Monday, January 31, 2011

Doomsday Concerns: what to do?

Prophets of Doom was the name of the program on the History Channel (  Well done too.  Six contemporary and well-informed individuals sat down together to take a real hard look at our present situation: Economic implosion, overpopulation, water pollution, food shortages, and the drying up of world oil supplies, the possible terroristic use of atomic weaponry, Artificial Intelligent (AI) machines leading to the demise of humanity.  Their point: “Wake up America!”  These are not future threats, they are here and now.

There point is well taken.  One does not have to be a scientific, economic, or ecological guru to see the writing on the wall.  It’s pretty obvious.  Take the question of oil.  As we go about our daily commute we are confronted with continued rising oil prices.  Why?  Because China, India, Europe, and the Americas are all bidding for and drawing from all the same oil wells on earth, and they’re finite.  They will run dry soon enough.  And then, Poof!  No more oil.

What will life be like without oil?  Who knows?  But we know this much, all petroleum products, and our use of them, will be affected by its lack.  Not in our lifetime?  What about our children and our grandchildren?  For them this will not be a theoretical question, it will be immediate and potently urgent.

What about water?  I thought it was crazy that people so easily bought into the idea of buying bottled water when it was first introduced.  Why buy something that was already available in drinking fountains wherever you went?  All businesses and public places had water available and for free!  Yet, we so readily accepted a beverage company’s idea that we should pay a premium price to purchase our own personal bottled water, packaged in throw-away containers to boot.

“Ridiculous!” I thought, “Why waste good money on something I can have free for the asking at any restaurant or obtain from any drinking fountain, or bring with me from my own faucet at home?”  But what was the selling point?  “Natural, fresh, clean, pure, unadulterated spring water!”  And guess what?  Real, actual pure, unadulterated and unpolluted water is getting harder and harder to come by.  Why?  Because we have been polluting our water sources for decades now, the unpleasant side effects of our modern lifestyle (factory waste, chemical and medicinal waste, etc.), and not only are we polluting our water sources, we are running them dry.  Look at our Western States, especially AZ, CA, and NV.  They are desperately trying to keep up with their water needs.  For them water shortages are not in the future, it’s here and now.

The message is clear: we have a huge problem at hand, but we are not tackling it with the attention or urgency that the problem calls for.  Why not?

First, we lack the economic and financial will to make the hard choices and deal with the possible sacrifices that will be required of us if we are to change things for the better.  We do not want to change our lifestyle.  For example, we do not like the idea of possibly going backwards.  Remember when we use to use glass bottles before the introduction of plastics?  Glass is heavy.  It breaks.  And when it breaks it cuts.  Plastic is so much more convenient.  But plastic has its own dark side.  A large percentage of all plastics used are not being recycled.  Plastic waste is causing much havoc to various aspects of our environment: e.g., plastics are often found in the stomachs of starving animals, birds are often caught in plastic mesh, etc.

Secondly, akin to the first point, there are large powerful stakeholders that have a huge economic investment in keeping things as they are, and this includes us.  Jobs are at stake.  Our lifestyle is killing the planet yet we are too invested and enmeshed in the present economic system—a buy, throw away, wasteful polluting lifestyle—a system that has created the doomsday crisis that we are now being warned about.  Thus, we feel powerless to stop this self-destructive train that we’re riding on, even if it is heading for a cliff; we seem to be damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.

The third reason is the most critical and damaging in my opinion: disbelief!  Disbelief on the one hand and too much faith on the other—too much faith in ourselves, in our “can do scientific, technological knowhow.”  On the one hand, we seem to be quite resistant to accept the fact that we really are heading towards a catastrophic train wreck, respecting our modern high-tech lifestyle and the damage that we are doing to our ecology in having it.  We don’t seem to believe that there are in fact limits to the planet’s ability to sustain such a lifestyle worldwide, given our natural resources.  Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution we have come to assume that things will always get better.  We still hold to this assumption.  Might we not have too much faith in our abilities, our sciences, and our skillful knowhow? 

It is called hubris.  “Hogwash, this is foolish talk, ignorant and naïve, causing unnecessary worry” defiant deniers will say.  But I ask you, as sound minded, honest and open hearted people, is it?  Is it really?  When the first lifeboats were let down from the Titanic they were only partially filled, half-filled at best, even though there were not enough lifeboats to save all the people that were on the ship to begin with.  Why?  Disbelief!  The very idea that the Titanic would actually sink was considered “Foolish, ignorant, and naïve talk.”  After all, everyone knew that the Titanic was unsinkable.  I ask you, was there ever a ship made that was unsinkable?  No, and there never will be.

And finally it just seems too overwhelming, too big.  It is a problem of size.  It’s not just us, this state, this nation or even this continent.  The need for oil, clean drinking water, food quality and availability, and other basic recourses necessary for sustaining our present lifestyle is a global problem.  Resources are diminishing even while the world’s demand for these is increasing.

