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A Hard Thing

I’m struggling this week with the hectic and frightening mood permeating my country. The dieification of the military, the proliferation of forced patriotism frightens me.
Distractions.

I cannot help but shake my head and wonder what terrible thing lurks around the corner.

I do not believe my government really acts in the best interests of its people, and I do not believe that any of the current conflicts are doing anything to preserve my freedom or protect my rights. 

Governments do not give rights, but they sure know how to suppress them. 

Altered

Yesterday, I fell into an old trap- Reading the comments following a *political post* on social media. As usual, I disagreed with more than half of those who felt they needed to vent their opinion about the topic at hand. I’ve learned to leave these comments alone, not respond, and allow my anger and frustration to gradually dissipate. The next step is learning not to read these comments at all. Baby steps…

The post in question was about artists, and whether or not they should be allowed to share their personal opinions about the issues of the day. The idea was these artists existed to entertain, period. And somehow, that entertainment precluded them from talking about anything at all. “Just sing and act,” many said. “You are here to be a distraction from reality, an escape.”

One comment in particular stood out, and actually caused me to lose sleep last night. This person claimed he had never, not once had a song or film impact his life or teach him anything. I kept hoping that his statements were hyperbole, meant to drive home the uselessness of the artist more than art itself, but he continued to press about the triviality, banality of music and films. Mindless entertainment, pure and simple. He could live without it.

I felt a wave of sadness. How unfortunate for this person, how tragic. Imagine, never having your heart stirred by a song, never having that moment when you knew  the singer, the musicians understood you on a level no one else ever had, when you felt that connection to something, someone outside of your small circle. Imagine no film ever impacting you, making you want to do more with your life, be better. Or no work of art ever inspiring you to see the world differently, or bringing you to tears.

I could list moment after moment where art has made my life infinitely better, where someones words or music helped me understand the world better. So many films and stories have exposed me to ideas, ways of living and thinking that otherwise would remain beyond my ability to comprehend.

I was up last night trying to construct how different my life would be without a passion for art. I didn’t like how that world felt. It was an empty place, one with less love, compassion, understanding.

I don’t want to think about that sort of world anymore. I think I’ll go listen to some music, and later, read a book. music

 

In This Moment

My social media feed has been consumed by all sorts of insanity over the past week. I’m sure you’ve all experienced similar stuff. Activist and apologists from various points on the political spectrum have offered their take on many issues. Religion, gender, sexual preferences, gun violence and terrorism have been hot button topics. Along with the *professional* insights, I’ve been inundated with all sorts of posts from friends, family, acquaintances (random people I somehow find myself following on Twitter), expounding on these same subjects.

I’ve done my best to stay out of the fray.

Social media has convinced most of us that our opinions are not only important and insightful, but indispensable, and everyone we know (and in some cases, don’t know) needs to read our observations on every little thing. I am not immune to this feeling, and have made far too many pretentious, didactic posts on all sorts of stuff. I am sure many people have had their opinions of me negatively altered by this foolishness. I feel a sense of shame when I encounter one of these posts (stupid Timehop) and always wish I had been smarter, less reactive, more thoughtful.

When I am in the same room with people I care about, I can engage in respectful debates, even have intense disagreements, and not let my anger win out, but the same conversations with the same people on social media can actually make me dislike a family member or a friend. Why do I react so badly to words on the page/screen? Is my connection to humanity so weak that I lose it the moment I lose physical proximity?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, and I’m not sure any justification really matters.

Not posting a response seems to help. I still feel the rush of anger, and that urge to respond emotionally to something I disagree with does not go away quickly, but I have yet to regret a moment of silence, or scrolling past an argument rather than adding fuel to the fire.

I am learning to recognize that instant of resentment as false and circumstantial, though it is not any less potent. I am learning to better control my digital reaction. I am trying to contribute more joy, more positive things when I post to social media. I still want to speak out when I feel it necessary, when my silence would be misguided, but I want to do it with less arrogance and pride.

People over things. Love first. 

My, Oh My

What an insane week. The United States Supreme court has been handing down controversial rulings left and right all week. Today was the big one for many. In an expected 5-4 majority decision (no matter the ruling, most of us anticipated this sort of split), the court decided that no state can deny the right of same sex couples to marry.

I’m pretty giddy about the whole thing.

I’ve rather enjoyed watching those dismayed, upset, angered by the decision offer up scathing rebuttals, filled with superb hyperbole. But l should be fair. Not everyone who “lost” has reacted so irascibly. Some have been thoughtful, and for the most part, those I interact with have been kind and civil.

I do wonder about some of the bile, and whether it would be different if rather than a court ruling, a vote had ushered in marriage equality? Perhaps it would be similar, just pointed in a different direction.

