Thursday, December 28, 2017

Enough of the condescending patronizing by political leaders!

There is a degree of patronizing by political leaders of their electorate, in both ‘democratic’ countries and dictatorships, that is, in a word, appalling.

Thinking, acting and believing that we are so stupid, disengaged, disinterested or easily bamboozled that they can inflict their personal need for “feel good” moments, (headlines, tweets, polls, rallies, and even short-range tactical decisions) and pass them off as “policy” and even as ‘strategy’ is blatantly insulting.

Whether they are announcing the ‘building of the biggest and best wall’ or ‘mediating the dispute between North Korea and the U.S.,’ as Putin did yesterday, trumpets the vacuity of the leader’s comprehension of and capacity to deal effectively with the specific issue. It also drives pollsters into the streets seeking public opinion on the latest ‘announcement’ and then the news microphones are obliged to report on the findings of those polls. And while the veracity of the polls and their reliability may not be in question, the whole process smacks of a cultural addiction to mascara.

And, then, the advertising agencies and the sales staff of the networks hit the streets to vacuum whatever client contracts they can grab, in support of the charade. (Or in the case of a totalitarian regime, the state operatives do this work). It is not ‘fake news’ as portrayed by the American president, in that the facts are not ‘true’. It is the deliberate selection of which facts are important, starting with the leaders like trump and putin, whose sole purpose and meaning, (although wrapped in a national honour flag) is to inflate their own reputation and thereby extend their longevity in office.

The mere announcement of a “position” by a unilateral leader, under the guise of speaking for a body of researchers, analysts, macro-thinkers and, for example, foreign policy scholars, is a deception and a lie of a different sort. It is a sign that we are now living in a time when superficial, instant-gratification, egocentric, narcissistic pronouncements, without debate, without counter-point prior to their release, and without regard for their long-term and complex implications, and the kind of public official in power, simply rule.

And we are complicit in this charade.

Of course, there are those, like Rachel Maddow, Chuck Todd, Jake Tapper and John Dickinson who are attempting to peel the mask from the monster. And yet, they too are under strict guidelines subject to the “popular opinion polls” that tell their editors which stories ‘interest’ their audience. And, judging by the spate of candy floss pronouncements coming out of Washington, Moscow, and even Ottawa,  and perhaps even London (although European news is not much more than an occasional trickle in North America, unless and until some disaster erupts).

In Ottawa, pronouncements about the changes in benefits for veterans, for example, long overdue, merely attempt to mask the ethical mis-steps by leaders like the Prime Minster and the Finance Minister. And those blatantly brain-dead decisions by the elected men also expose some highly questionable recommendations by the ethical commissioner, begging questions of co-dependence among the bureaucracy.

For the political practitioners, it is called “messaging the message”….trumpeting the brand….’getting ahead of the story’….and managing the media….and all of it is “engineered” (almost literally) as if managing the message, the reporters and the opinion polls are the three most important jobs of the elected officials.


Their job is, first and foremost, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth of whatever situation(s) they find themselves facing. And while there are always investigative reporters digging where the politicians would wish they would never dig, and extracting stories that have come back to bite the elected officials in the butt, those stories would have much less venom, if the politicians had told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in the first place.

We are not in the business of attempting to discern who, among our political candidates, is the most deceptive, the most dishonest, the best sales person, or the best chameleon. And yet, it would seem, at least from here, that that is the kind of media “literacy” skills that are required. We have to seriously question the kind of objective, penetrating and sceptical viewing, listening, reading and reflecting that our young people are being asked to engage in back in their classrooms. Of course, they have to master the technology so they can secure employment. Yet, being able to use the technology ought also to include the concept of discerning when hucksters are misleading, when showmen are seducing, when salesmen and women are exaggerating the claims of their product or service.

Naturally, there are issues of national security, and foreign policy, the full disclosure of which would send the world into a downward spiral. However, some of us are wondering how the current system of managing the news is working for us. And most of us are willing and able to grant some slack for these purposes, but only if and when we are confident that such discretion, secrecy and non-disclosure is in the public interest, and not primarily in the interest of the public servants (elected and appointed) managing the file.

Experts who are paid big bucks to address party conventions about “delivering on their promises” would likely pay at least lip service to truth telling, as part of their curriculum. And yet, if the culture is based upon a tradition of manipulation of information for the primary purpose of seeking and achieving the re-election of those in power, then the train has gone off the rails.

And while, unlike Megantic, people are not being reported as dying as a result of the “fire”… This disease of popularizing of the news as a means to enhanced advertising revenue, and manipulating both what is released and what is withheld, not to mention what is blatantly false and exclusively self-serving,  is more analogous to the frog in boiling water; it does not prove dangerous and disastrous until it is too late.

I have often been accused of being “impatient”….and while I accept the criticism on one level, I also respectively suggest that the public is far too  complacent, detached, disinterested and disengaged at a time when charlatans are seeking and achieving political power around us, with little or no regard for their public responsibilities. Canaries in this coal mine, so far, appear to be too few and too far between.

Chris Hedges writes brilliantly, persistently and courageously about the corporatizing of American political culture. It is not only the symbiotic relationship between the corporate suits and their political puppets that is deplorable. It is also the fast-feeding of the most glib, distorted, manipulated and outright counter to the public good “information” that gushes from the official sources that one has to wonder why anyone, yes anyone, would accept the job of media spokesperson.
Surrendering to the inevitable mental castration that accompanies the job of speaking for the gaggle of current leaders is not something it would take a Philadelphia lawyer or a James Bond or even a Charles Krauthammer (in his office as psychiatrist) to discern. Prostitution, in its original form, has been legalized in some quarters; do we have to inflate its practice to the public arena, where the public good, and potentially the survival of the planet are at risk?

