Monday, May 30, 2011

Electronic Device Social Etiquette is Long Overdue

What I am about to say is going to make me sound like an old geezer, I know, but I am going to say it anyway.  I don’t care.  It needs to be said: We need to bring back some good ole fashioned etiquette and respect, especially with regard to the way we use our electronic gadgets and smart phones.

There!  I said it.  Okay, go ahead.  Picture me as a very old man, leaning heavily forward on a cane, frail and unsteady on his legs, with a raspy squeaky old voice crying out, “Youngsters these days; they have no respect for their elders!”  That’s me, I suppose, because I want respect.

Don’t you?  Be honest now.  I know you do.  The truth is: Whether you’re ten years or a hundred and ten years old, we all want respect.  And respect and simple common decency has a lot to say about the way we use our hi-tech phones and gadgets.  Yes it does.

To begin with, respect means being “present” when you are with another person.  And that means being “engaged,” paying attention, listening = “being there.”  Are you with me?  And, in certain contexts, that means giving someone your undivided attention.  Or, when driving, for example, it means giving the other driver your undivided attention while behind the wheel so that you do not cause an accident, running into his/her rear end!  But the way we presently use our smart-phones is deplorable.  We are rude, impolite, inconsiderate, and consequentially becoming downright nasty to everyone around us while on our cell phones.

For example: let’s say that I am having a serious conversation with someone (at the office, in a café, in a hotel lobby, at the water cooler, or wherever).  I am about to make what I think is a very important point and I want my comment to be heard, understood, and well received.  But just as I am making my critical point my listener’s cell phone rings.  INTERRUPTION!  “Hold that thought,” Says my listener, as he answers his phone, “Hello.  Oh, hi, no, no bother, what’s up?  Sure, yah, ah-ha, yep, no, okay, yes, of course, well I think….”  And so it goes and I wait.

End of conversation.  I’ve not only been rudely and inconsiderately interrupted, I’ve been replaced in mid-sentence, put in the back-of-the-line for my listener’s attention until further notice.  The immediacy of my personal and real physical “presence” meant nothing.  And, as to what I was saying and the impact or significance I wanted it to have on my listener, what happened to that?  Lost!  It was lost in the shuffle of answering the cell-phone and the moving-on of time and space.  I might as well have gone into the nearest office-cubicle and called my friend from there to make my point, probably would have had better luck in getting heard.  Personal, physical presence, one-on-one conversations are not what they use to be anymore, not with smart-phones in earshot of our listener’s.

Another example: imagine me at a board meeting, a committee meeting, or a “meeting-meeting” (you know, one of those serious “please hold what is said here in complete confidentiality” meetings).  Such meetings rightly assume not only your physical presence but your mental, emotional, and yes, even your spiritual presence, your undivided attention.  But, guess what?  People are surfing the web, checking their email, texting a message, and answering their vibrating cell phones while at these significant, “I assume that I have your undivided attention” meetings.  Is this not rude, inconsiderate, and disrespectful of my time, your time, our time together?  What must I do to have you present, really there, with me at such meetings?

Real story: I was at a funeral.  Indeed, I was the clergy officiating the funeral, being as I am a pastor.  The place was packed.  The room was barely large enough to accommodate the people.  Thus, once you were in a seat it was best to stay there.  The preliminaries were over.  We were now in the more focused and serious part of the funeral service.  Then a “gentleman’s” phone rang.  Three loud rings by the time he answered it.  Yes, he actually answered it, aloud, while still in his seat.  Is this not disrespectful, or is it just me?  He was deep in the middle, smack dead-center of the seated crowd.  Not only did he answer it, he got up, edged his way out of the isle, talking all the while as he exited.  We all waited patiently in silence as we heard and watched him rise from his seat, slither his way down the row, walk down the aisle and exit the funeral parlor, talking.

It was a funeral service!  Did he HAVE to answer that phone?  My guess is that he didn’t.  A few minutes later, while I was speaking, he came back into the room, crept his way back into his seat and supposedly tuned back into our place and time. Or was he present only in body but absent in spirit?  Who knows?

Oblivious to the social circumstances, un-thoughtful, inconsiderate, selfish, and crude behavior seems to be the order of the day when it comes to cell phone usage.  Why is this?  (By the way, yes, I myself do own and use a smart phone).

Let’s recover some proper respect and etiquette.

At the cinema we are reminded not to add our own sound-effects to the movie: “Please turn off your cell-phones,” the message says on the screen.  Certain meetings and personal one-on-one conversations require the same considerate attention.  Do they not?  Turn off or don’t answer your cell phone when you know you are at such a meeting, before you are interrupted.  Learn to have presence, be present, with others.  Tune-in, listen carefully, and be fully engaged with those whom you are physically with.

