A Friday To-Do List

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Jesus, Matthew 6:34

It’s Friday.  Here in Nashville, it’s slowly warming, leading to what should be a glorious weekend, weather wise.

Enjoy it.  It is a gift, and it costs nothing.

Whatever is going to happen is going to happen, whether you sit obsessing over it or not.  Your representatives have never voted differently because you went out bowling instead of watching them on CSPAN.  Trust me on this one.

Do you have someone who loves you?  Hug them.  Look into his or her eyes.  Make it your personal quest to make them laugh.  Then hug them again, and thank God for the gift that is Love.

If you don’t have someone – remember, love is an active verb.  Go find someone, just anyone on the street will do – and love them, seriously and earnestly.  You will feel your worry and pain begin to lift.  Love kicks worry’s ass, every time.

Laugh, and do so defiantly. 

Dabble in silliness.  This is the real stuff of life.  Time is short – don’t waste it with “seriousness”.  The devil invented business and politics so we would be too distracted to have pillowfights and make S’mores.

Dare.

Seek out an enemy or rival, and tell them what you admire about them.

Concentrate on being thankful for the parts of your body that are working, rather than dwelling on the ones that aren’t.

You have genius in you.  Use it and show it to the world.

Ask for help if you need it.  Then, help someone else.

There are troubles in this world, so many troubles.  Sometimes, I feel all the troubles I see like a heavy weight.  Hoewever, they were here on earth long before we arrived; they will remain when we have departed.

Whatever is going to happen today will happen.  Let it be.  Realize what you can’t control, and stop trying to control it.  Instead, work on the things you can control.

Laugh.

Love.

Strive.

Feel Wonder.

Love some more.

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Important (Conclusion)

Remember this scene from City Slickers?

 

It endures because it is funny.  When we are young, we laugh at the absurdity of this speech being given to a group of little kids.  When we are older, we nervously, knowingly laugh at what we know all too well to be true.

It’s not the greatest movie ever made about a mid-life crisis (that distinction belongs to The Incredibles), but it is a very good one.  IMHO, Curly’s “One thing” soliloquy is not too far from the truth.

We must view this crazy period in life as comedy, otherwise the themes would be too harsh to bear.  I’ll never forget late one night in the 70’s hearing Kansas’ Dust in the Wind on the radio.  As the guitar faded and Steve Walsh vamped, the DJ’s first words were, “Hey, dudes, lighten up!”

We are all that way.  We’d rather not face the fact that, without some kind of transcendence, the life that we were so in love with in our youth – is meaningless.

Every person has to face this fact when he gets about my age.  I am absolutely convinced that King Solomon was having a mid-life crisis when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes.

I absolutely LOVE this book.  It speaks to me, at this point in my life, like no other. Yet, it is probably the most passed-over book in the Bible.  On its surface, it’s incredibly depressing (like Billy Crystal’s speech).  Except for a hippy-trippy song by The Byrds, the book remains mostly ignored, even in sermons.  Christians and Jews would much rather present a positive view of life – the kinds found in other portions of the Torah and the Bible.

Yet, I love it for two reasons: it provides a backdrop for our happy ending that appears later, and it holds up a harsh mirror to the belief of people who say that this world and these lives are all there is. Like the picture of Dorian Gray, the youthful, vibrant picture of life they try to sell us is revealed as a lie.  Any meaning they try to assign to this life is revealed as bull.

Solomon helped us get to the point where we could find what’s really important by stripping away what is not important.  The world introduces a lot of noise that must be filtered out before we can get to the truth.

Riches?  Solomon was rich beyond measure, yet when he surveyed it all, he deemed it meaningless.  It could not fill the hole in his heart.  He knew that he would leave it all here when he died, and in the end, it would all be for nothing.  I discovered the same thing.

Pleasure?  Solomon was king – his will was the law of the land. He could do anything he wanted, take anyone he wanted, deny himself nothing.  During a period of his life (probably his young adulthood), he filled his days with the pursuit of pleasure.  He found that it was good at the time, but always left him feeling empty, needing the next fix.  It gave him nothing tangible and of lasting worth.  I discovered the same thing.

