I Don’t Recognize It…

Like many, my life changed significantly on November 8, 2016.  Also like many, I went to bed that night with a sinking feeling in my stomach – the aftereffect of an election result I never saw coming.  That feeling had little to do with my political sensibilities, and much more to do with my human side.

I accepted long ago, and well appreciate, that roughly one-half of the people reading this hold beliefs in matters of economics, militarism, religion, and education that are contrary to mine.  That there is such a balance of opposing opinions in this land, and that it ebbs and flows the way it has for a couple hundred years, is testament to the integrity of the Greek foundation of our society.

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Still, on November 9, I woke feeling a little dazed, a bit sad and somewhat of a state of shock.  Through the next couple of days, I began asking questions of myself, and answering them honestly – and being honest with myself has ever been my strong suit.  With each question I asked myself, and with each subsequent answer, I could feel my values taking deeper root, and solidifying in a way they had not previously flexed.

The two primary questions I asked myself were these…

  • What is truly important to me today…?
  • What was important to me yesterday, that is no longer important today…?

It is truly illuminating, what can be learned from answering those questions.

I asked myself, and continue to ask myself other questions derivative of the two questions above, but those two are the heart of the thing.

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The answers to the first question were few – less than 10, and I wrote them down so I can look at them each morning as I drink coffee and build my day.  I have been resolute in constructing each day since November 9, around the answers to that question.

The answers to the second question were more numerous, and I’m still writing them down, as that list of answers still grows.  Identifying what was important yesterday, but no longer is, is easy.  Eliminating those behaviors from my day-to-day actions, well, that’s an ongoing challenge, but one I am also committed to.

As I watch the behaviors of the man we elected, and who is now the 45th President of The United States Of America, I have a steady reminder of how I wish not to conduct myself, how I wish not to be seen, and how I wish not to be heard.  I expected that from day 1.  Politics, positions, and platforms notwithstanding, it’s my opinion that a man representing 300-million people should conduct himself with a little more decorum – a little more professionally, as most of his predecessors have.

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What I didn’t expect, and what most reading this might find offensive or even insulting, is that so many of the behaviors from people on both sides of this election, have affected me more than I would have imagined just 6 months ago.  That is, the behaviors of my teammates, as well as the opposition are eating away at my good moods just as much as the behaviors of the man on Pennsylvania Avenue.  I have never been so disappointed in so many people all at once.

Before one suggests that I’m looking to live in a world of rainbows and unicorns when it comes to the murky waters of politics, I am not.  I’m in favor of argument, disagreement, satire, lampooning and even insults when the time is right, when it is deserved and when it is tactfully done.  However, I don’t recognize what I’ve seen unfolding in recent months – it’s as though somebody spiked the national water cooler, and we’ve left our sober brains back at our cubicles.

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I’ve found at least one bright spot in all of this is, thought it is small relative to the entirety of the problem, but it is a bright spot none the less.  I have never worked so hard, nor been so committed to improving my behaviors when it comes to discussion.  In that sense, I’ve never been less ashamed to be myself or to be 100% honest while discussing politics, and I have become a committed listener!   For a Jewish kid raised on demerit slips, with a lifetime social anxiety disorder, that’s saying something.

We may not all agree on military, economic or education policy, but we should be able to discuss it.  I hope at some point we’ll agree on how we should conduct ourselves as a people when we disagree, though I see few signs among my social contemporaries that this will happen anytime soon.  I look to my daughter’s generation though – I hear her speak, I see how she interacts with her friends, and I see hope for more intelligent discussion down the road.  Still, I hope folks my own age and older can settle down just a smidge – speak a little more intelligently, and listen a little more attentively.

I think of that old locker room adage, you know, grab ‘em by the decorum…  Jhciacb

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The Morning After…

On the first Sunday after the election of Barack Obama in 2008, I found myself in church.  I know, I was surprised too.  It was a conservative church, in a conservative demographic, with a conservative yet mindful pastor.  The pastor, a thin man in his 40s, began to speak.  I’m quoting this word for word because I still remember the moment clearly…

“I know a lot of you are here this morning with heavy hearts” he said…

…he continued,

“For many here, the election did not have the outcome we desired.  I want to remind you this morning that he will be our next president.  The people have spoken, and it is on our best interest to stand for what we believe, but to respect the will of the people and to respect the office.”

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It didn’t surprise me that he spoke these words, again, he’s a mindful man or I would not have been there.  What did surprise me though, is what happened while he was still speaking those words.  He got booed, and by more than a handful of angry congregants.  I have witnessed much in my life that has shaken my sensibilities.  I have never though, seen a pastor get booed by his congregation.

If it had ended there, I might write it off to an emotional response during a vulnerable time in our culture.  However, in subsequent days the pastor received anonymous threating emails and letters.  Though his job was quite secure, there were some on the church’s board of directors that confronted him about his statement.  They suggested to him that it was ill-advised.  A few even tried to push him out, while some attempted to cajole him, suggesting he resign, despite his success in growing that church.

