All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Category: Faith and Wisdom (Page 2 of 4)

Translations: Christian-Speak to Science-Speak

Biological and language variations are constants of the human condition. As we walk this earth and congregate, language tends to change and evolve at the same time it holds onto pieces at its core. Language becomes a venue ripe for misunderstandings. In our complicated and segregated modern life, it is easy to live in a city with 7 million people, speak the same language and yet not understand our neighbor. There is an ever growing need to pay attention to the variations in language styles. The economy of speech creeps in to facilitate conversation between parties that share common experiences. Whether we are hanging out on the corner, working in a deli, or at a physics lab, we each easily dominate many language styles. Our days are full of examples of heteroglossia, and yet strangers meet and think they understand each other. Inevitably though, there is a "you people!" and "but you said!" Our expressions vary and our differences seem insurmountable.

I believe a handy translation would save us from unnecessary strife and aggression.

  1. Christian-speak: God has a plan for your life.

    Science-speak translation: Your unique set of circumstances including DNA, talents, upbringing, and environment, have the possibility of an optimal outcome. It is up to you to figure out for which optimal lifepath you are suited. All others are suboptimal although not necessarily wrong.

  2. Christian-speak: Accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior.

    Science-speak translation: The cosmos or universe or some first-cause event has yielded a sequence of steps all of which have lead to your existence. We don’t care why, it is irrelevant for the purposes of this problem set. What we do know is that all your ancestors, all past life has lead up to you since the beginning of time. Does that humble you in any way? Great! Now you need to open yourself and listen. Read #3 for further explanation.

  3. Christian-speak: Jesus died for your sins.

    Science-speak translation: I’m just saying, don’t let imprecision or uncertainty get in the way of
    living. Rather than scrape and claw at the multitudes of things that go
    wrong, are imprecise, or flawed in some way, just try to make what you
    have better. Make sure your general tendency is toward justice. It’s a
    sort of asymptotic function whose limit is perfection. Rather than
    focus on the impeccable (from the Latin, meaning without sin), just go
    ahead and round to a reasonable figure based on the task at hand.

    Look, we live in a world where there is no perfection. That is, like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, you can measure a particle’s momentum or position but the more precise you are about one, the less you know about the other. Life’s not perfect, get over it. You deal with what you have. So, with that said, imperfection is your natural state of being and death will come to you. Those are our boundary conditions. They contain the meat of the problem at hand, which is: How do you live the intervening space time.

    What about the rest? Well, the Prof said not to worry about them, because they don’t matter.

More translations to come, as I think of them. Perhaps a science-speak translation would be in order too, I dunno.

Star Trek: A Bunch of Superstitious Calvinists

Yeah, you heard me right. Oh sure, Picard and his lot are all: "Some people believe in a higher power, but we here in the 24th century believe in the power of our human compassion, will, and nobility."

Bah! I say to you, Jean-Luc Picard. Bah! I say to you, Gene Roddenberry. Bah! I say to you, Rick Berman.

Two words: Prime Directive.

If that’s not belief in God, I don’t know what is. And it’s not just any God, but a Puritanical micromanaging control freak who’s already decided everything that will ever be decided.

Who came up with that Prime Directive shit anyway? Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t help you because it might affect some future event in a way such that it will not transpire in the natural (read: pre-destined) fashion. WTF? Is the future Federation a bunch of cowering Calvinists with their pre-destination crap?

I mean, really people, how did this escape unanswered for so long? Star Trek fans will go long and hard for the Prime Directive, that it’s somehow pure, clean, unencumbered by our messy superstitions, organized religion, God.

Look how advanced we are in the future, they say. That future is something for which to strive.

I suppose we look to that Prime Directive as some sort of ideal simply because we’ve seen how self-interested intervention in the affairs of other nations has ripped them apart and fomented so much suffering. The twentieth century, for example, is littered with meddling gone bad. Vietnam, possibly the crucible in which the Prime Directive was formed, is perhaps the best reason for its creation.

Then there’s the model of Switzerland, the model of, "Well, if you were meant to live, you will live. If you were meant to die, you will die. I cannot interfere." This Prime Directive of neutrality has somehow been held up as the ideal of behavior. We hold inaction as the highest morality. Do nothing, speak nothing, hear nothing, and all will cruise along at His will.

Don’t you see how loony it all is, you bunch of superstitious Calvinist freaks? We were not put here to play our parts in God’s little Broadway production, thank you very much. We were put here for, and only for, to live, to choose, to learn, and to love.

The noblest of all possible courses of action is not to withdraw, back away, and let it all transpire by some unseen hand. No, our best hope is to act in the best way that we know how with the information we have at moment. If a stranger needs a hand, we help him and damn the supposed later consequences. We don’t know much, and we can’t rely on God to push it all along like some divine universal machine.

Life is messy. We make choices. We make mistakes. We fail. We succeed.

