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Antique Ford Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, 2010

Antique Ford Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Let’s All Grow Up

As an observer and listener of world events across a spectrum of news channels, I am wondering what it is going to take for the more moderate voices in our world to be heard.  It seems that only the radical voices, extremists if you want, get all the air time.  And now, a small time pastor, Reverend Terry Jones, of a congregation of barely 50 persons and shrinking in Florida has captured the world stage with a threat to burn the Quran.

Almost a year ago (October 1, 2009 to be precise), I posted a blog article entitled, “Let’s All Calm Down.”  In it I called for people to settle down and realize that the issues we face today, when placed in historical context, should not be all that alarming to us.  Running around scream in a high-pitched Chicken Little-like voice that our world is ending is non-productive.  In historical context, politically and religiously, this is hardly the worst of times for the United States of America.

Whether it is debating health care, taxes or government programs, it seems that the discussion always devolves into a tit-for-tat battle.  In juvenile-like behavior patters, instead of taking responsibility for our own actions and outcomes, we seem to be concerned with who started it and placing the blame.  It is time we all grew up and got over “it” – whatever the particular “it” of the blame game we are playing.

This should go with Americans attitudes towards radical and extremists of the Muslim religion and vice-versa. Instead of trying to figure out who “drew first blood” so that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” can be extracted, the mature adult thing to do would be to stand above the offense.  I often teach my kids when they are being picked on by their siblings or kids at school that one of the most potent weapons to disarm a potential enemy is to first not respond to their behaviors and actions.  If that does not work, then proceed to draw attention to their actions by drawing in the attention of others – authority figures and peers.  If your behavior is above reproach, they will support you and fight for you.  In the end, you will have to do very little.

Granted, this is a difficult approach to take when our emotions running high and our pride and feelings have been hurt. However, acting like a bunch of juvenile gang members or kids on a play ground seeking revenge for every slight will not get us anywhere either.  Someone needs to become the adult in a very volatile situation.  Reverting to our childhood antics and behaviors will not solve our world problems or bring peace.

So, the Reverend – with such a title used very loosely – Terry Jones seems to have forgotten the most basic teachings of Jesus when it comes to how we are to treat our enemies: pray for them, serve them and love them.  Of course, this requires a very mature approach toward our perceived enemies; many of whom turn out not to be our enemies at all but people only acting out of their own hurt and woundedness, albeit in an immature way.  Unfortunately, Terry Jones is not alone in America.  I have heard many people through our media respond in justifying the action of burning the Quran or vandalizing Islamic worship and community centers with:

  • “Well, they burn our flag in their land!”
  • “If they burn our Bibles, we should be able to burn their Holy Book.”
  • “Islam promotes hatred and persecution of Christians all over the world.”
  • “They were shouting Quranic verses when they flew those jets into the Twin Towers.”
  • “They preach against America as “the great Satan” and want to attack us again, so we have the right to practice our right to freedom of speech by letting them know how we feel about it.”
  • “We have the right to protest and practice our freedom of speech.  Who cares what they think about it.”

Notice that in some way all of these statements hold a kernel of truth.  The real question, however, is whether they are the mature, adult way to respond.  It may be true that my son was hit first by another kid at school.  That does not give him a right to retaliate in like manner and expect to not bear the consequences of those actions: trouble at school with possible expulsion and trouble at home.  It may be correct that another kid called my girl a nasty name, but that does not permit her to respond in a similar way.

We should expect no less of a response for our adult situations in a troubled world.  When will we start to grow up and act like the adults in this cosmic play ground?  When will we stop responding to force with force?  Or, reverting to name calling with name calling and demeaning labels?  Who will be the first to take the moral high road of forgiveness and reconciliation?

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

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

One would hope that Christians, in keeping with their message and mission, would be among those.  Where are the adult voices among all religions that call for tolerance, forgiveness, longsuffering, patience, kindness, grace, mercy and justice?  Who in the Christian community is calling for larger Christian community to reflect the teachings of Jesus on the world stage?  I believe they are out there.  They are just not being heard.  Bad news seems to sell better than any good news.  So, a crazy, fundamentalist pastor of an insignificant congregation in Florida gets world-wide air time while the deeds of countless Christians around the world to, for and among Muslims goes unrecorded.  Go figure.

