Monday, June 27, 2011

July 4th We Celebrate our Freedoms! But how Do We Keep Them?

Next week is our Nation’s birthday.  We celebrate.

What do we celebrate?  Freedom!  We commemorate our values, our rights and our freedoms—the right to pursue life liberty and happiness, our freedom of speech and of religion, and so on so forth.

Ironically, one of freedom’s greatest enemies is safety & security.  Why is this?

Total unrestrained freedom means nothing more than life-threatening chaos.  Take our freedom of mobility to drive anywhere we please.  This freedom requires order.  If we are going to arrive at our destination safely and securely, we need laws, rules, and regulations—red lights, stop signs, driving lanes, speed limits, etc.  Thus, the free exercise of our freedom assumes limitations on that freedom—restrictions—for the sake of order, safety, and security.

All Governments, of whatever persuasion, know this and use various means and methods to maintain safety and security for their people by directly or indirectly limiting various aspects of their freedoms.  Indeed there is a direct correlation between an extremely safe and secure State Controlled environment and a peoples’ lack of freedom.  You can bet that an extremely well-ordered, clean and safe country is a country whose State-Government is heavy handed and holds the reigns tightly over its citizens.  Singapore would be a prime example of this.

It’s a trade-off.  Want more freedom?  Be prepared to feel less safe in your environment, less secure.  Want more security?  Be prepared to give up some of your precious freedoms.  Thus, safety and security are inherently antithetic to freedom.

Because of this, freedom is constantly being threatened, is regularly eroded by our need for safety and security.  And so, maintaining our Freedoms requires constant vigil.  It demands hard work.  A citizen’s personal freedoms are all too easily lost in the daily shuffle of living a life.  While Joe Citizen is busy making a living, he may wake up one day only to discover that he’s lost some precious basic freedom, just when he was feeling the most comfortable, all safe and secure.

Thus, it helps to remember that true freedom—real authentic personal and social freedom—must first ignite from within.  Authentic Freedom begins with the recognition that every soul is sacrosanct and every person is deserving of respect, dignity, and honor—Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  That’s why real freedom begins in the heart.  Freedom values people, dignifies persons, is respectful of community relationships, and honors personal and social boundaries.  And so Authentic Freedom supports just laws, fair and balanced regulation, the principle of fair play and good conduct, community cohesiveness, in short, a rule of law and order that is fair and just, equitable, non-exploitive, non-invasive, and non-oppressive.  The respect for and the dignity and honor of all human beings are at its core.

Secondly, Authentic Freedom is ignited by the light of truth.  Openness and transparency feeds into Authentic Freedom.  The heart may give freedom its passion and value, but the mind gives freedom its content and substance.  Authentic Freedom requires wisdom, insight, knowledge and understanding.  A free people must be an educated and informed people.  Education must be a priority.  Authentic Freedom is built on a citizenship that is knowledgeable and not naïve, inquisitive and not gullible, insightful and not credulous, mentally awake and aware and neither dazed nor asleep.  It citizenship wants and demands truth and authenticity at all levels and must itself be a true and authentic people or freedom has little chance.

Thirdly, Authentic Freedom must be expressed in daily practice—at work, at play, at home, in the office, the board room, the classroom, or the hospital room.  Authentic Freedom must be given shape and form by the actual character and behavior of its adherents, by citizens who walk the talk, who live the value, and play, practice, and perform their free acts without apology or abuse.  Free citizens do as Authentic Freedom expects wants and demands of a free people.  They exercise their freedom with respect, dignity, honor and consideration for all.  They live, act do and behave as authentic carriers of freedom ought to, dignifying persons, honoring personal boundaries and needs, respecting law and order and safety and security concerns, all the while keeping their core authentic freedom principles intact.  They do unto others as they would have others do unto them.

So, as we celebrate our Nation’s birthday, let us also be mindful of our responsibility to nurture our freedoms with balanced and just laws, fair and equitable rules and regulations, and just restrictions that keep our people safe and secure as well as free and thriving.  Let us therefore continue to build on our Authentic Freedoms beginning with a heart of passion, informing our minds and enlightening our understanding, and living it out in daily practice and participation.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Issues regarding our Nation’s Health Care System

We all seem to agree that our health care system needs great improvement.