Unless you know it’s an emergency, put the cell-phone caller second in line, have the caller wait his/her turn.  The person, with whom you are physically present, should come first in order of attention.  Thus, answer the phone only after you have disengaged from your meeting or conversation with the person(s) you are with.

Okay, I know.  In some group gatherings (like a group of youth hanging out in a friend’s basement, e.g.) this kind of etiquette does not fit.  So, of course we are to use common sense.  But, the principle of conducting one’s self properly, with respect to interpersonal relationships, still stands.  Obviously one should accommodate one’s behavior to fit the appropriate circumstance.

And what about driving?  It’s so obvious.  Don’t be an arrogant driver who thinks you can TEXT while driving and never get into an accident.  Respectful, considerate driving means giving full attention to the traffic and watching out for the other driver.  It may mean the difference between life and death, your life, the other driver’s life, or even a child’s life.  Don’t be distracted.  Please don’t TEXT while driving.  It’s the height of presumption and disrespect for others, risking real lives by doing so.

Bottom line: proper cell phone etiquette is not about a bunch of rules, “do’s and don’ts.”  It’s about respect and consideration for our relationships with other people in real present time.  It’s about developing good interpersonal relational skills: “being there,” listening, and giving proper attention to.  I want respect.  So do you.  Be there and be present.  Let’s not allow these ubiquitous smart phones to get in the way of good simple, healthy and sound, mutually respectful, personal one-on-one communication.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Judgment Day! Has The End of the World Come? Not Yet.

It’s happened again.  Judgment Day was predicted and the End of the World was declared to be at hand.  Believers rallied together, posting sign boards, shouting on streets corners and what not.  They even got mainstream media attention.  We all heard about it.  THE END IS HERE!  Saturday, May 21st, 2011 is the day.  Repent!  Or be sorry.  But the day came and went like any other day, and here we are, business as usual.  Nothing has changed.

Sad isn’t it?  They were so sincere.  They really, really believed that it was going to happen.  But it didn’t.  Those of us who did not buy into Harold Camping’s prediction were amused.  We chuckled, had a bit of a laugh about it and wondered how it is that people could be so naïve, so gullible.  And we went about our business as usual, knowing he was wrong.  “Not going to happen,” we said to ourselves with confident certitude.

But there’s the rub.  Will it ever happen?  Will there ever be a Judgment Day, a so-called End of the World as we know it, brought about by God?

My concern with preachers, prophets, and pastors, the likes of Harold Camping, is this: their wrong misguided and false predictions only serve to make the general population all the more resistant to the very idea that there will ever be a Judgment Day and a Second Coming of Christ.  They sneer and laugh, and make jokes about it, chalking it up as one more piece of evidence that all Believers, all Christians, all followers of Jesus Christ who put their hope in the promise of a Second Coming are delusional, misguided ignorant and naïve fools.  This too is sad.

Biblical prophecy is clear on this point.  There will be a Judgment Day.  There will be an END TIME.  God declared it and Jesus confirmed it.  It will happen.  We just don’t know WHEN!  “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write to you.  For you well know that the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2).  “Thief in the night”?  In other words, as if by stealth—unlooked for, unexpected—catching the unaware by surprise.

When Jesus Himself was asked by His disciples about the time of the restoration (the End Times), this was His answer: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has set by His own authority” (Acts 1:7).

Thus, we who chuckled with respect to Harold Camping’s prediction, yet consider ourselves believers, were laughing only at the idea that he presumed to know the exact date and time of Christ’s Return.  That was his mistake.  But we don’t chuckle at the core issue here, that there will be a Judgment Day and that God will be bringing an end to this world as we know it.

The Apostle Peter put it this way: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.  Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:10-13).  So the promise is there.  And the event is predicted by one who actually walked, talked, sat, ate, and spoke with Jesus Himself, pre- as well as post-resurrection.  In short, Peter knew of what he spoke.

Peter also had this to say: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9).

So, before we get too smug in our attitude regarding misguided teachers and their misdirected followers about exactly when the End Time will come, let us not lose sight of this core truth: The End Time is coming, sooner or later.  Meanwhile God is giving humanity time to repent and to be saved from His Righteous Judgment.  Jesus came to save, not to condemn us (John 3:17).  But when the end comes, all this life’s misery as we know it will finally be dealt with and be put to an end.  So, for some, the coming of Judgment Day, “The End,” will be Good News; but for others, it will be the most pitiful day of their lives.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Graduation, Degree in Hand, Was it Worth it?

Graduation Day is here.  You may now move your tassels.

Now what?

