Thursday, January 26, 2006

Baby? What Baby?

Mention religion these days at your peril. We are bombarded by images of Dominion takeover, court stacking, zealotry and the unsupportable Intelligent Design from one side, and belief of persecution, attack by secular hedonism and being the only party of faith by the other. We’ve been handed our positions by the dividers, not uniters; it’s time we lost the blinders.

It is no more true that all Republicans think Pat Robertson makes sense that it is that all Democrats are athiests.

Unquestioning acceptance of religious stereotypes according to party affiliation is a dangerous path. Entrenchment along these lines leaves little room for acceptance and growth, both as a nation and as individuals undertaking journeys of faith.

Jews are encouraged to constantly question their faith. Christians know that to rail against God is beginning of learning. Seeking, questioning, arguing and acceptance are part of every major faith on this planet. Most of those faiths are at home and welcome in their quest, here, in America.

An American is Christian, or he could be Jewish, or Buddhist, or Muslim. In fact, there are more Muslims in America than in Afghanistan. The only difference is that in America they are free to worship as each of them choose.

An American is also free to believe in no religion. For that he will answer only to God, not to the government, or to armed thugs claiming to speak for the government and for God. — Peter Ferrara, George Mason University School of Law

What I fear, and what motivates many faith based groups nationwide, is the potential backlash against religion caused by this insane manipulation of faiths for political gain; thowing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. When we see Intelligent Design stuck down in the courts, we need to maintain objectivity. This attempt to teach unsupportable theory should not be in the classroom; striking it down sent a great message. The message, incidently, is NOT religion is bad, go back and hide in your hole, you nut-jobs!

So what is the message? It’s simply that the steps towards faith need to be sought, questioned, argued and accepted elsewhere. School is not the venue. There is a place for religion in school, however, and its place in the curriculum is critical.

Human history is inexorably intertwined with the journeys, by billions, towards faith. The incredible gains in human interaction, the sorrowing loss of millions of lives due to religious manipulation and persecution, and the ability to grasp and understand inferences in literature and nuances in socialization cannot be understood fully unless some working knowledge of religious history is part of the student’s filter.

We need to be careful that in an effort to quash things like Intelligent Design, we lose site of the value of insightful coursework like “The Bible and Its Influence“.

Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, says the textbook, which is promoted as an examination of the Bible’s influence on
literature, art, history and culture, successfully keeps religion out of public schools. The center is a non-profit institute that promotes constitutional freedoms covered by the First Amendment.

“If you’re considering a Bible elective, look at this textbook,” says Haynes, who helped review a draft of the book with 41 other scholars, including Christians, Jews and agnostics. “They’ve done a Herculean effort to make it as constitutional as they could.” — USA Today

I happen to know quite a bit about this project, as a family member of mine did a large chunk of editing on it. The effort to keep a historical, verifiable perspective was paramount. I have a great deal of respect for this work; I hope my kids have an opportunity to tackle this coursework and the inevitable questions it will raise. I’m not afraid of questions. They’re part of the quest for knowledge. They are also a crucial part of testing and building faith.

The correct position to take with religion in schools is not to look at how to bend facts to conform to religion, but rather to study religion’s far reaching impact on the continual development of the human race. It’s in our art, our music, and our literature, it affects our perceptions, our decision making and the stucture of our society. God is, literally, everywhere.

Regardless of our personal stance on spirituality, we cannot deny the influence of religion on the development of individual and societal humanity. Thanks to the efforts of dedicated, intelligent and frequently faithful scholars such as those involved in “The Bible and Its Influence“, we can keep the growing baby and lose the stagnant bathwater.

Crossposted at Bring It On!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

In my Heart

Shadows are falling and I'm running out of breath
Keep me in your heart for awhile

If I leave you it doesn't mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for awhile -- Warren Zevon

I used to think everybody has a person in their life that causes their mind to stretch into a new realm. I know now that people like that are unusual and considerable gifts. You get them for short time, and that time is your measure of what you can absorb and develop into something new.

I am a person of faith. I am also a skeptic of organized religion. To me, this makes perfect sense.

Organized religion doesn't reach me. The sermons do not hold my attention, nor do they dictate my behavior. Yet, I felt that both those things were the ultimate goals.

Reading about the intentions of Christ on this earth speaks volumes to me. I feel in my core that this is the measure in which the evolution of humanity is hinged. We will plateau unless we reach a level of love for each other that mirrors the love Christ enacted towards the least fortunate.

Gertie showed me through the way she went about her daily life that public and private piety were not exclusive. Her example, which began with the day and ended when she laid her head down, was a true example of taking the teachings of Christ, be they humility, kindness, selflessness or love, and simply living them. In pain for nearly 50 years, she endured. When she stumbled, she tried harder, when she saw need, she filled, when she saw hurt, she loved. In all things, she laughed, loved, and lived with lively interest.

Her faith was a strength, and her goal was to just be more like Christ -- more loving, more accepting, more humble, more appreciative. These qualities helped raise 10 amazing children, and they in turn marked the starting point for yet more loving families as grandchildren grew up and flew away into the world.

