Friday, April 29, 2005

"We must take care of these before they attack!" Posted by Hello

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


With all the business of our lives we often take for granted the numerous conversations that transpire throughout the day. Perhaps if I were not alone they would not hold so much significance, but many times they do. When one has no special purpose for existing other than survival and consuming material things there is little to distract them from their thoughts. The true treasures of life however are mostly non-material.

I find that casual conversations are like pools of water in a desert. Each one provides intellectual nourishment. Some may call it small talk, but I find talk very big. Equally stimulating however are the periods of silence. It is not the moments, it is the creative ways in which we use them and whether we appreciate them. The carefully crafted response to someone’s comment or opinion can determine the course of the conversation. Whether it becomes an intense argument or a gracious commentary on the plight of humankind is truly in the way one frames their words. Knowing when to be silent and when to challenge another is an art in itself.

Welcome each day’s encounter with the critical eye of a newborn child. Before forming an opinion and blabbering forth some careless presumption, listen to the complete context of the conversation and offer some delightful tidbit of information, or perhaps a pondering question.

Understandably, not everyone can delight in conversation. Alas, I once suffered the paralyzing affects of introversion. Shy and timid I rarely could engage in social commentary. Yet, I did evolve to a more modest and reserved character that occasionally participated in self-expression.

Today, some may say I am overbearing and opinionated, or even garrulous. To those who are limited in their ability to express themselves that may appear true. Yet, I do not interrupt or dominate the conversation, nor do I act insolent or rude. As far as I can tell, I just enjoy initiating a topic and actively debating an issue. Some are conversationalist, and some are not, the later may find my behavior offensive.

There are many issues at hand to clearly start a conversation, yet there are many times I am at a loss, such as meeting new people for the first time. Whether one debates the current politics, religion, relationships, families, work or daily struggles, many conversations have started with a mere comment on the weather.

Sharing our lives somehow validates our humanity and allows us to keep our perspective. We need to tell a friend of a new movie or purchase. Sometimes we have doubts, or question our reasoning, and need a second opinion.

Often however I bring the same old conversations up when meeting strangers; what do you do? Are you married with children? Why are you here? Where are you from? It sometimes seems trite. Much like taking a familiar road to the park, we make all the same turns and stops, but once we get there, we realize there are many new things to explore.

Yes, I do enjoy my conversations. If not for any other reason than when I finally shut up, I can truly enjoy the silence once again!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Conservative Myths

Obviously, some Conservatives in this country would like to spread lies and half-truths about the Liberals to deceive the public about which party supports their beliefs. This article, shall point out some of those myths and reply to them with actual personal experience. Although one persons experience is insufficient to indicate an actual trend, it does negate the use of qualifying terms like all, always, or other generalizations in an argument. It has been disturbing to see the blatant use of stereotypes and generalizations in depicting Liberals. Just like there are different degrees of Conservatism, there are varying degrees of Liberalism. Some Conservatives would like us to believe that all Liberals are immoral, lazy, socialist, welfare recipients, unpatriotic and many other derogatory adjectives that describe the worst of humankind. Perhaps that description could fit some Liberals, but very few. Similar comparisons could be made for the Conservatives. There are some individuals in the Conservative right-wing branch that could be labeled hawkish, fascist, racist and greedy, but most are not, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, not the extreme.

I am Liberal and have worked since I was 12 years old. My older brother and I both had a paper route until we were old enough to work for regular wages. With the money we earned our father made us purchase our clothes, school books, lunches, and any other expense his single income could not meet. As a family, we were considered lower middle class. Father came from a farming family. He tried farming himself, but was not successful. He often gave many reasons for his failure; few were due to his own poor decisions. I am not saying it was easy. There are many factors during that period that contributed to many family farm failures. Since he was not likely to return to college because there were no student loans available at the time, he did what most Americans did at the time to provide for his family, he took a job in a factory (foundry in his case). For a while that was sufficient to meet the demands of the family. Prices climb however, and families grow. He was soon working two then three jobs to support the family. Eventually, mother had to work also. I appreciated the years mother spent at home, the younger siblings were not as fortunate. After some years we became a family of seven. I had two brothers and two sisters. We were all raised to be hardworking people. One had to swallow a lot of pride to accept a hand out. Few in the family ever had to accept unemployment or welfare, most never have. There are times, however, that some have had to rely on the governments assistance to get back on their feet. Surprisingly, most of those family members are Republican. Try not to judge their hypocrisy however, they most likely are ashamed of their failure and want to disassociate themselves from the reality. Denial is a survival mechanism.