What sort of world or universe would accept us into its cradle where we impacted nothing, did nothing, took no stock of our surroundings, and did not act as if we were the masters of our destiny.

No, Star Trek people, the Prime Directive is NOT good and noble. The Prime Directive is at best a "Hope for good but do not interfere" and at worst, a retreat from the universe of flesh and blood.

You may as well have not existed.

So You Want to Live Forever, Huh?

Back in 1995, Laura and I were preparing to head to Spain, she for her doctoral research, me because I wanted to tag along. It was a period of uncertainty and I toyed with the idea of staying behind. I put out my resume and started a job hunt for something that paid well. I got a bite from a publishing company called Nano-thinc (IIRC) to be their web editor.

Things started out normally enough. They had an office on Geary Street right off the bay in San Francisco. Pleasantries were exchanged all around. I was to be interviewed by the owner, a large, loud, and agitated man. He had passion and he believed in something. It was clear. But what? I asked them about their company, what they did, what was their vision etc.

"We at Nano-thinc want to become the ZiffDavis publishing empire of nanotechnology (remember, this is 1995). We think that in 5 years nanotechnology will eliminate death, and as a side effect, all religion."

"Okay," I said, blinking. Did I miss the "Beware: Here Be Cult" sign on the way in? Well let’s have a little fun with this, hell what have I got to lose?

"So, you think think that eliminating death will destroy religion? Why the grudge against religion?"

"Religion is responsible for all the worlds ills. It has killed millions, caused untold despair. If we didn’t die, we wouldn’t need it any more." His tirade had gotten to a fever pitch. He liked talking about this, I thought, so I decided to give him a run for his money.

"But it’s not religion that causes hate and despair, it’s humanity’s inherent smallness and fear that brings that on. Let me ask you something: If you eliminate natural death from old age, disease, sickness, then what are you left with? Unnatural death? People will still die. It’s just that now, it’s going to be murder, accident, decapitation, whatever. As you increase lifespan, and eliminate natural death, you are only left with the assurance that when you go, and you WILL go, that it’s gonna be ugly."

"Yes, but," he blustered, "People won’t fear death any more, and as such they won’t need superstitions like religion. We will control everything and religion won’t be necessary any more."

I replied, "That’s assuming religion exists because of death – a logical fallacy. I think it exists because of life. So you live for 2000 years. What are you going to do with yourself? How are you going to live? We can barely eek out 75 years as it is, without getting bored, falling into despair, self destructive behavior, selfishness. You have to ask yourself, why do you want MORE life? What are you doing with this one? Religion attempts to answer these questions by helping us come up with a framework of service to our fellows. I grant that religion goes astray by claims that it SOLVES the riddle, but by and large it’s our petty fears that trip us up. It’s life that trips us up. Give us more, and we will cling to it with even more fervor, only to find that it ends just the same. Give us the illusion of longevity and we will spend our lives consumed with inaction and self-indulgence. Religion doesn’t help us with death, death is inevitable. Religion helps us with life. Nanotechnology will inevitably lead to a greater belief in God/presence/creator/something greater than ourselves."

"Well, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree," he blustered. It seemed to me that he had not examined his position sufficiently well.

"Good day," I said. Now that was fun. I’m gonna look this crackpot up in five years and see what he’s up to.

On Doubting Tomases

I’d like to lay it all out here.  Here it is in a nutshell, post Easter.  I’ve always been bugged by the whole scene in the Bible with Tomas the apostle, the poster-child of doubt and lack of faith.  I’ve always thought he got a bum rap.  My version would go like this:

"Dude, dude, we so totally saw Jesus today."

"What have you all been smoking.  And for Christ’s sake, take a bath, y’all smell."

"No, no, totally, Tom, we saw him, didn’t we Peter?"

"Yeah. And the girls saw him too."

"Hmm, okay.  Look, if it makes you feel better after having watched him be crucified and then locking yourselves in that room you call "the pad" for the last few weeks, that’s cool.  I’m glad you think you saw him or something."

"Aw, man, Tomas, thinks we’re lyin’.  He doesn’t BELIEVE.  He doesn’t believe.  He doesn’t believe."

"Now you’ve got too far, my brothers.  Look, whether he’s actually walking around or not is totally and in all ways irrelevant.  You all saw what he did.   You KNOW what he stood for.  He was the best.  We lived and studied and hung with him through thick and thin.  I KNOW who he is.  He’s right here.  I don’t need to see any bloody nail marks or spear wounds.  

I looked deep in my heart and I realized that I know him.  I know who he is.  I don’t need any more from him.  What more could I ask. 

You mistake my skepticism for lack of faith, but it’s not that.  It’s that I don’t really NEED anything more from him.  He already gave us everything.  He gave us purpose.  He showed us the way.  He died for us.  I know that man believed what he said – what he told us.  I know it.  I know him.  So don’t you assholes with your, ‘Oh, look Tomas doesn’t believe what his eyes don’t see,’ selves give me crap and ask for the Messiah to go around on your little puppet stings dancing through magic fairy dust for you to feel good about yourselves.  It is you who doubt.  It is you who look for magic signs and voices from the heavens and burning bushes.