A tiny woman of sheer strength, self possession and determination won my heart and admiration. Losing her leaves me once again with a book in my hand, questions in my heart and a jaded eye.

It also leaves me with a flesh and blood example of why the journey is worth it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

It's the Money, Stupid

Abramoff Week has been interesting, to say the least. It's quite a feat to span the country with your crime spree, which leads me to believe Jacko has more staying power than, say, the Downing Street Memos. While equally damning, there's something about buying a company without any real cash, pilfering it with abandon, then starring at the ceiling whistling while the guy you bought it from gets snuffed, that has all the guilty appeal of good trashy novel. Mickey Spillane, anyone?

When Jacko went to Washington, however, is when the sex scene hit. Who need rules in today's Washington, anyhow? Jest goin' wid da flow, kid. This Washington iz open fer da bidness, doncha know. I gots me some gen-u-wyne goods here, and all I needs is a little grease. Bend over, baby, it's votin' time!

Quite the page turner, eh?

If there is anyone out there who doesn't get how completely Jacko is about to screw Washington, here's a primer:

Since 1998, the amount of money spent on lobbying has doubled.

Lobbying in 2004 ran to 3 billion. That's about twice what we spent on campaign finance. Herring, anyone?

"Our report reveals that each year since 1998 the amount spent to influence federal lawmakers is double the amount of money spent to elect them." -- Roberta Baskin, Center for Public Integrity

Approximately 250 former agency heads and members of congress are lobbyists. It pays, apparently, quite well.

And the paperwork? Oy Vey. Nearly 14,000 documents that should have been filed are missing; nearly 300 individuals, companies or associations lobbied without first registering; more than 2,000 initial registrations were filed after the allowable time frame; 210 out of 250 top lobbying firms failed to file one or more required document; and in more than 2,000 instances, lobbyists never filed the required termination documents at all. -- Center for Public Integrity, Lobby Watch

The fourth estate is cottoning nicely to their role of enablers. It's almost sickening. We saw 10 stories on campaign finance for every one about lobbying. Makes you wonder if the press is dining and hitting the links, too. Thank God for blogs.

Lobbyists spend a lot of time on the hill, with 17,300 companies lobbying the House, and a mere 17,200 lobbying the Senate. By comparison, a measly 2,000 companies lobby the Whitehouse. Must be why George has time for so many vacations. What a relief. I thought it was a question of attention span.

During the day, I spend my time keeping books. You keep books long enough, and accounting patterns emerge. Corporations develop their own cultures. Some are very above board, others put the payment amount in tiny type and the payment plus the penalty in big type. I always assume bottom line projections reflect the profit center resulting from holding all the money of the customers who don't pay attention. I feel pretty confident in that culture, it'd be up to the customer to notice they paid too much.

What's happening in Washington is a culture, too. We've got legislators who can influence direction, and corporations who want a variety of things that will enable them to make more money. Regrettably, these things often pollute, adversely effect the economic prosperity of workers or the prosperity of a country dependant on a robust middle class. Are all corporations bad? Hardly. But for some (Lockheed Martin, Altria Group, AT&T, Verizon, PhRMA), there's a definite culture at work, and in the last six years they've lobbied their asses off. (Can you hear me NOW?) I'll repeat it: Since Clinton, the amount of money lobbyists spend to influence votes in Washington had doubled. Doubled.

Things grow in a receptive environment. When something doubles in size rapidly, the culture must be conducive for it to do so.

Rapid, unchecked growth burns out. Maintaining the pace forever is just too much; the organism can't support it. Washington has been in a free-for-all state for too long; it's gotten sloppy. The real gift here is that so many lobbyists are former politicians; this group knows how to cut a deal.

Hellooo, Jacko. Wanna do lunch?

When the party busts up, we'll have a finite window to fix it. Sitting politicians will make the former politicians turned lobbyists out as the bad guys, but I think that's, in the vernacular, a load of hooey. So should you. When you pull a piece of meat out the fridge and it's green, do you assume the rot is just on the surface, or do you throw the whole mess away as a bad risk?

We're dealing with green meat, and the green money that drives it. As long as the next election is the whipping post every politician is tied too, the will of corporations will take precedence over the will of the people.

So, here's my two-cent solution. One Term and Out. President, 6 years. Senator, 8 years. Rep, 4 years. One shot at the money. No re-election campaigns, no need to raise insane amounts of money, no need to cut deals today for war chest cash tomorrow. Stagger elections so the congress is populated with new and experienced people, but no lifers. The original concept of Civil Service was to attract smart, patriotic people to "serve" a term for the country and then get back to their business. Coupled with campaign finance reform (that doesn't attempt to muzzle blogs while letting bought and paid for corporation-style news opine unmolested), One Term and Out could literally change the way Washington does business. Perhaps even put the trust of the American people back into the equation. Make our governance accountable to the people, for the people.

It's not a democracy if your representation is, literally, out to lunch.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Stepping Up

I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity. -- Gilda Radner

I must take a week or two to be 1000% with my family. I will be back, and we'll tackle more stuff, but for now, that is where I need to pour my efforts.

If you pray, ask God to watch over Gertie. She's very special. He'll know who she is.