Therefore, let us discuss the myth that Liberals are lazy, most are not. My life was a series of unsatisfying jobs and poor career choices. Like many, I trusted my school counselors to place me in a rewarding career. I thought drafting was that path. Unfortunately, I also thought it was necessary to get to engineering, it was not. After four years of drafting in high school, I could not find a job in drafting. CAD/CAM had eliminated the need in the community for the board drafter. Four years of wasted education.

I soon discovered that one must be careful which career they choose because it could be obsolete by the time they finish school, markets shift and technology advances. I tried to complete an engineering degree for many years by working part time and going to school full time, but it was too much to handle. There was trouble finding enough time to study and often fell asleep in class. I then tried going to school part time and working full time, but it often was interrupted with lay offs or downsizing. Eventually I joined the military like so many others given few options. We may be all created equal but we definitely are not economically equal. Not all of us have the same options available.

Do not get me wrong, I am not complaining about what happened in my situation. I still think this is a great country in many respects, but I know that my situation was not unique. People struggle with finances, career choices and family problems every day. The point is that there are times when spite how much effort one exerts there are forces working against their success. Some are strong enough to overcome those obstacles on their own. Others are fortunate enough to gain the support of a loving family. Some have neither strength nor loving families, and those people need government assistance to overcome certain obstacles placed in their paths.

After spending nearly six years in the U.S. Naval Submarine Service, I thought I would find a stable career in electronics. Oddly enough, I chose to move to New York City where the economy was much higher. The reasoning was that if I could save 10% of my income it would grow much faster in New York than other places. Moreover, I had a good friend coax me into moving with him there, last of the great bachelors. It took some time to locate an electronics position, but I did have some curious careers in the interim as an artist, security guard, fishmonger and truck driver. The experience in New York City was probably the most enlightening experience of my life. I often worked long hours and was always trying to find better pay for my talents. Luckily, I was talented in several different ways so finding jobs was not as much a problem as finding a good paying job.

Although the pay looked good to me, it was often insufficient for a single person in a city where housing and transportation cost were extremely high. Most of the time I worked more than one job to make ends meet. I was never able to save any money, in fact I lost all $10,000 I saved while in the military. After a few years I became depressed and lonely. Miles from my family, best friends with a person that was more interested in dealing drugs than my well being, I eventually broke out on my own.

My ship came in when I received a call to get paid for double what I was making before as a temporary hire through an agency. Greedily, I accepted the position and mistakenly thought my problems were over. After six months my contract was renewed so I made some long over due purchases; a new car, furniture, clothes, and stereo. I was shocked and dismayed to find my contract was relinquished two weeks later leaving me in a financial crisis. I worked two and sometimes three jobs for over a year and a half trying to reduce my debt. Unfortunately, most of those jobs paid much less and my health was deteriorating. After much soul searching and anguish, I sought professional guidance. An attorney recommended that I file bankruptcy to alleviate my problem and start fresh. I was sad, but happy to be able to live again, living under threats and harassment is not living, it is hell.

The truth was that the employer would not pay what I felt I was worth and cancelled the temporary contract. It was a temporary worker to perm position which I was making $20 per hour as a temporary worker, all I wanted was $13.46 per hour. They would not go above $11.06 an hour. I had left a job paying $12.00 an hour so it was not reasonable to ask for less. Therefore, although some of the blame for financial failure was mine, had the employer met the minimum requirements, I may not have had to file bankruptcy and pass the burden on to future consumers. I was not being greedy since what I asked for was well within what the market was paying at the time. It was the employers greed to get something more than they were willing to pay for that caused the economic disparity. As it turns out the company was sold out to several different owners before it was eventually broken up and sold for a profit by some Wall Street robber Baron. Oh well, I learned my lesson the hard way. Nothing is secure.