Eight years later, I am glad to say he still leads that church, and remains one of the more mindful evangelical minsters I have ever known.

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His words that morning though, and the congregation’s reaction, have resonated with me ever since.  That unsavory moment is bubbling in my mind again this week.  I am reminded that as a species, we tend to be at our very best when things are at their very worst, yet there are always exceptions to this. Those exceptions can be cancerous.

Emotions run strong.  Passion is the worst kind of social lubricant, and I am reminded that some of the worst choices ever made were made under the influence of inspiration.

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Stop.  Wait.  Observe.  Respond intelligently.  Conduct with decorum.  This is all I can do this week.  Be well…  rc

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If you are not already a subscriber, please scroll up and do so.  Tell your friends about me — about what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Simple Minds AND The Stranglers..  Enjoy!

Fat Dogs, Niebuhr, and Tomorrow…

No Time For Obese Dogs…

I sat down this morning preparing to pose a question on social media about the responsibility humans have in stewarding obese dogs.  This after an exchange last week about who is responsible for canine obesity.  My stance is that, much like obesity in humans, pet owners bear only a portion of the responsibility for canine obesity.  That is, dogs like humans, are subject to increasingly complex food, pharmaceutical, medical, and social systems.

Though humans do have some say in the obesity of their dogs, these systems are probably also influencing canine obesity, though not to the level that the same systems are influencing human obesity.  To a lesser degree, canines are also susceptible to the economic and media systems which influence humans, though the freewill thing which humans relentlessly pander to, probably doesn’t distract dogs too much.

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I’m thinking, too much bread in his diet….

I chose not to post my original question on social media though, because I realized it would have done nothing more than set anchor to a line of convoluted and irrational arguments that would chain me to my laptop for hours.  At the end of the day I thought, we’re all caught up in an endless web of systems anyway…

Three Wise Men…

In his book, The Religions of the World (formerly The Religions of Man), Huston Smith suggests,

We need to remember that in their own day, prophets are not seen as prophets.  To most, they appear to be fringe thinkers, not to be trusted, and often irrational.  It is only those few who follow them, and with the posthumous spreading of their ideas over time, that elevates them to prophet status.

As they walked and spoke in their own communities, men like Jesus, Confucius, and Muhammad did not command the attention of too many, though they did make some noise.  It was only after death, and by those few who valued their ideas who worked to spread those ideas, did they become elevated to prophet status.

I have been reading (some of) the works of Reinhold Niebuhr recently.  Niebuhr is hard to classify.  He was a Christian theologian and educator.  He was a prolific author, a public intellectual, a sounding board for other intellectuals, and an occasional advisor to heavyweight political figures during his time.  Though he considered himself a socialist Christian, and since both of those terms today have been hijacked and mutated, I will argue that Niebuhr was the ultimate conservative by the real meaning of that word.

Portrait Of Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr

A portrait of the American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971), United States, mid-20th century. (Photo by Bachrach/Getty Images)

I came to Niebuhr by way of Chalmers Johnson and Andrew Bacevich, both of whom draw on Niebuhr’s moral and diplomatic sensibilities in their own works.  In his book The Limits of Power, Bacevich refers to Niebuhr as a prophet at least a dozen times.  Chalmers Johnson suggests that if every nation had a Niebuhr whispering in the ear of its leader, there would be no need for NATO, The United Nations, or military bases beyond domestic borders.

All Systems Go (Where They Want To)…

Among other things, what the works of Bacevich, Johnson, and Niebuhr reinforce to me is that principled ideals, however impactful their potential might be, are not going to immediately override systems which are already in place and aimed in a forward direction.  The best we can hope is that reasonable ideas take root, and are cultivated over time to gradually steer the trajectory of a system.  The civil rights movement, still in progress, is a good example of this.  If we take an honest big picture view, it’s clear that prophets make good helmsmen on the initial watch, but communities need to keep steering once the prophet is no longer around.

Americans are caught up in all the systems of modernity; technical systems, political systems, cultural systems, economic systems, and many others.  Whether we are talking about obese canines, the military industrial complex or international diplomacy, and whether we consider ourselves passengers, components, or victims of the systems which carry us, I am reminded as our presidential election draws near, of the two flies believing they control the horse who’s ears they stand upon.  We are driven, and we are bound by systems.

Vote The System To A Slight Turn…

Like many, I often think voting doesn’t matter and I don’t trust any of the candidates.  I do though, believe that voting is a responsibility and it’s one I take very seriously.  Perhaps my vote this year, which will go to the most Niebuhrian candidate on election day, will help steer the modern political system just enough toward a new direction that we can pass it off to a more reasonable generation, who might spread the word of Niebuhr’s prophecy and steer us better still.  Of course I’ll need the help of 100,000,000 or so like-minded friends to make this happen.

Before you vote this November – before you decide on a candidate, a platform, or donate any more money or your own sensibility to a cause, please consider reading The Irony of American History by Niebuhr, The Limits of Power by Bacevich, or Blowback by Chalmers Johnson – all 3 if you have the time.  It’s time we steer away from America’s imperial ambitions abroad, and that we take a good look in the mirror.

