trump, as has been stated so often, is a large symptom of a disease. But the disease has already metastasized far beyond the Oval Office.

There is an obvious cultural fixation on the literal meaning of words, on the  physical solutions to all problems, a kind of infantilism of both options and imagination, and a over-reaching oligarchy that has rushed into the intellectual, and political and economic vacuum.

The top 1% (or less) have already so consumed the levers of power, including voting power, fundraising power, media power, university training (job skills while sacrificing the liberal education that demands nuanced, and careful argumentation) and the debasing of the arts, culture, nuanced imagination and dialogue…and this in addition to the already complete control of the economic levers.

A kind of “soft coup” has already taken place, in a country that prides itself as the recipient of the Greek ideal of democracy, in its 21st century incarnation. That, too, folks, is just another of the myriad of lies, deceptions, illusions, and theatrical ruses that have been inflicted on an unsuspecting, parochial, provincial, despondent and limp public so consumed with many pain-killers, opiods and illicit drugs that even the mountainous DEA cannot keep up with this symptom of the disease.

It is not that Trump could kill someone on Fifth Avenue without suffering a political blow-back; it is more that the country has spiralled into a paroxysm of what in lay language could be termed a massive “breakdown”…..and it really does not know the full extent of the illness, nor the potential pathways back to civic and national health.

To argue for or against the use of violence to confront the fascists is merely to focus on the symptoms of the disease. And violence merely gives expression to the national illness. And there are so many expressive symptoms: drugs, neighbourhood shootings, police brutality, corporate rip-offs, political pimping for all elected politicians, isolationism, militarism, bullying, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and above all, deception, lies, salesmanship and the enmeshment of the national shadow and the ego…indicating that the “show” has replaced the “reality” and the ‘truth”…. Violence, aided and abetted by the current occupant of the Oval Office (to serve the vestiges of his miniscule ego) abounds, and proliferates across the land. Fear of being “tweeted” by the White House is not and must not become an impediment to confronting trump by those serving the republic as elected officials. They have all taken an oath to protect and to defend the constitution. When are they going to be held to their oath? And by whom?

Can the republic, currently on life support, regain full consciousness, come to its senses and throw off and out all of its nightmare demons?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Reflections on community...

What is about the search for community that leaves so many confused, ambivalent  even discouraged and certainly less than optimistic?

We are supposedly hardwired to be “social” to seek out others and intrinsically to want to help others. And to an extent we are pleasant, polite, and sociable when we meet those we have become familiar with, over a considerable length of time. And yet, such pleasantries are no surrogate for “getting to know” the other. Indeed, they may well be a defense against “social intimacy”. Of course, if and when we encounter an emergency, a fire, a flood, an accident, a break-in or robbery, we are all filled with adrenalin to do our part. Rescuers, paramedics, or just “doing what anyone else would do if faced with the same situation, we find both the energy and the strength to speak to strangers as if we have known them for a much longer time. We also put our own issues aside in the full conscious awareness that the needs of the other easily eclipse whatever we are going through.

Similarly, when in line for a public event, especially if the time stretches beyond a few minutes, strangers become on-the-spot acquaintances, often spilling their life story in an act of open dialogue that would be highly unlikely, if not out of the question in our apartment building, or on our block. Such queues, of course, have already found people interested in experiencing the same thing, whether it be a movie, a boat cruise, a plane trip to a common destination. So there is a bottom line of something in common, aa well as the “fill-in-the-time” avoidance of boredom and the “time-drag”.

Another occasion that seems to find people conversing without prior acquaintance centres on a “conversation piece” of a unique vehicle, a unique feature on a tech device, or a unique picture in the sky or on the horizon, as will undoubtedly happen in North America as millions watch the anticipated solar eclipse. People who walk their dogs in public parks will often find strangers inquiring about the “breed” of the dog, the age, and the “personality” of the dog, especially from others who, too, are fond of those animals. Infrequently, upon entering an urban restaurant, one is greeted by a departing guest extolling the food and the service of the establishment.

Increasingly, however, most folks have their eyes downward focused on their smart phones, “connecting” with people they “know” in what appears to be a pattern of behaviour that has more influence on them than the direct face-to-face contact would generate. There is, after all, a kind of veil of privacy provided by the devices, giving us all the opportunity to “connect” without really experiencing the full impact of the body language, by either party. This new dimension has made it possible for each of us to morph into a ghost-like character presenting ourselves, either in tweets or on facetime, as only partially “available” to the other.

For arranging appointments, co-ordinating schedules, exploring catalogues, and even for many other functional details, the tech devices have more than proven their value. And yet, for real human contact, the kind on which community depends, for the “showing-up” of each person, there is no digital substitute.

Small towns, where traditionally most people know a fair amount about most of the people who live there, exhibit a much higher level of face-to-face contact in the local coffee shops, and at the many events that find dates on the calendars of most families….baptisms, weddings, bar-and-bat-mitzvahs, funerals, and other civic occasions. Sporting events, too, offer opportunities for parents to share the skill development of their children, while venting their frustrations at the occasional “unfair” officiating call.

And while it is true that any of these passing moments can and often do lead to further contact, it is also true that the general public interest in and openness to participating in more lengthy conversations about more than “small talk” is quite limited. If there is a national or even an international event, or “cloud” that captures public interest (fear, anxiety, disgust, abhorrence, or even “funnybone”) it will generate a round of water-cooler talk. In this vein, weather, at least in Canada, is a “safe” topic. Yet, there is a limited range of acceptable topics for this “circle” and anyone who deviates from that acceptable norm is out of sync with the group.

And we are, both individually and collectively, highly adept and even eager, to find those attributes that offer opportunities to put the other down. It could be a speech impediment, a body size or shape, a physical/intellectual impediment, a racial or religious difference from the ‘group’ (as if we really fully felt as if we “belonged” to a group). Recent evidence suggests that even babies by six months, turn their eyes away from other six-month-olds whose visual appearance is different from their own. This evidence comes as part of the proof that some level of racism is endemic to everyone. The next question, of course, is whether we all have to be “taught” to love and accept others, or whether that trait is naturally an integral part of each person’s DNA.

And that starting point, in the world view of each person, is obviously highly determinative of the experiences one encounters for the rest of our lives. Levels and expectations of trust in the “other” are in part determined by this variable factor, within each of us. Levels of detachment, suspicion, scepticism and avoidance are also deeply dependent on this single variable.

If we start, where the Christian church has taught us to start, that everyone is full of sin, ‘having come short of the glory of God,’ and “unworthy to pick up the crumbs from under the (eucharistic) table”….then it is only ‘natural’ that we would have to be “saved” from our own isolation, depravity and dark side. And from this starting point, one is severely restricted about one’s “likeability” and sociability. This kind of “scarring” brings with it the potential of many different attitudes and perceptions, none of them free from the self-and-other perception of something akin to “worthless”. One such emanation is the notion that we will spend the rest of our lives recovering from Original Sin, and the concomitant need for both an internal and an external “Critical Parent” who will chastise, sanction, punish and generally control one’s behaviour.

And we have a booming business for Critical Parents in North America….as well as the obvious and deleterious infantilism that the “CP” requires. Developmental psychology, through whose lens we all learn about how we all change, grow, evolve, shedding early patterns and prejudices and become the “mature” adult we had hoped we would become very early contrasts with the “religious” (Christian) monochromatic “sinner” image the church dispenses. And the working out of this conflict takes decades for many, a life time for others and for some, it is never worked out. The adage that one cannot return home without encountering the experience of being the little child who left” in the mind and perception of those remaining continues to operate, although our rational mind knows different. The positive contribution of the “critical parent” when children are learning to avoid physical danger, “bad people” and seductive temptations continues to be sustained by many religious institutions, primarily for their own control needs….church then as extrinsic Critical Parent, an archetype that not only does not “fit” any deity, but supplants and/or subverts for many adults the development of the “internal” critical parent of the mature adult.