And while we blithely watch this spectacle playing itself out before our eyes and ears, (perhaps even our somnambulant brains), we might like to consider our own part as actors in the chorus of this Greek tragedy.

Pointing fingers at others, while easy, and even somewhat entertaining, will neither solve this mess, nor will it change the pattern of self-sabotage in which we are all deeply, if somewhat innocently and unconsciously, embedded.

While continuing to do the same things and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, what is the same behaviour called when the whole political culture is repeating the same dynamic? Can the “public” be ‘committed’ if it willy-nilly walks blindly off the end of a high tower into a deep granite gorge, before the inevitable disaster?

Are we surrendering to a deeply ingrained trait of perpetual adolescence, as a tribe of Peter Pan’s, or a classroom full of  Peter Pupkin’s, from Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, or perhaps a full cast of Pinocchio’s to our various Mangiafuoco’s? 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Reflections on the birth of a holy baby in a stable

It is really not that surprising that very early notions of the major topics/issues/questions/enigmas/worries/blessings/fears/hopes of our species were committed to some form of story-telling that emerged from and demonstrated our best answers.

The Garden of Eden, Moses in the bull rushes, The Decalogue, the Histories of royal families, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, the poets’ and prophets’ visions, the love songs and then in a major transition, the birth of a miraculous baby, following immaculate conception (as did other stories of significant births at the time) and then, of course, Death and the Resurrection and the vision of an eternal city. As a compendium of elevated and for many sacred stories, this ‘canon’ has given western civilizations an archetypal, literary, historic, prophetic and moral/ethical foundation on which to construct disciplined reflection and healthy and healing lives and communities.
As a book of human meta-history, imaginary visions, pastoral poetics and prayers, heroic interventions (and others not so much!) beginning in a ‘garden’ and passing through multiple dynamics into a city, the Bible is a mirror and also a lamp for the human journey. Whether it is better than any other, or even whether such comparisons are valid, seems inconsequential and even pointless, unless one’s life of scholarship draws one to such investigations. There is a compelling reason behind the text for those seeking to probe its complexities, its narratives, its parables, its archetypal choices, and its application to everyday life, to develop a skill in deciphering the nuances within and behind the words.

Literacy is much more than vacuuming the details for memory purposes, trivial pursuit games, and power-tripping over others less “informed”. Information, the idol of our times, is however, a hollow icon, without a corresponding, compelling and commensurate meaning derived from the “data”. Two other concepts from contemporary vernacular, context and culture, also point toward some broader notions than specific data points, to the time in which words and ideas were committed to parchment, and the nature of both the denotative and connotative meanings were/are attached to specific words and concepts. Scholars, like those of the Jesus Seminar, representing a rainbow of Christian faith communities and academic disciplines have worked diligently to ferret out some of the differences between original intent and the range of subsequent interpretations of primarily the New Testament.

Of course, the literalists have heaped scorn and contempt on their work, dubbing it heresy if and when it collided with and contradicted those “spiritual” nuggets considered inviolate for centuries in their communities. A prime example focuses on the ‘words’ of Jesus from the four gospels, which those scholars have ranked from credible to less and less credible to mere tradition. How possibly, in the minds of some, could the words of Jesus be “ranked” by any single or group of humans, is how some approach such work.

And, that story serves as a paradigm for much of the public evaluation of holy writ, all the way from “law” to be strictly taught, imposed and enforced, to the spirit of the faith, derived from a gestalt including the ‘inspiring’ and the ‘mystical’ the unexpected and even the miraculous…all of it opening the option  of incomprehension and awe at the stories, the parables, the paradoxes and the poetry. Space, as we continue to discovery, the human anatomy and capacity to conceive, gestate, birth, develop and grow….including the plethora of both talents and pitfalls, the many ‘universes’ that comprise the various systems and creatures, living things, the incomprehensible multiple interactions of living creatures with their various environments….all of these are gifts and blessings for those with the prescience and the patience and the strength and the ‘weakness’ to experience the various states of a fully-lived life.

Curiosity, awe, delight, energy, creativity, enthusiasm, and the commitment to engage and share with others in a committed and collaborative and supportive manner are some of the impulses that accompany a spirit of gratitude and humility arise from and sustain a life of faith. Naturally, tensions, conflicts and impediments will also shape and even block many of those impulses of light.

It is in the “spirit” of humility, gratitude and awe and openness to mystery that this piece seeks to approach the birth of a baby in a far-off land, in a distant time, given the multiple layers of story-telling and study over many centuries. Reducing our reflection to cognition just will not be adequate. Reducing our reflection to an emotional high, too, will also curtail its potential to identify and participate in a story that is not completely able to be ‘grasped’ by our intellect, comprehended by our wildest speculation, or eviscerated of potential by our cynical, venomous need for complete control.

It was a Roman Catholic sister, Mary Mulcahy, professor of Educational Foundations who delivered the message of the importance of both the attitude and the mystery of human life that embodies the spiritual life. Another Roman Catholic sister “Bridget” one of the Benedictine Nuns in Kansas, embodied the spirit of ‘hospitality’ as her spiritual gift and life, for all those who risked driving ten hours through blinding snow to enter a retreat in Atchison. A French teacher named Jean in a small Ontario town also walked a path of reverent authenticity and humility that illumed her profound and intimate intellect and modelled a life of spiritual discipline, without bravado or even formal recognition. A Jesuit theologian hosted urban retreats, noting after a mere weekend, “If I had subjected you to a week-long retreat, it would have killed you; you simply could not have remained silent for that long!” And then there was the clergy-collared protester who stood with First Nations to block the huge machines of international logging corporations, on behalf of the indigenous community and culture, and against the greed and rape of nature that was intended.