Now, if I know Jesus, I know he just might oblige your puny minds with a heavy sigh.  ‘Oh, okay one more time for Peter’ and he’d wave his hand or something, but after, he probably ask you why you couldn’t be more like Tomas.  ‘Tomas didn’t make me do any miracles.  Tomas didn’t ask me to rise from the dead.  Y’all did, ’cause you needed it.’

Into Each Life…

The big fat obnoxious drops started to fall slowly.  They
landed with metallic thunks, like little bombletts, crashing and
splashing on the exterior of my car.  They impacted noticeably,
and I swear, for a second I thought it was hail.  These were 15
kiloton raindrops.   

At first they came in a halting fashion, as if unsure of their target,
but soon I was in the mist of a rain of terror upon a civilian
population.  I could barely see a few feet in front of the car,
and traffic slowed to five miles per hour.  And my music – I
couldn’t hear my music, lost as it was in the cacophony of the attack.

I inched up to Calle Simón Madera, I hesitated, seeing that it was no
longer the Calle Simón Madera, but El Río Simón Madera.  I made a
decision to turn and attempt to ford it.  How bad could it be?

water was half-way up the door on my little Ford Focus (or so it
seemed).  I quickly followed a larger SUV in front of me, taking
advantage of his wake to edge the water away.  It worked, until he
decided to stop and slowly make a left turn.  Arrgghh,
please oh please please, don’t stall, little car.  I don’t want to
deal with this now.  I’m stupid, I admit it, but just don’t
stall.  Mr. SUV made his turn and I continued on. 

I breathed a sigh of relief.  I never realized what that little car was capable of.  Now I know.

sat down at my desk and began to work, when my cell phone rang. 
Hmm, out of state area code.  Who could be calling me? It was my
good friend Dave.

"Hey Dave, what’s up?"

"Nothin’ much, man, just thought I’d give you a call and touch base.  It’s been a while."

great.  It’s good to hear from you."  And there we were,
chuckling and carrying on.  He mentioned that PowerBall was up to
220 million dollars.  We talked about the small risk of a  $1
investment with a $220 million payoff.  It just might make sense.

Dave, what would you do if you won?  You’d take it in a lump sum, right, so
that leaves you with about $100 million.  What do you do with your
life?  Do you still play in the orchestra?  Do you buy the
orchestra?  What in the world would you do with your life if money
was irrelevant?"

"Nothing.  I’d probably watch a lot of TV," he chuckled.

with the kids, take trips?  Hey, you could start a business. 
Would you start a business?  Would you compose?  Would you
start up a music foundation, or some sort of foundation for the
arts?  Would you donate money to the orchestra?"  I was
ratta-tat-tating him with a million questions.

"I’d buy a plane, take flying lessons, and travel around.  That’d be cool."

there we moved on to other things, difficulties of running a business
in Puerto Rico, poor economy, difficult market.  He asked me where
I would go if I left Puerto Rico. 

"I’ve thought a lot
about Colorado.  I’ve read the the tech industry is booming
there."  I was also thinking about the cooler weather, cheaper
cost of living, and outside recreation opportunities.  Colorado
has seemed to me, from afar at least, to be a perfect blend of
mid-western hospitality, urban sophistication, and culture.  Bah,
but what do I know.  I’d have to try it out.

"Why do you stay in Puerto Rico, if it’s that bad?" he asked innocently.

it is bad, that’s for sure."  I paused, unsure of the words or
what I was actually feeling. "It’s just that there have been
opportunities here I have shaped me in ways that I never would have
realized."  Serendipity is a word that comes to mind.  It’s
not that suffering for suffering’s sake is a good thing, but sometimes
you don’t know what you’re capable of.  Sometimes when life is
comfortable, you don’t seek out those itchy contagions that cause you
to scratch.  In the Midwest of the US, you can just blend in,
carry on with your life, and if social activism isn’t your natural
inclination, you can happily avoid it. 

In Puerto Rico,
it’s in your face 24/7.  Between the projects, the despair of the
fatherless youths, and the poor public education, problems
abound.  They affect every strata of society, and unless you are
among the super-wealthy, you’ve no way to avoid it.  So, you’ve
got two choices, do nothing or do something.  Doing nothing takes
more energy that it does in the US, of that I can assure you.  The
flip-side is that doing something is a bit easier.  And doing
something, opens up one of the possible ways that we as humans may
grow.  I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for Puerto
Rico.  I’ve a long way to go, and I am still not enchanted to be
living here, but I know Puerto Rico, I know its culture, I know its
problems, and I know its spirit, and I’m sure that this is where I’m
supposed to be right now.  I’m also sure of one other thing.