I do not wish myself to be a fear monger or a prophet of doom and gloom, but I do want to be proactive.  I do think that we should be a step ahead of the game, not two steps behind playing catch up.  That is, it is better to forestall and prevent a crisis than to simply react to a crisis only after the damage is done.  I appreciate the History Channel for presenting a program like Prophets of Doom.  We need more programs of this kind to get our attention.  We, the general public, too easily lull ourselves to sleep about these critical challenges by thinking that we can leave such concerns in the hands of the so called experts and specialists.

Can we make a difference?  Did you see that commercial about the amount of plastic bottles (from our purchasing of bottled water) we waste each year?  We’re told that if you line them up end to end, they can circle the globe many times over.  That’s us!  We’re the ones buying these plastic bottles.  Yes, we can make a difference just by the little choices we make on a daily basis.

Monday, January 24, 2011

China and the UN: is the U.S. a Declining Super Power?

“Take US out of the UN!” the bumper-sticker seemed to shout at me.

Why?  I asked myself.  Why is the UN so threatening to the U.S. that some of our citizens are demanding that we unilaterally pull out of it?  Granted, from where I sit, I know very little about the inner workings of the United Nations and I am sure that there are dealings that go on within it that I/we would not be too happy to hear about.  If we only knew!  But pull out altogether, why be so reactionary?

Then there is the news about China’s President Hu Jintao visiting the U. S., with an official State Dinner and all.  Is China to be the next great Super Power of the world?  Is the U. S. in irreparable decline?  History informs us that no Kingdom, Empire, or Nation-State lasts forever.  And they certainly do not stay on top forever, even if they do have longevity.  It wasn’t too long ago in recent history that the United Kingdom could brag about the sun never setting on the British Empire.  The sun continues to rise and set, but where’s the British Empire now?

Exaggerated rumors about the decline of the U. S. are perhaps just that.  Yet our present two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with our economic crisis of the last two years, doesn’t help us.  We can only do so much.  And we most certainly cannot do it alone, not in today’s global climate.

Which brings us back to the question that the bumper sticker puts to mind: What is wrong with our participation in the United Nations?  Let me put the question another way, “What is so right about US pulling out of the UN and going it alone?”

The beginning stages of the downfall of any nation, empire, or super-power is when it begins to believe that it really is an invincible super-power needing no one but itself and its own resources, to assert its will and maintain its superiority over others, not unlike that arrogant attitude that says, “You’re either with us or against us.”

Arrogant short-sighted self-will is no more fitting for a kingdom or nation than it is for an individual.  We have great wealth and a great amount of natural resources in this country.  But we don’t have it all, and we certainly are in no position to control everything that goes on in the world, just because we are rich and powerful.  We need to cooperate as much as any other nation, perhaps even more so if we are going to maintain a leadership role in the world.  A leader is no leader if, when he says “follow me,” no one follows.  Likewise, a nation is no super-power if when it says, “follow me,” other nations simply scoff or remain non-committal at best.

It is right to be proud of who we are as a people and a nation.  But it is wrong to be arrogant and strident in our attitude and dealings with other nations.  The world does not belong to US.  We cannot act as if we own it.  And neither do we have the freedom of choosing Isolationism as an international policy.  The reality is that our prosperity needs and truly depends upon goodwill and a good economic relationship with other nations, including China.  To keep economic stability and goodwill with other nations requires mutual respect, shared responsibility, and a balancing act of give-and-take.  As we all know, all relationships require a lot of hard work to be lastingly successful; this is no less true for international relationships than it is for personal ones.

If we are in decline, it is not because we do not have the ability, means, or know-how to maintain international political influence and a cutting edge global economy.  No, if we decline it will be a direct result of our own arrogant attitude and the fallout of a short-sighted self-will that is coupled with a high-and-mighty, heavy-handed treatment toward foreign nations that should have been treated with more honor, respect, and consideration.

No one likes an arrogant brute who not only thinks he knows it all but acts as much.  Let us get off our high horse and accept the fact that we need the goodwill, support, and respect of other nations, large and small.  And to get it we must give the same in return.  America must not only stay in the UN it must learn to respect the other nations in it.  Likewise, we Americans must face the reality of China’s increasing power, economic growth, and influence, and deal with it.  But let us do so with wisdom rather than brawn, and respect rather than arrogance; and maybe, just maybe we will not see our decline for many years to come.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Word Power, Powerful Symbols, & Shootings

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”  I’m not quite sure about that, I thought.  I was in grade school.  The teacher was making a point: Learn to read and write, and to do it well, and you will be far more influential than using simple brute force.

Zero in…

Perhaps a questionable proposition when one is in grade school.  But the truth is: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words may break my spirit, cut my heart, and pierce my soul.  Words can actually do more than just hurt; they can kill.


Words have power.  Words can be inflammatory.  Ideas inflame the imagination and well-chosen words move and ignite people to action.  Words paint a picture; and a picture?  Well, “A picture is worth a….”  Words are just symbols.  As to symbols, symbolic action, movement and gesture, and symbolic figures, they are powerful too, perhaps even more so than mere words.

Get the picture?

The burning of the American flag, a symbolic act against a symbolic figure, yet many would make this act illegal and with harsh consequence.  What’s the uproar?  It’s just symbolic speech, is it not?  But we don’t like its message and would make it a criminal act.  Why?  What happened to the idea of free speech and freedom of expression and the freedom to use potent symbols to get the point across?