On a related topic, I’ve been intrigued by a growing movement (funny enough, louder as marriage equality has gained momentum and success), to remove the State (government in general) from the marriage game altogether. I’d love to hear more about this, how it would work in regards to estates, heath and wellness, issues with children, that sort of thing. Any insight would be appreciated.

Regardless, enjoy your weekend. I’m finding joy in watching all these couples who thought they’d never gain legal status embrace and cry, love each other. Love is always a good thing.

Because We Live Together

No one likes to be told what to do.

All right, there may be a few who sort of like it and some who can’t function without it, but generally speaking, the vast majority of us like to make our own choices.

Of all the organizations that are involved in telling others what to do, the government tops the list of most disliked. From the bloated entity that is the Federal Government of the United States, down to the local city government in the corner of Utah, they are all in the business of constantly telling citizens what they can and cannot do. The hot news topic recently has to do with governments having their pesky fingers in everybody’s pie, first telling us who we have to sell products to, then telling us it’s alright to not if that person’s lifestyle offends, then changing their minds again.

“It’s about coercion.” Really good point. The argument shouldn’t be about the who, but the what. The conversation isn’t really about liking or disliking gay people at all, but government intrusion. This argument would be much more persuasive if its champions were only as vocal about every other example of governmental coercion, constitutionally justified or not.

“The government shouldn’t tell businesses who they have to serve, period.” I get it, I really do. I even agree with it on some level. I also think that owning and operating a certain type of business is a choice, and that with that choice come obligations. One of them is allowing people who want to make reasonable use of your services to do so. Everyone has a story about a time they had to do something uncomfortable on the job. My library experience was full of such events- Providing information and library services to patrons that I found offensive, dangerous, misguided. Like most of you, I did my job.

Fulfilling my duty as a librarian did not mean I suddenly condoned certain behavior or supported certain political or religious positions. My job was to provide access to information. I did. End of story.

I recently saw a social media post that posited, “But what about the Jewish baker who is asked to make a cake for a Nazi wedding?”

Really?

We can make lists for days of the hypothetical things (business owners and employees) bakers, florists, wedding bands, doctors, civil servants, plumbers, police, grocers, shoe sellers might have to encounter that attack their deeply held religious convictions. Which religion? Which particular beliefs or obligations? Why do religious convictions get to be above reproach?

Where does our obligation to be decent human beings come into play?

 

 

 

Pointing the Finger

New Years Eve has come and gone, and many of us have made our resolutions. Some of us have already given up on a few. Some, we are fighting hard to accomplish.

When I stood beside Sheryl, counting down the seconds to the beginning of 2015, I made up my mind to be less critical, more loving, open to experiences, and ready to accept the changes the new year would offer. Along with many others, I hoped the arrival of a new year might bring some brighter times for humanity as a whole, less war, more peace and understanding, but the horrible things in the world rarely concern themselves with dates on a calendar or the expectations and wishes of people.

Wars and conflict continue, along with their accompanying rhetoric.

The recent atrocities in France have deeply affected me. I was stunned to silence for most of the day, as reports came in, along with the eye witness video of two men gunning down another man, executing him while he lay on the street. Luckily, we have not been tortured with video from inside of Charlie Hebdo.

We have (unfortunately) been inundated with pundits and thinkers from all sorts of ideological perspectives, readily offering us their insights as to why events took place, each one instantly discrediting the opinions and facts of the others. Page after page of articles telling us all what the attacks were “really about,” and how dare any of us think otherwise.

In the end, I’ve determined that I really don’t care. It’s all finger pointing at shadows, empty and hollow words that offer no real understanding. Blame the cartoonists for being insensitive to the beliefs of others. Blame the intolerance of extreme religious zealots who see only their own righteousness while condemning the heathens to violent deaths. Blame the Western World for creating these militants through never ending war and persecution, or blame the Muslim world for not doing enough to denounce and combat the violent elements of their religion. Blame whomever or whatever justifies and reinforces whatever point of view that speaks to you most. It’s all equally right and equally wrong, because there is no truth here, only excuses and mangled up layers of perception. We never really need valid reasons. People have been killing each other over these sorts of things long before any of the current organizations and oppressive apparatuses ever existed. We just get new names and labels for these things from time to time.

When I think about it, I come up with very few good reasons for killing another person. Revenge, spite, anger, outrage, God, nationalism, they don’t make the list.

Every human being experiences some sort of oppression in their lifetime. Some experience a great deal more. Not every one who is victimized or brutalized takes up a gun. What makes some become brutal killers, devoid of any compassion or understanding, while others choose love and forgiveness?