Colleges and universities offer ready-made opportunities to “rub shoulders” with others in similar programs, on the same floor in residence, in the same apartment or rooming house on the same committees or student councils. And while friendships develop, much of this type of encounter tends to be driven by the immediate ‘project’ or special interest. To be sure, life long relationships do develop, especially  among those who move on to grad school together.

Yet, at least for many males, (this may be less true for females) many of these “relationships” are focused on the  project or the team, and often skirt past the private details of one’s personal, emotional life experiences. The rise of Employee Assistance programs, (the outsourcing of many of the human contacts, to preserve the confidentiality of the individual) is clear evidence of how outsourcing the human contact to the “professionals” has supplanted and replaced the human contact that previously characterized many workplaces and local groups. It is our penchant for secrecy, in an age when a bruise on our personal reputation can sink a career, that drives much of our avoidance of participation in community development. Bosses as critical parents, however, is a feature of our contemporary culture that needs strict limitations, and with the demise of the labour movement, there is very little to restrain the employers from excising any individual who threatens the perfect reputation of the ‘firm’.

Ironically, there no single human being who is completely “free” from the possibility that life will deal a “hand of cards” that appear to compromise his/her career, and the brittle and perfect and neurotic public image of  the corporation. Life changing tidal waves, not only of  the life-death variety, hit the shores of our lives every day and if we were honest, compassionate and integrous, we would engender attitudes, processes and beliefs that integrated these truths into our professional lives.

Of course, such a process would render our workplaces much more messy, unpredictable and humane than the current clinical, hygienic, sterile and disconnected cultures we have created. Both management and unions have made large contributions to the current climate of isolated silos staring at screens, talking on phones and driving alone in vehicles, where job descriptions, time allotments, performance incidents and rules (of the critical parent) are in charge of the human contact.

And, of course, our churches, schools, universities and corporations have a common theme: “performance is king”….and our ability and willingness to measure performance (as a function of cost, and the option to reduce costs as the driving principle) grows exponentially daily, even hourly. And many of these measurements are administered in dollar ‘costs’ and “percentage of mistakes” in the scientific management belief that by tightening the collar on performance, those in charge will get the bonuses they deserve.

Whether the “people” in the organizations “feel” engaged, valued, and honoured, is a conversation for the pub after work, but certainly not for the  HR department or the executive suite.

On the other hand, however, if we begin from a place where we are loved (and loveable) by others and by God, then it is much more likely, even potentially predictable, that we will remain open, receptive, gregarious and engaging in all opportunities for “community” even if those opportunities do not involve formal memberships, formal creeds and oaths, formal rituals and obligations, and formal attire.

Community, obviously, depends on trust as does personal disclosure. One has to feel confident that personal information will not be splashed all over the neighbourhood, or the office, or the congregation, or the curling rink, in order to be willing to share, both as recipient and as discloser. And we all have a compendium of experiences in which our lives have been shredded by others, for their personal need/pleasure/revenge/superiority or whatever other stimulus might be behind the exposure. Often too, that “exposure” is not based in truth or reality. The human capacity for “assuming” and for “presuming” and for prying and for gossip, the fuel that serves as a “communicide” weeding out many of the first ‘green shoots’ of a potential authentic community, is so deeply ingrained, nurtured by convention and enhanced by repeated use.

There is another potential argument against the “spontaneous combustion” of community; and that is that only “needy” people are even thinking about their desire for (need of) community. Oh sure, if one is bereaved, then joining a “bereaved” group to share grief, memories, denial, anger and reconciliation is an open possibility. And for those who have suffered from a criminal act, there is comfort and solace in sharing with other ‘victims of violence’. Similarly, divorced persons might be willing to “process” their loss with others going through a similar tragedy. Based on a specific identifiable “need” or “loss” or “emptiness” or trauma, many people are feeling sufficiently vulnerable to risk exposing their vulnerability to others in a similar state of vulnerability.

Yet, what if we humans were honest about our vulnerability as a normal state, and set aside our fears and our anxieties about trust, and take the risk of actually entering a state of community where those anxieties could be lifted and dissipated through the very courage and experience of sharing, risking and trusting?

The notion of “doing” and of “function” has so come to pervade our culture that those considerations that foster “being” for its own sake, connecting for its own sake, and belonging for its own sake have been dismissed  without being given a fair trial. Moreover, loneliness stalks the land, in every village, town and city….and people are all around all of us. We are like the ancient mariner in Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, from which a memorable line rings out: Water water everywhere without a drop to drink!

Of course, salt water is not the most palatable drink. And other people do not qualify as “salt water”….but their ubiquity and their loneliness walk into the office with us, enter our classrooms with us, sit beside us in our pews, and sit in the other booths at Tim’s having coffee every day. And, it is not more professionals that we need to counsel us about our health, or our legal affairs, or even our spiritual lives. In fact, there is a significant gap in conscious connection between most of these professionals and the people they “serve” and that detachment (call it objective professionalism) is a major barrier to our feeling connected to other human beings on the planet.

The work of the professionals, like the exchange between the store-keeper and his customer, is a transactional dynamic that requires, even demands, a protocol, a measurable service, and most often a specific prescription and action as follow-up. It is not that conversations with “professionals” are evil; it is just that they are stunted, protracted and problem-solution-based, like a visit to the local mechanic when the car needs brakes.

“Hanging out” that old adolescent-permitted and even encouraged “waste of time” was never wasted and never without stimulation, provocation and especially connection. As adults, naturally, we would come to the opportunity to “hang out” with people who wanted also to “hang out” (for its own sake) with a very different perspective and expectation than we did at sixteen. That difference, however, need not be an impediment to fostering community. In fact, it could enhance both the depth and the rewards of a relationship among mature adults.

There is, of course, the question of whether “community” requires the participation by both genders in the same community. Intuitively, it seems that separate gender groups would reduce some of the anxiety, as men and women might wish to share different issues and share them in a different attitude and manner.

Some fortunate readers may already be enjoying the experience of an authentic community. If so, they might offer their suggestions and recommendations to others not so fortunate, but who might be interested in seeking a community that would welcome them.

Community is not a prescription for happiness; nor it is a placebo for every kind of headache. Nevertheless, it is a sign that we can and will reach out to connect not because we have “answers” nor because we want “political or resume networks” nor because we seek to acquire admittance to a social club.

For the simple reason that we consider connection and community and relationship (beyond spouse, and blood family) to be a situation that embraces our person, and not our skill, our emotions as well as our thoughts, our pains as well as our victories, and our biographies as well as our attitude to end of life issues.

We do not seek community to “get fixed” or to transform our personalities, or to eliminate our self-sabotage. 

We seek community for its own sake….and that is reason and purpose enough!     