We all have ‘shoulders’ on which we are honoured and humbled to walk, shoulders that lift us from our head-down, eyes half-closed, hearts beating limply, minds that limp from depression and fatigue and stooped spines that seem to bear the weight of hopelessness. Whether we link meaning and purpose, as do the existentialists, to hopelessness, or the overcoming of personal/familial/communal injustices to new life (as do the social justice practitioners), or the transformation of a single “Damascus Road” dazzling light to a change in life direction (as do the born-again revelationists), or adopt a disciplined quiet prayerful reflection and reading and meditation as a stabilizing spiritual pilgrimage (as the monks  and nuns have done for centuries), or bring a homeless youth into our home as our expression of a life of faith and evangelism….or write a concerto dedicated to the grace of God, or…or…we are in our own unique manner attempting to bring a tiny light into what we perceive of (and believe to be) a quite dark and cynical and vindictive and frightened world.

However we conceive ‘the holy’ and the sacred, and however we link our bodies, minds and spirits to expressing and supporting the holy and the sacred, we are inevitably relying on the inspiring models of stories that infuse our mind, heart and spirit with a kind of energy that, alone, we would not have either found or expected. Some posit that we are hardwired to be social, helpful, engaged and relational. Some, on the other hand, project a division of the human/secular from the holy/divine, and posit a universal struggle between the forces of darkness and light. While others, aspiring to a different posture, articulate a unity of the holy and the secular in order to enhance the potential for “good” in the widest sense and application of that concept.
However we individually ‘see’ our lives in relation to the divine, most of us seem to be drawn to stories that connect, support, lift up and love the other, while we also seem to be withered and dried out by those stories that abuse, destroy, undermine and betray. And yet, if we are fully open and honest, we are all capable of both kind of attitudes, actions, beliefs and visions.

Birthing new life, as compared with what is ‘not working for us’ as we can see it today, can only be inspired and enhanced by reflecting on a story of a holy baby, immaculately conceived and brought to life in a stable to humble parents (unmarried?). Special ‘stars’ that guide the rich and the powerful to bring ‘gifts’ as a sign of momentary humility, awe and reverence, enhance the ‘picture’ (setting) of the narrative, bringing each of us more intimately connected to the story.

And, that connection, that oneness, that recognition and conscious acknowledgement and acceptance of our relation to the story of the ‘holy night’, however we might imagine, conceive and believe that connection to exist and to shape our personal story, lies at the heart of all stories about God, the divine and the eternal.
There really are no surrogates for such a connection to the holy and the light of the divine. There are no accomplishments that can begin to substitute, replace or fulfill that relation. There are no objects, ‘brands’ or certificates that replicate this relationship. And there are no cathedrals, mosques, synagogues, oratorios, anthems, masterpieces that fully reproduce the holy….and yet we all try and we have been trying for centuries. And try we must.

It is in trying that we point our lives in a different direction. It is in reflecting fully, honestly and courageously that we enhance the potential for connections in love that we, by ourselves, could and would never have imagined. It is a prospect that, unless and until we see our tiny speck of life as part of a much larger, eternal, communal and caring community enveloped and sustained by a model of eternal love (birth, struggle, death and new life) we limit our potential as a light to others.

We are not here as mere function in spite of the common equating of task with life purpose. We are not here as the means to another’s ends, although many fully believe that our society could not and would not function without that cornerstone. We are not here to inflate our ego’s through profits and possessions, nor to acquire the biggest and the brightest and the latest toys, in order to win at some game. In fact, it is the transactional pounding pulse of the machine for profit and fame that distracts our attention from those things that really matter, the kind of moment that brings us into ‘connection’ with the mood, the meaning, the potential and the blessing of the birth of this moment….

And it is not conceivable to reflect on such a moment without remembering:

·        all of those moments that we did not recognize for their potential gift,
·        those moments that we walked away from, fearing our inadequacy,
·        those moments when we actually dimmed our own light, in order to avoid responsibility and the accompanying gift of reconciliation that impregnated those moments
·        those moments that we “knew” better than another whose need for control we judged as dominant, and not their capacity to care for and to love us
·        those moments when we judged the other as incapable of change, unwilling to change, unable and unwilling to ‘hear’ our need
·        those moments in which the authority that ‘governed’ did not and would not afford ‘due process’ to what we believe was and remains their injustice
·        those moments in which we came to the brink of putting out an idea to reconcile, and drew back fearing rejection and a repetition of old patterns of a different time, place and cast of characters
·        those moments when we foreclosed on bridging brokenness, healing open wounds, and confronting our own inner betrayer

The birth of a holy baby in a manger in a stable is not a story with which our contemporary culture is familiar, at least in the ‘developed’ world. And yet, the story vibrates with new hope, new beginnings, newly discovered emotional, intellectual and social impulses for acceptance of self, of the other (especially those we find ‘incorrigible’ and irascible), and of others very different from ourselves.

Will we even look metaphorically skyward this Christmas Season, in search of those new births that are waiting for our discovery? 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Are we evoking the 1930's white supremacy with new technologies and new weapons?

This is a time of year when, whether we plan it or it just creeps up on us, we spend a considerable time reflecting on the past year, and most likely, the previous years and decades. Whenever our calendar, or clock, or project, or even our life emits a hint of termination, we are immediately and acutely awakened to insights, feelings, visions and disappointments that we may have paid little to no attention to when they poked their “heads” out of the earth of our unconscious.