First of all, it’s way too costly.  It’s ever on the increase, consistently outpacing the normal rate of inflation year to year.  Where is the money going?  Who’s getting it?  Why does it constantly outrun most other industries in terms of cost and inflation?

Secondly, it’s imbalanced.  Some get extraordinary care while others get little or none.  Tons of money is spent on adding a few short months to a life that has already lived seventy, eighty, even ninety years, while little money is available to provide basic health care needs to children who, for lack of it, are constantly sick and may even needlessly die at an early age.

Thirdly, it’s convoluted and opaque, covert and non-transparent.  Have you ever spent time in the hospital and later tried to make sense of the hospital bill?  Did you even get a chance to see the hospital bill’s breakdown?  You asked for an aspirin.  How much did you (i.e., your insurance company) actually pay for it?  You’d be astounded if you knew.  But we’re kept happily in the dark about such details.  The doctor passes by in the hallway; you call out and ask him a simple question.  You discover later that he charged you a $150 consulting fee for that 30 second conversation.  You had simply asked him if you were going to be released from the hospital that afternoon or the next morning.

Fourthly, it’s not about what it’s about.  What is health care?  Regular check-ups for both children and adults are required to treat normal mundane human sicknesses so as to prevent more serious illnesses from spreading.  So, health care is about maintaining a generally healthy population.  There are emergencies, accidents, broken legs, burns, and recoverable illnesses.  So, health care is about providing immediate medical care in a medical emergency.  There are long term and chronic medical needs from birth.  So, health care is about providing sustained medical treatment over a person’s lifetime because of congenital birth defects, deformities, and imperfections.  There are fatal diseases, the big “C” being the most common.  And so, health care is about fighting cancer and other terminal illnesses.

But health care is also a business, BIG business, and profits and losses are a major concern for anyone in the business.  So, we have a contradiction in values.    It’s an industry that capitalizes on people getting sick.  As a business it must make money.  A profit is wanted at the end of the day.  The bottom-line rules!  On the other hand, a family will say, “You can’t put a price tag on Uncle Johnny or Aunt Sally or Grandpa, Grandma, mom, dad, sister, or brother.”  “Do whatever it takes to keep my loved one alive, whatever the cost!” says the family.  Then what?  Then the ghastly medical bills come in, and a family’s home is ruined.  All financial resources are drained.  Meanwhile the loved one is now beyond recovery and dies anyway.  The family can pay no more, will pay no more.  So, who actually benefitted from such care?

Finally, it feeds into human nature’s weakness to want total control and power.  There are couples who very much want their own child but can’t seem to produce one, and there are women who very much do not want the child developing in their womb and want it clinically removed.  Thus, health care is about providing the desired reproductive ends for singles and/or couples who want or do not want “the baby.”  Note: the choice is only available for those who can prove that they have the means to pay.  And then there is the inevitable death and dying process.  Health care is about easing the death and dying process if not indefinitely postponing it for as long as possible.  Exactly how much are you willing to pay to add just a little more time to your life?

We are contradicting ourselves.  On the one hand we have couples who are willing to spend huge amounts of medical money, resources, time, talent, research, and what not in order to keep their “preemie” alive, even if it means that the baby will not have a “normal” life and will require constant medical attention along with its accompanying services (hospital stays, doctors’ visits, pharmaceuticals, nursing care, therapy, special Ed, etc.) for the rest of his/her life.  On the other hand we have those who are desperate to abort their baby, refusing to admit that it is anything near a viable living being.  And still, on the other hand, we have aging parents and grandparents who have lived a good and full life, well into their eighties and nineties, whose family refuses to “let go” demanding they be given the best and most modern medical treatment available in order to keep them here on earth, for what—three, six, perhaps twelve more months at the most?  Is this reasonable?  Is it right?