The fact is that I was the top of my class in the military and received three letters of commendation for my ability to troubleshoot and maintain electronic equipment. That should be worth more than entry-level wages. After I went into bankruptcy and eliminated some of the financial burden I worked just one job for a while. It was in the fish industry supplying wholesale and retail fish to the Fulton Street fish market in Manhattan. The owners were a little scrupulous and possibly connected to organized crime, so I finally left out of fear for my life. Up until that point in my life I had never went without a job for more than a few weeks. That year however I could not find what I considered suitable employment. I was afraid to stay in another career other than electronics for too long or my marketability would diminish. I therefore was out of work for over a year.

Being unemployed for over a year was one of the most depressing times in my life. Emotionally it was draining and paralyzing. Every time there was a glimmer of hope, it was swept away in despair. People that draw unemployment are not lazy nor do they choose to be there because it is easier than working, which is a myth. Anyone who has drawn unemployment can attest that it is more rewarding to be working even at a mediocre job than subject yourself to rejection after rejection on a daily basis. The truth is that there are specific choices one must make when accepting certain jobs. Placing just any job on a resume can be career suicide. One must make discernable choices to better their future. Unless employers are going to take responsibility for repositioning laid off workers in the market place, then the government will have to bear the burden. Otherwise, a misplaced worker is going to cost everyone more all the way around by way of crime, loss of consumer capacity, and health care.

Another myth some Conservatives would like for us to believe is that Liberals are immoral. Supposedly, they are equivalent to Atheist. That is just simply bogus. I was raised Christian most of my life. Admittedly, there were some times in my life I questioned the teachings of the Church. There are often hypocrites in the pews, but a preacher once set me straight and I started going for myself, not the congregation. He stated that a Church is a hospital for sinners. It is a place for people to come for spiritual healing. My most significant revelation came about the time I had ran out of unemployment and gave up an addiction to surrender myself to the will of God. In a moment of true depression and thoughts of suicide I decided to give my life back to God since I had already given up and was about to cast it aside anyway. From that day forward I promised a vow to God that I would attend Church to hear his word in exchange for him getting me out of my deep sorrow and hopelessness. It was a striking moment that I will never forget as long as I live. I suddenly became aware that Jesus had died for all my sins long before I had reached this moment in time. The simple realization that he had taken all my guilt, all my sorrow and all my pain upon that cross was an uplifting experience. Although I had been told numerous times and paid several therapist for diagnosis of my depression, nothing seemed to effect me until I made that prayer in a time of total despair. The best way to explain it was that I surrendered my ego and gave my life to Jesus.

The transformation to exercising my faith was very liberating. The attitude went from what can I get from the world to what can I give to the world. I decided to investigate what talents and resources I had that could help others. Although, I had only two dollars in my pocket and no prospect for employment I decided to stop thinking about my problems and help someone else with theirs. My next experience solidified my faith.

I had passed a small white church many times while walking to the subway when looking for work. On this particular Sunday I heard music and noticed that service was about to start. Since I only had two dollars and was about to purchase what food I could, I realized it could wait a while longer. I entered the Church to discover to my amazement that there were only a dozen or so people in the congregation. I recall that I was concerned that America had become so immoral that no one went to church anymore. Quietly I took my place in the pew near the back. To my astonishment the sermon was about the woman who gave Jesus her last two dinar which he commented was more than all the others had given combined since it was all she had. Without much concern I was compelled to give my last two dollars to the offering and pray for guidance from God. Now I was not typically social, but once the service was over I hesitated to leave. I soon found the few parishioners exchanging conversation with me. They invited me to fellowship in the church basement. Hungry as I was I accepted. The warm genuine concern these people had for a stranger was overwhelming. I soon told them a brief summary of my situation and were I was from, when they offered me various small jobs that they were no longer able to do. Most of these people were elderly and were more than happy to pay someone to help. Before I left the church I had three odd jobs lined up which not only provided for me, but more importantly made me feel good because I could help them.