Monday, August 14, 2017

HUBRIS: the fake gemstone in the American crown jewels

Writing in the latest edition of The Atlantic about the libertarian Senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake, McKay Coppins writes these words about Flake’s “take” on the current political climate in Washington:

After a decade and a half in Congress, he has come to believe that the defining story of his time in Washington is one of good will gutted and cynicism weaponized, culminating with the election of Donald Trump. (The Atlantic, September 2017, p. 20)

Flake’s diagnosis, however, is more a description of symptoms, and not a diagnosis of root causes.
Politicians, as “leaders” in society, are fixated on the manipulation of superficial data, for the exclusive purpose of putting a “good light” on themselves. When the exercise of power is reduced to the manipulation of anything and everything to pour make-up over cancerous tumours, for one of two purposes, either to kick the issue down the road or generate opinion polls that sustain the politician’s electability, responsibility (by those leaders) has become a casualty of the political process.
At the heart of the American political biography is a revolution against what some saw as the abuse of power by the British monarchy. Bloodshed, muskets, cannons and “military sacrifice” are the ingredients of the nation’s birthing process. If “no taxation without representation” was the cry of the revolution, millions of American voters are in precisely the same structural situation, although the details are modified. Telling the British, “No” by defeating them in military campaigns, and then elevating those military generals to the status of heroes is imprinted into the national DNA.

There is, unfortunately, a singular, and by definition, immature, adolescent and distorted perception within such a heroic military source of power. The perception says that there must be two opponents in every situation, requiring competitive strategy and tactics from both, with an ultimate winner and loser from every fight. The state, as the perpetual and given “side” is then opposed by various forces from outside. And at the heart of the archetype, the state continues to be the enemy for millions, both then and today. In more moderate language, and with a dulcet larynx, Ronald Reagan uttered these words: “…. government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem. It isn't so much that liberals are ignorant, it's just that they know so much that isn't so.”

The historic insistence on only two political parties, linked by an umbilical cord to fiscal management, military idolatry, “star” heroism, a culture of corporate power (imitating the military model) and a lethal competitive engine….these are some of the underlying and pulsating forces that have to be addressed, if the current crisis is to be leavened. And they are all a consequence of inordinate national hubris, founded on a neurotic and self-defeating need to prove one’s self, including the national self.
And let’s not ignore these templates as they have been laid over the issues of race and religion. If the world can be, and is, open to division into two halves, two sides, right and wrong, (eliminating all nuances between the extremes) and the culture refuses to acknowledge the existence and the defects of this exaggerated Manicheanism, then a national trap has been set, and re-set, and re-set over and over again for more than 200 years. Christianity, whether practiced by Puritans, Roman Catholics or other “mainline” churches, when articulated as an encyclopaedia of absolutes, is the author of its own demise. By imposing an infantile and untrue construct on nature and natural law, and by submitting to the dictates of such a construct, and then imputing such a construct to a deity, and then worshipping a distortion that “we have the truth and the right religion,” the nation has committed the carnal mis-step of national, religious, economic and political hubris.
It does not matter whether we re-visit the issue of racial inequality, gender inequality, fiscal inequality, or even political inequality, the root of all American debates is shoved into a headline, like the one uttered by George W. Bush, ‘either you are ‘for us’ or you are ‘against us’. A Supreme Court that has to ‘rule’ on which of the petitioner or the defendant is in ascendancy at the moment, confirms the over-all, undergirding structure of the cultural foundation. The movement of political ‘winds’ in favour of or opposed to, for example, going to war or not, of therapeutic abortion/murder, the right to vote/literacy test, access to health care/nanny state, the threat/hoax of global warming and climate change, left to the personal vagaries of the size of the cash vault of the propagandists, even when the research community provides the competing evidence from both sides, is still a cultural in which the “truth” is a primary casualty in the national drama of “war”.
And it is a “war” of independence, re-enacted each time another national debate is held. Engraved into the constitution, for example, is the “right of free speech” to take one operable social, political and cultural application. The fact that too many Americans consider this right to be and to advocate for a fundamental “absolute” divides people on every issue…including the right to bear arms, the right to kill those engaged in providing therapeutic abortion, the right to ban refugees, immigrants, the construction of a “cultural war” between east and west, between Islam and Christianity, between “Coke and Pepsi.” All attempts to impose limits on free speech clash dramatically and openly with statements like “we abhor all hatred and bigotry”….they are mutually exclusive and the political discussion and debate never comes to terms with their incompatibility. “HATE SPEECH” is not compatible with tolerance, respect, honour and dignity of every individual. And HATE SPEECH is also not reconcilable with “all men are created equal”… and endowed with inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. HATE SPEECH is also not able to live in a house “divided against itself”….in fact the original “division” is insurmountable unless and until the commitment to the metaphysical notion of competition and a Manichean world view is dispensedcar.
Your right to carry weapons openly on the street directly impeded, even contradicts my right to protest safely. Your right to shoot in self-defence whenever you think you are being threatened contradicts the notion of my innocence until proven guilty. Your argument that government must not “kill fetuses” contradicts the freedom and potentially even the life of my daughter, partner, or other relative to a safe termination of a pregnancy that could have resulted from rape, incest or that, itself, threatens the life of that woman. Your claimed ‘right’ to grope my sister, daughter, partner directly contradicts each of their right to safety, and the freedom that attends that safety. Your right to pass laws that serve your personal/party/ideological/faith dictates, directly contradicts my access to work with dignity, access to health care, an education and the security of my family against your personal hegemony.
The American nation is clearly hoisted on its own petard, a view of competing absolutes, as necessary for any security and liberty, that impales it at every turn. It is the plight of all perfectionists everywhere. The world in all of its complexity cannot and will not comport with such constriction. Nature, different from your “jungle survival of the fittest” depicture, is characterized by constant change, many fruitful examples of collaboration, protection, and a degree of territoriality, that limits the need for complete power by all of its creatures. Abrogating absolute power, as is the wont and history of your evolving country, by a select few (whether they are “alpha men” and not “pajama men”, or “feministas” and not “real women” or Antifa terrorists and not White Supremacists, uber rich and not the starving and dispossessed, climate deniers and not apocryphists)….is a recipe for historic, political, cultural, and especially ethical mortality.
Statues, monuments, frozen in time, at either end of the political, religious, reality, wealth, military power, financial continuum, represent a kind of fixation with intransigence especially since “your” national depiction of success ignores millions. And contrary to your popular distortion of truth, these statues do not serve as motivation to the masses, for whom you presumably constructed them, secure in your “reality” that your project was a celebration of the national interest. Heroes, in your view, are those who have imposed their will, usually without moderation or modesty, on others.
You may do well to recall that back in the 1930’s a film made by Leni Reifenstahl, Hitler’s film-maker and image-maker, was titled, The Triumph of the Will. You are currently reaping the harvest of two centuries of the reckless imposition of the will of the top 1%, albeit that specific triumph did not come quickly, easily or without a struggle. There have been American thought and political leaders who never presumed to have a grasp on ultimate reality, nor to possess absolute power. Many of them were modest and sufficiently grounded in truth-telling, at least insofar as the “public” performance of their duties were concerned that the public interest was not sacrificed to their personal will and power needs.
That is no longer the situation. And for the foreseeable future, that will not be the anticipated situation.
Church leaders, thought leaders, labour, professional and even corporate leaders, including artists, and the marginalized now (not a few decades from now) need a forum in which to begin to reconcile American history with the truth about nature, including the nature of individual human beings, and the full nature of the current conditions of the planet. It is not only “turning weapons into ploughshares” that is needed; it is more like turning all “absolutes into approximations,” rules engraved in granite into poems written in sand, pronouncements into probing questions, hubris into humility (both personal and national), bigotry into understanding, drug deals (both prescription and illicit) into helping hands, acquisition of wealth
(as a personal goal) into the incarnation of “my brother’s keeper”…
Of course, such words are easy and somewhat glib. And transformation of a nation so steeped in the slough of its own superiority will not quickly, easily or even willingly come to recognize its desperate situation. There is more than enough culpability to go around all the major institutions inside the country, including the government, the corporations, the universities, the colleges, the labour unions, the law enforcement agencies including the Supreme Court and especially the churches. And only if and when these institutions gain a full grasp of their entrapment in self-sabotaging convictions of rigid righteousness, will a degree of reconciliation, both institutionally and thereby personally, be feasible.
Of course, the world will not hold its breath waiting for an American awakening of consciousness, and thereby conscience. There are signs of such a need for an awakening of consciousness and conscience in other quarters outside the American boundaries. However, if the world is to get about the business of saving itself from itself, it will need a very different United States than the one currently masquerading as a mature, developed, credible and trust-worthy leader on the world stage today.