Who decides and how should such things be decided?  To each his/her own way?  Is it really an individual decision when all of society pays its social and economic consequence in one form or another?  What’s going on here?  As a society we have mixed and conflicting messages as to the definition of life, birth, death, and life’s value.  We want to believe that we can avoid death altogether.  We want to conquer the aging process.  We want modern science and technology to serve our interests, including our decision as to whether or not the next generation shall live—abort or not abort, save the preemie or not save the preemie, no matter the odds against it.  “Don’t pull the plug,” says one couple.  “Get this thing out of me,” says she.

Modern science and technology, especially in the medical field, has caused us to lose sight of two basic truths in life.  (1) We are mortal beings.  Modern medicine has made it more difficult not less, to determine and accept the final step in life—when we have to accept and embrace life’s inevitability—death.  We shall die, all of us.  It seems we won’t accept this.  (2) We are not gods.  The more power a human being wields the more dangerous he/she becomes.  Imagine a typical human with godlike powers.  Scary!  Yet, we are more and more taking it upon ourselves to decide who shall and who shall not live—based on our own selfish interests and desires.  On the aging end, we are artificially keeping loved ones alive by hooking them up to mechanical life support systems, unnecessarily prolonging their passage way to Life after life.  And, on the inception end of things, we are artificially cutting life short by invading the uterus.  We have become our own gods.  This is a very dangerous path to be on.

As to our nation’s health care system, here are some principles we should heed: (1) that which is fair and just is always a good measure for determining whether something is good.  If systems and procedures result in unfair and unjust outcomes, something is wrong.  If we are going to do what’s right for health care in our nation, we need to develop a health care system that is as fair and just for all citizens as can possibly be.  (2) Fairness and justice require truth and transparency.  We need more truth and transparency in our medical health care system.  The right-hand has to know what the left-hand is doing.  We need to understand the who, what, where, when, how, and why of the key players and stakeholders that presently dominate the health care system in order to determine what needs correcting.  I don’t believe that the public is getting the real picture.  Too much is still being hidden from public view.  (3) We need a more consistent and unifying understanding of life/death processes.  “Pulling the plug” is not always a bad thing.  Saving a preemie is not always a good thing.  Yet, I admit, sometimes it seems that you almost have to be God to know how to make that judgment call.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Nature’s Care, Global Warming, Earthly Needs, Fracking, and other Worldly Concerns

You don’t need to be an Albert Einstein.  You don’t need to be a Nobel Prize winner in Science.  You don’t need to be a physicist, a biologist, a zoologist, or a climatologist to know that something is wrong.  Nature, Mother Earth, is convulsing and choking on our waste—industrial waste, chemicals and gases, non-degradable plastics, spent nuclear rods, heat exhaust, CO2, etcetera.

We are presently teetering on a world population of seven (7) billion.  That means that in my own lifetime earth’s population increased from around 2.5 billion to a whopping 7 billion.  That’s a big increase in fifty odd years.  Wouldn’t you agree?  A global population of more than 9 billion is expected by 2050.

Exactly how many people can the earth actually sustain?  Remember, all 7 to 9 billion people will need and want, fresh clean air, pure clean water, and enough food to satisfy hunger if not our indulgent appetites, not to mention a means to rid themselves of human waste, garbage, and sewage.  How much will the Earth take?  Growth is not limitless.  Earth’s life-sustaining capacity is not endlessly expansive.

Clean water resources are receding.  Rich agricultural land is diminishing.  The rain forest is shrinking.  The Glaciers are melting at a phenomenal rate.  Huge sections of precious Coral Reefs are dying.  Waterless desert land is expanding.  Our air is polluted.  Private water wells are drying up and/or are no longer trustworthy sources of clean drinking water.  These global trends are simple matter-of-fact realities that no longer need “official declaration,” or “administrative validation,” or “legal proof” or “government confirmation.”  It’s 21st century global reality.  It’s happening right before our very eyes.  And we’re in denial.

Yet we continue to dig, drill, and “frack,” drain, flush, and empty, and otherwise exploit our land in sundry ways, giving little or no thought to the long-term consequences.  And we foolishly polarize the argument into artificially “all or nothing” positions: “tree huggers” versus “job creation and sound business investment.”  Yet these concerns are more than a mere question of present day economic business needs.  It is a question of earth’s life-sustainability.

