Archives For Getting Serious

I often wonder why I turned out to be such a social justice advocate. Was I born that way or was it due to some early childhood experiences? I am certain that growing up in a single parent household at the lower end of the economic ladder was a significant part of it. But I don’t think that was the driving factor. Like so many have said before, we might have been poor but I really didn’t know it until later.

Many of my early heroes in the literary sphere wrote about ordinary people struggling with daily life. John Steinbeck and Charles Dickens were two of them. They showed me that people struggling through life was a common thing. They let me know that my feelings about life were not unique to me as I had imagined. Was my attraction to those authors and their books on social justice a chicken or egg sort of thing?

As I have mentioned before I spent the first couple of decades of my life in the Catholic church. During that time I learned that being compassionate to those less fortunate was what God expected of me. I think these experiences helped make me the social justice advocate that I am.  But I do think it was more than that. While I am not currently associated with any particular faith system I am attuned to Quakerism in many respects, especially their thoughts that there is the light of God in absolutely all of us. I like to think that an important part of that light in me pushes me into social justice issues. Why am I so serious about social justice when others who had similar experiences are not?

I admit that I find it hard to understand those who seem to have little empathy for others. Those “pull yourself up by your bootstraps or die in the gutter” folks are very foreign to me. I’m sure at some level they have feelings for others but…  I have little in common with those who want to “lock them up and throw away the key” people. It is not that I don’t believe in all of us being responsible for our actions, I do believe that but I am more firmly entrenched in the second chances option.

Being a  follower of Jesus Christ or at least being a Christian I know means thousands of different things to different people but to me the only real message of Christ was to love God and to love each other. All the other messages that people find inside the words in the Bible are very secondary to me.

I end many of my posts with the words “but I’m just a simple guy so what do I know?”  That is just my way of saying what Will Rogers said about all he know is what he reads in the newspaper. I don’t have some inside knowledge about anything I post about here.  One thing I want to make sure that you understand is that there is a world of difference between being a simple guy and being simpleminded. One of the biggest insults someone could call me is simpleminded.

The dictionary says simpleminded is:

lacking mental capacity and subtlety

syn: dim-witted, simple

This definition is OK as far as it goes but to me simpleminded really mean having a lazy mind and in my mind that is the biggest problem for humanity.  It is the root cause of most of the problems of the world. Simple minded people don’t take the time to study something but instead just parrot what their favorite talking head tells them. Sometimes it is something that they have grown up with but never taken the time to see it is really true. Lazy minds drive me crazy.

I am a simple guy in that I am just not attuned to the big luxuries in life. I tasted caviar once and hated it. I can’t see driving a $50,000 car when a $15,000 one will get me from A to B just as well.  I can’t see spending $200 on a restaurant bill when most of it goes down the toilet the next day.

I am just not a high brow type of guy. Never have been; never will be. One of the ugliest things to me is a smirk. One of our recent president was very good at that and maybe that is the primary reason I celebrated his last day in the White House.  Smirking is where a person gives you the impression that he is superior to you. I totally believes that God loves the homeless guy as much as the CEO who gets millions of dollars in bonuses each year. He loves those 50,000 little kids in foreign countries who died last week of malnutrition just as much as any kid in the U.S.

I admit that I probably have more empathy than some people. I cry regularly when I see one human being showing compassion for another. Even though I am not a Catholic I swell up with emotions when I read many of the words of the most recent Catholic Pope.

I am a simple guy with a simple purpose in life. I don’t want to be famous or stinking rich. In many ways those things cause more pain than not. I thank the Lord that I have enough to eat and a healthcare plan that I can finally count on. I thank the Lord for having something as simple as good drinking water when so many other in the world don’t.

But I’m just a simple guy so what do I know….

A Paradigm Shift…..

January 15, 2014

Paradigm shiftI think I first happened upon the words paradigm shift sometime in the 1980s. Here are some of the words that Wikipedia use to describe it:

The term “paradigm shift” has found uses in other contexts, representing the notion of a major change in a certain thought-pattern — a radical change in personal beliefs, complex systems or organizations, replacing the former way of thinking or organizing with a radically different way of thinking or organizing.

Paradigm shift don’t happen very often in this world. In fact they are quite rare. Lets face it change is very hard for many of us to face and to basically throw out most of what we currently do or believe about things is near impossible!