Whether we are ten and our hamster dies, and we desperately want to witness the burial, or whether we are far away when we receive a phone call that a parent has just died, or whether we are lying in the emergency room overhearing a doctor whose proximity does not limit the volume of his voice as he declares to the medical team, “This poor fellow has Stage 4 cancer and very little hope of surviving!” we are nevertheless poised at such moments to look in our “inner mirror” with eyes that have changed from the last time we took this “trip”.

And the repetitive showing of a movie like “The Sound of Music” replayed every year at this time, is one of our psychic and emotional bridges that hook our memories into something like a echo experience. Last night, when CTV re-ran the movie with a very young Christopher Plummer and an also must younger and vibrant Julie Andrews, this thought jumped out at me. Although I have viewed this movie literally dozens of times, I have never watched in times that so evoked the Third Reich as these. The core of hubris (ultimately insecurity) in the heart of the 1930’s relationship between Austria and Germany, is a venomous monster let loose today in Washington, Warsaw, Budapest, Paris, Berlin, Manilla, and even to a lesser extent in countries like Canada where swastika’s have been cropping up on synagogues in surprising numbers.
Netanyahu just today boldly declared the United Nations a “house of lies” in his blatant effort to reduce any negative vote on the Jerusalem/capital resolution to detritus. Nicky Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N, declares that trump “takes each vote on this question “personally” as he threatens to withdraw U.S. aid from any country demonstrating the temerity to oppose the Washington declaration to  move their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

 White Supremacy cells have sprouted in many locations, on both sides of the Atlantic, and on both sides of the English Channel, as well as deep in the South Pacific. Racism, in its virulent form, magnetizes both the unstable and the affluent in numbers and proportions not seen in decades. Laws, and their enforcement, are unable to ferret out this ‘cancer’ regardless of whether its roots are Caucasian or not.

National Security machines are built, re-built, stocked and then reinforced with the latest sophisticated technology which is only as reliable as those operating it. Law enforcement, it seems everywhere in the west, is so overwhelmed with drug trafficking, terror threats, money laundering, and the deep internet’s capacity to subvert many of the best efforts of institutional law enforcement agencies, that ordinary vandalism is dismissed as trivial by comparison. And yet, ordinary vandalism is not trivial to those targeted by the marginalized and potentially unstable perpetrators.

When the “macro” issues on the planet needing oversight eclipse most of the ‘micro’ issues in neighbourhoods, and when the people at the ‘top’ of our public institutions repeatedly dissemble, distort and re-shape reality to fit their personal destructive ambitions as needs, then what is there to stop the petty criminal from engaging whenever and wherever he “feels” like acting out? And when the public rhetoric is not merely sprinkled with racist rhetoric, and lies, but literally saturated with both “condiments”….the burger is already contaminated, even if the beef passes muster.

We are being swamped with multiple sources of political and corporate self-aggrandizement and self-promotion all of it reeking of the poison of narrow, narcissistic ambition and hubris similar to the “supremacy” contempt held by the Third Reich for the Jews. Of course, there are already howls of protest from the peanut gallery about the apparent link of corporate greed and self-promotion to white supremacy and anti-semetism. While current journalism practice would not likely make such a tenuous connection, there is a kind of self-centred “bubble” that exclude anyone who if different and threatens the maintenance of that bubble. And if corporatism is not rampantly out of control, then how would it be characterized accurately?

 When fox news airs words like these, “Robert Mueller and his team are engaged in what amounts to a ‘coup’ of government,” you know that there is literally nothing stopping the ‘hate speech’ and the ‘lies’ that history demonstrates complete the formula for the gas that fueled the furnaces of Auschwitz and Dachau.

I do not believe that hyperbole is the antidote to white supremacy, nor to racism or any sort. However, given the whisper of protest we are listening to about the dangers of any formal or informal meshing of the neo-Nazi gangs and the Islamic terrorists, plus the not far-fetched potential of either chemical or nuclear weapons “falling” (perhaps courtesy of North Korea) into the wrong hands, (and there are hundreds of loose nukes in places easily detected by those determined to use them)….and the conflation of bad and good people among KKK and white supremacists and their protesters as a moral equivalency by trump (Charlottesville, remember?) gives both cover and encouragement to those already deeply brain-washed by such hate-mongering.

Right wing political parties have secured a growing percentage of the popular vote in European national elections, and the continuing tide of refugees from Syria, Libya, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria and Afghanistan  will keep the pressure those far-right parties want to support and impose on their receiving governments and people. Returning ‘trained’ combatants who fled to fight for ISIS also pose a threat the relative potential of which is quite difficult to calculate, and that threat could emerge on an street or subway in any city in the world, just as it did in Melbourne Australia earlier today (authorities have not specifically linked the accused to a terrorist cell).

The deliberate withdrawal of foreign aid from the U.S. administration’s strategic thinking also opens several doors to other countries like China, Russia and India to flex their muscle and exert pressure through dollars and diplomacy in nations profoundly in need of fiscal and planning support, as well as the kind of support that works to reduce corruption, a plague in several African countries.

Awash in lies and deception, the swirl of private money evading legitimate taxes in many countries, the potential return of the arms race (arms being the cornerstone of the trump national security strategy) the wet-noodle strength of international agencies like the UN, and a rising tide of virulent racism and nationalism are already brewing on a planet whose temperatures are rising…..

Does anyone else think this might just be a potential political/economic/military/health/disease/security/climate volcano of the size, destructiveness and unpredictability that could overwhelm current international capacity and interest to address its ramifications?

And if the “thing” explodes, we can be assured that those who already consider themselves a ‘superior’ race will have no empathy, compassion or tolerance for those they see as the enemy.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The "lie" as primary crutch of tyranny

The 1100 pages of the “tax reform bill” have been read by no one. And yet, the bill is slated to be passed and signed into law this week.

The judicial system is being stocked (and stacked) with imbecile candidates, obvious dupes and pawns of the current administration.

