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Archive for August, 2010

Sunburst From Clouds, Photography, July 2010

Sunburst From Clouds, Photography, July 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Keeping One Idea Among Many

The idea that the United States of America is an open market place for ideas is being tested. Of course, it is always being tested because it  is still a democratic experiment.  However, the feverish screaming from different sides of ideological or religious aisles has perhaps been no more loud than in recent days.  Whether it is the proposal of an Islamic Center two blocks from the 9/11 ground zero, the diametrically opposed political and economic ideas of the left and right, or discussions surrounding health care and other contemporary issues, the result seems to be the same: deafening noise.

Unfortunately, the media and pundits seem to have hijacked the center stage of the discussion. Of course, early on in U.S. politics, newspapers played a large role in informing or misinforming the public.  Today, our technology has only improved the results of information or misinformation.  The question of whether a society can maintain an open market place for ideas to be shared and debated seems to be still up in the air.  The classic example is the average American liberal arts college or university that allows for just about any discussion except any concerning the support of the Christian faith.  The same binders are put upon any such discussion in the secular market spaces.

When our institutions, media and government control the dialogue the liberty to express one’s ideas is enslaved to those institution’s ideologies. Of course, on the other side of the argument then, is the understanding that if it is truly to be an open market place of ideas, then we must allow for the voice of even the wackiest of propositions.  That may be true.  However, I would argue that there is less a danger in that direction than in the direction of censorship and limitations of liberty.

Contrary to what many ne0-atheists and anti-religion proponents claim, I believe that the core of Christian thought and doctrine have remained robust and alive. Even in an unfair and unbalanced environment for equal dialogue, the claims of the Christian worldview have stood up well.  Granted, most of this has had to take place within the confines of Christian institutions, schools, and think-tanks.  If anything, the arguments and ideas have been sharpened by the debate that takes place outside the public market place of ideas.

In a market place of ideas, it is not surprising to find that there are many voices. Personally, I believe that this is a good thing.  It helps to hone and sharpen opposing points of view and eliminate those that do not stand up; or at least hold them up to sharp scrutiny.  As a Christian and church leader, I have never been afraid to allow the core Christian tenets to stand up for scrutiny in the market place.  Unfortunately, there are very few places where a civil dialogue can take place so that religious/political/philosophical ideas can be shared.

I have discovered some of the nastiest folks in internet chat rooms; even if they are meant to give voice to religion or politics or philosophy. It is not too soon into any discussion before a person or persons takes it down to the level of name calling and playground banter.  All one is left to do is to move on.  Sadly, I have not found the public arena much more inviting or encouraging.  It seems that very few people have a capacity to share ideas, convictions or experiences in a civil manner.

Classic Ford, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Classic Ford Automobile, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

This may not be the greatest challenge, however. I believe the greatest challenge may be for the individual to be able to keep their individuality in thoughts and convictions without selling out to what is either politically correct or publicly acceptable.  This is not to say that a mind should remain unchanged.  Change of convictions based upon sound reasoning is acceptable.  Acquiescing to the raucous mob or loudest voices is not.  Instead, maintaining individual expression amidst public discourse is akin to wearing a blue shirt to a convention of Wal-Mart employees.  It is hard to not get lost in the crowd and just appear to be one among many.

The idea of individual liberty to believe and express one’s beliefs in the United States was a sacred idea to most of the founders of this secular democracy. It is why they maintained the importance of the separation of church and state; so that one ideology, even a Christian one, would not dominate the public market place of ideas and expressions.  Instead, they hoped to build a society that would be open to all religions, philosophies, and ideas so that in and through the sharing of them the best in humanity may arise.

The attempt to hold captive any ideology or philosophy, even if it is held only by a minority is truly un-American in the most basic sense. Only those who do not really believe what they tout or know why they believe what they spout fear those with opposing ideas.  Take the Christian Gospel for instance.  If the ideas and ideals of the Christian Gospel cannot hold its own in a secular society, then those who trust in it may best serve themselves by re-examining what they believe.  Depending upon the government to support their ideas and censor any that oppose them is only a sure way to loose credibility.  Every idea must stand on its own two feet, per se, no matter how sacred.

European history is a great example of what happens to the church when it is enforced and protected by the state. Instead of under-girding it, such actions undermine it.  Even the early American colonies’ attempts at church-state religions proved this point.  Let the Church and its message stand on its own two feet without government support or intrusion.  Free from such false supports, I am convinced it will flourish; even as one idea among many.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Classic Car Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Classic Car Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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REGISTRATION MUST BE COMPLETED BY Monday, August 30, 2010

NOTE: DUE TO THE COMPLEXITY AND DIFFICULTY LEVEL OF THEIR CONTENTS, CLASS SIZES WILL BE LIMITED TO 8 PARTICIPANTS MAXIMUM.