I know what I’m capable of.

Baptism Ewww

I was wandering as I usually do.  I don’t mean to, it’s just that after such stressful weeks, going to church on Sunday is an opportunity to sit quietly with my family.  I’m not answering phone calls, programming, submitting proposals, configuring equipment, not having the TV on, toys, scrambling everything up into a mish mash.  No, I just get to be quiet and there’s no escape.  It’s nice.

As is usual with my church time, I am somewhat disconnected from the experiences of my fellow parishioners.  I know what it is to think differently, to be different, but I still enjoy the perspective and insights that such a burden provides. 

So I wander.  I wander into the minds of others, poking around, taking snapshots.  I was a mental tourist today in church.  The theme of today’s excursion?


My first stop on the mad dash trip was into the minds of those that are not now and have never
been Church-goers, some of whom sprout a full plumage of disdain at
the mere mention of religion. 

"Ewww.  I don’t believe in organized
religion.  I think you’re all full of it, and you’re ruining America."

"Haha," I chuckled with my guest, "that is a distinct possibility."  We passed the time most enjoyably and when it was done and we had said our goodbyes and thank-you’s, I was reluctant to take my leave.  They are a good sort, a tad inflexible, but I don’t hold it against them.

My next stop was a little closer to home.  Familiarity breeds contempt, I said to myself, so let’s take a new look through fresh eyes.  I peered into the scene unfolding right in front of me.  There it was, the ritual, the pouring of the water, the snapshots, the frilly little outfit, everybody in their Sunday best, the priest anointing with oil, saying prayers, the parishioners mumbling their acclamations self-consciousnessly.

And there was the baby, oblivious to it all.

What is this magic that is being performed over me, the baby seemed to ask?  Is Baptism magic, divine magic brought to bear upon a young-ling in order that he may be good, that he may have salvation? 

Once the act was complete, the sigh of relief was almost palpable.  It was a sigh that this child is now protected with his aura of Christly force, that he is now brought into the fold, into the arms of God that the devil may not snatch him up and to do evil.

This is how many people see Baptism, a magic incantation and pouring and anointing.  But its true purpose has been forgotten.  I closed my eyes to remember, to journey back, to look with new eyes on an old scene.  My mind flashed over my own children.  I paused to remember how I held them when they were so tiny, how Laura and I (but mostly Laura) rushed to them when they would cry.  You are not alone in this world.  Just thought you should know. 

You see, we have forgotten.  We’ve buried Baptism so deeply in abstractions that we’ve forgotten its true spirit, its true meaning.  We’ve abstracted God to such a degree that we think he does stuff for us, that by chanting prayers and rubbing oil, we’ll all be saved or we’ll have something more than what we have now. 

What do you need anyway?

In my continuing philosophy of "things are no more than what they appear", I tell you this:  the rubbing of the oil is the touch, the gathered people are the presence, and the prayers are the solace of a soothing voice.  Tu estás acompañado, you are not alone, you are accompanied on your journey through your life. 

Have you ever heard stories of little babies of Christian families that have died soon after being born?  Priests and ministers are on call to Baptize these little souls so that they may take quick flight to a heavenly place without the stain of original sin.  Have you heard that?  Doesn’t that sound silly? 

It’s a lot of words that mask the true purpose of such an act, and it is this: little child, you are not alone in your death.  We love you, your people love you, you will not die alone in the cold.  We will be there until the end for we are a people with great empathy.  We love you.

Have you head of people in car crashes or other traumatic accidents where death is a mere step away.  There are some that have not lived a life in Christ, and in the last moments call for a Baptism or magic ritual.  Our response should not be magic.  Our response to such a person in need is nothing more and nothing less than to hold his hand so that he may know that he is not alone.  He may have been alone throughout his life, living selfishly, thinking little of others, but at the hour of his death, he is a child of creation, loved and lovable – as he has always been.

Baptism isn’t a religious exercise, folks.  Baptism is a communal gathering of souls who hold up an individual, weak and fragile, to let them know that they are supported by the hands of their fellows, that they are not alone, and that they will always be and have always been, supported by love.

Tell someone today, you are not alone, you will never be alone, and you have never been alone.

Okay now that I’ve straightened out the rhetoric, we just have to do it.  Okay?

Contemplations on the Breaking of the Bread

I wrote this after one of my Confirmation classes. I think it’s
about the best contemplation on the Eucharist that I’ve ever heard,
that is, I like it and it sums it up for me. I always try to look at
the rituals of Catholism through the eyes of an outsider. Are they
silly? Where did they come from? Why do we do them? What does it mean
to believe? And what is belief? They may be silly, but there is a
wisdom that can be grokked if you know how to get in there, separate

yourself from your preconceptions, supersititions, magic, and just see
and know a thing for what it is. Life isn’t any deeper than what we
are. That is, it’s plenty deep enough, thank you. You just have to look
and listen and ponder. It’s all there, the spirits, the magic, the
flavor – all there right in front of you. It’s not weeping concrete
stains in the shape of the Virgin Mary. It’s not miracle medical cures.

