Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Air Travel Is For The Birds

Dear Children:

There was a time when air travel was unusual, luxurious and expensive. It didn’t take long for it to become commonplace, cheap and painful. Take this morning, for instance.

We arose early in west suburban Boston. That part was okay. We were off to Logan Airport at the stroke of ten for a noon flight. In that time the car could have gotten us 120 miles down the road through fens and forests, history and myth, budding trees and melting snow; 18 wheelers and McDonalds by the score.

Instead there was the TSA assiduously guarding against the 4.5 oz toothpaste tube and ferrous metal. Don’t misunderstand: Nobody wants a hijacked aircraft used as a weapon against iconic buildings or the power grid. Its just that our sense of diligent fairness requires granny to get out of her wheelchair to be wanded, babies to have boarding passes and a suspension (however briefly) of our right to free speech. A mindless devotion to specific rule plays proxy for safety. Yet, we endure it for the greater good even though we know that determined criminals will merely bypass a hardened target for a soft one.

Airports, like shopping districts throughout the world, all look alike. They have the same Sunglasses Hut, the same newsstands, the same over-priced candy, the same stainless steel walls and the same hands-free toilets and sinks. If getting through customs or past the TSA weren’t enough, the glassy far-away stare on most folks is fashioned from pervasive numb and number sameness.

No wonder our minds, if not rotted by television, make great orchid-growing medium. In airports, one sees those portable DVD players, WiFi hotspots and CNN Lite everywhere. Forget sameness, we don’t actually leave home -- God forbid we should take delight in a stopover in Detroit.

Aircraft air is just this side of toxic – closer to ozone than oxygen. We all face forward just like old-timey prison dining rooms. Why is it that city buses can arrange seating for a varied view and airliners can’t? Airliners have a beggar-thy-neighbor system of comfort. The passenger in front tilts back his seat either shortening the one aft or producing a chain reaction of tilts into the empanage. Elbows are not safe from beverage-service carts nor are rest rooms the least bit gag free. What is that blue liquid?

So from Logan Airport we flew to Detroit to layover an hour or so and board a smaller plane destined Omaha. Omaha is not our destination. Our destination is three hours off by car. This is for the purpose of getting a cheaper fare. We save $200 each using this method. Because four Benjamins is nothing to sneeze at, we sneeze at a trip home in the dark.

Early in February it was less expensive to fly from home to Orlando thence New York and retrace the dog-leg than to go directly from home to New York round trip. A nodding acquaintance with geometry exposes that state of affairs for the fraud it is. It is not unlike our prehensile purchase on the idea of telephone long distance when we are all mostly equidistant from the satellite – the hypotenuse doesn’t matter.

Yet here we are at 30 thousand feet unable to see the ground and entertaining the belief that traveling 500 miles per hour is oh-so right. Maybe when this headache subsides and blood no longer pools in my rump, I’ll feel better. Who knows?

Much Love,


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Our Moment Stack

Dear Children:

It’s Lent. In the popular cultural, Lent is as a time of self-denial. Giving up some treasured pastime or food for forty days (plus Sundays) is said to be good for what ails you. This, to be sure, is after a day of indulgence called Fat Tuesday.

Don’t look at me. Getting a reward in advance for a personal discipline in the future may sound a little backward. Who’s to say? Maybe, this one time during the year, arranging things out of order may be the ticket: sort of a feng shui cartwheel.

The religious context of Lent is certainly contrary to the regular way of doing things. One of the lessons of this season is that the things that matter will cost your life. God help us, if something matters, the consequences are profound.

For that matter, the scriptures are chock-a-block with stories about people who are blessed, cursed, killed and saved for their acts. Name an instance where mere thoughts, claims or intentions made the slightest difference to anyone.

In the here and now, in the space we occupy with our bodies, the things we hold dear play out in our actions. It’s not a head-game. It is a function of arithmetic. One action that occupies a moment is exclusive to that moment. Every moment offers a fresh decision about how to occupy that moment. We make decisions whose predicates are resident in our values – the things that are important.

It is no great leap to the conclusion that our values can be read by our actions. The things we hold dear drive our actions in a way that mere palaver cannot. And, by the shortest possible extension, value-driven action pushes out all other possible actions for that moment. The things that matter cost your life.

It’s no accident that we refer to personal history as how a life was spent. It wasn’t unwound out like a length of rope. It was spent. We don’t get a determined number of breaths or heartbeats. We get one moment stacked upon another for a lifetime.

This is a good thing. This is a very good thing.

We spoke of this before. Intentionality doesn’t count. The best we can do is interpret how our values drove us for a moment gone bye-bye. Here’s the wonderful part: we get to amend our values. Surely, if we are unhappy with a moment past, we’ll need to make a change. The next moment is upon us.

It is also the route to happiness. By this method we can be at peace inside our own skins. When there is no disconnect between a profession and an action, all is well. That moment – that lifetime – is well spent.

Much Love,


Monday, March 9, 2009

The Gamaliel Objective

Dear Children:

This is getting complicated. And, just in case anyone’s interested, this blog is challenging my ability to say anything fresh about Big Topics. A couple of your preacher Daddies and some of your preacher uncles know about this problem. The temptation to expound on ever-smaller slices of Big Topic is very real. That temptation is what leads to ever-finer distinctions in theology, dogma and political orthodoxy. In short, we surrender to the greatest single source of conflict that has plagued every moment of every day in sapient history.

Do you remember the dictum that emanated from the Pentagon when the debate was on about the intractable problems of our occupation of Iraq? It was said: Go big, go long or go home. That is a thimble-sized description of the problem with authoritative pronouncements. Going big suggests an imposition of indubitable edict. Going long presumes that we have an open-ended mandate for truth-finding. Going home suggests that once the pearls have dropped from our lips, the job is done.