That Church helped transform me into a compassionate Christian. I volunteered for the soup kitchen, we housed the homeless in the basement and I volunteered to sleep over with them, and I helped teach some Sunday classes. I also helped do repairs and carpentry around the church and parish. The preacher became a good friend as we talked much about life, politics and religion. I hated to leave him behind when I moved back west. Not surprisingly, he was a Liberal as well.

In my conversations with the homeless, I discovered that many of these people were made homeless when Regan cut social services. Some had mental problems, others had addictions and some were much like me living check to check when they lost their jobs and benefits. A large portion of the mental and addiction problems was Vietnam Veterans. Since this was one of the few shelters for single men, there was no women or children, although some did have family members elsewhere. It really upsets me when people who have secure jobs, homes, family and loving friends make judgment of people like the ones I came to know. They came in all shapes and sizes, various stories and situations. Do these critical people actually feel superior by attributing the tragedy of these people to a simplification of them being lazy? It is one of the most asinine statements I have ever heard. Do I elect to help these people in the hour of their need because I am immoral? Another asinine statement if you ask me.

If anything, it is those who judge others that is immoral. Jesus said it was not our place to judge the sin of others. His father’s kingdom allows the chaff to grow with the wheat to be separated come judgment day. Jesus is the one who shall judge. Jesus taught compassion, tolerance, love and understanding. He even went as far as warning those that judged by the law as missing the point of the law. In other words, you cannot mandate morality any more than you can change the past. People have their own relationship and timetable with God. When it occurs is relative to human experience. The best we can hope for is to share our own experience with others that are seeking it, and pray they see the light in it. This is what Jesus did!

Finally, I would like to say that some Conservatives believe it is unpatriotic to question authority. Yet, it has been our heritage to challenge the status quo. The country was founded on revolution. Freedom of speech and religion are two of the basic rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Exercising them is one of the most patriotic acts available. One can disagree with a war and still be patriotic. One can be in agreement with a war and still be patriotic. Patriotism has nothing to do with social or political issues; it has to do with the love of ones country. Not to say it is synonymous with ethnocentrism, the belief that ones nation or culture is superior to all others. One can still have patriotism and not believe they live in the best of countries. I am reminded of the typical redneck response to people who disagree with their point of view, “America, love it or leave it!” Somehow, it over simplifies what is truly at stake. As a Liberal I believe we need to question all things and criticize any laws that oppress or suppress the rights of others. Freedom does not mean I live in a vacuum and that only my beliefs are free. We must respect the rights of others to exercise their rights within the confines of their property. When it is public property however, we must respect all people, cultures and beliefs. Those that are threatened by other cultures, people and beliefs have an unhealthy view of the world and need serious medical help. As long as those cultures, beliefs and people do not perform any malicious, harassing or harmful act upon the other person, there is no reason to feel threatened. Just because someone has an opposing view does not make them threatening.

In closing I would like to say that there are some out there that would like to place fear in people to manipulate them. They play on fear for personal gain. The promote hate, fear, and ignorance hoping to divide a country that has much more in common than differences. We all want happiness, security, and health in our worldly relationships. We just seem to get confused along the way. Believe me when I say I have several conservative friends that share many of the same compassionate, loving and positive beliefs I do. Yet, some want to focus on what separates us rather than what unites us.

Monday, April 04, 2005

One Fine Day

Thank you Father, Church and Shrine
Your daily bread and glorious wine.

Somber chimes and choral delight
Joyous elders and holy sight.

Alter flowers are all in bloom.
Fresh pressed suits, lady’s perfume.

Children laugh and babies cry.
We give God praise from low and high.

The Holy Spirit fills the pews.
Warms the heart to hear good news.

Friends share stories out the door.
It’s times like these that I adore.

This is all I have to say.
Sunday is just one fine day.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

A Letter to the Church

I was a Christian before I even knew I was a Christian. As a child, I innately understood the deference between right and wrong. Often in times of anguish, I turned to my heavenly father for spiritual guidance. Since the source of most of my childhood woes came from my own biological father, my relationship with my heavenly father was a very significant one. I must confess however that it took many years before I completely accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Although one is taught something, they are not automatically a believer. I listened to the stories and parables of Jesus’ life with the usual skepticism, but God had his own timetable for me. Although I often discounted the imposing inquiries to my spiritual beliefs as mere ramblings of people pursuing justification for their own shortcomings, I did not realize the significance of their witness until many years later when it all climaxed at a critical juncture in my life. However, when that life-transforming event did happen it was not because of the angry judgmental zealots that tried to persuade me of my sinful ways, but those genuinely sincere individuals that offered guidance through sharing of personal experiences, the ones who did not pass judgment but offered love, acceptance, and support instead.