It may not even be eternal life in heaven.

And with that I begin my meandering through the true nature of the Holy Eucharist.

The next week we talked about spirits. First we talked about the
spirit of a tomato? They all looked at me quizzically. Eh? Tomato? I
explained where the tomato comes from, where it is grown, how it is
cared for, who picks it, how it arrives at the supermarket etc. The
tomato becomes more than what it would first appear. The tomato, the
more you know about it, its journey, the more it becomes a symbol of
something deeper, and the deeper you go, the more it becomes an icon
– it actually becomes that thing it represents.

Take the beef cow for example. “Ew!” they all chorused. “We
don’t want to know about our food being alive at some point.” They
all shuddered, thinking about the slaughterhouse, the death of the
cow as it arrives at their plate, all ground up and cooked. How can
knowing the path of the cow make our enjoyment of the burger any

Ah, I said, but you miss out on a great opportunity to imbibe more
than just a burger. Take, for example, my experience in the Basque
Country of Spain. We lived near a rural community called Oiartzun in
the north of Spain. In the town, the country folk each raised and
slaughtered their own cow. They would raise the cow for a year or so,
and then they would kill it. They fed their cow the best of things,
alfalfa, cabbage, beets, turnips, the best of things. They would grow
and cultivate an entire plot of land just for the cow.

We were visiting the Aristizabals house one Sunday afternoon. The
family wanted to show off their prize cow. The mother, Maria de los
Angeles, took us to the stall where the healthy looking young cow
stood munching on some nice fresh greens. The cow raised her head and
glanced our way, half-curious as to who were these intruders to her
space. She couldn’t be bothered to turn around and give us her
attention, head down munching on her lunch. Maria de los Angeles,
anxious to show off her cow, grabbed a pitch fork and poked the cow,
yelling, “Yeha yeha.” The cow did not budge an inch. She poked
harder but the cow did not move.

Mikel, the father and cabinet maker, gently clucked to the cow and
patted it on the rump. She turned as easily as if on a trivet. Beautiful
she was, healthy strong, and big. Everyone in the family beamed with
pride for their cow.

Some time later, we heard that Beltza had been slaughtered, the
meat packed into two large freezers in the family’s farm house.
Ekiñe, the youngest daughter, excitedly told us they had
bought a new young calf. She laughed as she told us they had named it

Later, during the Christmas season, Laura and I were invited over
for a holiday season dinner, on the menu, Beltza. I knew her, I

We shared with the Aristizabals the finest cut of meat from
Beltza, a cut from which there was only enough for one meal. I
remember that meal, the communion, the shared experience, the
newness, the realness, the depth of experience, appreciation for the
life that we had taken as well as the life that we were living, the
sacrifice, the brotherhood, and community. Beef had never been more
alive to me, on my taste buds, but more importantly in my heart.

I had used that story to illustrate to my class how knowing more
about reality around you leads you to deeper satisfaction. Sometimes
it’s not pleasant. Sometimes there is pain, even death, but by
closing yourself off to it, you close yourself off to the richness of
life, the beauty of living. Without awareness, consciousness, life

becomes unseasoned and bland.

Me? Like the Pope? Not So Much

“Man, I am so sick of this love affair with the Pope. Sheesh,
everyone wants to just bow down and worship this guy like he’s done
so much or something. What has he done?”

Laura, who is a fan of the Pope, answers, “He’s reached out
to other religions, healed some long suffering wounds inflicted long
ago. He’s reached out to the peoples all around the globe, and held
firm on moral conviction.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “He denounced apartheid, and it
is said is partly responsible for its fall by applying political
pressure. They like to give him partial credit for helping end
communism in the world too with his intervention in Poland. So I
guess he’s stood up for equality and justice during his papacy.”

“Yes,” she agreed.

“So how come he doesn’t foster equality in his own
organization? Over fifty percent of his flock is considered a second
class citizen. Women are excluded from virtually every facet of
Church leadership, from local to national to international levels.
Woman serve a subservient roll to priests, bishops, and are
non-existent in the official Vatican power structure. The Pope
pointed out the speck in his neighbor’s eye, but failed to see the
timber in his own. Now I can’t necessarily blame him for all this,
after all he’s just following Church doctrine handed down to him for
centuries, and he’s human. In effect, he’s just going with the flow,
following the tried and the true. You can’t blame someone for that, I
guess. He implemented faithfully the tenants of the Catholic Church
handed down for centuries.”