Classes begin Monday, September 13, 2010

Class 1
How To Fill Up The Ice Cube Trays
— Step by Step, with Slide Presentation.
Meets 4 weeks, Monday and Wednesday for 2 hours beginning at 7:00 PM.

Class 2
The Toilet Paper Roll — Does It Change Itself?
— Round Table Discussion.
Meets 2 weeks, Saturday 12:00 for 2 hours.

Class 3
Is It Possible To Urinate Using The Technique Of Lifting The Seat and Avoiding The Floor, Walls and Nearby Bathtub?
— Group Practice.
Meets 4 weeks, Saturday 10:00 PM for 2 hours.

Class 4
Fundamental Differences Between The Laundry Hamper and The Floor
— Pictures and Explanatory Graphics.
Meets Saturday at 2:00 PM for 3 weeks.

Class 5
After Dinner Dishes — Can They Levitate and Fly Into The Kitchen Sink?
— Examples on Video.
Meets 4 weeks, Tuesday and Thursday for 2 hours beginning at 7:00 PM.

Class 6
Loss Of Identity — Losing The Remote To Your Spouse.
— Help Line Support and Support Groups.
Meets 4 Weeks, Friday and Sunday 7:00 PM.

Class 7
Learning How To Find Things — Starting With Looking In The Right Places And Not Turning The House Upside Down While Screaming.
— Open Forum .
Monday at 8:00 PM, 2 hours.

Class 8
Health Watch — Bringing Her Flowers Is Not Harmful To Your Health.
— Graphics and Audio Tapes.
Three nights; Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 7:00 PM for 2 hours.

Class 9
Real Men Ask For Directions When Lost
— Real Life Testimonials.
Tuesday at 6:00 PM Location to be determined.

Class 10
Is It Genetically Impossible To Sit Quietly While She Parallel Parks?
— Driving Simulations.
4 weeks, Saturday noon, 2 hours.

Class 11
Learning to Live — Basic Differences Between Mother and Wife.
— Online Classes and role-playing .
Tuesday at 7:00 PM, location to be determined.

Class 12
How to be the Ideal Shopping Companion
— Relaxation Exercises, Meditation and Breathing Techniques.
Meets 4 weeks, Tuesday and Thursday for 2 hours Beginning at 7:00 PM.

Class 13
How to Fight Cerebral Atrophy — Remembering Birthdays, Anniversaries and Other Important Dates and Calling When You’re Going Be Late
— Cerebral Shock Therapy Sessions and Full Lobotomies Offered.
Three nights; Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 7:00 PM for 2 hours.

Class 14
The Stove/Oven — What It Is and How It Is Used.
— Live Demonstration.
Tuesday at 6:00 PM, location to be determined.

Upon completion of any of the above courses, diplomas will be issued to the survivors.

[author unknown]

Elections

Elections

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Classic Car Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Classic Car Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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My wife, Kelly, and I will celebrate our 27th Wedding Anniversary on August 27th.  There are couples who have been married a lot longer than we.  Many couples we know have not been married as long but are working hard towards it.  Other couples ended their relationships long ago for various reasons.  All of us will testify to the fact that marriage relationships are hard work, especially good ones.

It seems that God has a sense of humor. When he instituted the idea of marriage between a husband and wife, he could not have picked a more odd way to bring people together in such close, intimate proximity to one another.  Never mind all the issues surrounding the differences between the sexes in how the think, process reality, respond emotionally, communicate, and build relationships.  There are also all the various personality differences to deal with too: introvert versus extrovert; saver versus spender; externalizer versus internalizer; task oriented versus people oriented; verbal versus non-verbal; emotive versus non-emotive; and this list goes on.

What was God thinking? Of course, dumb and numb with overwhelming passions and longings, most couples don’t even consider these issues until it is too late.  This should be reason enough for seeking good premarital counseling before marriage.  Even then, attempting to get two hormonal driven humans to stop and consider reality from an objective point of view is quite the challenge to any premarital counselor.  After all, the couple is thinking, “Our love will conquer all.”  They are too inexperienced to recognize the fallacy of that Disney storyline.

So, hurrying through the preparations for the “big” day, often the real issues of what makes marriage relationships successful are left for a later date. It is a guarantee that, ready or not, that day will come.  And most unprepared couples are left stewing in separate rooms asking themselves, “What now?”  It is then that they realize that it will take more than loving feelings and passions to get through the rocky places of their relationship.

It seems to be part of God’s great plan for marriage to use it as a way to transform individuals. He takes two – or perhaps more correctly, we take two – highly selfish individuals and throws them into the confines of a relationship where they must beat the selfishness out of each other.  Anyway, that is the way it seems to happen.  Then, just about the time that they think they are unselfish and more loving, along comes someone who is the epitome of selfishness – a baby, who then becomes a toddler, who becomes a child, then a pre-teen, and then finally a teen-ager.  Each stage of growth only seems to be intended to increase the self-focused nature of the child to scrape any last remaining scraps of selfishness out of the parent.