There is more than a little irony in the fact that the United States established its historic reputation as the country that overthrew the royalty and now finds itself worshipping at an even more dictatorial and empty altar of a tyranny of its own making.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Collaboration when most needed is most spurned in America

Aside from the many other demonstrations that the current occupant of the Oval Office does not represent “American values,” the one way in which he incarnates one of the least relevant and most out-of-date traits is his “rugged individualism” taken to the outer limits.

Even Teddy Roosevelt would be appalled by this latest version of the slogan most associated with his name and presidency. Stripped of all the connotations of “rugged individualism” in the service of the nation, the current president serves only himself, and if he were a conductor of an orchestra, the musicians would refuse to play. Public humiliation of cabinet officers, public countering of others’ words and intentions, dismissal of at least one dozen key players, none more significant that James Comey, former director of the F.B.I…..these are not the acts of a person who knows how to work with others, or one who aspires to learn this attitude and skill.

Stripped of the generative creativity that comes from a vigorous and collaborative exchange of ideas, proposals, approaches and personalities, the il duce's modus operandi leaves any organization or nation bereft of its best and brightest ideas. Any one person who believes his/her ideas are the only appropriate ideas for any situation as complex and knotted, especially situations that have challenged and rebuffed the best ideas of generations of brilliant minds and creative, courageous leaders, is truly living in what pop psychologists call “castles in the sky.” Both the castles and the sky itself are figments of a single out-of-touch mind and bankrupt ego.

 It is not only that this person skipped registration in all classes offering humility at all levels of his “platinum” education; the evidence suggests that his justification for such blatant avoidance is “I know better than the professor!” Team play, to this person, is really only for losers who cannot make it on their own. And while there is a segment of corporate antediluvian leadership that “used” to pit leadership contenders against each other, in the firm conviction that head-to-head competition would generate the best ideas to advance the profits of the company and the dividends of the shareholders, the problems facing humanity, and the planet itself, demand the collaborative method of address.

Competing for water, land and air in a world in which these finite resources now demand an ethical and collaborative equation that addresses the survival of all. Similarly, the nuclear threat, whether coming from Iran or  North Korea, or even from members of the ‘nuclear club’ like Russia or the United States, demands the combined energy, creativity and collaboration of many voices, all of them prepared to “give” a little in order to reach a “bigger” resolution. ISIS, could well be considered the apprenticeship for geopolitical collaboration, in that it stretches across multiple national boundaries, both geographically and digitally, financially and ideologically. Once defeated, it could have paved the way for more applications of the same collaborative approach.

And it was not an approach that the various national leaders have come to quickly or completely. There have been many lurches into and out of a shared approach to intelligence, to severing the financial life-lines of the terrorists, to refusing them arms. And even now there is evidence that some countries continue to support terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah (both having receded into the dark corners of daily news casts) while others like Saudi Arabia continue to fund and support schools of hate-prosletizing around the world under the radar. The rise of anti-semitism and Islamaphobia, along with homophobia and racism, sexism and ageism demonstrate that our fears continue to dominate our best instincts, our most profound hopes and aspirations.

And if we are not seeing collaboration from our leaders, especially when masked by platitudes in communiques that demonstrate little more than a “meeting” occurred, with little or no expectation of anything resembling follow-through, commitment and shared responsibility for enhanced collaboration, how can we expect ordinary people to shift attitudinal priorities from fear to hope, from silo's to teams, from neighbourhoods to towns and cities, from states and provinces to nations, and from nations to the planet?

We are all members of a parochial, provincial, me-first, narrow and self-centred species, struggling, each in our own way and apparently in our own sweet time, to raise our eyes, our ears and our efforts to a wider, broader, deeper and more collaborative togetherness. It is not that we all have to take the “same steps” to combat a shared planetary crisis; it is that we all have to take individual, collective and effective steps to address this existential threat. Our unique cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual identities need not be sacrificed in such a shared and collaborative effort. Nor is it any longer appropriate to “leave it to others” as our ordinary stereotypical detachment, disinterest, and shedding of responsibility, in a world in which, clearly, the efforts of public leadership will not be adequate to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, nor the arms race from spinning out of control once again. (We have just learned that the American administration is about to scrap all previous arms control treaties, in their headlong and headstrong, mindless and insidious pursuit of hard power through both an exaggerated growth in the Pentagon’s budget, and also the sale of arms around the world.

Turning the United States into the sales and marketing arm of the National Rifle Association and the arms industry, so that every man women and child in every country can and does have his/her own personal gun is not only evidence of insanity, but also the complete sell-out of all hope for the replacement of hope with terminal fear. And for what? The jobs rate and the personal polling numbers of a person whose suitability for the office has been unequivocally demonstrated to be deficient.
Diplomats like Al Gore comment that the current administration is “regressive” in its return to a past that is no longer here, nor is it worthy of being pursued. A less politically correct way of putting it would be to say the current administration is highly dangerous, toxic and counter-intuitive to everything the planet and her people need.

And those needs are not frivolous and merely self-serving, as are the approaches of the White House; they are needs for survival, and not only for the current generation of voters, but for successive generations of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
We need to have a collaborative and shared vision of the hope and the promise of a shared future that reduces, if not eliminates the nefarious aspects of “me-first” because I am the best, and I can do what is best for you!

Talk about government control of people! The Republicans will one day have to confront the irony that they have permitted an administration that demands and expects total submission of the electorate to its dictates. This so far exceeds the worst aspects of the nanny state of which they complained when Obama was in office. It eclipses any vestige of that prospect and replaces it with a personal dictatorship befitting a banana republic.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Japan: trying to build bridges between nuclear and non-nuclear powers

 A global treaty to ban nuclear bombs was endorsed by 122 countries at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Friday July 7 after months of talks in the face of strong opposition from nuclear-armed states and their allies. Only the Netherlands, which took part in the discussion, despite having US nuclear weapons on its territory, voted against the treaty.
All of the countries that bear nuclear arms and many others that either come under their protection or host weapons on their soil boycotted the negotiations. The most vocal critic of the discussions, the US, pointed to the escalation of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme as one reason to retain its nuclear capability. The UK did not attend the talks despite government claims to support multilateral disarmament.  (from The Guardian)

72 years after the devastating bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in thousands of deaths and even more long-term health defects, Japan is not one of those signatories, preferring to walk a middle road between nuclear powers and non-nuclear, while holding firm to its commitment not to develop nuclear weapons itself.

This highly nuanced position evokes some disappointment from victims’ families of those singular acts. Naturally, they want their country to take a leading position in any initiative to ban nuclear weapons. However, there is a reasoned argument for the government’ position, especially given the current conditions in south-east Asia, especially on the Korean peninsula.

The even more recent unanimous decision by the Security Council to impose rather severe sanctions on North Korea, in a determined attempt to halt that country’s persistent determination to continue to test ICBM’s and to continue their march to equipping those missiles with nuclear warheads, capable of reaching North America.
While the volume of the news chatter about the North Korean threat comes from two sides of an apparent echo chamber, the U.S. and Peyonyang, Canada, for anyone caring to notice, is in the direct line of fire of any missile strike from North Korea to any U.S. city. This small detail has been almost completely absent from news coverage of the nuclear threat on Canadian airwaves.