We’ve treated the earth as if it were a mere commodity, an object for exploitation rather than as an extension of our own life source.  Mother Earth is not simply a financial commodity.  Earth is a holistic living organism that provides us with the basic necessities of life, and No!  I’m not becoming “Animistic” or subscribing to some “New Age Spiritualism.”  Nevertheless, we need to handle Earth with much more respect and care than we have in the past and stop using it as if it were nothing more than a thing to buy, use, and dispose of when done.

The modern day business mentality and its approach to the use of earth’s resources has a huge disconnect between earth as a life-providing and life-sustaining organism and earth as an object of exploitation for the material stuff that it’s made of—water, oil, gold, diamonds, coal, natural gas, and so-forth.  The effect of this disassociating approach, this disconnect between earth as thing/object/stuff versus earth as an organism/subject/life, is killing it.

It is a mindset problem, a mentality, the way we view reality and our business in this world.  The business model mindset—earth is a commodity—buy sell, exploit use and dispose, is not working.  It is effectively choking life off this planet.  For too long we have acted as if we are earth’s superiors, independent masters in control of earth rather than dependent subjects whose wellbeing is directly connected to earth’s wellbeing.  We need a new model, a new earth-friendly model that recognizes our dependency upon earth’s life’s cycles and nature’s balance of things.  The business model has been too reckless and negligent, too myopic and short-sighted, too utilitarian and exploitative, and completely blind to earth as a life-giving, life sustaining organism.

This is why, for example, many Americans who are generally good thinking, trusting, and well balanced patriotic U.S. citizens DO worry about the fracking that is going on in the Marcellus Shale.  We have our doubts.  We are not buying into the “don’t worry, we’ve got everything under control, just trust us” response to our questions about its effect upon our water wells and our rivers and streams, and why we continue to demand for more accountability and ask for better regulation over the oil companies that are doing the fracking.

The earth has its vital signs just as any other living organism.  And what earth’s vital signs are telling us is not good.  It’s in poor health and it’s not getting any better.  To refuse to recognize this is to be in denial.

For example, take the idea of “global warming.”  Not to accept Global Warming as a reality is to believe that the whole concept is nothing more than a conspiracy.  It’s as if one day, a few choice people woke up with this great idea to scam the world.  “I know,” says one culprit, “Let’s tell people that the world is getting a temperature.  We’ll call it Global Warming.  Meanwhile, we’ll set up businesses all over the world that will claim to fight the effects of this so-called Global Warming.  And, since we created the idea in the first place, we will have major economic control over the investments in these companies and so we can kick back and rake in the money when everyone is frightened enough to invest in our little lie that the earth has a temperature.”

So, Global Warming is really a big scam, a hoax, just another scheme to take our money.  Is that what they—those who oppose accepting Global Warming as reality—want us to believe?  Give me a break. And go hug a tree, it just might make you feel better.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Danger Signs: Cults verses Trustworthy Christian Faith Groups

92% of Americans believe in God.  But then it breaks down from there.  There's all kinds of varieties of belief in God out there.

People differ greatly as to their faith expression, practice, worship, and understanding of God.  Yet, despite the diversity of faith expressions and beliefs, most Christian faith-groups are, shall we say, “safe” and respectable.  And by that I mean that even though they are different from each other, they are nonetheless open and transparent as to the demands and expectations of its adherents.  Insiders as well as outsiders are free to learn about its tenets and practices, rites and rituals, its leadership structure, and its means of incorporating new members or dismissing wayward ones (apostates).  People are free to “take it or leave it,” to agree or disagree, and to embrace or un-embrace the faith-group as they will.

Not so with Religious Cults.  A Cult is different.  They are neither open and free nor safe and respectable.  Cults are dangerous and need to be avoided.  What are the signs of a cult verses the normal variety of differing faith-groups?