Laura nodded, knowing I was setting her up for another round of

“Let’s recap, shall we? Under the Pope we have the following

  1. Falling western church population, with growth in Africa and
    other third world regions.
  2. Falling membership in the religious orders, 40,000 Jesuits 20
    years ago has fallen to 20,000 today, all during the Pope John
    Paul’s reign. Why? An increasing number of parishes no longer have
    full time priests. There is a critical shortage of ordained
    religious servants.
  3. Church closings throughout the western world: my hometown of
    St. Louis is currently going through some ugly infighting concerning
    assets, closings, and consolidation.
  4. Church sex scandals: one of the most horrific and damaging
    scandals to ever break anywhere anytime. You think the Spanish
    Inquisition was bad? Try inflicting the same torment on children and
    remaining quiet about for decades. How long has the Pope been Pope?
    – Long enough for him take some responsibility for sure. I didn’t
    know or I wasn’t involved have never been nor will they ever be

You name it, and the Church has stumbled on it or is doing it
poorly. Don’t blame the parishioners, blame the leadership. It’s
always the leadership’s fault.

So if you were the board of directors of, hmmm, let’s say, Hewlett
Packard, and say Carly Fiorina had a strategy to increase profits
over a 6-10 year period, and say she didn’t increase them fast enough
or lost a little bit of share. Well, you’d take a hard look at her,
and you might fire her, right? Guess what? When you see your share
fall, and when corporate scandal reigns, and the company does poorly,
you fire management. A lot of the time, you hold them criminally
responsible. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard a CEO
claim that he was just doing what his predecessor was doing. ‘Um, I
thought using my personal secretary as a sexual perk was okay. I
mean, hell, all the other CEO’s did it. Lots of low interest personal
loans to myself? Well, we’ve done that for decades.’

Well, guess what, Mr. CEO, the 1980’s and the 1990’s where great.
Profits were up, people were getting rich. Hell, the board got rich
on the stock. But Mr. CEO, it’s the 2000’s and we ain’t in Kansas
anymore. You have to be able to react. You have to be able to adapt
to a changing landscape. You’ve got to make hard decisions. What the
hell do we pay you for, huh?

So I say the same thing to the Pope. What the hell have you been
doing over there in your walled city while the Roman Catholic Church
has been falling apart? You’ve been issuing decrees on birth control,
abortion, secularism and burying your head in the “if it ain’t
broke, don’t fix it” mentality oblivious to the creaky rusty
corrupt bucket of bolts that is shedding it’s shit all over the road.
You issue a memo, take a drive in your Pope-mobile, or make a trip to
have throngs of poor Catholics in third world countries come in
droves to weep and feint at the site of your holiness? Bah! You’re an
idiot, and you got the basic stuff wrong, very wrong. You’ve been
denying half your flock the possibility of renewing the face of the
Earth, simply because they don’t have a penis. What kind of shit is
that? I would have said, grow a pair, but at this point, it ain’t
gonna happen.

The Pope should’ve spent eighty percent of his time with the
problem children of the worldwide Church, eighty percent of his time
on the tough issues, eighty percent of the time going after the lost
sheep. He can then spend twenty percent of the time tending to his
flock of believers. Wasn’t that Jesus’s message? – The sheepherder,
upon losing one of his flock leaves the rest to go and search for it.
The prodigal son? Wasn’t this the lesson? I understand the Pope is
beloved by those that are with him, but what of the lost sheep, the
disillusioned Catholics, those for whom this bloated bureaucracy has
ceased to be relevant? It’s easy to preach to those who love you.
This Pope’s challenge was to preach to those that had gone astray,
the fallen away Catholics, the disillusioned, the angry, the hurt,
and the lost.

Mr. Pope, I will grant that you’ve done more than your cowardly
predecessors. You’ve perhaps done a satisfactory job these 27 years,
but I don’t expect a satisfactory job from “Jesus’s
representative on Earth.” I expect an extraordinary job. Mr.
Pope, this is one Catholic that won’t miss you a bit. I wish we could
have fired you a long time ago, but Pope for life is the way it goes.
Ain’t tenure a bitch? You can’t fire the incompetent, and they hang
on long after they’ve ceased to be even moderately productive.
History seems to be whitewashing your papacy for political reasons
(especially those shills at Fox News), but I know what you did not
do. Shame on you for your inaction and blindness.

I’m a bit scared for who’s coming next though. Might we go from
bad to worse?

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Fundamentalism vs. New Age, Two Sides to the Same Coin

Fundamentalism: Freedom from distractions
New Age: Freedom from

Each has a drawback:

Fundamentalism: Has restrictions to true choice

New Age: Loss of direction to distractions

Let me explain. With fundamentalism, for example, Southern Baptists or Shiite Muslims take great pains to separate men and women, the temptations of the flesh. Rigorous precepts of co-mingling, no alcohol, no dancing are enforced to allow men and women to go on with their lives without distracting temptations of the flesh. Fundamentalism has at its core a belief that the flesh is VERY weak, and must be chained up, covered, locked down and put away. The spirit soars in inverse proportion to how detained is the body.