And while any self-respecting thoughtful person would support the spirit of banning nuclear weapons, just as biological weapons were banned in 1945, there are and likely always will be those rogue leaders and states, like North Korea, and perhaps Iran, who continue to flaunt the ban, undermining what presents as “global opinion”. It is “global opinion” that is reported to be confronting Peyongang at the conference of Asian countries, including the United States, this week in the Philippines. Whether the weight of the shared view of some 26 countries, and the weight of the Security Council’s unanimous decision on sanctions taken together will influence Kim Jung Un’s stubborn determination to continue his and his country’s march to real and effective nuclear weapons status remains an open question.

Naturally the world seems to be ‘holding its collective breath’ given the combined cacophony of loud noises coming from both Washington and Kim Jung Un, given the unpredictability of both the American and North Korean leaders. Japan, along with South Korea, would be inevitably and deeply impacted should all-out military action begin between the U.S. and North Korea break out. So, trying to walk a fine line, a potentially and idealistically bridge-building and sustaining stance, could provide the kind of balanced, reasoned, moderate and highly mature voice at a table of potential bully wannabees.

Some Japanese, however, worry that the memory, and thereby the historic impact of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, seems to be waning and giving way to more bellicose geopolitical shouting by intransigent enemies. And there is an obvious and disturbing similarity to the verbal and missile-testing rhetoric coming from Washington and Peyongang, respectively.

Both Kim Jung Un and trump seem to have a Manichean, immoveable and ultimately unsustainable fossil-like position that posits two “prize-fighters” posed to out-duel each other, first in diplomatic and ultimately, if needed, in military terms. Only through a reasoned walking back by both parties, a process that neither leader seems to welcome and certainly not embrace, can a de-escalation occur. The fact that both Russia and China voted for the Security Council sanctions is a welcome piece of evidence for all observers of the melodrama that has been projecting missile testing by both Peyongang and Washington. (No one even moderately engaged in geopolitical developments has missed the increased military “exercises” by both NATO and Russia in Europe that provide another potential theatre for accidental or strategic engagement.)

Voices like Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, and one hopes’ Macron from France, Merkel in Germany, and even China’s Xi Jinping are needed to defuse the Korean enigma. For, although Secretary of State Tillerson has been sounding reasonable at this conference, in the back of everyone’s mind (both at the conference and around the world) looms the egomaniacal, neurotic, power-hungry, unpredictable, opportunistic chief executive in the Washington.

Reining in those like Kim Jung Un and trump, not to mention Putin and some of the far right voices like those in Poland, is a task made more complicated by the pursuit and acquisition of nuclear weapons. “Nuclear states” have already amassed more than enough lethal power to devastate millions and leave imponderable death and suffering and  waste in their path. And whether the kind of nuanced, almost imperceptibly confident and deeply and profoundly steeped in the harsh experience voice of Japan will be heard in the many discussion and debate rooms is an open question. The ravages of those two nuclear bombs, the first, ironically dubbed ‘Little Boy’* and the second, “Fat Man”#, continue to haunt the Japanese people, and the rest of the world, especially world leaders, would do well to follow President Obama’s example and visit ground zero, as part of their “research” before expressing a single opinion on the expansion/retraction of the nuclear club.

Nuclear codes, in the hands of men whose regard for human life is dwarfed by their sick and misguided pursuit of personal power and historic recognition, make for a very dangerous linkage. And the voices of modesty and moderation are needed on this file now more than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis. And there is no John F. Kennedy or Bobby Kennedy, or Secretary  Robert McNamara in the situation room these days.

*In this gun-type device, the critical mass is achieved when a uranium projectile which is sub-critical is fired through a gun barrel at a uranium target which is also sub-critical.  The resulting uranium mass comprised of both projectile and target becomes critical and the chain reaction begins. Dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, it was the first nuclear weapon used in a war. (Atomic Heritage Foundation) 

#"Fat Man" was the name given to the plutonium implosion-type atomic bomb and was the second bomb to be dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. It replaced the inefficient gun-type bomb "Little Boy". (Atomic Heritage Foundation)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

If the Christian church is in crisis, the Faith need not be!

There is a encyclopaedia full of legitimate reasons why Christian churches are finding their heart, mind, soul and buildings gasping in Cheyne stokes breathing, just before their final breath.

As ‘prosletyzing’ agents for evangelizing the gospel, at least from reading some of the writing of “Paul” the convert from the Damascus Road, these ‘churches’ gathered small groups of people to meet and to pray, to reflect and to give voice to, in some cases, opposition to the current governor, government or a ruling that was unjust. Different from synagogues, yet borrowing from the “prophets” of the Old Testament in their teachings, these places of worship often gave refuge from various forms of oppression, and trained disciples to “spread the word” of the promise, the hope and the caritas and forgiveness of new life, as followers of the Risen and Resurrected Christ, following the Crucifixion.

Sin and the chains of its imprisonment, for the person and the community’s relationship to God, were historically highly defined, strictly monitored and, if and when discovered, severely punished by the church. In fact, restraining laws like the “eye for an eye,” were needed to limit the vengeance and the punishment inflicted upon offenders. Apocryphal stories of virgin birth, and healings even miracles were embedded in the litany of magnets to attract and to sustain faith in neophytes whose credence was another of the many tests of loyalty and obedience.

As the years and the centuries passed, people like Roman emperors, decided to convert, and require their subjects to follow their example; creeds and the seeds of a theology of a new faith were birthed from human, yet inspired by God, minds and pens, and enforced often by laws and arms. Church fathers, like Ignatius, and Augustine bared their thoughts and their souls’ failures, as the parameters of evil grew and were more clearly defined. Power, both the power of originating dogma and of enforcing that dogma, became concentrated in a single person, the theological basis of which decision was mined in the gospel words, “Peter, upon this rock I will build my church”….and the Pope and the supporting infrastructure were generated.

Rules, then, about things the church fathers considered significant, borrowed from the original Decalogue about acts deemed offensive to God like murder, envy, blaspheme and attitudes like honouring one’s parents were expanded into specific liturgy including the sanctity of marriage. Human sexuality, as the church fathers conceived of it, was at the centre of the church’s fixation.

Augustine’s fixation with his own sexual “sins” remain a cornerstone of this fixation, and a signature of both the early “power” and also the failure of the early church. Far from following “natural order and law” as was the premise of church teaching in other areas, the church’s ambition and need for control of the parishioners gobbled up an attempt to impose strict “moral” laws on human sexuality. Purity, chastity, and even celibacy, (at least from Paul) were the preferred and honoured states of human sexuality. In order to put fences around the “good” behaviour and segregate it from the “bad” behaviour, marriage as performed by the church leadership, was defined, and monitored as a sacred sacrament, like a threshold through which all must pass to enable procreation.

As these early teachings were all promulgated by men, and given Augustine’s personal angst about his own moral failures, and Paul’s earlier celibacy attested, male dominance (clearly and inextricably joined to female submission) prevailed. Illegitimate children and the women who delivered them were banished. Sex outside of the marriage was considered a deep and profound sin, and the church’s willingness and even is capacity to forgive was restricted to the secrecy afforded top officialdom, primarily to protect the male “establishment” that had been barnacled onto the structure, the laws, the creeds and the notion of discipleship that had grown inside and been promulgated outside the sanctuary.

If history were able to recover and reclaim all those whom the church hierarchy banished, killed, deported, and otherwise officially excommunicated, and gather them together, there would not be enough cathedrals to hold such armies. These “undesireables” would vastly outnumber the current population that continues to attend.