Warning Sign A: cults are usually personality driven.  One highly visible, gifted, charismatic leader is usually at the head of a cult.  This leader is usually its founder or handpicked by the founder as his/her successor.  This leader is usually very authoritarian, demanding absolute obedience and is intolerant of any who would disagree with him.  In short the leader is usually controlling, domineering, and godlike in expectation of submission and obedience by his/her followers.

Warning sign B: Absolute authority is exercised by its leader(s) and absolute obedience is demanded of its adherents.  Followers are not to question commands or the decisions of their leader(s).  The leader(s) are constantly saying something like, “We know what’s best for you.”  Its leader(s) presumes that he never makes any mistakes and that she is in a sense all wise and all knowing.  When a leader presumes to think in your behalf and commands you to follow without question, my advice is to run.  No leader, no matter how saintly or godly or wise and intelligent he/she may seem to be, should ever be given that kind of power and authority over others.  Healthy followers are followers who are clear minded, free to accept or not accept, follow or deviate from following, according to their own conscience and understanding. 

Warning sign C: A cult leader will often presume to be perfect saying in effect, “I am holy.  Live as I live.  Do as I do.  Aspire to be as I am.”  This is a critical warning sign.  First of all the presumption is that real goodness is measured by outward conformity to a prescribed set of rules and regulations established by the leader himself and has little to do with one’s inner heart.  Holiness becomes a question of behavioral submission, compliance and conformity to the leader’s dictates, rather than a question of the motive, purpose, and values set within one’s own heart.  But Jesus made it very clear that it is the state of one’s heart that determines a person’s purity, not simply the outward conformity to a certain set of rules and regulations established by a religious leader.  The Pharisees were strict advocates of the law yet were called vipers and full of dead bones on the inside.

Warning Sign D: Members of a cult, from its leader down to its most humble of followers, assume that they and only they are the true representatives of God here on earth.  They are the only ones that truly qualify as God’s real children, God’s truly chosen.  All other faith-groups, of whatever name, brand, denomination, or persuasion are misguided and wrong in absolute terms.  Consider for example that most of the many hundreds of Christian denominations that worship on any given Sunday will readily admit that they are one of many acceptable Christian churches with which people can choose to identify.  That is, they do NOT see themselves as having exclusive right to the Christian faith as to its interpretative meaning and practice.  Thus, Mennonites, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Reformed, Lutheran, Catholics, and others, all recognize that though they differ as to particulars in faith and practice (and their differences ARE significant), they still acknowledge and respect each other’s core unity in Jesus Christ regarding his person, life, death, and resurrection.  A Cult on the other hand gives no such recognition and rejects outright all variant beliefs and practices but its own.  A cult believes itself to be THE one and only TRUE church—no exceptions, no qualifications, no grey area, no accepting of any other church period!

This leads to warning sign E: Cults are not only totally and absolutely exclusive, believing that all other denominations are absolutely in the wrong, totally misguided and must be converted to the cult’s own specific and particular way of belief, practice, and understanding.  They also make it very difficult for a person to leave the cult once the person has entered into it.  Take warning!  They make every effort to prevent its followers from being “negatively” influenced from people on the outside, especially family, friends, and other loved ones.  Most will not threaten your life, but they will make life very difficult for those who “want out.”  Oh yes, they also expect their followers to give the major portion of an individual’s resources, assets, time and talent to the interests of the cult organization, demanding huge personal sacrifice on the part of the individual adherent.

Cults are dangerous and should be avoided.  They are manipulative, attempting to control the mind and body, behavior and lifestyle of its followers.  Healthy, open and safe, faith-groups are first of all non-controlling.  They leave you in charge of your own conscience.  They also demand no more than Christ Himself demanded of anyone in terms of obedience and most importantly in terms of accountability, that it is a matter of the heart: peace, patience, love, gentleness, kindness, and goodness.

Also remember, religious groups are not the only kind of cults out there.  There can also be political and social cults as well (e.g., the Nazi party of WW II could be categorized as a political Cult).  Any group that becomes mind-controlling, manipulative, secretive and demanding of absolute obedience from its adherents is dangerous, be it religious, political, or social.  Take care and heed the signs.