For the University graduate that question is even more acute.  More likely than not, there is a debt to pay.  Finding a job is a priority, to say the least.  In the face of thousands of dollars of Student Loan Debt, perhaps both parents and students are asking, “Was it worth it?”

If one earned a degree in math, chemistry, or biology, along with its accompanying knowledge and skills, which can easily be applied in today’s science labs, high-tech companies, or medical research departments, perhaps so.  But what about degrees in English Lit, History, Philosophy, Theology, Art, Music, and/or the Social Sciences, are they worth the cost?

Well now, it all depends, doesn’t it?  What is a good University education supposed to give you?  Is it all about preparing for corporate cubicles and corner offices, a kind of pre-enlistment for company payrolls?  For some, it is.

But it’s a sad world if that’s all a University education is about.  Now more than ever, we need deep wise penetrating thinkers, not just corporate money changers and business calculators.  Musicians, artists, philosophers, theologians, literary types, and social workers do have value, if for nothing else than to analyze and critique our corporate finance “money is everything” culture.  Studies in The Humanities give us a bigger picture regarding our place and activity in this world.  Life is not just about business or even about the latest scientific discovery or technological development.  It is also about meaning and truth, faith, hope, and love, honor, respect, and justice.  We are human BEINGS not just human doings.  Though we must learn to do, we must also learn to BE.  A college education that only teaches how to read a financial spread sheet and write an office memo has greatly missed the mark.

Learning to think, being introduced to the wisdom of the ages, becoming familiar with history’s greatest thinkers is the beginning of a good education.  A solid University education will encourage students to ask and to seek answers to life’s greatest questions, e.g., who are we, why are we, what is truth, the meaning of death, what is the foundation of justice and what are the limits of personal freedoms.  Learning to learn and to do so wisely so that one might realize that one’s assumptions may not always be as reasonable or logical or as sensible and coherent as one initially presumed.  Opening one’s eyes to a larger world, becoming less provincial, this is a sign of having had a good University education.  Becoming more articulate and well read, developing personal confidence in one’s convictions and beliefs coupled with humility and the respect for the thoughts and ideas, and varying concepts and traditions of others, is a sign of having received a good University education.  To know enough to avoid being myopic or ethnocentric, or sophomoric, or mercenary, is evidence of having had a good University education.

Yes, a good University education can indeed be well worth it, of much greater value than merely preparing one for the job market.  But of course, whether you actually receive a good University education depends on which University you choose to attend.  Choose wisely.  For today’s graduates, I trust you will fully appreciate your education’s value over the years.  For future graduates, make the best of your college years and take delight in learning.  It will never fail you.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Casualties of War are Nothing to Cheer About

War is a burden.  It is a serious and somber undertaking.  People die.  Families are never the same in its aftermath.  Everyone is affected, fathers and husbands, women and children, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.  No one is left out.  Even the victorious nation will be scarred for life by its effects.  War is not a game.

When President Woodrow Wilson called for the United States to enter into World War I, declaring war on Germany and its axis powers, in his address to the 65th session of Congress he said the following, “The choice we make for ourselves must be made with a moderation of counsel and a temperateness of judgment befitting our character and our motives as a nation.  We must put excited feeling away.  Our motives will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion.”  There was no bravado, no arrogant posturing, machismo style.  It was simply a clear call to a necessary duty, to do a harsh but needful thing in order to defend freedom.

Do you remember how smug and arrogant Osama Bin Laden looked when they showed video tapes of him gleefully approving the successful attack against our Twin Towers in New York City, now called Ground Zero?  It was sickening.  It was also angering.  That anyone should gloat at such an action—the raw naked killing of thousands of innocent people going about their daily lives—was appalling.  It was monstrous.

Are we to do the same in return?  Is it our turn to gloat?  I hope not.  I trust that we are better than that?  An honorable nation fights and kills because it must, not because it takes delight in it.  A good nation is respectful in its victories and is even considerate of the vanquished.  It does not beat its breasts gorilla fashion.  There is no swaggering or taunting.  It does not egg-on.  It does not demean and degrade its opponent simply for the pleasure of it.  There is no honor in shaming and humiliating one’s enemies.  In acts of war, a wise and mature nation does only what it must do, no more no less, all the while disdaining the required killing and shedding of blood that is the inevitable part of the process.  War is an ugly business and should always be seen as such.

Furthermore, apart from what other religions may teach or practice, Christianity asserts this: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).  This, coupled with Proverbs 24:17, which says, “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble, or else the Lord will see it and be displeased, and turn away His anger from them,” tells us that we must remain humble in our victories.  Indeed, we must respectfully acknowledge that in the end God will have the last word and give the final judgment over all peoples and every nation.