For those of us who embrace change, paradigm shifts when they happen are generally considered good things. I don’t know if I have ever revealed that I am an avid fan of the movie “Tron- The Legacy”. I have watched the movie dozens of times and have accumulated several quotes from it. One of my favorite is:

Chaos. Good news

It seems that we at a nation mainly embrace change when it is forced on us by chaos.  Paradigm shifts only occur with the wheels are about to fall off.  There are at least two fundamental problems in our country that will require a paradigm shift and they are very intermingled with each other

Unemployment/Education

It will take a paradigm shift in American mentality to change the current trends in the unemployment rate. Too many of us are stuck in the 1960s mode where good middle class jobs were readily available to anyone. You could get out of high school, or for that matter not even finish it, and then go to a local automotive factory to get a good paying job.  It was usually a mind numbing assembly line job but it did pay good wages. Today those jobs have either been turned over to robots or exported to countries paying less than a dollar an hour in wages. They are just no longer available and will never be again.

In order to join the middle class now requires an educated work force. Someone who knows their way around the digital world and I am not talking about video games. It requires that we think in different more innovative ways than we have in the past.

Education is one of those things that still is for the most part maintained at the local level.  We all seem to think that the problem with education is what other schools have; ours is fine.  In order to change the way our kids are educated we need to come to the realization that most of them are not exceptional.

“All of a sudden, their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought the were.”

– Arne Duncan, U.S. Education Secretary, criticizing “white suburb moms” for balking at the stringent Common Core standards designed to improve education in 45 states — Time Magazine November 2, 2013 

It will take a paradigm shift to finally get our unemployment situation in hand. Until that happens we will continue to struggle with those who cannot find anything but a minimum wage job…

New Years Eve2013 will soon be another year that was… It’s time to sit back and reflect some on how this year developed and to look a little to what next year might be.

Personally

This was a year that looked pretty much like the last handful or so. Nothing spectacular but also nothing devestating. Fortunately, except for some pretty serious  (read expensive) dental work there were no significant health issues.

We didn’t get many opportunities to travel this year. I can only hope that 2014 is better in that regard.

I celebrate that, with a couple of projects, I managed to stay stimulated this year. I need constant stimulation. :)

I celebrate that my blogs did better this year than last as far as readership is concerned but nothing great.

As A Country

This year ended much better than it started. The wing nuts in the Tea Party are finally being reigned in at least to a degree. They continue to rant and rave but now with less news coverage. Their constant complaining without providing any possible solutions seems to be finally costing them the power. I never really understood how those yahoos even managed to grab what they have.  I know there are a lot of people out there that are like-minded but to me they simply want the advantages of a democratic government without paying for it.

We managed to get through the year without invading any other countries or putting thousands more of our kids at risk for political purposes. We are finally getting out of the two wars of Mr. Bush but not soon or completely enough for me.

As A World

Syria and Iran are still the troublemakers but at least they are “acting” like they want to get along.  That in itself is progress. Korea, well that is a different matter….

Where We Might Be Headed in 2014?

I don’t have a crystal ball or anything but it is kind of fun to predict the “Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” about the coming year. Take this as a grain of salt because that is really all it is worth.  :)

The Good

Due to it being an election year I don’t see the politicians in Washington getting us into much trouble.

Obamacare is coming along nicely and will end the year with many more actually supporting it.

The Bad

Unemployment will likely not drop much this year. Due to the lack of fit between the jobs, at least above minimum wage, and the skill levels not much will change for some time to come.

The Ugly

Racism and bigotry will continue to be a strong part of life and politics. An African-American president is just too much for some to handle. They will continue to do everything possible to bring him down.

Immigration reform along with several other needed advances will continue to be stifled based on fear instead of opportunity.

Our military/industrial complex will continue to gobble up an ever increasing share of our resources with almost 100% approval by our congress.

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Being highly influenced by the Quaker faith I throughly believe in the “light of God in every person”. No one’s life should be considered less than other. We need to quit calling taking innocent lives as “collateral damage” and call it what it is…..

Wearing Me Down….

December 2, 2013

DrearyI am getting worn down by all this dark political stuff around lately. It just never seems to end. I simply can’t fathom how almost half of us have so little empathy for those on the margins of our society. Why do they so fervently want to take food out of their mouths and block them from getting affordable healthcare? It seems that some will go to any extreme to make those things happen.  A few months ago when I was in a similar depressed mode I vowed to keep on going so I could, in a small way, prevent the wing-nuts from taking over our country. Even that pledge is wearing on me right now.