Wisdom? Solomon was wiser than any man who had come before.  Yet, although his wisdom mostly prevented him from doing stupid or evil things, it did nothing to change the hearts of his subjects.  They still murdered and stole and lied – he could not “outsmart” it.  He could not fix the world’s woes through education and “awareness”.  Even HE continued to mess up from time to time.  AND – his wisdom showed him the truth: the grave awaits the wise and the ignorant.  Wisdom is nice to have, but it will not save us, nor will it give our lives meaning.  I discovered the same thing.

But there is another theme throughout the book: there is nothing new under the sun.  This view is only possible if we take a step back from our busy lives and take the “longer” view.  If we see the entire sweep of history, even eternity, and if we take out the particular, we can see that the same things happen over and over again, generation to generation.

We usually do not see this, because we are able to convince ourselves that our present concerns are unique and of extreme importance.  If we take a “long” view, we realize how silly we were to get all worked up over things that didn’t really matter in the long run. 

Every generation acts as if it is the first to discover that war is bad and sex is pleasurable.  This tickles me.

It also tickles me how, throughout history, mankind has convinced himself that he has evolved from his savage, ignorant beginnings.

Have you ever considered our behavior concerning global warming? (This is NOT a scientific criticism, I leave that to smarter people than me.  I’m more interested in people’s behavior).  Let’s be clear: it gets hot in the summer.  Tornadoes happen in the spring.  Hurricanes have been plaguing the seas in the late summer since the dawn of time.  Some areas flood, some have drought.

Yet, we are convinced that we are unique, that our times are unique.  We take our secular sages’ and prophets’ word for it and so easily embrace the concept that weather that has been happening since the dawn of time is happening because we have done something wrong and made the mountain god angry.  Oh, we are too sophisticated to call the great force of vengeance we worship a ‘god’, but sociologically, our language and behavior are no different than the ‘savages” who quake at the rain and make sacrifices to appease their angry god.

There is a freedom, a kind of peace, in stepping out of the temporal and seeing the longer view.  It allows you to clear the noise and get to what really is important.  You notice things.

When we started this journey, I highlighted the critical issues of our time, and why the 2008 election is the most important election in my lifetime.  Read them again and ponder them, for they are of extreme importance to us all.  As we are reminded often, history will judge us, and our children will never forgive us if we choose unwisely.

The only problem is, those issues aren’t from today, they are from 1972.

Read them again. There is, it would seem, nothing new under the sun.

And, let me tell you, when I think of my father and his advancing years, when I try to earn the right to tell the story of his life, I couldn’t care less how my father voted in the “overwhelmingly important” election of 1972.  I try, but I just don’t care if he voted for Nixon or McGovern.  It really doesn’t matter to me as his son.  It’s just not something I think about.

I think about how he manned up when he became a young father.
I think of how he loved his wife with the intensity of one whose life depends on it.
I think of how he loved John Denver, and the Eagles, and Jim Croce.
I think of how he once literally ran into a burning building to save my brother.
I think of how he never gave up on me, even though I was very strange and hard to love.
I think of how he never quit on life, even though life threw more at him than most people can bear.
I think of how he loved nature (especially the beach), and could never be at peace until he was out of the city.

I remember autumn cookouts and summer trips to the mountains or the beach.  I remember ALL the sporting events he went to, no matter how tired he was.  I remember a love for fried eggs over medium and chocolate covered cherries. I remember how he has never been above a little silliness every now and then.

There is so much more, and my fervent prayer is that we will still have lots more time, and hopefully we will get have enough talks so I can fill in the blanks of his story. 

I might even get around to asking him how he voted in 1972.

In City Slickers, Curly tells Mitch that the secret to life is finding that “one thing” that will make your life meaningful.  I have found it, and that allows me to laugh at the truthfulness in Ecclesiastes without despair.  I’ve made no secret what my one thing is, but that’s a conversation for another time.