Let us therefore not gloat.  Let there be no cheering and breast beating when we hear certain news about particular villains and enemies being caught, captured, and/or shot.  We are not playing at sport.  We need no dancing cheerleaders.  Let us respect the awesomeness of war and its taking of human life.  And so, let us not merely pray for a shallow victory of brute force.  Rather, let us pray for the deeper victory of spirit and soul, that our enemies may one day become our friends and have a change of heart.  Need we be enemies unto death, until one side completely annihilates the other?  Must they hate us always?  Must we hate them forever?  Not if we can find a way to show them that we really are a people of goodwill with good intention and good purpose.  Gloating does not help in this direction.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Gasland, Fracking Chemicals, Water, and Money

GASLAND, by Josh Fox, is a frightening 2009 documentary about natural gas drilling in America.

Pennsylvania is a state rich with natural gas.  That’s good, no?  Jobs, money, dependable income, a clean energy resource, it’s a win-win situation, right?

Well, it depends… how are we getting this natural gas out?

Have you heard of “Hydraulic Fracturing,” or “fracking” for short?  Neither have I, until, that is, I watched the above mentioned documentary called, GASLANDIt is a MUST SEE!

Gas/Oil companies have recently begun to drill for natural gas in northern PA.  They have already been doing so in many other States across the Midwest.  The side effects are not good.  Here in our Tri-State area they want to build at least 50,000 natural gas wells across 75 miles of the Delaware River (hundreds of thousands more when you include other neighboring states).  Now, consider the source of our drinking water.  Keep this in the back of your mind as you read on.

The documentary, Gasland, tells you what you need to know.  Please, do watch it.  Nevertheless, allow me to summarize some key points as I highlight the key problem/issue before us.

History: in the 1970’s, our nation established (A) The Environmental Protection Agency and The Clean Air Act (1970), (B) The Clean Water Act (1972) and (C) The Safe Drinking Water Act (1974).   This was done for obvious reasons; we were killing ourselves (our land and waterways) with industrial pollution.  So we regulated and established watchdog agencies to ensure that manufacturing companies would not freely dump their toxic waste into the skies and onto our lands and in our streams, rivers, and lakes, thereby ruining our breathing air and drinking water.

Enter historical changes: under Bush-Cheney’s presidential leadership, the 2005 Energy Bill is passed; this bill exempts gas/oil companies from the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act as well other regulatory laws that were put in place to protect our air, land, and waterways from their polluting actions.

Enter “fracking.”  Hydraulic fracturing is a form of natural gas drilling that leaves water polluting havoc in its wake.  “Fracking” requires “fracking fluids,” which include 596 chemicals most of which are carcinogenic.  Fracking is a method that is being used all over the country.  According to the documentary, 34 States now have oil/gas companies drilling for natural gas.  Fracking’s ugly negative side-effects have already hit many families and homes across the U.S. and will continue to do so unless we, the people of America, call for stricter regulation and accountability over these companies.

Here’s the problem.  Because of the 2005 energy bill that was passed, because these companies are now exempted from The Clean Air Act, The Clean water Act, The Clean drinking Water Act, etc., they presently have no watchdog.  They are regulatory free.  They are accountable to no one.  They are polluting the environment and contaminating the nation’s fresh drinking water sources without a second thought and we the people have no recourse.  Is this an exaggeration?  Is this Chicken Little crying “the sky is falling”?  You’re intelligent.  Watch the documentary and decide for yourself.  (Rent it from Netflix.)

I am scared.  If we let this continue, we will pay a huge price for it.  Why?  Because there is nothing, absolutely nothing more basic to flourishing life than fresh, clean, drinkable, water.  Water is the very foundation for life.  To ruin our waterways is to ruin life itself.  And this is exactly what fracking does.

Companies now using this fracking method are adamant in accepting NO responsibility for ruining our freshwater sources.  They are determined to avoid any accountability for their actions—lobbying hard against regulatory oversight.  They certainly do NOT want to have to identify the names and the nature of the chemicals that they are using for fracking, the very same chemicals that are seeping into our waterways, streams, rivers, and lakes as its side effect.

Yes, there are billions of dollars at stake here.  MONEY TALKS!  MONEY IS POWER!  But what good is all the money in the world if you are dying of thirst.  All seamen know that you could be surrounded by an ocean of water and still die of thirst—water, water, everywhere water, and not a drop to drink.  Is this what we are willing to do to ourselves just for natural gas, and MONEY?

I am deeply worried by all of this.  I hope that you will be too, worried enough to rise up and reverse this action, before it is too late.  So, please, do watch this documentary, GASLAND, and pass the word along.  Let us not be naïve.  There will be dire consequences to our freshwater sources if we allow this to continue unchecked.   Wake up!  Take note!  Without fresh drinkable water there is no life, period!