No choice exists in a void. Context matters. Indoctrination, propaganda- We are all subject to them on some level. What we find comfortable, what resonates, we accept. Sometimes that acceptance takes us down dangerous paths, but we should never ignore our own personal responsibility. We do not always have a say in what happens to us, but we always have a choice in how we respond, and in the end, the kind of people we want to be.

Less critical. More loving. More open to the change in the world. This is where I’m starting.

I Voted

I forget how wonderful and scary voting feels. Each time I stand in front of that machine, I do the same thing. I take several nervous breaths. I read the instructions three times. I skip the straight party vote (anyone who votes straight party deserves a smack). I vote and vote and vote until the pages are done. I double check my ballot before printing. As the ballot is printing, I get more nervous. Did I vote for the right people? Did I vote my conscience? Did I vote against that judge I thought did a stinky job? Am I being watched? Whew, it’s over. I feel amazing.

Voted

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I voted.

 

 

Something about Something

It’s no secret that I am not a religious person. I don’t label myself an atheist either, mostly because for me, going down that road was more disabling, filled with more anger and frustration, than walking a Christian path. I prefer to let people believe or disbelieve whatever they wish and expect the same courtesy. Still, I am often willing to listen to friends and family when the offer reasons or examples of what they believe, because I am interested in things of that nature. I learn a great deal about those I care for and value the connection those sort of conversations offer.

It is difficult however, for me to listen to or accept political arguments based solely in religious dogma, not because I think the person offering one is deluded or dishonest. In fact, I am convinced they completely and honestly believe in God, in their particular religious tenets.

The difficulty- More often than not, the argument requires a shared understanding of God, and a mutual belief in source documents. If I do not believe in the divinity of the books of scripture, then using them in an attempt to persuade me will be extremely difficult.

A particular verse of scripture might be word enough for some, and the exhortations of spiritual leaders may inspire people to do good and wonderful things, but they aren’t convincing to me. I am glad they bring some people happiness and surety, but they don’t move me the same way.

Our belief or disbelief has little to do with the actuality of anything. Because of that, arguing that God did or did not say something wont sway me. I need some evidence, reasons that I can understand as to why I should hold one point of view or another. We are not omnipotent, and while our personal points of view might align with a particular fact from time to time, that does not validate a belief in any world view as acutely accurate in all cases. All of us are wrong from time to time. We all hopefully learn and grow from our mistakes.

To be clear, It is not someone’s faith that bothers me. I love and respect too many people of faith for that to be an issue. It is only when someone consistently insists that I must respect and accept their faith as a valid reason for constant disrespect of what I hold dear, that I take issue.

In short, calling something an abomination is not an argument, it is an insult. Saying, “I don’t believe in gay marriage” is not an argument, it is irrelevant, and not a valid reason for creating public policy.

 

A Utah _____ Am I

I attended the University of Utah between the years of 1998 and 2000, earning a Bachelors degree in English. it was the culmination of a life long dream-attend the U, earn a degree. I toyed with the idea of attending other universities, but my heart was always with the crimson and red up on the hill.

As a boy, I loved watching Utah sporting events, often pretending I would one day write my name along those of other great Utah athletes. I was never talented enough to fulfill that dream, but it contributed to my life long affection for the university. For good and bad, sports are deeply intertwined with university life. Money is spent on them, money is earned from them, and scholarships are awarded for excellence in them.  Fight songs are sung because of them.

Part of my University of Utah experience was attending football and basketball games. Like almost every other school, the University of Utah has a fight song, meant to pump of the crowds and excite the students. The song is played at almost every opportunity at the games-when the players come on the field, at almost every big play, every timeout, every touchdown. While it plays, the majority of the crowd stands and claps along, many of them singing the words. It is a unifying experience.

I know the first two verses by heart, and count myself among those who sing the song with terrible voice and infinite passion. The song carries with it more than just the meaning of its words. It is a feeling, a sense of being part of something beyond allegiance to a team or jersey color.  When I stand up with other people who share the same connection, I feel a part of something larger than myself. It’s silly and it’s a bit childish, but the sound of the fight song gets my heart excited. It makes me happy.

That song was written in 1904. It is not perfect, and recently, some of its words and phrases have come under fire. Here are the words to the song.

At issue are two particular phrases-The use of the word ‘Man’ in the chorus and first verse (the chorus is sung as a second verse, no one sings the third or fourth, but certainly they would object to the use of ‘Man’ in them as well), and the phrase, “our coeds are the fairest”.