I gasp at what is taking place with the current presidential race, but realize the idiocy of it all is a reflection of our culture at large – of the systems we have set into motion and make no attempt to steer.  It seems clear to me that we could benefit from a new prophet to help lead us out of our Idiocracy.  As Bacevich calls for a Niebuhrian revolution, I stand alongside him in hopes that someone – anyone will listen, learn more, and help spread the word.  If not Niebuhr, perhaps David Brooks.  Be well…  rc

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We are just one or two elections away from President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Comacho…

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If you are not already a subscriber, please scroll up and do so.  Tell your friends about me — about what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Dave Alvin.  Prettiness and such like that.  Enjoy…

On social cancers, building walls, and establising legitimacy…

No real cancer answer…

I have believed for some time that the future of humanity depends largely on religious tolerance.  I believe that through my very core.  To say the same thing from a less optimistic direction, it is my opinion that religious intolerance is a social cancer metastasizing, and preparing to deliver a slow and excruciating and death to mankind.

Of course the conundrum in that scenario is that humanity’s cancer can’t be treated or cured by a select few practitioners such as priests, popes, or prime ministers.  For this cancer to be cured it will need to be an effort in which the entire congregation opens their minds and steps outside of their comfort zone.  Let the followers lead, and the leaders will follow.  Well, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Cancer: Real pretty from the outside...

We can see this pattern unfolding in other areas of life as well – everyday, and all around us.  Divisions in nations, politics, the sciences, and social issues in the media are increasing as time expands.  Chasms extend.  Harder and faster lines are being drawn as cultures and subcultures push further apart, and shore themselves into deeper isolation.  As these divisions become wider, the walls separating them become more important to those behind the walls.

Let’s face it, we just need somebody to fear – or somebody to hate…

Chasms in lesser places…

There is an increasing divisiveness in the fitness communities as well. We have clean eating vs. IIFYM, Yoga vs. Pilates, Paleo eating vs. Mediterranean eating, barefoot running vs. ultra-stabilizing shoes, P90x vs. Tai Chi, and CrossFit vs. the gym on the corner.  Of course, these are just light examples of such divisions.  Hard and fast lines are being drawn, walls are being built, and unwitting insurgents are being bread by way of the social media with each new week, and with each new trend.

Think about it: the ways that fitness factions use their constituencies, information, and the media to increasingly establish their legitimacy is not too different from the ways religions, nations, and causes use their constituencies, information, and the media to establish their legitimacy.  There is a blurry line though, between establishing legitimacy, and creating isolation.  Just look at around…

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”

Oh, and when you’re done, can we please recycle the materials so we can build a new wall in Gaza, or in Texas…?

We'll teach those barefoot runners who's in charge!"  And I wouldn't want my sister to marry one...

In fitness subcultures, unlike in national or religious identities, loose borders are first established by the followers of organic trends such as barefoot running.  As an organic trend catches on and increases, speculators identify the trends and see them as profit centers.  They then seek to take control of those borders, redraw them, and depend on those who initially carved them out organically, to take protect them.  The followers of the organic trend have then become followers of a corporate trend, and the organic subculture dissipates in favor of a for-profit trend. Then again, maybe that is how happens in states, nations, and faiths…

The leaders of fitness business trends don’t scare me as much as the foot-soldiers who guard these borders do.  The followers, or devotees, of many modern fitness movements are the militia of these fitness factions.  Like other militias, these people often don’t even understand the flexibility of the borders they strive to protect, yet they make the most noise, and throw the first gas cocktails when feeling threatened.  Many aren’t too willing to try and understand the other factions.  Hope fades in fitness, as it does in Gaza.

“For this cancer to be cured it will need to be an effort in which the entire congregation opens their minds and steps outside of their comfort zone.  Let the followers lead, and the leaders will follow.”

Getting good with groups…

There must be some reasons that life, in biological and in social terms, unfolds in groups rather than in singularities.  We have multiple languages, corporations, skin tones, species, radio stations, landscapes, faiths, and fitness pursuits.  Life varies.  There is simply no denying the divisions of life that we live among and between.

I teach a very specific style of strength training.  I see a great deal of utility in what I teach and I’m proud of how I teach it.  I don’t, however, see it as absolute.  Nor do I see what I do as a good fit for everyone.  It’s a good fit for those who see it as a good fit for them.  So too should be Judaism, Hinduism, and Catholicism.

An open mind is a dangerous thing, and must be stopped in our lifetime...

In this age of increasing divisiveness, I don’t find it surprising that people may not agree with one way of eating vs. another way, or of one way of exercise vs. another.  What does surprise me though, is how passionate people become about disagreeing with others.

Building walls and screaming through them is our new national identity.  It just seems to me that channeling all that passion into understanding others, even if we disagree with them, might be a better use of our energy.  I guess I would also like to see that applied to the way we view nations, faiths, and causes as well…  Be well.  rc

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Please check back in two weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there is this from the Replacements.  Enjoy…