Today we have too many Christians that are clueless to what Christ was all about. They seem to not understand the difference between the Old and New Testaments. Many have chosen to revert to the Old Testament ways of mandating morality through law. The Jesus I learned about questioned the merits of law when those that fully abide by it still lack the spirit of it. Jesus did not personally challenge the laws of the times, nor did he raise a sword to topple the status quo. He was not a lawyer or a soldier, a senator or zealot. He accepted all of this world, and spoke only of his Father’s Kingdom. In his Father’s Kingdom were many things, like love, faith, hope and mercy. Yet, some Churches today speak little of this and more about judgment, righteousness, justice and morality.

It has become a sad day when Christians fight among themselves over what defines Christianity and oppress the very ones Christ sent us to reach. I do not quibble over what rituals or customs each denomination chooses to exercise, for all the wild flowers in the field, we each have our favorite. There are many Churches, but only one God and hence Christ. Let everyone find his or her place where the word of God is heard not despised. Yet, we must understand that what works for us may not for another. Further, I have been a practitioner in many Church denominations; Lutheran, Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, Nazarene, Mormon, Presbyterian, Assembly of God, and even Catholicism. I see much more in common than divisive, yet we focus on the differences. I fail to see where the fact of whether I am sprinkled or dunked in baptism will condemn me to hell. Likewise, whether I speak to God through prayer or the Pope has little significance. What is important is the way of my heart. Can I love my enemies, forgive the wicked, be loving, generous, compassionate, kind and merciful.

We all find it to easy to cry for justice, ask for vengeance, strike out in anger and lie to ourselves about our own self-righteousness. As a Church, we are dutifully obligated to check these attitudes at the door. Yet, some Churches seem to be advocating that kind of behavior. These Churches challenge the authority on many moral, political and legal grounds. Some people in these Churches see themselves as crusaders to define Christianity, morality and justice. I see them as wicked! For only the wicked do these things in Christ name. Christ himself said that he was not here to judge the world but to save us from our sins. Only Christ has the authority to judge as he sits on the right hand side of God for this purpose. Jesus evens warns us about judging others and that it would be our own undoing. Yet, many leaders of many Churches seem to profess themselves as Christ and throw light on sinners.

Not only do these whited sepulcher Churches perverse their own congregations, they have poured money and marketing into pressing their own vane and wicked agendas. The Church has no business in politics or vice versa. Much of our history has shown us the consequences of mixing religion and government; burning of witches, Spanish Inquisitions, and Religious persecution (Holocausts).
Alarmingly, however, this past election of president Bush has shown us the ebb of power these ultra right-wing neo-conservative groups are having on the population and how fragile the human psyche truly is. The very people they placed in power have undermined many of the programs developed to help the poor and disenfranchised. They have changed laws in the name of morality that have immoral consequences. They have become very cunning at deceiving the public and convinced them to cut their own throats. Every day more people fall below the poverty level while some corporate executives continue to reap record profits. The economy continues to flow overseas while disposable income declines within our borders. The disparity between rich and poor widens, healthcare and education cost increases, and people are stripped of any recourse due to scrupulous employers and products (Bankruptcy and Lawsuit restrictions).

The more time goes by, the more I am convinced that the Anti-Christ will be someone claiming to be a Christian. What I like to call “The Immaculate Deception.” Perhaps a Born-Again Christian will convince us we are righteous in feeling anger, hate, and fear. Maybe I sound a little off the wall, but then let’s not forget Hitler and the Dark Ages!

I pray the Church will start speaking out against all this political activism and leave God’s word where it belongs; in the Church and out of the Presidency. I would like to think most Christians understand that marriage is between a man and a woman under God, not on a piece of parchment along side the Declaration of Independence. Like Jesus taught us, law is nothing if it is not in your hearts.