This actually works pretty well, and isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. After all, it still is an attempt at living a life of meaning and usefulness, instead of a life mired in selfish desires and self destructive behavior.

But Fundamentalism assumes weakness, and therefore never expects too much of one.

Its drawback comes when those external restrictions are removed. Without the enforcer, the jailer keeping your body locked up tight, without the imposition of rules, without a learned internal decision-making capacity, you can fall victim to excesses for which you are not prepared. Think the “preacher’s son/daughter” syndrome or “Catholic school girl.”

Secondly, fundamentalism has a spirit crushing affect on those that fall ever so slightly outside its ordered confines. I’ve known several Mormons, both active in the faith and fallen away from it, and the commonality among them is the crushing expectation of the community. This can cause them to raise to great heights, but can
just as easily drag them to deep lows. To get a divorce in the Mormon faith is one of the most unforgivable transgressions. Pre-marital sex? Drinking? Carousing? Men, failure to provide for your family? The Mormon community exacts a heavy, many times, unspoken toll on those not strong enough to keep the rules of faith.

New Age, on the other hand, is a recent phenomenon. It strives to remove restrictions from the individual. It seeks to unlock your hidden potential. Give up your petty fears, focus on the self, and you shall be free. Your guilty heart holds you back. Your fears, your past, your transgressions, your weaknesses, they all have one thing in common – they conspire to drag you down, lock you up, keep you miserable. That cannot be God’s plan for you. New Age strives to unlock all the chains that bind.

It’s a lovely message for those that have been beaten down, for those that feel that they have never been realized. It may be the first time that some of them have felt any self-worth. Perhaps it was a battered wife, an alcoholic, an abused child, or any of the variety of broken souls that litter the earth. New Age religion offers these people a way out, an offer of acceptance and non-judgment.

It really is a lovely message, but it has a fatal flaw as well. Excessive focus on the self causes a loss of awareness of the other. Take for example the author Richard Bach,   of Jonathan Livingston Seagull fame. His recent explanation of his divorce is revealing of the pitfalls of New Age thinking.

…Leslie and I are no longer married. Soul mates, to me, don’t define themselves by legal marriage. There’s a learning connection that exists between those two souls. Leslie and I had that for the longest time, and then a couple of years ago, she had this startling realization. She said, “Richard, we have different goals!” I was yearning for my little adventures and looking forward to writing more books. Leslie has worked all her life long, and she wanted peace, she wanted to slow the pace, not complicate it, not speed it up. Not money, not family, no other men or other women, separated us. We wanted different futures. She was right for her. I was right for me. Finally it came time for us to make a choice. We could save the marriage and smother each other: “You can’t be who you want to be.” Or we could separate and save the love and respect that we had for each other. We decided the marriage was the less important. And now we’re living separate lives.

Do you see the same thing I see? Lack of passion? Lack of focus? Lack of heart? Here’s someone who’s painted himself into a corner of denial. Look, buddy, just admit you two screwed up. You couldn’t compromise. You couldn’t make it work. Each was more in love with their “self” than the “other”. Examine your limitations. Learn from your failure. You’ve got to see where you’ve screwed up. You’ll not learn from it if you don’t see your failures in a cold clear light.

One would believe that New Age opens up an infinite variety of experience, a limitless, endless array of choices all of which are equal and none of which are right or  wrong. They simply are. With little framework to define a right path or a wrong path, people may wander around without direction, without purpose, or perhaps the main purpose being self-fulfillment. Like little ants wandering around randomly looking for food, deep New Agers suddenly come upon a morsel, and being so cut off from the other, do not even have the capacity to communicate the message of what they have found. They are content to let the colony discover the morsel for themselves, for how could they be so arrogant as to assume this morsel is fit for anyone else but themselves.

Without at least some level of rigor, decisions become bland, tasteless, without risk, without price. A marriage ends because it did. We chose not to be married, and it was the right choice for us. We become so detached from each other, so free, that we may as well just float away in our own little bubble, little known to the universe, having never wanted to risk offending it with our failure.

I’ve always had a deep distrust for both extremes, that is, fundamentalists scare me with their rigorous intolerance for distractions and those that bring them, and New Agers scare me with their aimless free floating lack of commitment. The truth must lie somewhere in the middle, somewhere between crushing restrictions and overwhelming relativism.


Flashback to 1994

The phone was ringing on a Saturday morning as we were having
breakfast. I picked it up. “Hello?”

“Lt. O’Malley, this is LTC Jones, we need to talk. How soon
can you get down to the unit?”

“I, uh, I’ll be right there. Can you tell me what this is

“No I can’t.”

“Okay, I’ll be right there.” This couldn’t be good.
No way could this be good. What did I do? What is the problem? I
had no idea, and the terse tone filled me with dread.

“Hon, I have to go to the unit.”

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“Most definitely, yes, there is something wrong, but I don’t
know what. I can’t talk about it… I… “ I fumbled around
for keys, shoes, trying to remember where I was.