The General Accounting Office’s “review” of the tax bill is declared irrelevant by the same people who appointed its members.

The president cozies up to Putin, both on the economy (a western world rise, nothing resulting from current administration policies) and on terrorism, while Republican American legislators wither under the weight of executive contempt.

The tax bill will allegedly inflate the deficit by some $1+ trillion, with support from former Republic deficit hawks, like Senator Corker, as the first step to the “necessary” gutting of Social Security and Medicare, as well as other social programs that sustain the poor.

Fox News talking heads like Sean Hannity, call for a “purge” of the FBI, including the removal of top staff in ‘handcuffs’, so corrupt is the agency, while the president welcomes accolades from Putin on the help from the FBI to thwart a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg.

Reports indicate that the General Services Agency (or a mole within the GSA) has released hundreds of emails from and to the trump transition team, without either a request or a subpoena from the Mueller team. Whether the agent(s) responsible for the release were attempting to undermine Mueller or the trump administration, no one really knows.

When asked about the difference between trump’s sexual abuse and Senator Al Franken’s, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, without a hint of irony or humour retorts, “Franken admits it, trump does not!”

Both underlying, and superimposed upon these dynamics is the persistent drum beat of lies, deception, dissembling, manipulation and the abuse of power. The cacophony of public voices no longer debates the merits of anything from a political theoretical, or an ideological perspective. Those in power, trump and his acolytes including Fox News, say and do whatever they please, without regard to the validity, the truth, the verifiability, or the concensus weight of their universe of “alternative facts”.

If one, including a public organization like the New York Times, the Washington Post, anyone including all opposing voices, has the temerity to challenge trump and his propaganda machine, that voice is deemed “FAKE NEWS”. It is as if there is a war mind-set that is controlling the Oval Office, the presidency, the Executive Branch of government, and the chief instrument/weapon/defence/offense of that war is defamation of both the content and the source of the information.

There is simply no one, no news outlet, no politician, no public servant, no foreign leader and no potential target that is immune from the potential assault, all in the name of the honour, dignity, tradition and reputation of the United States of America….with the exception of Vladimir Putin and his gang of oligarchs. And the release of the national security strategy yesterday emphasizes the trump world view, that everything, literally everything in his sight is a competition with supremacy being the trophy for the combatants. And trump’s trophy is seen as his personal triumph and, only secondarily the “status” of the United States.

And the LIE that is ‘baked into the cake’ of this nation’s government is so corrupting and so debilitating as to threaten the very institutions that comprise the history and tradition of what was once a symbol of an open, somewhat vulnerable and somewhat humble, if wealthy and even opulent nation. Under Obama, and even to a lesser extent Dubya, Clinton, Bush #1, Reagan, Ford, Carter, Kennedy and even Nixon to a limited degree, the American willingness to co-operate with allies, trading partners, and even opposing ideologues to a limited degree, laid down a path of some honour. Of course, there were military engagements that were both ill-advised and tragic; trade barriers that were irritants, international agreements and treaties which American governments declined (in their mis-guided motive to retain flexibility for their operatives who might just be crossing the lines of international agreements and national sensibilities)….but the façade of professional and even a degree of ethical propriety were somewhat respected, at home, and consequently by other nations.

Now, siding with White Supremacists, taking blatant racist immigrant/refugee policies and approaches, operating from a hubristic and unabashed sexist superiority perch, and quite literally defying empirical, verifiable and even
‘peer-reviewed’ evidence, this administration is a threat to the world of responsible citizens and leaders everywhere.

If Africa, it would be called a tyrannical dictatorship; in the not so distant past, it would be dubbed a ‘banana republic’ given the tone and the behaviour and the vacuity of its integrity. And the world watches, wonders, and hopes that sometime, somewhere, somehow, the American people will finally awaken to the un-gilding of the Gatsby lily…..and take their country back from these thugs.

When the nation and the world are bent into a mis-shaped and unrecognizable and twisted reality to serve the narcissism of a single leader, young people across the United States, and hopefully to a lesser extent around the world, will learn that their personal, private interests and their pursuit of those interests, while considering all others, including the public interest, as merely obstacles in the path to personal aggrandizement, is justified as legitimate, even tragically, morally and ethically valid.
Is anyone really surprised that the children of such a person will go to any lengths to secure “dirt” on a political opponent, even if that dirt’s source is a foreign enemy who is determined to undermine the democratic processes of the country his father seeks to rule. And it is “to rule” and not “to govern” that the trump father is determined to operate.

And even a grade school civics class student can and will distinguish between tyrannical rule and collaborative governing. The “big” and “permanent” lie can and will support only tyrannical rule, and therein lies the root of the disease that threatens to spread.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christian church co-opted by corporatism, racism, sexism ( mysogyny AND misandry), and a lost vision of its healing potential

It has been co-opted not only by the corporations, but also by any other political “identity” issue that threatened to set the Christian church outside the cultural winds that blow through the streets of the towns and cities, the farms and the factories, the banks and the court, and especially the legislatures. “Fitting in” as a guiding principle is a clear sign of co-dependence, and a lack of character/spine that defines so many individuals and organizations. It is not a sign of a serious commitment to living out the ‘gospel’.

Bowing to cultural pressures, can and does take a variety of forms, faces and co-dependencies. Money, and the capacity to induce and vacuum those cheques from the vaults of the rich into the collection plates is a trap into which too many church leaders have fallen, as they valued their personal career aggrandizement over the proposition of giving voice to the voiceless, regardless of the political, fiscal and social risk. And this debasement, or even denigration, of the principles of Christianity is evident not only in the prosperity gospel that equates faith with wealth but also in the literalist, fundamentalist conservative political wing of the right..