Some are calling the song racist and sexist, saying it is not inclusive and that they feel the song contributes to institutional racism and sexism. I cannot dismiss their arguments and complaints out of hand. The song can be interpreted that way. By using the word ‘man’, the song does seem to exclude those who make up more than half the population of the university. Also, saying the female students are beautiful, is certainly a shallow way to look at the contribution of women to the campus. The song is old, antiquated, and to be honest, a bit ridiculous. That is the case for most university fight songs. They are silly, filled with words most would never use in daily conversation.

But ridiculous or not, for some, the Utah fight song has some particularly troubling elements.

What concerns me is the accusation of institutional racism and sexism. Yes, the song was written in a different time, when universities were vastly different places, but that song does not represent the current climate on campus. The university as an institution welcomes those of all colors, gender identities, shapes and sizes. Events on campus do not exclude anyone on the basis of sex or race (though I would point to the Greek system as one that is institutionally exclusive and more divisive than a fight song, but that is another argument). A student is not denied access to any place on campus because of how they appear. In fact, my experience at the University of Utah was one of the most diverse and inclusive experiences of my life. When I sang the fight song at games, my thoughts were not, “yeah, take that women. This song is only meant for me. Get off my campus,” and I doubt most in attendance were thinking anything along those lines.

The allegations of racism startled me. Some implied that the word “fairest” could imply Caucasian. Sure, I guess it could. It also could mean free from bias, dishonesty or injustice. Words mean many things depending on context. To remove a word because it might mean something is to remove every word from every sentence. Words can and do mean things, but to rush about washing them all away because of what they might mean is a futile exercise. There is no evidence in the song that the word “fairest” suggests anything but the best of meanings. If it is a legitimate argument that “fairest” implies white skin, I can argue that the next line in the song implies that all the women at the University are literally shining stars, dehumanizing them even further.

I am also bothered by the lack of ideas coming from those wanting to alter the song. It is one thing to shout for change, but without some concept of what the change should be, it feels like self serving posturing. Our culture is filled with examples of removing gender specificity from common words. The changes made sense and better defined the world they represented. Fireman-firefighter. Policeman-Police officer. Mailman-Mail carrier. These were good ideas and after time, have become part of our daily vocabulary. In the case of this fight song, one suggestion (the only one I have heard. I am open to more) is to change “Utah man” to “Utah fan”. I can’t get on board with this one. Fan implies something completely different and no definition of fan touches on the concept that Utah man embodies. It is more than being a supporter of a local sports team. It is being part of the group, part of the experience that is attending the University of Utah. Offer me something that embodies that same tone and I will sing it loud.

Things change all the time in this world. I am not rigid in my belief that something as irrelevant as a university fight song should be above reproach or change. I only ask that those wanting the alterations consider their own motivations and biases. Where are the ideas, or are you just thumping your chests, hoping to be noticed? It is important to offer a constructive solution when creating a divisive situation, which is what this has become among alumni and students.

 

Fighting the Wrong Fight

I have a weakness.

Well, to be fair, I have lots of them, but one in particular is rearing its head again. I am an instigator and I do it in the worst sort of ways. I throw out sentences, posts, images, articles, just to get some sort of reaction. Often, I really don’t have solid, thought out opinions or information about what I am sharing, just an inner demon pushing me to light a fire under people. It’s an addiction, the urge.

Fortunately, I am finding ways to curb it, feed it outside of social networking, where the only result of the instigation is anger and annoyance of friends and family towards me and what I allow to be the perception of my political or moral beliefs.

The culprit, the motivator for my current urge is the inability of the current US congress to pass a budget. The sound bites, photo ops and outright disgusting displays of faux concern currently at my fingertips are almost too numerous to count. Individuals on both sides (insert ‘same side, different names’) of the argument are making fools of themselves left and right, down the middle. Its the kind of horror show from which I can’t easily look away. I must watch. The despicable nature of privileged, wealthy, self important men and women as they preen about, arguing with one another, putting on about how one side is to blame, while they are blameless, if it weren’t so absolutely tragic, if it didn’t affect real people in horrible ways, I would wish it to last forever.

But my entertainment is not reason enough for me to poke and prod at people I care about.  I have already today posted, deleted, linked then unlinked at least ten different instances of political moments that I know would ruffle feathers, start arguments. Lucky for me, I have not posted any of them and won’t have to make apologies.

This is not to say I don’t encourage discussion and debate. I love a good conversation, the sharing of ideas and even the highly charged disagreements that leave little room for understanding, and never really change any opinion. They are the essence of good discourse and can be the catalyst for change and collaboration.  I just know my own heart, my own intent, and more often than not, I just want to push a button.

So while I wholeheartedly believe our congress is failing, that our government is in a dangerous and dire place, and while I would love to discuss the topic with any of you interested, I’m going to try and fight the right fight, not the one that angers or instigates, for the sake of instigation.

Love and light.