I cannot speak for other world religions, but having been a Christian leader in congregations for 25 years and having studied the Bible with three degrees in Biblical Studies and Theology, I do believe that I have some understanding of where Jesus would steer us:

  • “You have heard people say, “Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.”  But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you.  Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong.  If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends.  If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about that? Don’t even unbelievers do that?  But you must always act like your Father in heaven.”  (Matt. 5:43 – 48)
  • “Whenever you stand up to pray, you must forgive what others have done to you. Then your Father in heaven will forgive your sins.”  (Matt. 11:25, 26)
  • “Even if one of them mistreats you seven times in one day and says, “I am sorry,” you should still forgive that person.”  (Luke 17:4)
  • “But love your enemies and be good to them…Have pity on others, just as your Father has pity on you.  Jesus said: Don’t judge others, and God won’t judge you. Don’t be hard on others, and God won’t be hard on you. Forgive others, and God will forgive you.”  (Luke 6:35 – 37)

Or, where the Apostle Paul’s instructions to the churches would take us:

  • “Dear friends, don’t try to get even. Let God take revenge. In the Scriptures the Lord says, “I am the one to take revenge and pay them back.  The Scriptures also say, “If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat.  And if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. This will be the same as piling burning coals on their heads.  Don’t let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.”  (Rom. 12:19 – 21)
  • “Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don’t yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude.  Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ.”  (Eph. 4:31, 32)
  • “…forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you.”  (Col. 3:13)

The easy road to take?  No!  But being the mature adult in a room full of children is never an easy task.  It is tiring and trying.  Ask any middle school teacher.  However, it is the road that a majority must willingly and intentionally take to make our world a better place.

Will it come with a price?  Yes!  It will mean being willing to take the brunt of abuses given by those who choose to act out.  The role of the parent in the home is not to reflect the behaviors of the children in the home.  This may mean not taking the ravings of their teenager to seriously.  It may mean overlooking the slight of an angry child who screams, “I hate you!”  Shouting, “I hate you too!” back will only escalate the problem not solve it.  So, assuming the posture of the adult on the world stage may mean absorbing abuses and even the shedding of our own blood.

I do not know a parent of any child who at some time has not wished that the responsibility for being the adult in the home was not theirs.  That is only natural because it can be an exhausting and frustrating endeavor to constantly provide for and police those given into our charge.  However, surrendering our position is not an option.  Neither is reverting back to our own child-like behaviors of our past.  Fortunately, there are many all across the spectrum of religions and politics who act responsibly.  They take care of the poor, stand against injustice, suffer with the disenfranchised, come alongside the marginalized and actively contribute to making our world a better place.  We just need more of them and need to hear their voices.

So, it is time we all grew up.  Stop acting and responding like children.  Begin to behave out of our higher ideals and values – political and religious.  Be willing to bear the cost of improving our world for our children.  Become the voices of reason against the squall or school-yard language and rhetoric.  Refuse to play the “who done it to who first game.”  Then, perhaps in time, the whole world will grow up to become what we all hope it will become.  A place where we can all get along.

©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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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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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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Classic Chevy Impala Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, June 2010

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

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Classic Pontiac Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010

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

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Individualism Versus Collectivism

The pioneers of the United States of America were marked by a rugged individualism. While communities were formed for mutual protection and financial prosperity, it was most often the pioneer, settler or trader who explored and paved the way for them.  As such, much of America’s psyche is marked with an individualistic attitude.  As a society we value the stories of individuals who came to our shores and made a way for themselves.

Since the “wild West” has been settled and cultural values are now shaped more by the urban and suburban than the farm or ranch, the social psyche seems to be changing from an individualism mind-set to a collectivism one. As the population of America has shifted from agricultural settings to urban ones, the value of the individualism is not as prominent as that of the collective or community.  Is this good or bad?  I do not know.

The trouble arises, however, in attempting to define what are the rights of the individual versus what are the rights of the community. For those still attendant to the ethos of individualism, any discussion of social or community responsibilities is interpreted as an attempt to impose the  “evils” of socialism or communism.  On the other side of the spectrum, for those committed to the values of community and perceived social obligations, any objections from those committed to individual responsibilities and rewards is interpreted as irresponsible and uncaring.

Thus, in today’s political milieu, is the responsibility for health care an individual one or a collective one? Or, is the duty to provide for one’s self and family solely an individual one with no social support or is their a collective interest and invest on the part of the larger community?  At what point are issues to be determined on the federal, state or local collective community level or purely based upon individual response and responsibility?