Co-opting by corporations is evident in the corporate structures of the mainline churches, where power and authority are housed at the ‘top’; it is evident in the kind of ‘discipline’ expected and required of those “prostrating” themselves as a symbol of their agreeing to “abide” by the rulings of their supreme commanders, of the human kind. It is also the primary  measuring criterion to determine the “success” of a local church and the clergy in charge, by those in head office. It is  the same criteria  General Motors uses to evaluate its dealerships and its executives, and promotes or demotes its executives and dealers as their bottom line “dictates”.

Asking whether the people in the pews are conscious that they are “growing spiritually” through their exposure to the homilies, the studies, the worship liturgies, the reflections, prayers, and conversations about spiritual issues with others, including, but not restricted to their conversations with the clergy, is apparently a step too far.
 After all, such a question is so “subjective” in both its intent, and in the responses it might generate and subjectivity has been willfully and surgically removed from the ecclesial organization. Are they afraid such a question would impose too heavy and too ambiguous a standard for them to attempt to meet? Are they afraid, that having failed to do their own spiritual “work” through a rigorous discipline, they would have trouble asking their clergy to commit to such a process, given the already heavy and pervasive goal of paying the bills.

Well, it says here that churches that are little more than warm-milk pablum of bromides, about God’s unfailing love, unrestricted forgiveness to those who repent (as Leonard Cohen chants, “I did not know what they meant, when they said ‘repent’), and especially God’s provision of an entry ticket to heaven to those who have died, while conducting a funeral….have little to justify their continuing existence. No matter how such themes are lifted through melody and rock groups, or through massive choirs, or through homiletic rhetoric that soars like Cicero, they are still bromides, analogous to the chest-nut hymns like “Old Rugged Cross” and “Onward Christian Soldiers” in full ‘military dress’.

The Christian faith, at least from the perspective of this scribe, is so challenging to the corporate ethos, structure, profit motive, and so revolutionary as to hold open the viable option of social policy that would move all governments away from arms, sycophancy to the rich and a “muddle-on” time warp that means taking centuries to get clean water to First Nations is acceptable. The Christian faith is also determined to seek the fullest expression of the truth, no matter the situation, always with a compassionate, and an ethical and process of remediation, reconciliation and healing, even in the worst of circumstances. And the challenges of such a high bar are ones very few church leaders are willing to present as guiding “lights” for their ‘flock’ lest they actually embrace the “vision”.

Imagine how the hierarchy would respond when it began to receive phone calls that the gospel was actually being practiced to the degree that each person engaged was able to offer.

 At least that is the rationale for many of the current “closed” signs on the doors of some historic and formerly “blessed” as sanctuaries buildings; there was no money to keep the doors open, the furnaces firing, the choirs singing, the education programs “educating” the young, and clergy offering too often religious bromides that made people feel warm and fuzzy, confident and secure in their reservation for an afterlife in heaven.

If the church is not an opposing and thereby balancing weight to the secular profit-driven, narcissistic, “me” attitude of “getting all I can however I can” and also offering the courage and the resolution to formally and informally stand up to, confront and even protest the establishment and its insatiable appetite for status, power and control, then it has little justification for its continuing existence. If it is not going:
·        to stand against the fracking chemicals of sucking natural gas from the water table,
·        to stand against the income gap that grows exponentially every year, to stand against the arguments for increased military power and its deployment with impunity,
·        to stand against racism, sexism, ageism and ethnic cleansing no matter the geography, or the political force that engages in these inhumanities
·        to embrace the most penetrating approaches to hunger, poverty, disease, and blockages to access to quality education and health care
to with the lifers in their pursuit of justice and rehabilitation
·        to embrace, rescue and fight to dry up the flow of the refugees no matter the source of their plight
·        to fight for the human right to access to clean air, water, soil
·        to demonstrate the self-sabotage that is contained in each and every act of the abuse of power and the healing that comes from vulnerable truths no matter how painful……
then there is little hope for its continuing survival.

Of course, critics will jump on that list as “politicizing” the church, turning it into an ideology. Yet, while there are clear over-laps with political policy, the central concept of agape and storge for all, regardless of income, education, political ideology, ethnicity, is at the heart of the theology of the gospel. And the courage needed to begin to move in the direction of making such ideals come true, not only on an individual basis, evidence of which abounds, but on a planetary basis.

It seems that the planet faces a range of threats to human existence, all of which, whether taken individually or together, have no regard for money, power, race, ethnicity, geography, gender, or age. They effectively render us all equal to a degree that is arguably new in human history. Ironically, however, we are also witnessing widening income/power gaps that depict a degree of insouciance irresponsibility that is threatening the very fabric of our institutional decision-making processes.

The church has found the poor distasteful; the homeless even more so; the poorly dressed, poorly spoken, poorly educated, and especially the people who are not “normal” in every sense of that word (leaving all physical and emotional, psychological and even sexual iterations outside the inner circles, not only of institutional power, but also of mere acceptance. If is as if the clergy, who may have a deep commitment to social justice, food banks, homeless shelters, half-way houses, can engage in those activities so long as there is no “shame” brought upon the congregation. And shame, in these cases, amounts to social embrrassment, a whisper campaign about potential “gayness” or waywardness or an upper class withdrawal of funds and participation in church committees.