But I’d like you to think about what is important, and what is not.  What will your loved ones (and others) think about as you pass to eternity? 

Find that, and hold it like a precious jewel.

Thank you for indulging me in this conversation.

Important (Part 6)

Anyone who has read this blog or my comments anywhere knows that I am absolutely schizophrenic when it comes to wisdom and knowledge.  I have quite the love/hate relationship with the concept of knowledge and education, for its own sake.

One moment I come across as an pompous, know-it-all blowhard.  The next, I’m all Will Rogers, spouting anti-intellectual populism.

But, hey, we don’t all come out of the womb in the form we are now.  Many things have contributed to this strange personality quirk of mine.

Always, always in the back of my mind is the mindset of someone raised in a blue collar family.  I will always have a part of my mind that takes a utilitarian view of education.  One goes to school to learn skills that are applicable for a specific career, along with a few other life skills.  Anything else is just wasting time, the sort of thing rich folks do to keep from getting bored.

The funny thing is, any close examination of Maslow’s hierarchy will tell you that my dad wasn’t too far off from the truth.  I seriously doubt my sharecropper grandfather had too much time or inclination to devote to pondering Jean-Paul Sartre’s theories of existentialism.

Yet, once I entered my teen years, I discovered that not only was knowledge for its own sake fun, but that I had inherited my mother’s gift of being an effective communicator.  People were drawn to what I had to say – and I really loved the feeling of that.

So, I became an “intellectual”, as I understood it at the time.  I purged my southern accent.  I joined the forensics and debate teams.  I read all the great works of literature, kept up feverishly with current events, delved into intense study of the Laws of Logic and the great philosophers.  I never allowed myself to lose an intellectual argument (and this was years before the internet!)

I was, in retrospect, an insufferable little snot.  It’s a wonder my dad did not drop kick me across the living room when I would start pontificating at him like I was God’s gift to knowledge.  He let me know one time that he didn’t appreciate my talking down to him; the funny thing is, I had no idea I was doing it.  It was then that I decided to pull back, and attempt to put knowledge and intellect at the proper place in my life. 

I’m still working to find that perfect balance.

Now that I’m getting older “wisdom” has become more important to me than “knowledge”.  I think that any person over 35 has an innate desire to be seen as wise. (Just as any person under 35 – and beyond – has an innate desire to be considered “attractive”).  An I’m not alone.  Read any blog of a person around or above my age; the tone is that of a wise sage pontificating.  It doesn’t matter the subject or the political bent.  We oldsters flash our nuggets of wisdom as wantonly as drunk coeds flash their breasts at Mardi Gras.  And for the same reason. 

My religion places an utmost importance on study.  Without getting into any debates about sola scriptura, let’s just say that my particular flavor of Christianity has as a fundamental tenet that belief HAS to be informed by study of scripture or it is the blind belief that nonbelievers love to caricature.  We have to know what we believe, and why we believe it.

It amazes me how many people who profess belief in Jesus Christ have very little idea what’s in the Bible.  It also amazes me how dirt poor, uneducated people can possess masters-level knowledge in soteriology, biblical exegesis, eschatology, and other high-minded concepts.

Now that I’m a parent, my relationship with knowledge seems to have come full circle.  We have ordered our household so that learning is just something we do every day.  Instead of Nick and MTV, Discovery and the History Channel rule at our house.  We make regular trips to museums (science and art), and it seems like we are constantly looking stuff up on the internet. (This usually starts with “Dad, why is it that..?” or “Dad, where do xxx come from?” – search engines are really overworked at our house)

Most importantly, Lintilla and I view ourselves as our kids’ primary educators.  Their teachers are subcontractors, but we will always be the primary contractors.  So, our kids take the absolute opposite view of education than I did at their age.  Education is not a means to a career, per se, it’s just something that we do.