White House, Washington D.C., Spring 2010

White House, Washington D.C., Spring 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Perhaps this is one of the only ways God realizes that our sinful and selfish natures can adequately be dealt with – in the context of intimate relationships. It is not the stranger or mere acquaintance that drives me nuts.  It’s my family.  How many children have declared, “I’m not a part of this weird family!”?  Or, wished that they had been born of different parentage?  Alas, it is too true – you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.

So it is also in the marriage relationship – the most intimate of all human relationships. The very one that we often are passionate about and with – yes, that very same one – becomes the very one that drives us mad with frustration and anger.  How many couples have looked at each to realize, “We are not on the same ‘page’ are we?”  It is not unusual for couples at some point in their relationship to wake up some morning, look across the bed at the person sleeping beside them and think, “I really do not like him/her right now.”  All of these are the attempts of our selfish nature to exert itself over us and our relationships.  The only way to defeat it is to allow the relationship’s challenges to transform us.

Marriages that transform individuals and couples help them discover that the “we” is more important than the “me.” They realize that the strong emotions that conflict brings does not mark the end of the world or the end of their relationship.  They know that time and determination are on their side.  They embrace the fact that they cannot change their partner but can only change themselves.  They act so that their feelings will follow because their commitments cannot be determined by ever-changing emotions.  They choose to see the potential in their partner.  They remember what character traits attracted them to their partner in the first place, even though those same traits may today be driving them to distraction.  They recognize that their relationship problems cannot be blamed on either party but that they are common problems that each must work on separately and together.  They grow comfortable with the fact that every relationship will experience times of drifting and times of intimacy, that there are different seasons for each stage of life, and that how their relationship began will not be how it appears in the end.

In short, not only will the relationship be transformed over time, but each partner within it will also be changed for the better if they are willing to allow their personal transformation to take place. It is when one or both of the partners in a relationship determine to hold on to their selfishness that unclimbable walls and mountains are created.  This is often when we hear, “I’m just not happy anymore.”  Or, “we are so incompatible with each other.”  A relationship that was designed to do away with all selfishness only becomes the cause for greater selfishness in these individuals.  This usually results in the most selfish of acts: relational suicide.  This brings about the self-destructive acts that become self-fulfilling prophecy that affirms the relationship was doomed from the start.

Want to change your life? Go ahead; get married.  It will surely transform you.  You certainly won’t remain the same over the years.  Further, add children to the mix and it is a sure-fire way to get rid of the last vestiges of selfishness.  Are you single and think, “Ha!  I don’t have to mess with any of that anyway.”  Yes you do.  You have family that will do that for you unless you safely remove yourself to some distant land.  And even then, you have close friends, unless you become a monk or nun of some order that disallows communication.  It seems that God intended all along for our closest relationships to transform us by beating the living selfishness right out of us.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Pluribus and Unum

The United States of America has somewhat of a schizophrenic community identity.  On the one hand, we relish in the idea that we are a “melting pot” of cultures; a country where people from any culture are welcome to legally come and establish a new home.  However, on the other hand, we worship the idea or myth of the rugged individual who comes to this country or who pioneers a new horizon; a country where an individual can realize the potential of all that he or she can become with enough hard work and luck.

For some time now, I have been pondering the sources of these attitudes within our American culture.  More specifically, I have wondered about our idea of the rugged individual who makes it on his or her own and how that shapes our relationships, politics and religion.  We love our pioneer stories.  We almost worship the entrepreneur who starts out with nothing and produces something out of a garage or shop that not only attains success but also produces wealth.  Our movies make heroes of the rebellious individual who beats the system or the status quo accepted by the larger majority.

This heightened sense of the individual over the community gives rise to many tensions in our society. Loyalty is no longer given to any one group but to the self.  So, individuals move from church to church, job to job, and even community to community for personal advantage.  Loyalty is passe’, whether it is to a marriage union or workers union.  Most Americans are looking for the “best deal” and “for the right price.”  We have taken the American Founders ideal of an individual’s freedom to pursue “life, liberty and happiness” to individualistic twisted ends.

Individualism fractures society more than it unifies it.  It seems to be the human tendency to move toward separateness until there is something that unites us – a common enemy, a common problem, or a common experience in the midst of disaster.  Once the threat has passed, however, jockeying begins all over for the selfishly personal “best seat at the table.”  Jesus’ disciples exhibited this same behavior despite the fact that it was Jesus who brought them all together and was the unifying factor.  Perhaps church bodies could learn something from their example and Jesus’ instructions to them.