To add to the mix, the definition of what are the “rights of all” versus what are the “rights of individuals” becomes complicated. When determined by the individual, there are almost as many answers as there are individuals in the U.S.  When determined by the community, there are as many answers as there are collective groups (political, social, religious, etc).  Thus, collective groups fight for and lobby for their collective interests.  This seems to result in an ever increasing broadening of collective “rights” available for the community.

Early in American history, the collective “rights” were very limited; though not always fairly practiced. The Bill of Rights was the beginning of the effort to define those social or collective rights.  The idea of fairness developed early on in the American consciousness so that over the years the idea of what is fair has broadened greatly: fairness in housing, fairness to Americans with disabilities, fairness to people of different religions, fairness to people of different sexual orientations, fairness in employment opportunities, fairness in the minimum wage – and the list continues to grow.

This is not all bad. It reveals that our democracy is a living, breathing organization and not one written in stone and codified to a particular era of human history or experience.  However, it carries with it its interesting challenges as well.  The contemporary struggle, apart from the struggle over gay marriage rights, is the idea of fair and equal access to technology, most particularly the internet.

Just as it became a perceived right in America for everyone to have electricity and a telephone after it had been available for a number of years to particular individuals, so now it is becoming a perceived right that everyone has a “right” to have access to the internet and computer technology. Those in the collective camp point out that individuals without such access are at a high disadvantage at school, in the labor market and the global market.  Those in the individualism camp howl at the idea that everyone has that “right” to technological access, especially since they as an individual had to pay a high personal price to attain that right, let alone that they should share in the cost of providing equal and fair access.

Classic Car, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010

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

Two consciences seem to be at war in America. There is the conscience of the individuals who value the person over community; who “pulled themselves up by their own boot straps” and accomplished something with their life.  They value personal effort and ownership.

Then there is the conscience of the individuals who value the community over individuals; who realize that no one got where they are alone. This is often called collectivism.  The group rather than the individual is the primary political and social unit.  They value community effort towards equality and fairness.

The former group has determined that the moral bearing of the community is dependent upon the individual’s actions and responsibilities. They fear the subjugation of the individual to the group.  Instead, they believe that every individual is a sovereign entity who possesses an inalienable right to his or her own life.  Thus, all individuals have an obligation to them selves so that they are not a burden to anyone or any group.

While the latter group has determined that the moral bearing of the community is determined by how it cares for one another. They emphasize the interdependence any individual has with some social group.  Thus, all individuals have an obligation to the larger group who hopes to guarantee the security of its individual members.

The conscience of one has been shaped by rugged individualism and self-determination. The conscience of the other has been shaped by belonging to strong communities who support the individuals within them.  It is no wonder then that immigration has played a large part in shaping and moving the American conscience towards a collective ideal.  Most of the rest of the world has lived and survived in strong, tight-knit communities.  Even in settling in American, they have done so in immigrant communities who take care of one another.

The African, Asian and Latin American communities exhibit a strong family and communal based ethos. It is these new immigrant communities that will shape the future of the U.S.  The days of the lone ranger, rancher, cowboy, farmer, settler or pioneer are gone for the most part.  The migration of the majority of the American population since 1900 away from agricultural setting to urban and suburban settings is advancing this change as well.  So, what is the harm?

The harm may be in our own undoing. As noted by some of the Founding Fathers of the U.S., the danger of any democracy is when the constituents of that democracy realize that they can vote themselves into perceived financial and personal security.  Like our senators and representatives who vote themselves a pay raise, the American public is now able to vote for them selves a larger and larger portion of a piece of the American pie; or pressure their senators and representatives to vote for it.  The problem is that there is only so much pie.

It is a delicate balance between the rights and responsibilities of the individual versus the community. The margins and definitions of this are always changing and shifting.  As with many similar issues, the answer to finding that balance will never lie in an “either/or” approach.  It will be contained in a “both/and” approach.  Where it will not be determined is in the mass media market or among special interest groups fighting against one another.  Where it will be determined is perhaps in the very place that America seems to be lacking the most right now; in the halls of leadership and scholarship.  Strangely, this will require strong individuals who have an eye for the collective whole.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Vintage Auto, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Vintage Auto, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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