On the short drive to the port district in Oakland, I searched my
memories trying to figure out what this could be about, trying to
think if I did or said anything… anything. I had no idea, and that
was more disconcerting than anything.

“Lt O’Malley, close the door and have a seat.”

I sat there in stunned silence, waiting for the bell to toll.

“I have received a disturbing report of your behavior, LT.”

…and? I thought.

“Two SGT’s have come forward with racial discrimination
complaint against you. I consider these charges grave.”

I felt shocked and relieved at the same time. Shocked that
someone could have accused me of such a thing, relieved that I knew
it to be untrue.

“I – uh, never. Sir, I have never done such a thing.
Who was it?” I was a little rattled, searching for the
purpose, the plan, the method, why am I here, I asked myself?

“I can’t tell you, LT, but I consider the charges serious.”

“I am not a racist. What do they say I did? What could I
have done? I’m married to a Puerto Rican, I live in Oakland for
God’s sake. I love diversity. There’s no way I’m a racist.”

“That may be, LT, but I tell you, you have a problem.”

I stammered, repeated myself, got defensive. “Sir, it’s not
true. It’s not true. I didn’t do it.”

LTC Jones, changed his tone a bit. I noticed a slightly
fatherly demeanor for this young Lieutenant. “LT, you have a
problem. How are you going to solve it?”

“A problem?! I never.. I didn’t. I can’t…”

He cut me off firmly. “LT, YOU have a problem. What are
you going to do about it?”

Something clicked at that moment. I have a problem. Yes, I do,
don’t I? I have been lost in my own bruised ego. I had tried to
shirk the responsibility for this problem that had been thrust upon
me. It was mine. All my own. It was not of my own making, but it
had been delivered to me. I was now the proud owner of a problem not
of my own making. Now novel, eh? – as if no one in humanity’s
history had ever had to deal with a problem not of their own making, or consequence, or foundations
contrary their own values.

How novel, how rich, how unusual, I reflected sarcastically. This
is something that happens everyday. Problems arrive at the doorsteps
of unsuspecting fools, delivered by incompetent, malicious,
ill-intentioned, or ignorant people. Sometimes problems arrive from
the Atlantic kicking up wind gusts of 150 mph. Accidents happen,
sometimes through the carelessness of action, thoughtlessness, or
just plain dumb luck.

“What can I do?” I asked LTC Jones. But before he
could answer, I blurted out, “I want to address the company.
Let me address the company, that way the individuals can hear me and
I don’t have to single them out. Let me address the company and just
nip this in the bud, with an apology.”

LTC Jones hid a smile. “That’s a great idea, LT. We can do
it in the morning formation. That way it can be cleared up, and we
can get on with the rest of the weekend. I’m glad we had this talk.
Now get out of here.”

He was pleased, I could tell. He didn’t want to be too jubilant.
It’s not dignified. But reflecting on this many years latter, I
understand the difficulties of command. He had a Lieutenant and two
Sergeants that were at odds. In order for his unit to function there
must be accord. The unit must run without disruption, petty
politics, individual negativity, bickering. The unit must have unity,
a sense of esprit de corps. He doesn’t know who to trust, and
probably doesn’t really care. If the charges go forward, a complaint
would be filed, possibly investigated and filed away. As a commander,
I can tell you that that is not a solution. It solves nothing, does
nothing but document and bury the incident. Meanwhile, relationships
suffer, factions form from those that support one side or the other,
and the unit becomes less effective.

My direction was clear in that moment of clarity, a momentary bolt
of wisdom had shot through that young heart of mine, and allowed me
to divorce myself from my ego, my concern for myself, my career, my
well-being, and allowed me to see my damaged unit, and know there was
something I could do about it.

What LTC Jones really wanted was someone who could solve his
problem, and I was the only one capable. To have been able to count
on me for that task was probably something for which he was very

I am reminded of this by current events, new deployments of
soldiers to Iraq, young men and women of great dedication and honor,
being sent to solve a problem. Was the problem of their creation?
Did they put Sadaam in power? Did they ask for Sadaam to attack
Kuwait. Did they ask for Rumsfeld? Did they ask President Bush to
preemptively strike? Did they ask for the impatience, the bad
intelligence, the nebulous motives? Are they pawns in an unjust game
of international politics?

Maybe, but they are the only ones who can solve the problem. Do
firefighters stand around and argue and hand-wring while the house is
burning. “Idiots had substandard wiring. Idiots had an old
space heater. Idiots tried to do their own wiring, were smoking in
bed, doing crack, playing with matches.” Do firefighters do
this? They solve the problem by putting the fire out. There is
nothing else they may do.

Bush is irrelevant. Kerry is irrelevant. Michael Moore is irrelevant. History will judge
Bush, but our men and women in uniform can solve a problem right now.
Or not. Complain and let it burn, or put it out?

Choose wisely.

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