Although the specific rules and expectations may have been modified slightly, (now marrying divorced and gay individuals, for example) the tradition of top-down, hierarchical absolute authority remains one of, if not the most important, hallmarks of the church establishment. Petitioning for marriage annulments, for example, continues to this day. Divorce, one of the many consequences of failed marriages, continues to be looked down upon by the official church, including banning from the opportunity to receive the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. Divorcees, regardless of the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage, continue to be considered “sinful” for having broken their “sacred” marriage vows.

Ironically, however, the church itself has demonstrably failed to keep the vows of charity and compassion and forgiveness that remain the cornerstones of any valid faith worthy of the name. Pleading for the poor, giving voice to the condemned in prison, while clearly worthy of an expression of the Christian faith, are not risking the kind of pushback that would come from a faith protest against the fullness of the injustice of the criminal system, where the power of the state is deployed in vengeance, anger, racism and narcissism with few, if any, repercussions.

The penitential, (the act of confessing one’s sins to a clergy and the granting of absolution) remains an integral liturgical component of the church’s faith expression. However, whether it is a mere band aid for misdeeds or a symbolic act of forgiveness, it is clearly not considered by most who administer or those who enter, to be a viable expression of either forgiveness or repentance. Symbols, upon which the church depends for much of its “language” to the parishioners, has either lost much of its meaning or truly never had a deep and profound significance for most except the most deeply engaged spiritually.

Genuflecting, wearing crosses, with or without a crucified Jesus, celebrating Eucharist the bread and wine either of transubstantiation (being the Body and Blood of Jesus) or mere symbol,  baptism, the “initiation” rite, and of course both Christmas, the birth of Jesus, and Good Friday and Easter, the crucifixion and resurrection respectively….plus many of the days that commemorate the lives of saints, and other holy days such as the Day of the Transfiguration, are all an integral part of the “tradition” the church has worked hard to preserve. It has also worked hard to renew each with new life, on each successive commemoration.

And in addition to the “authority” issue, yet certainly linked to it, is the issue of tradition itself and the theological notion of revelation. Whether there has been a single revelation from God, through his Son Jesus Christ, or whether revelation of the truth of God continues past the literal words of the New Testament, has occupied the prayers, readings reflections and writings of many theologians over the centuries. And, naturally, contemporary opinion is divided. It is also divided over ceremonial processes like the Latin Mass (versus the native language of the people in the specific church) and over books outlining liturgical practice (original from Cromwell, for example, or contemporary. And this latter is not merely a matter of words; it is also a matter of theology, stressing the sinfulness of the worshipper or not.

So, with ever traditional practice and liturgical guideline, as well as with organizational structure (exclusively male clergy, for example) even with or without any clergy, churches have winnowed their numbers into denominations, some through merging into a new unity, others through a dividing into separate theologies, liturgies, and role and importance of Scripture.

The mystery of God, too, is explored with very different emphases, some churches stressing the “king” (metaphor), others the healer, still others the shepherd, and still others the teacher. Whether or not a clergy is “needed” as a ‘medium’ between the humans and their God is another of many hotly debated topics, and reasons for some ecclesial identities.

The power and authority of God, as originally conceived by the Jews, documented in the many historic and prophetic stories of the Old Testament, along with the Decalogue, is another of the many nuggets of systematic theology that attempts to wrestle with the question of the relation of humans to God. Are we, for example, servants, evangelists, students, mendicants or monks, sisters or nuns, prophets or poets, choir members or clergy…Monasteries and Convents have tutored and raised millions of and women in a usually celibate life of poverty, chastity, charity and prayer and worship. They also have provided spiritual role models like Francis of Assisi, and Mother Theresa who spent much of her life working with lepers in Calcutta and has recently been declared a Saint by Pope Francis.

Another question that divides people in Christian churches is the age old question of salvation: “by faith” as Luther taught, by works as James writes, by simplicity and humility and sharing a common community dedicated to the “light” of God. Some churches emphasize the Pauline edict, “We have all sinned and come short of the Glory of God.” Others start with the concept that within every person “there is that of God”….

Of course, like every other organization, churches need money to provide heat, light, space and any other facilities like books for education and for worship, clergy salaries and pensions etc. and for building maintenance. And, as in most human organizations, those who write the biggest cheques wield the greatest power in the decision-making among members. Add to this nefarious aspect, another: that in every human group, there are those who assume (demand, expect, demonstrate, or inherit) power over questions that might otherwise require the participation of all members. These people serve as gate-keepers over whether newcomers are welcomed, tolerated, alienated or asked to leave. They also often dominate discussions of potential church decisions, of which there are many more than one might expect: wall colours, carpet colour, new hymnbooks, new musical instruments, stained glass design and location, new furnaces, new altars and crosses, whether to hold shared meals, times of special services like Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. And while the work would ideally be shared among many, as in most human organizations, the small “few” (usually less than 10% of the total number of people attending) carry the burden of what some call stewardship of the church itself.

Sexuality, money and the deployment of power and authority are three “petards” on which the institution founders. And they are all of the church’s own making. There is an argument that posits all three are really only one issue, the issue of power and authority. And here is a place where Christians could take a serious look at the concept adopted by the Jewish community, that they are unable to determine, discern, analyse, or in any other way “know” the mind and desires of God. There is a realism, a fundamental truth, that really cannot be dismissed by any argument, in this position.

 And this truth underlies everything the Jewish community undertakes from endless discernment, discussion, debate and reflection over Torah, to the celebration of the many occasions that have dotted the Jewish calendar for centuries including the foods, the lights/candles, the hymns, the prayers and the readings. Jewish high holidays fill each year, offering many opportunities for their children to experience their history and tradition, as if initiation to their “tribe” cannot be contained in a single or a couple of rites of passage. Of course, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah continues as a prescribed and readily followed passage from childhood to adolescence and another level/degree of maturity, including all of the expectations of that stage of one’s life.

Not “knowing” the mind of God is both liberating and provocative of interpretation, similar to another of the Jewish concepts of tsim tsum, the ‘withdrawal of God’ in order for the universe to be ‘created’….God’s Omnipotence, from this perspective, does not include dominance, but the confidence and the humility to withdraw when appropriate. Herein lies a significant diversion from much of the theory and praxis of Christianity.

Rather than posit as a starting place the fundamental notion of human innate and indisputable evil, as if it came from the womb, and then engineering all ensuing theory and praxis to “redeem” the lost sinner, this initial concept accepts the far more tenable, sustainable, honourable and hopeful view that evil is not a trait of birth and that evil is learned from experience. The church, then, in a single mis-step, essentially links its belief system to the geopolitical bases of danger, threats and the need for both reformation and redemption. There seems to have been no real reconciliation with the maxim, “God don’t make no Junk” and that God’s love of humans is unconditional, unrestrained and indiscriminate. The institutional rebuttal is that is it through the Cross and the Resurrection that God forgives all sin, and demonstrates that unconditional love for all. And yet, why would such a proposition not also hold if the theological starting point were based on the notion of “that of God within each person”….not holiness, not superiority, not perfection, not ultimate authority, just a spark of divine light.

There is a serious degree of infantilism in the “original sin” and depravity concept, even neurosis or institutional psychosis, that puts humans on a foreshadowed road of unworthiness, sinfulness, low expectations and very high dependence and need. Of course, it follows that the hierarchical institution, (father knows best) can then play penitential agent, exact a pound of regret, remorse and correction, as the agent of God.
Think of the inverse potential. If man is a creature/child of God, in whom God has placed his highest and best hopes and aspirations, and in whom God trusts to emulate the pathway of instilling justice, compassion, truth and reconciliation in each situation, regardless of the geography, the economics, the politics, the sociology or the institutional religion. Matthew Fox argues for the co-creator of a human life by the individual human with God, long before this piece is being digitized. Others, too, have faced the wrath of conventional Christian cultures by positing this “radical” starting point.

