What’s Up? 07/12/10

It was a so-so weekend. Rained some, didn’t rain some. Watched the soccer final which was awfully boring.

Last night we had a bit of a treat. We located (I think on the science channel) a rerun of the old Cosmos series with Carl Sagan. Carl was one of those heroes of mine. It was weird and fun to see how much astronomy and astrophysics has progressed. Still, he had a wonderful way of explaining difficult subjects that was understandable.

This first piece is scary for sure. More and more people are starting to think that if the stars align correctly, Sarah Palin might be unstoppable. Shudder, and get your passport ready. One person argued, (it might have been Andrew Sullivan–the link is embedded in the link I’m giving you) that she can use the “that woman is an idiot” to her benefit. After all, she can say, look what the so-called intellectuals have done–two wars, a nearly destroyed economy. Maybe just plain old average people like me can do a better job. The National Interest gives a scenario. As I said, keep you passport close at hand.

If you are interested in wisdom as perhaps an abstract entity, then you might want to take a look at the review of Stephen S. Hall’s new book, Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience. Professor of philosophy, A. C. Grayling gives his opinion in an excellent review. More and more science claims to be on the verge of telling us why we are the way we are in every respect. More and more we are, it seems, at the mercy of much that we have little control over.

Along a similar vein, The Chronicle looks at the issue of whether there is a basic instinct for fairness in the human person. Reflecting on how anger seems often triggered by claims of unfairness, it is an interesting proposition. Are we fair minded from birth? Hint: the research involved capuchin monkeys and cucumbers! Now that ought to heighten the anticipation! And they did some tests on humans too!

The first official execution in this country was for an alleged traitor. The second and third were Quakers who had not left as banishing Massachusetts had ordered them to do. (We hadn’t yet got to “freedom of religion” of course). A morbid subject perhaps, but Last Words of the Executed by Robert K. Elder, documents something important that we might learn a great deal from. Read the review at the NYTimes Review of Books.

—“What time is it? I wish you’d hurry up, I want to get to hell in time for dinner.” (John Owens (AKA Bill Booth), executed for murder in Wyoming on March 5, 1886).

When asked where he wanted to be buried, Charles Birger, convicted murderer executed in Illinois on April 19, 1928, joked: “A Catholic cemetery because that’s the last place the devil would look for a Jew.”

Our country is at based in some part on the belief that an informed citizenry will ultimately make the best choice. Given that we have the ability to acquire knowledge better than ever before, many of us wonder why we seem determined to make the worst choices over and over again. The GOP has become expert at exploiting the “know-nothing” by design mentality of their followers. They are first to prove that lies do work.  We might get some answers from political scientists who say recent studies show that people, even when exposed to truth, cling to the misinformation they want to believe in. This is so far the must read of the day.

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Mind Your Own Business!

The parables in the bible are meant to cause us to pause. They are not always easy to understand or digest. I think that is especially true of the parable of the vineyard owner and the laborers.

I can imagine that a slew of folks don’t like it much. I recall, on reading the bible for the first time, the end of many a parable was not at all what I had expected. This one is no exception.

For those of you unaware of the story, a short synopsis. A vineyard owner goes out early, presumably at daybreak and finds day laborers who he sends into his fields at the going rate of pay. Throughout the day, he continues to return to the town square and find laborers and sends them out, the last at 5 pm, when the end of the work shift is apparently 6 pm.

Now an interesting thing happens. Instead of letting the men line up at will, he instructs that the latest into the fields should be lined up first, and the one’s who have worked longest should be at the back. This insures of course that those at the end of the line will witness what he does in regards to those who worked the least hours.

And since this is deliberate, the owner for unstated reasons wishes to make a point. As he pays the guys who worked one hour a full days wage, the grumbling begins. The guys who have worked eleven hours our more, expect that they will receive even more, but they don’t.

In fact the owner does what he must have wanted to do. He chastises them. He tells them. First, you got exactly what you bargained for before you started. Two, it’s my money, not yours, who are you to tell me I can’t be generous?  And three, are you just envious of what is mine?

Now I can see how this would grate on the average hourly paid working stiff. After all, that is the point isn’t it? One is paid so much an hour. It would appear grossly unfair if someone who didn’t work the same number of hours got the same wage. We can assume in this story that a days wages was based on some agreed upon number of hours, from sun up to sun down probably.

I can see a blue collar gal being pretty angry here, and not getting what Jesus is driving at. Or perhaps, getting it all too well, and not agreeing with it.

But for the average “fair is fair” kinda person, there is something to be said for the remark of the vineyard owner: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”

That is, of course, latched onto when we get to talking about taxes and government programs designed to achieve some basic equanimity in life quality for all citizens. Isn’t that the argument often used by the right? “I worked hard to get what I have, I shouldn’t have to support lazy people who want to receive it as a hand out.”

There is no little of this attitude of group dynamics going on here. We are the responsible group–we work, we pay our legitimate taxes for the military and so forth, we attend the PTA, and we raise our kids and make sure they learn to be honest people. You others–you probably don’t do any of those things because you can’t seem to accomplish the first thing–get a job.

Therefore YOU don’t pay taxes (untrue of course), don’t attend PTA meetings, and don’t teach your kids any basic code of conduct, which is why they join gangs, sell drugs, and drop out of school.

All neat and tidy.