While not giving up the fight, at least I don’t think I am, I need to step back a little from the insanity of our current political environment. I need a time away from it to concentrate on the brighter sides of life.

With that in mind you might see some changes coming to RJ’s Corner in the near future. I will also likely be spending less time here and more over at my new “In Search Of America” blog getting ready to bring that one on-line.  It will do my spirits good to look back to see how we became a great nation instead of looking forward to see where we seem to be headed.

I am not giving up the fight, I am just giving myself a breather. Don’t really know how this is going to work out yet. It is a work in progress.

Many conservative Evangelicals who trust leaders like Franklin Graham to shepherd them faithfully in the Good News of Jesus have been swept away in the unfortunate movement to transform them from being the “People of Good News” to, quite literally, the “People of FOX News.” Franklin seems to have fallen prey to the power and platform of the Tea Party/Religious Right and has begun manipulating his father’s honorable name and ministry to promote a political agenda. This was never more clearly demonstrated than at Billy Graham’s 95th birthday celebration last week. Take a look at this photo from the event:

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Pictured here are just some of the notable guests at the celebration, including Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Rupert Murdoch, and Greta VanSustern. (This list could also be known as the Tea Party Power Players Also Note: Glenn Beck is not pictured here but was also in attendance) This picture makes my stomach churn. It’s hard to imagine that Billy Graham would ever want to host such a gathering of these extreme republican high-ballers. It s obvious that there’s more going on behind this picture.

SOURCE:  From “Good News” to FOX News: How Franklin Graham Is Using His Aging Father | Brandan Robertson | Red Letter Christians.

I have read several books by Billy Graham and have watched a few of his crusades throughout the world.  He was a religious advisor to several presidents both Republican and Democrat. His ministry was about Jesus and Jesus alone.  It totally shocks me to see what his son Franklin has done to Billy’s ministry.  He seems to parade his senile and very aged father around to promote his political agenda. That is something that his father absolutely would never have permitted when he was of sound mind and body.

I know that by converting his father’s organization over to an extreme right political agenda probably brings in more money from the radicals like Murdock, Trump, and all the Fox News ranting heads but what are the consequences?  I pray that someday Franklin is held accountable for totally tainting his father’s lifelong ministry for more power, money,  and political gain for himself. How tragically sad is that??????

oxygenI’m not sure where I first heard the phrase in the title but it rings true to me in both our international and our political processes. When someone makes a very crude attempt to make a shoe bomb we immediately make it front page news and then spend billions of dollars to guard against it. It seems that by talking about terrorism so much we are actually causing much of it to happen.

When we give all the nuts out there their “15 minutes of fame” we are actually encouraging more to come forward.  When we give so much attention to some of our very seriously unbalanced congressional representative  we are actually increasing the chances that one of them will cause our country to reach critical mass of meltdown or even destruction.

Terrorism is 95% publicity and 5% actual action. We need to lighten up some and not be fixated by it.  There is no such thing as a typical terrorist other than someone trying to strike fear into us for one of a myriad of reasons. The motive for that fear can come from almost anything. What did Bin Ladin and Timothy McVeigh have in common besides having a warped sense of reality?

Given our 24/7 news channels now it would be hard to not make every one who decides to buy a gun and go out and shoot people the center of national attention. Being able to so easily obtain the weapon and then get so much attention when you use it  just makes acts of terrorism way too easy in today’s world. How do we go about making it harder?

  • One way would be to make it harder for someone to get a weapon. That of course is gun control and sadly it seems that not enough innocent lives have been lost yet to spur that action. Even the killing of dozens of five-year-olds are soon forgotten!
  • Another way is to quit sensationalizing the killing events. If the news media actually showed the bloody bodies and mayhem that the killer caused instead of focusing on the killer himself maybe others would not seek the fame in that way. Or at least we, as a general public, would be spurred to actually do something about the violence.
  • Of course another way would be to make it easier to spot those imbalanced people who create most of these terrorist’s acts. But how do you do that and still maintain personal liberties. That is a very difficult question to answer…

Many if not most of my conservative friends seem to base their political posture on fear. They are anti- anything that changes their version of the country. Their fear is so pervasive in their actions. But what do they fear the most??? That is probably a question that has a myriad of answers but let me give you my beliefs about it.