And yet, it is the “radical” (that is extremely and demonstrably different from the conventional secular ‘wisdom’ and practice in the “world”) that can, indeed, ought to, signify the theory and praxis of a faith worthy of the name, (and the discipline to follow). The world is filled with individuals and organizations that perceive the world and their place in it from a perspective of fear, powerlessness, weakness and sin. In comparison with a “perfect” deity, of course, we are all of those things, and yet what kind of God needs that kind of obsequiousness and self-effacement. Fear, secrecy, chicanery and bullying are all dependent on a neurosis that has been seeded and nurtured (perhaps unconsciously and innocently) by a structural deficit of the source of light, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness. Separating humans from full access to these reservoirs of “goodness” by the inherent “hardwiring of evil” and then elevating some to the position of “special access” is hardly a notion worthy of an omniscient deity. No matter whether that access is through a penitential experience, of which there might be many, in different forms for various individuals in specific circumstances, or through a life of monastic discipline, or through epic acts of charity and healing, or through the reconciliation of conflicting parties ( for example in the corporate, the geopolitical, the racial, the economic divides that proliferate), it is within each of us to be able to access such light in our own lives in as agents if and when requested, in the lives of others.

The notion of salvation, clearly, merits a critical examination. Some argue that through “conversion” and the submission to the notion that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Saviour, one’s evil is washed away. So the process is fundamentally an individual one, depending on the relationship of the individual’s soul/spirit with God, through the mediation of Jesus Christ’s life, death Resurrection and teaching. A changed relationship, through the voluntary submission of the will of the individual, as a sign that God is now in charge, signifies a new convert to the Christian church. And yet, if that relationship were rather a birthright, into which one is born, through the miracle of human love (obviously the ideal) and then taught the presence of “that of God within” by those who espouse such a theological view, how would that life, and the lives of those near and dear, be different.

Suspicion, fear, anxiety, and their surrogates hard power, fighting skill, revenge, pay-back, armaments and political and economic and hegemonic aggression dominate, and there is a religious and paradoxically flawed distorted premise that infects how the world operates. And the Christian church has a significant degree of responsibility for this inversion of both what is possible and how our best selves would serve both God and humanity. Another notion of salvation, for example, as considered by some, requires that humanity be free from injustice, starvation, disease, and terror prior to our claiming the ministry of the Christian church.

We all know the predictable “Oh My God!” expression that leaps out of every mouth whenever a tragedy occurs. Whether it is a fire, a drought, a missile, an extortion, a murder, a serious betrayal, a brutal assault….these are all accompanied with the invocation of God’s name, in disbelief. Such horror was not expected, and the prospect of living through it seems beyond our human capacity. And a kind of “leaning” need not be seen as dependence, merely a sign of vulnerability, and the need to invoke God’s compassionate strength to help us through.

What if we were to hear, “Oh My God!” upon the first glimpse of our new son or daughter, upon the new sunrise, upon the first sighting of a snowy white owl, or the birth of a new puppy or foal? What if our comfort level with the magnificence of both nature’s and human’s capacity for creating were seen to be a gift from “that of God within”….and were the reassurance that our goodness is more than equal to our capacity for evil, if not stronger, more life-giving and more supportive of not only the  mere physical survival of all humans on the planet but of those traits and their gifts that demonstrate our shared capacity for goodness.

Grovelling for our next pay-cheque, without a minute-by-minute consciousness of our gift of supportive partners, friends, honest and honourable supporting humans whose service is motivated and undergirded by a similar theology of “light” (and not darkness of greed, fear, suspicion, deception dissembling and the prominence/dominance of a need for power OVER.
Is it not clearly evident that, given our past several centuries, in which our lives have been twisted into a moral and ethical pretzel, for which the only accounting has been to drive us back to the perception/belief/self-fulfilling prophecy of “original sin” since it has been so impregnated into both our consciousness and our unconsciousness, that it might be time to take a new look at how our religion serves as a clear agent of sabotage.

We are not more likely to “go to heaven” (based on the potential existence of that part of our theology) after we die depending on how strictly we have “painted our lives by the numbers assigned by the Christian church”. The institution has so morphed (if indeed it began on a different footing, which I doubt) into just another secular and highly political institution…Some argue that with the “tithe” came the church’s transactional character and universe, something proferred for something in return. The problem is, was and always will be: God is not for sale. Forgiveness is not for sale, just as relics were not to be sold, as expiation for one’s sins.

And while there may have been church apologists who posited that universal, ubiquitous sin as the original state of every human would not merely ensure a degree of humility and the need for forgiveness, another of the many transactional equations for which the Christian church is infamous, but also provide a certain measureable degree of control by the clergy, whose job it would be to collect funds, while attending to the sick and dying, marry those who “qualified” depending on the peculiar standards invoked at any given time (all of them sliding as cultural mores dictated), burying and commiserating with those struggling with grief, loss, brokenness and broken relationships.

There likely were also other theologians who, rather than becoming embroiled in such controversies as the Virgin Birth, or the factual veracity of the Resurrection, or the literal import of the Garden of Eden banishment as a consequence of disobedience to the word of God, were focused instead on the primary characteristics of a healthy relationship between an individual human and his/her God. Looking for those things that “qualify” as sins is hardly a pre-occupation of any God whose primary gift is love, compassion, tenderness and forgiveness. And neither is deputizing (mostly) men, to do that work, as the primary focus of the institution seems to these eyes, ears, imagination and faith to be such a reduction of the super-ordinate scope of any deity.

“Unless you become like little children” does not and need not translate into the kind of uncritical appreciation and apprehension of the spirit of God’s word that would generate “life and that more abundantly”. Little children have a sense of awe and wonder that, given both the premise of evil and the practice of the “obsessive critical parent” an archetype the Christian church eminently fills, apparently on each continent in which it operates.

Critical parents are needy, for protection of their offspring, for the appearance that they are a “good parent” in all of the many “responsible” ways that such a definition holds. And, while some protection from harm, physical and emotional, is appropriate in early years, that protection ideally gives way, like a skin shedded, to a much more mature and self-directed pattern of making decisions of all proportions. The more “authority” abrogated by the critical parent (in human lives) the greater the dependence of the child on that authority, if for no other reason that “to avoid” the wrath that follows. Similarly, if God is depicted and worshipped as the ultimate critical parent, then the potential development of autonomy is severely restricted, if not fully impaired.

Surely, with a full band of sound and image waves flooding the airwaves of our radios, televisions, laptops and newspapers, we have come to the edge of a cliff, in that our capacity to absorb such a mountain of moral, ethical and spiritual garbage has long since been reached. So while we continue to feed the “voyeur” in each of us with evidence of human depravity and evil, through billions of advertising dollars that are spent in the statistical assurance there will be an audience, we all know that this uroborus snake generates no positive change in the culture in which we attempt to raise our children. Furthermore, we also know that we are quickly approaching another cliff, the human limit to our capacity to endure the kind of political “leadership” that has been foisted (through the instrument of the democratic ballot box) on a public riven with angst, anger, anxiety, powerlessness and hopelessness. The marriage of these ballots to the leaders they have produced is a step too far, and even if the names and the faces of the leaders were changed, we would still face a moral, ethical, and especially a spiritual vacuum.