Said folks like to think that God does the same. Meaning, He (and it’s always he) rewards the faithful and well, he tut-tuts and wags a finger at the lazy. They like to think that God is as they would describe it: FAIR.

So this story, just bothers the heck out of them, except for that one line of course. Or they twist it into a nice little ditty about how anybody can give as much as they want away in charity, and that is the rightful means by which the poor (but still lazy) should be dealt with.

What they do not do is think: Is Jesus trying to tell me that as long as anyone tries, even if they fail, they get equal treatment before God? I mean think about it. The day laborers who were still without work at 5 pm were not people who nobody chose all day. The owner returned again and again and each time send all there into his fields.

So, it must mean that perhaps a good many of these laborers had arrived late–overslept? been busy with personal pursuits? nursing hangovers? Who knows? But there is reason to believe they were not diligent in getting to the town square on time for the first call to work. So they might be termed lazy mightn’t they?

And Jesus is saying, hey, we all have limitations. We are all failing in some way. Some of us fail to have drive and motivation and skill at working. Some of us have mental disabilities, or moral failings. But even if we don’t try very hard, those who try at all have a right to be upheld and rewarded and ENCOURAGED.

Being a Class A worker doesn’t make you special. It makes you responsible to work on your own limitations and let God the vineyard owner give beneficence as he sees fit to whom he sees fit. Mind your own business! Work on removing that plank from your own eye.


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Oh Thanks Ecclesiastes!

We’ve been reading Ecclesiastes in the daily lectionary for a few days. I guess it’s good to read it at the end of spring and the beginning of the lovely summer, cuz the readings are purely a bummer. Talk about depressing!

“In my vain life I have seen everything; there are righteous people who perish in their righteousness, and there are wicked people who prolong their life in their evildoing.” (7:15)

Yep, and well shit happens as they say.

I was minding my own business yesterday, pulling out of a driveway onto the highway when I tapped the bumper of the car in front of me which had inexplicably delayed it start out onto the same highway.

You’d have thought I had deliberately rained down ruin upon the woman’s car. No dent, no lost paint, no gouge. Nothing, but a slight brush against the lowest bumper that may have been more dirt than anything.

She was beside herself at my incompetence. She railed against the powers which had given me license to drive. She was insufferably nasty to put it nicely. I went away shaking my head, which she also commented on (my being disrespectful to her clear right cause).

When I got to the church which was my ultimate destination, I figured to call the police. Something about this whole thing struck me as a bit too over the top. Who would guess that nearly the entire department closes at 3:30. A lone woman in “records” told me to simply call my agent and forgetaboutit.

This morning the woman called. Her insurance company would be contacting mine. Uhuh. I should be pleased to understand that although she was not at fault this would go on her driving record. I should be more careful in the future, if I was not to blessedly die by eventide. I sighed and called my agent and gave him the information.

Part of me was saddened by such behavior. Part of me was angry. Having had to process the horror of our deacon losing two grandchildren while his daughter remained in coma for more than a month and is facing a very long recovery due to an auto accident,  I was hardly impressed by the tizzy this woman engaged in over a bump. But I refrained from informing her of this.

The Contrarian logically remarked that “that is why we have insurance,” and to forget it. There are lots of things in the world to be upset about, and he is right, this is not one of them. People more concerned about things than people, we will always have with us.

We all seem plagued by that to some degree. Politicians are more concerned about their power and being re-elected than they are in legislating for the benefit of the people. Most people are more concerning with making money and using that as a means of defining and evaluating winning and losing than in their relationships with family and friends.

We care more about results than in the doing of things, yet results are fleeting and the doing often takes all our time. We dream of vacations and toys and then have no time to enjoy them anyway. They sit as testimony only that we have achieved a certain level of distinction.

We don’t stop to smell the roses much, but usually we notice that it’s time to weed again. We find the downside of most things faster than the upside. We revel on short term quick fixes because we don’t have the patience (remember that post?) to devote our time to long term better outcomes.

We shortcut, and multi-task, we cut corners, and are satisfied in superficiality, as a means of getting by. Yet, most of the time saved is eaten up in just as meaningless drivel. We do more to do more of the same, and seldom experience really NOW moments. In fact, when we do experience one, we are awed beyond belief at the mystery of it all, because it’s such a new experience.

I made some rolls from scratch today, loving the warm scent of yeast, yet I was bustling around, making a marinade for the chicken, and washing the lettuce and preparing the dressing, while stopping to read the morning prayer selections, and finishing off another book.

I had minutes from last night’s Adult formation meeting to prepare and then the new Yahoo mail thingie had to run some special installation for an attachment (all of which took another 10 minutes) all so I could do it fast and seamlessly in the future. BUT I NEED TO GET GOING NOW!

Finally I get to blogging, and I can relax. Finally, relax. Before the next onslaught of busy work in the kitchen. Have the rolls risen enough to start the oven? Once dinner is over, my day is “officially” done. I’ve no more “shoulds” to attend to.

And in the fine planned out world I inhabit, sooner or later, another “shit happens” will interrupt my day or evening, and I’ll be forced to contend with issues I have no desire to fix but will be compelled to anyway. And some miserable person will eat bon bons and sip margaritas seaside on some unoiled beach. It ain’t fair I tell ya!

But it’s just the way it is. Forgetaboutit!

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