All of the least desireable attributes of a high class social club including gatekeeping on steroids, social investigation of anyone and everyone, as if their pedigree and their social-economic status had to “measure up” in order to attain full acceptance, snide whispers behind backs and walls, in order to defame anyone considered different in any way…..and of course, a keen observation of the kind of contribution being made to the coffers….these all qualify, to a greater or lesser degree in every church with which I have been associated
 And then there is the question of the “executive decision-making group—including its composition, the linkages between and among members, the fawning and flirting for attention of those seeking appointment, the “symptom-bearer’ dynamic, by which one person (could be clergy or laity) is targeted as the one who most fits the collection of traits despised by the culture of the group. S/he is attacked in many manners, for many mis-steps, most of which s/he has no prior knowledge of their toxicity. Among the “leaders” one will find the most self-righteous, the most abrasive, the most condescending, the most co-dependent, and the most ambitious for control. And if and when a clergy risks appointing a dedicated spiritual pilgrim who embodies the spirit of truth, compassion, forgiveness and empathy, the “insiders” who fully believed that they should have received the appointment, will attack both the appointee and the clergy who made the nomination.

It would be called “office politics” when it took place in a corporate setting. It would be called simply, “the way politics is played, in the political arena; it would be seen as normal and predictable in a college or university where professional jealousy abounds, if not reigns. And in a church, it is referred, in the professional literature to “church conflict” and sometimes theological colleges and seminaries even dare to mention it in their curriculum, but likely only in passing. And everyone knows that whether it is a question of the “spirituality” of the clergy, the rising and falling of the dollars in the coffers, the rising and falling of church education attendees, the collapse of the choir, or the musical style of the organist or accompanist, the “failure to attract young people with children” (a favourite lament in many churches)….there is too frequently and for far too long, a simmering, or boiling conflict about to threaten the “peace and tranquillity” that is supposed to be the primary operating trait of the pastoral community.

Some theologians argue that there is no separation between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, and a strong case can be made in support of that view. However, to give voice, energy, and passion to the conflicts, without actually becoming aware of the deeper, symbolic and psychic significance and meaning of why individuals find others abhorrent, why those who view God as King have so much intolerance for those who consider God a pastor or teacher, a mentor or fellow pilgrim is to provide extension for the kind of petty grievances that rear their heads on a daily/hourly/minute-by-minute basis.

Untrained in the complexity of conflict, including both its psychological and spiritual implications and roots, many clergy are outside both their comfort zone and the zone of their professional competence when they face an uprising. There is no magic superhuman reconciler, a prescient healer to “calm the waters” of the raging sea. And turning to prayer to the God/Healer/Teacher/Mentor/Shaman is too often a reflexive act of such superficiality as to be more of a diversion, a distraction and a momentary quiet in the storm, without a light of reconciliation and healing at the end of the dark tunnel.
For their part, having likely attended some kind of early church “education” many adults in pews are in touch with a few names, and stories from both old and new testaments, without having a sense of who to put the pieces together, in their own lives, let alone the lives of their children whose friends may or may not have a church affiliation. Rules, commandments, parables, miracles, crucifixion and resurrection, Christmas and Easter….these are some of the words many may have heard, somewhere in their distant past, without spending either time or energy in seeking some of the implications of these theological concepts. And, attending a ritual liturgy, weekly, or perhaps even more frequently, may be highly comforting, and “centering” without helping to ask tough questions about how “my presence is impacting my world and the people in it.”

And, while serious discussion about the relative merits of different points of view on spiritual/ecclesial/epistemological/soteriological/questions and their import is clearly valid, the church often fails to provide a framework for such discussions. Exploration of new science, in the light of theological tenets and premises, could be so scary as to frighten off both clergy and laity.

 Hunkering down to the minimalist “identity”/“wedge” issues of personality politics is a clear sign that we have lost our shared ideals, and a shared vision that embraces the least among us….a vision that, purportedly attends all world faith communities worthy of the name and pursuit. In many small towns, law enforcement is relegated to the petty crimes of local “losers” (as they are called on the street”) while the ‘big issues’ escape their purview and their resources. A parallel seems to have emerged in many legislatures where racism, especially focusing on either or both Jews and Muslims has become the stereotypical response to what is perceived as threats from “outside” as the border of our minds/towns/states/provinces/nations have contracted through a withering of hope, courage, community, and collaboration. The blight of sexism is also sucking the oxygen from what’s left after trump and his gang have sucked their monumental portion.

If we have been reduced to a slogan like, “If you see something, say something!” then our focus has been reduced to mere safety and security at the street level. Meanwhile, on the top floors of our skyscrapers, the powerful continue to make decisions about stock options, bonuses, career aggrandizement and legacy planning….hardly the stuff of a social conscience, or an operative faith. Oh, there are a plethora of examples of token “ethical” initiatives that are designed to soften the profit-obsession of their originators. And this kind of tokenism, like the many that have operated inside the church sanctuaries for decades, serves as a kind of mascara on what are really personal extrinsic ambitions, and organizational growth metrics both linked like a two-headed monster.

Human capacity to envision a better world, however, seems to have taken a different turn, summarized in Cohen’s “You say you want it darker,” a prophetic insight if ever there was one.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Reflections on the demise of irony

It took Al Franken, in his historic speech to the Senate, to point out the “irony” of the moment, in which he is resigning his seat in the Senate, bowing to pressure from his Democratic colleagues following allegations of sexual impropriety, while the president who has admitted to sexual impropriety on tape sits in the Oval Office, and another man, allegedly an abuser of young girls, runs for a seat in that same Senate.

Only when our public discourse has been drained of irony, and many of the other literary figures of speech, including the many nuances for which students once read and assimilated prose and poetry by such luminairies as Shakespeare and Milton, Donne and Cohen, could such a set of circumstances emerge. Literalism, in the form of microscopic deconstruction of each word uttered by a public figure reigns in a world also drained of trust, imagination, and the complexities of thought, feeling and perspective. Have we so specialized and polarized and infantilized ourselves, into this cage, and this elementalism? Restricting the literary to the writers, the poets and indeed, the songsters, playwrights and comics is little more than shedding our opportunity to see the world differently than merely as if it were being parsed by a judge and/or a plethora of lawyers.