But, I also want to pass along a sense of perspective to the children.  Knowledge is AN important thing, but it’s not THE important thing.  Education does not make the heart of man any less evil.  For all our advances in science, technology, and “awareness”, mankind still treats itself pretty much the way it did 3000 years ago or more.  In fact, one must always be careful to weigh an intellectual concept against existing moral concepts.  As Vicktor Frankl (psychiatrist and holocaust survivor) once said:

If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone. I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment–or, as the Nazi liked to say, of ‘Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.

This is not to say, obviously, that I think that education makes one evil.  I believe that evil is a subtext of human existence.  It is within us all, and we can’t educate ourselves out of it.

Important (Part 5)

Hoo boy.

Zaphod turns 12 this October.  Trillian is 10 and a half.  Zaphod has the cutest little peach fuzz starting to grow above his lip.  Trillian is “sprouting”.  Both of them are moody, snarky and snippy in such a fashion that the only way to explain it is that hormones are starting to get to work in their bodies.

I even see it in little things.  My early risers are slowly starting to stay up (and get up) later, no matter what time I send them to bed.  Both of them are starting to develop their own taste in music.  Trillian, who has always kept me at arms length since she was a baby, now has started to warm to me; it’s a shame, NOW that she’s older and somewhat heavier (but still with a bony behind), she wants to sit on my lap all the time.

And now it seems like the subject constantly discussed at our house is sex (and other worldly pleasures).  Oh, we still talk in generalities concerning the plumbing of sex, but we’re pretty specific about the morality and effects of it.

Even more shocking is that I constantly seem to be issuing warnings concerning those pleasures.  When did I get to be such a fuddy-duddy?  Especially considering the fact that I’m pretty fond of pleasure myself.  But, it is what it is.

I’ve somehow become the parent who sucks all the fun out of everything.

The world will entice them with one night stands, frat parties, buffets, pot, and lots of shiny things.

What they hear from me is pregnancy, disease, date rape, hangovers, weight gain, health problems, car payments and credit card bills.

Come to think of it, I’d roll my eyes at me, too.  I’d be surprised if my kids don’t grow up convinced that I think sex is dirty and fun is evil.  If they only knew…

Anyway, I think I do this because I know that all of this will fall on deaf ears very soon – if it isn’t already.  Very soon, no matter what I say, the pursuit of pleasures of all kinds will be the overriding theme of their lives.  It will not fully subside until the hormones start to decrease when they get about my age.  Hopefully, my admonitions will be in the back of their minds when the right moment arises.

If I could say what I really want to say to my kids about pleasure, I would say this: It is a wonderful sail, but a horrible anchor.  It can give your life enjoyment, but it can’t give it meaning. 

For a while, the former will be enough for them.

I do not think the pleasures of this world, even the desires for them, are inherently evil.  I do not think the “consequences” of acts that bring us pleasure are “punishment”.  I do find it interesting that nothing pleasurable in this world seems to be without price, but that is just one of the mysteries of the universe, and a far cry from the concept of vindictive “punishment”.

I do, however, think that most people (including myself at times) get lost, and lose the ability to put the pursuit of pleasure into its proper place.  It becomes our Master – and ironically, pleasure is possibly the cruelest Master of all.  It has been said: meaninglessness comes not from being weary of pain, but from being weary of pleasure.

It’s such a cliche: moderation in all things is key.  This is the reason we try to protect our children from their desire for pleasures when they are in their teens.  It isn’t until they are in their twenties (if even then) that they have the ability to enjoy life’s pleasures in moderation, and with the proper mindset.

So, for now, I get to continue being a hypocrite to untrained eyes.  I love a good hearty breakfast, I drink beer (sometimes a little too much), I enjoy the female form in general and Lintilla’s in particular.  I chase Lintilla around the house whenever the chance arises.  I imbibe in pretty much all the world has to offer, within the proper boundaries.

And I issue a whole lot of warnings to my children about these very things.

Important (Part 4)

My adult life as been one long love-hate relationship with “stuff”.

I’ve spent a lifetime collecting my stuff.  It clutters my house and gives diminishing returns on the pleasure I thought I’d get from it, yet I still clamor for more, half the time not knowing I’m doing it.