The policy-makers in Washington decided in the case of Iraq to go big for a while and then go long. I don’t know if that’s the right policy for Iraq, but I do know it’s the right policy for the marketplace of ideas. (Ideas are important not because everybody has them but because so few of us has them. Most of us depend on the ideas of others. Ideas are different from opinions, a distinction that is often lost. Opinions are expressions about ideas, not the ideas themselves.) Ideas are Big Topic. How many Gods are there? Does one of them care about us? What good is learning? What is right relationship? Is there evil? Is there purpose? Does any human life matter? I name just a few.

We need to be committed to the proposition that ideas have lives – lives that are worth investigating. Like everything with a life, ideas are capable of maturing or ossifying – being helpful or destructive. Like everything with a life, potentiality is balanced by withering. Ideas respond to nurturing and shrink with neglect. Ideas can be dead wrong and gloriously transcendent. No idea that has been freely expressed, investigated and subjected to varied opinion is likely to be dangerous. Ideas received by avatars and imposed by bureaucrats without debate are especially dangerous. Do you get the distinction? As they say in The Hood: “Feel me?”

Do not fear the airing out of either ideas or opinions. Instead, fear enforced opinions and ideas or ideas that were snatched from the ether by those with special knowledge or access to special sight. Look up the Sage Gamaliel in The Acts of the Apostles and then let us all know when we last had a Sanhedrin or bothered with Pharisees. There are plenty that aspire the job but they never seem to last.

My plan is to go long.

Much Love,


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Telos All About It, Poppy

Dear Children:

I’ve been re-reading some of my recent work including these posts. I ask this question for you: Who appointed Poppy Grand Inquisitor?

Nobody. In my own defense, please let me describe in the broadest possible terms, what informs these judgments that are inflicted on those who would love me anyway.

The first is the hardship of experience. Just recently, I told someone I love that all education is expensive. If there was ever a thought worthy of a petit point pillow, it is that. All education is expensive because it is wrought from what would otherwise be dross, refined in fire and often turns out to be just another link in a chain. It is never free, never easy and never enough.

Just like the self-help books that describe someone else’s education, these thoughts put down for you can only suggest a place to go for education. The education itself must be won by you and will be available only to you.

I should also tell you what I believe about transcendent things. As you know, I subscribe to rather orthodox, rather stripped-down Christianity. As such, I believe that salvation is free, grace is not only sufficient but also abundant and that God is at work in history. That’s about it. I’m happy to debate all other tropes and claims as well as the plain text of the scriptural canon. I might even hold strong views. Those views are open to interpretation, further reflection and amendment. As such, they are of less substantial stuff than beliefs are made of.

If what I believe is true, I must live a life that is primarily grateful. If my salvation is secure, if my gifts are equal to my tasks and if God will someday make everything right, there isn’t much else to ask for.

Between now and death, life presents challenges. Life is not challenging to test us or even to strengthen us. That’s just how life is -- challenging. Conflict will continue. Unhealthy urges abound. We are made of brittle material that becomes more fragile as we age. That business about the only certainty being death and taxes is flat wrong.

There’s no inquisition here. If I can, though, I’d like to stiffen your resolve to learn and to grow. I’d love it if you embrace the idea that life is hard and that there’s no escape. And, if you could also grasp the idea that there is good purpose to life with grace sufficient for your part in it, well, that would make me very happy indeed.

Much Love,


Monday, March 2, 2009

A Booger Her Way

Dear Children:

The last post on this blog generated a lot of comment. Most wanted to know1.) How can we tell what is showing on our faces and 2.) How can we recognize honesty in ourselves?

One thing is sure: We recognize dishonesty. Dishonesty is easy.

Honesty, on the other hand, is subtle and slippery. Plain, painful honesty isn’t good enough.

Say, for instance, you detect an aroma cloud surrounding your sister. What is the honest thing? “You stink!” is honest in the sense that it’s factually true. Is it possible she already knows? Surely your pointing it out is gratuitous, even mean-spirited.

Yet, there are circumstances where she both doesn’t know and needs to know. Say there is a snot unit hanging from her nose. “Nice booger, Sis!” is, at once, demonstrably true and unnecessarily cruel. Here’s the tricky part: She needs to know. Our job is to be both true and responsible. “Here’s a tissue for that yuck on your nose.” Live the difference.

Almost always, it is better to talk than not to talk. Our talk should strive to be honest and responsible. More often than not, we discover in the course of talk what is honest and responsible. We work out what we truly believe with the help of others. As we talk, the things we say and the expressions that play across our faces reflect in the other. We get a chance to revise and refine our attitudes.

Did you ever get put on No Speaks? Name something less agreeable than No Speaks. It’s the way we punish each other for saying or doing something we don’t like. It is also the least likely strategy for reforming behavior. Isn’t it better to stand toe-to-toe on an issue for a few minutes than to spend days, months or years fuming and mute?

Here’s a favorite: “If you don’t know what’s bothering me, I’m not going to tell you.” Sure, we get angry and don’t trust what we’ll say at that hot second. Anger is a part of our nature. Staying angry, though, is poisonous. Settle the problem. Don’t let it fester and worsen. Why should you be injured by a punishment you mean to inflict elsewhere? Besides, it’s not honest.

Further, an honest and responsible exchange of views sometimes results in that most unpleasant of discoveries: I was wrong. Do not fear this eventuality however odious it may seem. Being habitually right is frequently over-rated and always annoying.

How do we know how we are being perceived? We see it in others.

How do we recognize honesty? We grasp it in true and responsible exchanges with others.

Much Love,