A friend recently expounded on his sense of awe and wonder at the discoveries of an infinite number of galaxies far beyond our own. His simultaneously child-like and also highly mature and also balanced perspective on the universe is so refreshing, probably because it is so rare at least in our public discourse. The paradox of “child-adult” is not rare in our universe; it is the stuff of the tension that sustains our yin-yang, our systolic-diastolic, our medical-natural treatments, our male-female, our birth-death, and our ambition-disappointment vibrations of the many strings on our individual and our collective “violins”..making the music of our lives. And, by myopically and compulsively excluding half of the tension, we are falling into the trap of boredom, physical, emotional, psychic and creative boredom. And at least as a partial consequence we have to generate “extremeisms” to hold our gnat-like attention spans.

My friend’s awe, wonder, amazement and sheer joy at the mysteries of the universe(s) is available to anyone who grasps and celebrates with a similar awe, wonder, amazement and joy the opportunities of the many profound mysteries still waiting to be discovered about our bodies, our minds, our emotions and especially our personal and public relationships. Faiths, religions, and all of the multiplicity of human artistic expressions have both celebrated and been birthed by the tension of finding the beauty in the garbage heap, the ugliness in the make-up, the ironic juxtaposition of the sardonic witty story told at the funeral of a loved one, demonstrating both his complexity and his ability to enjoy the same irony. A parallel irony can emerge even from the deep and profound depression that follows  the birth of new child, closing a curtain on a deeply anticipated parental freedom, given that older children are now full-time students.

There is irony in the deep emotional response of an “alpha male” to the sudden death of his dear friend, unexpected because of the stereotype of “frozen” that has been imposed, partly by the alpha male himself, as a form of armour and protection, and partly by those who have worked and lived with the “armoured” man.

Irony is at the core of many of our most poignant and cogent moments. It is the kind of “highlighter” that imprints deep and transformative memories on our personal hard drive, one of the most instructive “teachers” of history. It is at the core of the life of a young boy whose mother chanted “Don’t read! Do something!” throughout his childhood and adolescence, who later became an English teacher and free lance journalist. It is at the core of the life of a young woman who believed that propriety was defined as repression only to discover it really meant, to others, a kind of compulsive “hiding” from discovery by herself and by others. Irony comes out of the surgeon instructor’s mouth when, in the midst of a complex surgery, he turns to his amazed students and remarks, almost inaudibly, “Just remember, you can put the stiches in, but you cannot heal the patient!”

Irony flows, retrospectively, from a stint in a social, cultural, linguistic and spiritual wasteland that nearly destroyed the pioneer, before he himself was discovered by his soul mate, herself dying in that same desert. And then there is the irony of a small-town boy/girl who grows to embrace an intellectual disciplined life of scholarship that brings honors like Governor General to his life. There is the irony that, for Canadians living between the Arctic and the monster elephant to the south, we have produced so much profound, universal poetry, hardly expected from this “repressed” and sandwiched land and people. And, ironically, we have done so little “shouting” and bragging about our value, that the world has come to appreciate our contributions, almost in spite of our (false?) modesty.

There is a kind of difficult and complex irony in the recent deluge of complaints of sexual abuse from dozens, if not hundreds,  of strong women seeking justice and equality, who then wonder out loud, if their chorus is not going to defeat many of the political, social, economic and cultural victories they have attained, because they have allowed no discriminatory differences between the many  complaints.

We are awash in personal and public ironies, which, if we were to take the time to notice, and then to reflect upon, we would have little choice but to embrace both the humour of how silly the human species is, (each of us individually and certainly all of us collectively) and also potentially how tragic our blindness to our own ironies really is.

Are we so blind to the opposite realities, from those upon which we are fixated, that we are in danger of actually believing we can and do control the universe? Or, perhaps are we so despondent and desperate that we cling to a one-sided perception and accompanying belief that we sabotage our own conception of reality, thereby resulting in what amounts to two megaphones blasting at and past each other, something we erroneously call, the public debate.

The contribution of the current American president to the withering and dying of irony in our public discourse is palpable, and present with every tweet and utterance, except when he is hoisted on his own petard (the transcript) and then, “Oh, he was just exaggerating!” blurts out of the mouth of Ms Huckabee Sanders.

It is important to be able and willing to engage in public discourse that paints pictures with authentic names, dates, dollars, commitments, and the full disclosure of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And that significant public standard is in such danger, from all levels of our institutions, especially the current White House, that we are at risk of losing our grip on reality.

Once that collective grip lets go, we all fall into a vast abyss of darkness and a morass of swamp, from which we will all be entangled for centuries.

One of the most underused, and undervalued tools in our quiver of arrows pushing back against the trump tsunami, irony, would be included in a memo from all of the news editors in all of the major news outlets, across the western hemisphere: Since the current president is obviously, blatantly and unconscionably manipulating every reporter, every editor, and every other world leader, into a cavern of doom, to suit his own heroic and tyrannical purposes, we need to pay so little attention to his very presence, that all reporters are hereby re-assigned to cover all of the other news stories, without resorting to the sacred maxim, “balanced reporting that covers both sides is the only kind that we tolerate.”

We are here to serve the American people, and to provide a fourth-estate balance to the public figures who seek our service, only now who so denigrate our existence and our integrity, that we can no longer serve both the president and the nation. And our priority must always be to the nation, especially when the president is out of touch with reality, and determined to demonstrate our lack of integrity.

Ironically, in so doing, he is bringing into disrepute his own integrity, and threatening the security of the nation at the same time.