2013-11-02_17-01-58The Tea Party is anti almost everything. But the thing that they most loathe is our current president. They see him as one of “those people” who are not like them.  They see the future of the country in his heritage. Here are some words from a recent email from Jim Wallis about that.

In only about 30 years, most Americans will come from Africa, Asia, or Latin America. Most Americans will no longer be white, and many white Americans are clearly not ready for that profound demographic change in their country. That white fear of who “we” Americans will be is at the heart of resistance to immigration reform. Many older conservative Republican and Tea Party voters are acutely aware of being “white” in a country that is becoming increasingly a “minority.” Congressional voting districts have been oddly gerrymandered along racial lines to protect dominant racial majorities. Shutting down a government that they believe to be too generous to minorities becomes an urgent matter. “Obamacare” becomes the great threat of government providing medical insurance disproportionately to poor people of color. Giving food stamps to poor families becomes another racial flashpoint for conservative white voters.

Finally, a black president becomes the most hated symbol of the demographic changes they most fear for their country.

Questioning Barack Obama’s birthplace and parentage, calling him a non-Christian Muslim, naming him as a “foreigner” and not a “real American” are all ways to define this president as “the other” and not one of “us.” The hatred goes far beyond Obama’s policies and extends to his personage as the wrong kind of American. Obama shows them they are losing elections, and they fear that means losing “their” country.

I know this is a very sensitive topic and I am trying to speak with that sensitivity in mind. When Lyndon Johnson dared to push through the Civil Rights laws of the 1960s the South was for the most part in the Democratic Party.  The Republican party which was the party of Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation up until that time had little appeal to many in the previous Confederate States. But the Civil Rights laws pushed all the “Dixiecrats” over into the GOP and that is where they are still firmly entrenched. They became the new base for the party. If you don’t understand that then just look at the red/blue maps of our country.

I believe that much of the Tea Party “principles” are based on things we just don’t want to be visible. It is kept firmly under the surface in today’s politics. No, am not painting with too broad a brush here. I understand that there are other factions who have also chosen to hitch their wagons to this Tea Party movement. Some have a nobler agenda and some probably not. But to ignore that racism plays a strong part of the Tea Party agenda  and their vitriol hatred of an African-American president is in my mind just not facing reality.

So many Republican politicians go to the extremes to placate their base.  Maybe it is time to jettison those angry folks and look for a new and certainly more noble foundation. I would certainly support them in that effort.

On my self description to the right here I claim to be a passionate altruist. I want to expand on that statement and also ponder those who seem to have an opposite view of the world. First let’s look at a couple of definitions:

Altruism – the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others

Empathy —  understanding and entering into another’s feelings

These two descriptions are a major part of my being.  I unashamedly shed  tears when I witness those who are struggling through life with one affliction or another.  While mine has not been nearly as severe as others I can most often put myself into their shoes and understand their struggles.  The second thing that is paramount to my being is my belief that Jesus Christ came to earth to teach me how to have life and have it to its fullest.  Also to the right I claim to be a “follower of Jesus”. That is I am totally convinced that he intends us to follow his examples and teaching while we are on this earth. I’m not sure which came first, they both appear to be part of my nature.

When others are concentrating on celebrities, sports jocks, or others of authority or wealth I am watching waiters, manual laborers, especially those trapped in a minimum wage job.  While others rail against all those “takers” out there I am doing what I can to help those in need. Yes, I recognize that a small minority of people who are on various public welfare roles are gaming the system to get something they don’t need or deserve but I will never be willing to deny help to all the ones who truly need it in order to prevent those few from taking advantage of the system.

I see so many self-proclaimed Christians out there that let their fear control their behavior in this regard. But then again I also see far too many who focus on God’s supposed wrath rather than his love.  I see God loving every being that he created and wanting all to eventually come to him while others see a god who is watching them every second to find an excuse for condemning them to an eternity of pain and extreme suffering.  I guess our worldviews are dictated by which man-made version of God we believe in.  As for me I will alway live in the shadow of a loving God not in fear of a god of wrath and vengeance .

Concern for others, hopefully always above self but aware that that is not always the case, and understanding another’s feelings is my driving force in life. I could just not live in that other worldview of fear and hatred especially when it comes to my spiritual self.  I will try to understand that those who follow the opposite tract are mostly living in fear instead of love. I will always try to pray that they someday will understand that and give themselves over to the light that is within all of us….

This was a very deep and emotional post for me but for some reason I needed to say it….