Of course, the fracture of civilization and its relationships is nothing new to human existence. It is as old as the Garden of Eden where the break in community with other humans and with their Creator began.  However you tell the story and understand it, it perfectly illustrates the human condition.  From Genesis chapter three through history up to today, we witness the effects of the rips and tears in our social fabric.  The story of the Tower of Babel, when God caused confusion through language and culture, is only the pinnacle of this story.  Humanity has been on a steady descent ever since despite the attempts of world rulers and empires to bring a return to a one-world order according to their terms.  This has only led to resistance and further fractures in the global human community.

Washington D.C. Capital Buildings, Spring 2009

Washington D.C. Capital Buildings, Spring 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Of course, conveyors of conspiracy theories like to point to one of the Latin phrases on the reverse side of the United States’ Great Seal to show that the U.S. is involved in the same scheme. The Latin words

Reverse of the Great Seal of the United States.

Image via Wikipedia

Novus ordo seclorum” are taken by them to mean “New World Order” when, in fact, they truly mean “New Order of the Ages;” signifying the beginning of a new era with the birth of the United States of America.  The other Latin phrase appearing with it is “Annuit coeptis,” which means “God favored our undertakings.”  So, there is a bit of irony in the theories of conspiratists in that it would seem that they believe the U.S. is involved in some diabolical plan to take over the world with God’s blessings.

At any rate, the Latin phrase on the U.S. Great Seal which most Americans are more familiar with is “E Pluribus Unum.” This is roughly translated “out of many, one” or “one from many.”  In recent American history, it has been embraced to refer to the great cultural “melting pot” of this country.  However, at the beginning of American independence from Great Britain, it was an attempt to directly reflect the unity of the diverse thirteen colonies.

Modern Americans tend to forget just how fractious those early colonies were based upon their religious preferences, politics, loyalties to England, economies and ideals of the ruling classes. The contentions were never really settled until after the Civil War – and some would argue, especially from the southern United States, that it is still not settled.  Early on, the threat of secession from the federal union was always present; first from the northern states and then from the south.  Politics became divided very early over the preeminence of individual and state rights versus federal rights.  We still wage political battle over those ideas today.  This conflict may always be in flux and never really settled in our American democracy.

Interestingly, E Pluribus Unum was the motto of the United States of America until 1956, when it replaced with In God We Trust.” Until then, it appears on most U.S. coinage since it was mandated by law in 1873.  It first appeared on U.S. coinage in 1795 even though it was first proposed for the Great Seal of the U.S. in August of 1776 and finally formally adopted in 1782.  In the 1776 proposal, which Benjamin Franklin had a hand in, the seal had a shield with six symbols; each symbol representing the six main countries that provided immigrants to the colonies: the rose (England), thistle (Scotland), harp (Ireland), fleur-de-lis (France), lion (Holland), and an imperial two-headed eagle (Germany).  Those six symbols were surrounded by thirteen smaller shields, which were to represent “the thirteen independent States of America.”  Of course, the “independence” of those states and the others to follow would greatly change with the new constitution of 1883.

The idea that a country not formed by, from or for any one ethnic group can exist without fracturing into hundreds of splintering self-interest groups is still being tested.  The United States and its people are still very much a democratic experiment in the making.  The strength of our union requires every citizen and local and state government to bow to higher ideals than self-interest.  This, in part, was the empowering force behind Abraham Lincoln’s administration and other leaders to seek to preserve the union with southern states who attempted to go their own way.

Even in many American churches, the unity of the church fellowship takes pre-eminence over selfish desires and goals. There is a desire on the part of the individual to be a part of something larger than just the small cosmic consciousness that the individual inhabits.  Becoming and being a part of a community of faith enlarges one’s life and capacity for living in and through the lives of others as believers pray, worship and serve together.  The essence of the Gospel and the Church’s theology is that the Creator, through His incarnation in His Son, Jesus, has come to bring true unity in human and divine relationships.  As the apostle Paul would have it, the enmity or hostilities created by cultures, languages, skin colors and offenses to God have been removed by the peace offering made by Jesus the Messiah on the cross.

So, we are not merely “pluribus” – many independent individuals or states of being seeking to find out own way. We are also “unum” – formed as Americans in our democracy to unite around those ideals that make us a unique light to the rest of the world.  We are a cosmic declaration that people from different parts of the world, with different skin colors, abiding by different religious convictions can not just merely co-exist but also become unified for the common good of each individual in its society to pursue life, liberty and happiness.  It was this very audacious and precarious idea that caused most of the America’s Founders and the truly wise and understanding today to constantly invoke the help and aid of Providence.  And so, it seems, as long as the help of heaven preserves our union and democracy, we will continue to be E Pluribus Unum.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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