Category Archives: Random Acts

The New Pope

Apparent that I was going forward on full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, friends and family would volley questions my way as if I’ve become an expert in theology. What about purgatory, salvation through grace, the Immaculate Conception?

Last week, just before my confirmation, my mother tossed out a softer question: what did I think about the new Pope, Francis? After a little thought I provided the following answer:

Hey Mom,

I don’t know a lot about Pope Francis but I can definitely tell you that he is way better than the guy who used to be pope…me. Popes may be elected, may be martyred, may be canonized and may even resign. But my pope was fired. He is no longer pope. Thank God.

James

Cut Hillary Some Slack

It should not be a surprise to everyone that my politics and world view and that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton anti-correlate. Whereas I think that the traditional role of women (and men for that matter) is one of the most important elements of our society we routinely discard to our self-destruction, most laud her non-traditional role as a model for women’s empowerment. But that’s a topic for another time and on this post I would like to increase the overall entropy of my blog by (gasp!) defending her.

For the greater portion of her public life, she has enjoyed a level of media favor that her lesser conservative counterparts would only dream about. Because she represents the liberal-feminist ideal, the liberal media will often morph their own truth around her own incongruence. But lately she’s been a bit of a target for something outrageously stupid—what she does to unwind. Photos have emerged of her and a dozen of her female associates living it up at a discotheque in Columbia (South America) with a few beers and some likely outdated dance moves. It should be noted that the beers were being consumed straight from the brown, long neck bottles in the most non-traditional, unladylike fashion.

Well I’m appalled.

Personally, I don’t want to see my Secretary of State on DWTS or staggering sloshed but let’s stay on topic. Mrs. Clinton has a tough job in world full of evil and discord. I think I like her in this role much better than as U.S. Senator, First Lady and (please, God, no) President.  If she needs to cut-loose in this way, leave her alone. I’m surprised it was only a few beers. If it were me, I’m not sure I’d stop at one given the assignment.

But more important than the media’s reporting on this non-incident is the response of the public. If as a conservative, you jump up and down shouting “Aha! Aha!” remember how the media blows out of proportion the events of Sarah Palin, Ann Romney, Michelle Bachmann and the lives of conservative female figures. And, if as a liberal, you chide the media for blowing this out of proportion, remember how you respond when conservative role models are being unjustly lampooned, demonized and raked over the coals by boneheads like Lawrence O’Donnell, Chris Matthews and David Lettermen.  Do you applaud, promote it and approve? Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?

Don’t demand fairness and civility in the public square if you are only demanding it when it’s your candidate.  What good is that? In the vocabulary of the information sciences, the entropy of such responses is zero.

Eroding traditions of the Arctic

In a generation or two, the traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic will have been eliminated, more or less in the manner that they have been eliminated in the U.S. and other Western Nations–through the pied piper of wealth and abundance.

Read about it in this article from the Guardian Arctic resource wealth poses dilemma for indigenous communities

A quote:

“I personally have a problem with it. I was raised in a traditional way and regard it as my job to be a steward of the land. I see this [industrialised] world of hedonism and consumption as a sign we have lost our moral compass.”

The Shock Value of Honesty

You are dining at a restaurant and the waitress brings you the bill which shows a charge for an item that you did not order or receive. What did you do? Perhaps you pointed it out, maybe complained and ultimately had the bill adjusted.

Same scenario but this time the waitress brings you the bill and it does not show an item that you ordered and received. What did you do in this case?

Once upon a time for the latter scenario, I would have said nothing. I would have pocketed the gain and then rationalized it telling myself all’s fair; stick it to the man; they’d do it to me; pennies from heaven or <fill in the blank>.  That was before a sermon I heard put this sort of thing in perspective: is the price of your integrity worth the price of a cup of coffee or slice of pie for which you were not charged at a restaurant?  It was convicting.

Psalm 15 makes the point timelessly:

LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the LORD; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things will never be shaken.

Well, since then I have changed my ways on this and now to a point where I actually relish the shock value of being honest in marketplace dealings. Imagine going all the way back to the store, pulling out a receipt or item and telling the store manager you were not charged appropriately, that is, you were not charged more than you should have been. Now it must happen a dozen times a day that a customer returns to complain that they’ve been overcharged —but how often does he hear from a customer who was undercharged? The reactions can vary from “Ah, honesty!” to “What sort of fool are you?”. Yes, expect to pay the price—all of it. Sometimes the mistake is actually theirs or they don’t care, but usually it does matter and books need to be balanced or a cashier needs to zero out at the end of the night. In any case, you are acting with integrity, honesty and nobility— a feeling more valuable than the one I had in my earlier days.

I perceive that at one point in our society, this sort of honest conduct was the norm—it was expected, it was taught and the alternative was unthinkable. The people we would have gypped were not some corporate behemoths or government bureaucracies but were part of our community, had a face, a name, a family, a reputation, and real needs.  We might have known that the person serving our dinner was a single mom supporting a special needs kid or a man trying to keep his family together. Our hearts would have been moved, not to skim the bill, but to inflate it magnanimously.

I was able to receive this sort of shock value recently on a business trip–twice. I ordered an Ayinger Dopplebock at a restaurant and was undercharged. I called the waitress over who showed exasperation at what she thought was an imminent episode of “overcharged customer” outrage. Surprise! I ended up paying the lower price anyway since, these days, whatever the computer says trumps whatever is printed in a menu and she didn’t want to deal with it. Same thing happened on the next night when I ordered the same thing again—this time the barkeeper who thought he knew his menu and was a bit incredulous. I guess he did not know that this was my episode of Groundhog Day. Maybe I should have betted him…

The tradition of having time

It’s strange that the things we don’t have time for are probably the things that matter the most. Yesterday I visited a sick friend who was too weak to communicate or engage me. I sat there in the chair at the hospital and decided that it was really OK not to say or do anything for an hour or so. I would just be there.

I studied his sleeping face. I prayed. I read the Bible some. I meditated. I chided myself for being fidgety and anxious. Like many of you, I had a heap of things TO DO!  And so does he. But now things have a new perspective and tried to place myself, once again, in those shoes.

A pathology of society is not having time. I insulate myself from real relationship in the cocoon of business. I lie to myself that quality time can substitute for quantity time, that awareness is as good as involvement, that the internet is as good as community, that career is identity.

Time to go.

P.S. The friend that I was visiting last weekend has passed away.

 

Lost traditions, lost reality

I was delighted to hear a TED Talk recently by anthropologist Elizabeth Lindsey, presenting an appeal about the lost traditions of our world. The title of the link article on CNN.com is called “Wisdom is found in our heritage, not our cell phones.” A worthy quotation from that article and talk:

We are living an illusion that calls itself reality. We track the every move of city dwellers in New York as if it’s breaking news while forsaking those with valuable insight. An African elder said, “You worship the jester, while the king stands in plain clothes.”

You can watch the lecture here: Curating Humanities Traditions