I’d like to invent a new word; there needs to be a word that describes the phenomenon where you leave Walmart in frustration because you realize there’s nothing new and cool there for you to buy – you have everything at the store somewhere in your house.

I am guilty in the worst way of materialism, and I don’t just mean my routine of lustily perusing the Best Buy circular every Sunday.  I have subconsciously bought into the idea that there is an amount of money and stuff I can acquire that will equate to happiness.  Or, if not happiness, security.

I know intellectually that neither can be had through any means on this earth, especially “stuff”.  But, my heart and subconscious betray me, and I succumb to the thought that the folks on Madison Avenue pay millions to get me to think:

If I only had x, I’d be happy.

How many lives have been ruined by this one thought?  Wasn’t it the emotional root of the current mortgage crisis?  How many have bought houses they couldn’t afford, and then they had to fill them with fine furniture they really couldn’t afford because their mortgages were so precariously arranged?  How many credit card balances are carried forward to pay for a closet full of hip, funky shoes (I’m sure the RIGHT people were impressed with those!), or the latest electronic gear – when the card holder had perfectly good existing shoes or electronics in working order?

How many marriages have been ruined because someone thought, “If I only had a new relationship with x, I’d be happy”.  “If that sexy, young person were only attracted to me, I’d be happy.”

How many of us wise guys have convinced ourselves that if we just arrange our lives so that we are “secure” – that we won’t fall prey to the coming crisis like all those other suckers – that we’d be happy, especially saying “I told you so”?

Every day, God tries to remind me that the “if only x, I’d be happy” mindset is totally flawed. 

In the store, my heart races as I think about buying the new item I’m looking at.  I envision what I’ll do with it.  I feel a type of euphoria as I’m paying for it.

I get it home, and I enjoy it for a few days.  But then, the euphoria wears off.  Then, I hate the item.  I hate that I spent so many days working to get the money to get it(or I’ll be working may days to pay it off), and now I’m just looking for a place to store it, because it’s messing up my house.

Why can’t I ever learn the greater lesson from this? It’s happened a million times or more in my life!

Then there’s the whole economic “security” thing.  I can tell you, there was a time when you could ask me if one day in the future I’d make the money I make now, have the amount I have saved, have a paid for house, investments and insurances for almost every situations, that I’d feel secure and “happy”.  Let me make one thing perfectly clear: the more you have, the more you worry about what you have.  Call this a character flaw in me, but it’s one I share with all humanity, whether humanity wants to admit it or not.

And the impulse isn’t even true.  I’ve lived long enough to know that “security” is an illusion.

Many do not want to hear this.  Even we do-gooders have convinced ourselves that if only the poor had a closer amount of money or stuff that the rich have, they’d be happy or contented, and the world would be perfect.

I am rich by no means (as I am constantly reminded every time I pick my kids up from school).  But I’ve acquired enough to tell you that it’s all crap in the end.

This knowledge is not depressing  – it’s liberating, believe it or not.

Energy Sustainability: The American Approach

So, everybody is talking about gas prices, many times in crisis-couched language. 

[Sigh]

I want to get something straight before I move on: I am on your side, dear reader.  I would like to see the US be energy independent, I’d like it to be the most energy-efficient nation on earth.  I’d like to see us have the lowest per-capita production of greenhouse gases of any developed country (even though I’m sort-of a skeptic in the global warming area, I really just want the Europeans to find something new about the US to whine about).

I’m on your side OK?

Now, let me shock my conservative friends, and maybe get back a little goodwill with Southern Beale  …

When it came to energy policy, I’d say that Jimmy Carter had things about right.

Excuse me…

…OK, sorry, had to take a shower after that. 🙂  Seriously, I’d say policy-wise (on energy and energy alone) Carter understood the problem and was WAY ahead of his time.  In fact, I think he could have gone farther.

Have I become a liberal?  Should I sign up for my “Yes We Can” bumper sticker?  Hardly.  Carter was doomed to failure, as any approach by HRC or McCain would be (and maybe Obama – but he MAY be the man to pull this off, I don’t know).  You see, I think what Carter’s approach represented (along with this post by Mack) , is a profound misunderstanding of what makes Americans tick.