Is this on target?

The reading of the Constitution by Congress, was this not also a symbolic act, a gesture of homage and respect for the foundation of our government?  Words!  Why waste time reading these words, if words have no power, if words and symbolic gestures, actions, and pictures have little impact on people?

Are you scoping this?

Billions of dollars are spent by major corporations each year for thirty second ads on TV shows.  If words and symbols mean so little and have so little influence on people, why waste so much money on what amounts to a compilation of words, pictures, and symbols within a 30 second time slot on TV?

Taking aim...

We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t say on the one hand that we are innocent and bear little responsibility with what other people choose to do or choose not to do, in response to our well-chosen symbols and choice of words or symbolic action, and then on the other hand use our words and symbols to influence as many people as we can so that they see things our way and buy into our vision and embrace our picture of reality.  Words!

Words and symbols are indeed used to influence the thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and the behavior of others.  Politicians are among the first to embrace the power of the word, for they most certainly do not hesitate to use their platforms, lecterns, and the media to state their case and defend their position.

Let us all take responsibility and own up.  What we say, how we say it, and the symbols within which we wrap our words around, do matter, do have impact, and do influence--for the good as well as for the bad, even if unintended.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Prayer & Condolences to the Families of the Tucson, AZ Shootings

To the six families who recently lost their loved ones as the result of a wild gunman’s shooting in Tucson AZ (January 8, 2011), we give you our most sincere condolences.

We are saddened by this terrible event and we hurt with you, the families who are left with the pain of this great loss, from a young girl of only nine years old to an elderly retiree of seventy-six.

For those who have been wounded and are yet struggling to recover, including but not limited to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, we pray for God’s healing, protection, support and strengthening.

We pray for each and every individual including their families that are directly and indirectly affected by this appalling event. We pray for comfort of heart, courage of spirit, and peace of mind.

We pray Lord that you provide them the needed consolation and strength of faith to endure their loss and deal with its aftermath. We pray for the sufficiency of your grace to carry them through and your mercy to bring them hope and vision beyond the apparent finality of the grave.

We pray, oh God, your love surround them and embrace them through Christ who brings peace to our losses in the resurrection promise.

We also pray for a new light of awareness to the people of this nation. We pray that we as a people pay more heed to the teachings of Christ, to walk by the Spirit and not by the Flesh: For the works of the flesh are: enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, and dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing. But the fruit of the Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [see the full passage found in Galatians 5:16-26]

Dear God, soften our tempers and correct our hearts, inform our minds and inspire our spirits; lead us to a higher plane, let us rise above the muck and grime of this world and espouse eternal values and truths.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A New Congress! How about a new Attitude with it?

A new month, a new year, and a new Congress, what will this year bring in terms of political debate, posturing, and congressional deal making?

Having neither crystal ball nor prophetic gift, I dare not make any predictions.  But I can make an observation, or shall I say give a word of advice.  Simply this: watch your attitude.

Have you ever noticed how someone could say the right thing in the wrong way: What is said may be right and needs to be heard, but because of the way it is said, with a strident spirit, an arrogant attitude and a condemning or accusatory tone, it is ill-received and outright rejected.

We’ve all experienced this.  We’ve also been guilty of this perhaps within our own family dynamics and relationships.  I know I have.  The lesson is that people tend to respond first and foremost to a person’s attitude and spirit, the way they “come across,” before they’re willing to consider the person’s thinking or ideas, whether good or bad.  Politicians should remember this simple relational reality.

Swaggering arrogance, finger-pointing, scolding, accusing, and condemning does not help the congressional process.  I wonder if this new Congress will take this into account when they go to the floor to present their bills, make their statements, and debate their cause.

Everyone has a right to tenaciously hold to their perspective on things.  They even have a right to express their convictions with great passion.  But they do not have the right to demonize, condemn, and/or vilify those who have differing opinions, ideas, or thoughts on a matter.  What I’d like to see in this new Congress is a different spirit, a better relational attitude, a respect for their mutual position as elected officials.

Dear Representatives: Quit denouncing, denigrating, and vilifying your opponents just because they stand on the other side of the isle.  Show a little more respect for each other.  We Americans may safely assume that both Republicans and Democrats genuinely care for the wellbeing of America.  Representatives on the other side of the isle are not the enemy.  Democrats, Republicans, they are simply two sides to the same coin, which is America.

So, my dear Politician, whether you are on the right or on the left, adjust your attitude, be not “holier than thou.”  Come down from your superior posturing.  Quit the arrogant stridency.  You have goals, ideals, and values.  So do those on the other side.  They may differ from yours but that doesn’t mean that they are evil; it simply means that they see things differently and disagree with you.

The fact is that two heads are better than one.  Go ahead and debate, but actually listen as well, your opponent just may have something to say that is worth hearing and worth incorporating into your thinking or perspective on things.  Quit shouting at each other and start talking to each other.  Accept the fact that you are just one voice among many and that your voice is not necessarily the only voice that should be heard and heeded.