Friday, August 27, 2010

Honorable Intentions

What does the word "honor" mean to you? How do you define that which is honorable? Is it merely a combination of lofty principles, such as honesty, fairness and integrity? And/or is it the action of integrating these principles into one's life in the service of others?

I ask this question, of course, because Mr. Glenn Beck has planned a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, 47 years to the day after Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have A Dream Speech". He has explained that this rally is not political. He intends to only honor military families, past and present, for their steadfast sacrifices in the line of duty for the citizens of the United States. For a more noble cause, one would indubitably have to search far and wide.

I wonder, though, why now and why there? If this rally is to honor service people, why not on the anniversary of VJ Day that just passed? Why not on Veterans' Day in November or Memorial Day in May? These are all fitting occasions for launching a fund raising event for military families. A few steps away from the the Lincoln Memorial, lie the memorials erected for those who served and lost their lives in the Vietnam and Korean wars. They are stark, beautiful and haunting--perfect backdrops to showcase honor in action.

You just can't beat the significance of honoring military personnel and their families' sacrifices in front of that endless, shiny wall of names. I get goosebumps thinking of what it would mean to those who have served to be recognized in front of those statues of American soldiers in the Korean War. Fanning out in formation, with worried concentration permanently etched on their faces, knowing that their time is coming very soon but still having to move inexorably forward...these men are a powerful symbol of honor, indeed.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln offered up their lives, too, after decades of living their principles. They did not stoop to slandering their political opponents. They did not paint their political and ideological enemies as miscreants and idiots. Their Truths were self-evident and lived every day, publicly and peacefully, for all to see.

I am also confused why the rally would be named, "Restoring Honor", when honor has not been stripped but rather heaped on the military by both political parties. The United States government and citizens have made every effort to praise military sacrifices. However, if the rally's organizers are intending to give honor where honor is due to the Vietnam vets, I would enthusiastically applaud this gesture. These men and women, who gave everything in an unpopular war and then were summarily ignored, deserve some public applause. Their standing up to demand recognition for their sacrifices led to our citizens being more aware of supporting our military personnel in wars they cannot win. Now, that's honorable.

I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that what Mr. Glenn Beck wants to really restore is his own ideological beliefs. If this is true, more power to him, that's politics. But if he wants to talk about honor, he has to act honorably and with integrity, himself. He has rarely judged his political opponents fairly. He is being untruthful about his political agenda at this rally, or he would have named it something like "Revealing Honor" instead of "Restoring Honor". The choice of the word "restoring" is intentionally leads his followers to believe that honor only rests in their convictions, under their watch.

Mr. Glenn Beck and all the other political pundits, conservative and liberal, may understand how to manipulate the principles of honesty, fairness and integrity for their own gain but they haven't the first clue about how to live them. Those who are honorable are willing to sacrifice their very lives in order to serve greater principles that benefit all humankind. Political pundits only serve their own self interests under the guise of serving others...and you can't get any more hypocritical, any more dishonorable than that.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Home Again, Home Again

Despite missing Engrish and onigiri, I'm enjoying being back in the United States. It has taken me some time to write about reentry into the American atmosphere, but not because it has been overly fiery or bumpy. There is simply no rushing recovery from the disorienting effects of watching solid ground rapidly greet a craft, that just a few hours ago, was languidly floating in space.

I think I've been in quarantine long enough and life is almost up to normal speed. I know this to be literally true because American drivers have stopped flipping me off for going under 60mph...and figuratively so because I can go into Costco and Target without suffering sensory overload in under 10 minutes. Sadly, I still have not mastered The Mall.

My perspective has also started to center. For example, when we first got back, Tim was walking with the girls to the grocery store when they spied an old dude with a beer and burrito belly driving his riding lawnmower down a major Denver artery. He finally reached his destination--a 7-Eleven parking lot, where he puttered into a handicapped space, got a Big Gulp and headed back home. You don't need to ask, he was indeed wearing tidewater overalls.

Perhaps a few years ago, I would have been indignant about the nerve, the cheek...the utter laziness of it all. But now, I revel in its unadulterated "joie d'Americaness." People may arrogantly complain to the salesclerk that the local American Girl shop is not as big as the one in New York, and therefore, "disappointing". They might even loudly ask their preschooler in TJMaxx, for people to hear aisles over, "Will you stop whining if I buy you something!?" God bless them all, for they know not what they do.

All of this really bugs me for a second or two. Then, I remember where I am. And why people do what they do. I'm in the promised land...a place whose population has not directly suffered the physical effects of war in over 150 years. I live in a country where people can afford to bribe their kids but don't have to bribe their politicians to get basic civic improvements. I belong to a people who can freely let their freak flag fly and enjoy some amazing freedoms without too much static from their fellow countrymen. Incomprehensibly, mysteriously, bizarrely, it works for us.

In the end, even if someone has hung an ugly picture or moved a favorite chair to an inconvenient spot, I am pleased to report that you can go home again.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Baffled, anyone?

baf·fle (bfl)
tr.v. baf·fled, baf·fling, baf·fles
1. To frustrate or check (a person) as by confusing or perplexing; stymie.
2. To impede the force or movement of.