We Americans will conserve, for a good cause.  What we will not do, at least indefinitely, is hunker down.

We just don’t do it well.  Yes, there was rationing during WWII.  But my grandpa used to tell me stories.  People whined and complained the whole time.  People cheated when they could get away with it.  Had the war gone on another year, there probably would have been outright rebellion.

I think that what turned my generation off most about Carter was the feeling of hunkering down that flowed though all of his policies, not just his energy policies.  I remember the whole misery index thing, and the “malaise”. 

Remember when he said this?  “I think it’s inevitable that there will be a lower standard of living than what everybody had always anticipated… The only trend is downhill.”

You just don’t say that kind of stuff to Americans.  Only people who don’t understand Americans (individually and corporeally) say things like that. 

Now, I have recently learned that a majority of bloggers are pessimists, but I can tell you from a lifetime’s worth of experience and layman’s study that the majority of Americans are optimists.  Heck, I’d go so far to say that the majority of us are dreamers.

How do I know?  Think about it.  I don’t care what Michael Savage says, people do NOT emigrate to America to get on the dole.  Britain, Germany and France may have their share of that kind of immigrant, but that’s a fairy tale here.  Have you ever spoken to a first generation American?  They are dreamers, every darned last one of them.

I’ve said it before: America is an optimistic country because that’s where all the optimists went.  And it’s in our national DNA.  Yes, even in the poorest neighborhoods – I’ve spent my fair share of time in fellowship with those in poverty (albeit those who are overtly Christian and filed with a certain kind of “joy”) – I hear more optimism than I’ve ever heard in a crowd of college aged suburban kids.

That’s why I believe in American exceptionalism.  NOT that there is something morally superior about our country, or that God blesses us more than other nations.  I think America is exceptional because the majority of its people are optimists and dreamers.

Now, this national character causes us to make some profound blunders from time to time, but it also means that we, as a people, will bravely dare instead of…well, hunkering down.

We alway eventually rebel against walls and ceilings and fences.  Always.  I love that about America.

So, you want energy sustainability, energy independence, lowering of greenhouse gases?  Do not approach the problem as a problem, but a contest.  Americans will sacrifice ANYTHING in the name of winning a contest.

The space race is a good example.  Americans normally do not shine well to runaway government spending, and there was a little complaining at the time, but the idea of BEATING the Russians to the moon caused the people to overlook differences over the insane spending that was neccessary to get to the moon.  To this day, we still consider it a good investment, mainly because, well, we beat the Russians.

The Russians are still pretty good bad guys, but I think that we need new villians if we are going to come together and get energy independent.  And, the middle eastern countries are not powerful enough to be boogeymen (not to mention the fallout from declaring a cold war on Islamic countries).

No, if I were the president, I would name the Chinese the enemy, and I would couch a goal of energy independence as THE way we could kick Chinese ass.  One, China really is the biggest long-term threat to the superiority of the US on the world stage.  And two, the people that run the country are very, very bad guys.

Finally, if America were to become the most fuel efficient on earth, we would have an economic advantage over the Chinese (they have fuel costs, too) that would far outweigh their advantage in labor costs.  If we want to stay number one, we need an advantage.  Energy indepenence is it.

Have a goal?  The answer with Americans is to ALWAYS appeal to their optimism and competitive instincts.  Asking them to hunker down is just a good way to lose elections over and over again.

Celebrities

I’ve seen it four gazillion times lately:  Britney Spears is the poster child for the downfall of modern American society.  There are serious things going on in the world, but the news is reporting the latest exploits of various celebutards like Lohan, Hilton and Spears.  We are most certainly going to hell in a handbasket.  Back in the day, we took national and world affairs SERIOUSLY, and did not obsess over celebrities.

 Really?

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Well, our uncles and aunts ushered in the age of Aquarius.  They didn’t obsess over celebrities.  Ummm…

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Keep readng, I’m not done yet!

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