We are not only enabling greed, hypocrisy, manipulation, the sacrifice of the careers and the literal lives of millions who are being volunteered to go into the dark hole of military engagement, or corporate profiteering, so that  those in charge can look “wonderful” as winning leaders offering unique pay-back either in shared financial greed, or shared status. This is a totally vacuous rainbow of a promise to young innocent and easily seduced men and women. And those proferring its “promise” know full well the emptiness of their part of the transaction.

We need the kind of modelling of truth-telling that is currently excised from a religious institution bereft of spiritual direction and spiritual purpose. We need the kind of power-sharing that is based on authentic equality of every single person who happens to be in the circle of the specific local, regional provincial or even national community. 
And that goes too for the international organizations whose survival once again depends not on their unique contribution to the enhancement of the human condition, in all of its many potholes, but on their capacity to raise funds to keep them afloat.
Clearly, the human capacity to evolve has been demonstrated in many ways  over the decades and the centuries. And it is time for the moribund Christian church to embrace a theology of acceptance, tolerance, respect and equality in each of its places of encounter. Recall it was Christians who supported slavery in the South of the United States, a permanent black mark on its conscience and on its reputation. It was also Christians like Martin Luther, the Germany theologian, whose writings exhibit an attitude of anti-semitism that would be intolerable today, but not until the holocaust spilled the blood and ashes of six million on our shared Christian consciences, memories and institutional reputation. Apartheid, too, has its Christian justification, as does the “inherent savagery” of indigenous people in Canada, whose savagery was attacked frontally by Christian missionaries and zealots.

Two versions of Christian theology sparked, and then fueled the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, where hundreds of people were killed, maimed, or broken in body and in spirit, in order to better fulfill their commitment to their chosen church. Neither protestants nor Catholics have any room to champion their attitudes, their beliefs, nor their viscious acts of terror, all in the name of God.

Humans share an intellectual capacity, (emboldened by formal education in the West) to identify by family name and phylum plants and animals, and thereby to focus almost exclusively on their differences and the human perception of dominance. The medical, legal, psychological, political and sociological model of research looks for what is not working, and seeks the remedies to repair that damage. However, there is another  model of approach, the pastoral model. Through this lens, the practitioner looks for “what is working” to the health of the individual and/or the group and then works to enhance that strength to a more full expression and additional healing.

This seemingly insignificant shift in initial perception as to the identity of the person/organization demands a different colour of lens through which to observe, a different attitude in the professional and empathic approach, as well as a much less researched and much more diverse range of approaches. James Hillman, a psychologist academic, scorned his profession for veering too far into diagnostics and pharmacological interventions, and advocated a biographic approach to human healing. Only the biography, he argued, included all of the contributing factors, experiences and traumas that collectively comprise the character of each human. And only though a detailed, almost anthropological “dig” of the evidence in the memory vaults, and the associates including the full exploration of the context, Hillman argues, can a process for healing be begun and carried out.

Similarly, as far as one’s spiritual growth and development, there is, and there can be, no escape from the full exploration of the biographical details of one’s life.
 Unfortunately, churches, like most schools, hospitals and doctors, lawyers and social workers are so inundated with caseloads that would sink the most buoyant ships, tend to look at the presenting symptoms of any situation, declare a moral, ethical, medical or legal “diagnosis” and consequent and pre-packaged therapy. It is far too time-consuming, and thereby too costly, for ordinary mortals to take the time to hear a full biographical account of how an individual got to this moment, especially  if this moment involves the person’s having committed some misdeed, or become critically ill.

However, there is a critical and ghostly illness wrapping its tentacles around the necks, the minds and the hearts and spirits of millions of human beings….and it could be termed “existential death” through moral, ethical, spiritual and an empathic deficit so deep and profound that, if it acquired physical and financial dimensions (the primary way of understanding any current reality), it would eclipse the budgetary deficits and debts of all developed and developing nations.

Maybe, just maybe, the church has tried too hard to “do” and to design and to impose both a structure for worship and even more insidiously, a design and structure for the Christian life. And that impulse, just possibly, has led to the “manufacture of rules, and even the manufacture (in the intellectual, legal, moral and critical parenting sense) of evil. Trying to “get it right” is a snail-step from the vain attempt at institutional perfection, a disease that has, does and will continue to cripple all those who attempt to reach its thankfully still mysterious heights.

And becoming swallowed up in a centuries-long armada of individuals and institutions plying the holy waters of perfection, to their individual and collective demise, and self-sabotage. Whether it is the manual task of folding the white linen altar cloths, or holy-hand-waving in sanctification of the elements of the Eucharist, or holding to personal sexual chastity, as an act of obedience to God is a path fraught with innumerable ethical, moral and spiritual dangers. First, it is not the business of a church institution or its human leaders to invade my, or anyone else’s private life, whether I am a parishioner or a clergy. On the other hand, should I seek out the church’s guidance, discernment, counsel or even penitential, the onus having then shifted to my personal responsibility, the church then has a legitimate place to ask questions, and I have a legitimate option to answer or not. The sacred within the individual, as a legitimate starting place, for both the seeker and the institution, has many healing, healthy and spiritually growth-enhancing.

Sharing the inner light between the seeker and the community, eliminates a power imbalance that can and does produce only infantile dependence. Stunted spiritual growth, as opposed to the fertility that accompanies the full acknowledgement of the injustices inflicted upon each person, as well as those inflicted by each person (and we are all bearing those same permanent colours) is neither the long-term vision of salvation nor is it the remedy to empty coffers and pews and Christian education classes.

And then there is the question of cash flow, for operating expenses and investment accounts, and the methods deployed to fund-raise are little more than imitations of the same techniques deployed by not-for-profit charities. And that hierarchical implementation of power and authority is, like the world in Alice in Wonderland, upside down. People who know they are part of a community in which their “that of God within” is acknowledged, honoured, respected and nurtured will be more than willing to contribute in the spirit of gratitude, joy and celebration for the honour of being part of something sacred, personal and spiritually stimulating. And if the community does not either aspire to, or live into the shared, expressed and  community validated spiritual needs of the people in its circle, and the money is not coming in, then the community has to ask the really tough questions about how to find its shared path to seek God.

And, of course, as with any group of people, all of them facing their own emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual hurdles, the community needs sacred places where such pain can be confidentially shared, and even processed by others whose life experiences have grown both understanding and empathy, (not necessarily of a clinical or even a specifically pastoral way). One example worth considering is a “true friend” within the community (a partner) or even a group of three among whom a level of trust is fostered, nurtured and grown through sharing time and self.

There is that part of each of us, not only that of God, but a darkness of unconscious memory or trauma that has impacted our lives at the initial encounter, and more times when such pain erupted and spread its toxicity often without our expectation and certainly without our control. In other words, we are each wounded in different ways, and from this wounded part we might seek healing, in whatever form that makes sense.
A community that trusts the process of mining the truths and the “gold” of new insights and the new life that such mining offers is in a place of open receptivity that can help to lift and burden and open the “eyes” as wll as the heart and mind of the seeker.

The individual truths, secrets, pain, trauma and alienation of each person in th circle can be the grist and the starting point and stimulation for further reflection. And this process will need different kinds of support depending on the pain and the person seeking healing.

No single person, not a clergy, a bishop or even a primate is either needed nor recommended for a process in which all are willing to participate, to support and to incarnate the mission of agape in the full sense of that Greek word.

Safety, confidentiality, sensibility and empathic compassion, while they may not be enough by themselves can provide the greenhouse where other “lights” can appear and shed their own range of wattage.

And isn’t the finding and sharing of the “light” of God ultimately the experience all Christians would like to share before departing this orb?