[Perhaps a blend of Scottish Gaelic "bauchle", to denounce, revile publicly, and French "bafouer", to ridicule.)

This verb has been bothering me. Recently, in response to the controversial subject of the Muslim community center/mosque being erected near Ground Zero, I have seen numerous facebook entries using the word baffled. It has been used to express astonishment in response to those opposed to and supportive of the building. For example, "I am baffled that people are unable to differentiate between moderate Muslims and those who perpetrated the attack on 9/11." Or, "I am baffled why the Muslims need to build their center there, of all places."

My gut response to this bafflement was to become baffled myself. And as a result, a little frustrated. And then a bit angry. How could anyone not understand why people might make a connection between the moderate Muslims of New York and the terrorists who have declared war on the West? After all, as a recent reader questioned, "What about the London bombings? The Madrid bombings? The Bali bombings? What about the Turkey bombings a few years ago? All Muslim." Oh, let's not forget the Lockerbie plane bombing, either.

On the flip side, how could anyone not do a little reading (myself included) and realize that the plans for this center/mosque were in the works before 9/11? And that American Muslims also died in the bombing? And that the center will incorporate recreational spaces for all kinds of people to convene in peace? With a little poking around, you would think a person might figure out that there will be a contemplative space for all people to access that will honor the victims of terror. And as for the mosque? Don't the Muslims who live and work in that area, who raised the capital to buy the space, like every other Christian congregation, deserve a space to worship quietly?

At the heart of being baffled is a judgment. It's not the same as confusion, which is a lack of clarity. Rather, bafflement starts simply with a person becoming frustrated when he or she hits a barrier of understanding. This person becomes stymied by an opposing person's mindset. Generally, this block impedes the force or movement of the person's own "logical" ideas. The Baffled One ultimately judges that the other person's viewpoint is worthy of ridicule.

It's interesting that the original French and Scottish Gaelic meaning of the word was to "denounce or revile publicly." We humans (not just Americans)have a hard time being just confused. Instead of seeking clarity through discussion, it is infinitely easier to be baffled, to be stymied and then fill in the obscurity of understanding, the blanks, with judgment.

We almost always fill in these dead spaces with a negative, with revilement. Humans rarely believe that the "The Other's" intentions come from a good or positive place. Most recently (okay, probably always), conservative AND liberal politicians have used these lapses of understanding to their own advantage. At the moment their constituents start to wonder why...they quickly fill in the gaps with ridicule of the opposition's intentions. Modern high-speed information media just help them get the job done faster and more efficiently.

Today's powers and principalities, aided by the media, would like everyone to believe that a "liberal" viewpoint does not care about solid principles but only vague, emotional concepts. Liberals are selfish and not to be trusted. Likewise, the "conservative" viewpoint is too obsessed with traditional principles and could care less about how those rigid beliefs affect real, modern people. Conservatives are all bigots and are not to be trusted.

What would happen if we stopped trusting the media (liberal and conservative) and the politicians who have honed these stereotypes to a sharp point? What might happen if we gave The Other the benefit of the doubt until his or her intentions are clearly stated? Unless the opposition says, "All Muslims are scum" or "People are so stupid, they need to just get over it", we ought to pause a minute...30 minutes...24 hours...a week. If a person is not being impolite, we could take that time to get some more information. We could seek out and kindly questions someone who doesn't agree with us.

Americans are not just liberal and conservative stereotypes. We are generous and demanding, impatient and caring. Instead of baffling or impeding the good yet competing forces of one another's best intentions, we could just take some time to listen to one another. As Americans. For America.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Killer Grizzly!

I am scared, pardon my French, shitless of bears. Some people might call this fear "irrational". They are correct. Chances of me being consumed by an Ursus Arctos are exceedingly slim. But in my defense, bears are oftentimes quite hungry.

Do you remember that horrifying 1970's "film", Killer Grizzly...the one where a maniacal 18 foot grizzly bear goes on a rampage through a national park? Well, I do. That's why, even though it seems like a quaint notion, I refuse to camp in the Rockies. Also, did you know that there was a 1983 planned sequel to this movie, aptly named Grizzly II: The Predator, starring Charlie Sheen and George Clooney? Thank goodness it wasn't realized because then my feeble mind would have linked terror to George Clooney and that would be devastating. I am already spooked by Charlie Sheen, so that's no loss.

It's a shame, really. Bears have cute noses. They also like to hibernate which, lately, I can totally relate to. I admire my industrious beaver friends, who, when faced with environmental stressors, just get busier. Me, I prefer to eat a lot, head for the cave and live in my PJs. I used to beat myself up pretty consistently about this inclination but now I am mostly at peace with it. I can do a lot of uninterrupted thinking about what I would actually prefer to do after the winter of my discontent has passed. As a result, I can make real changes in my life instead of change making me. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

So, after five years in Japan, change has come with the shocking force of a freak blizzard in the fair month of October. My recent mental snooze has produced some results...I know I need to blog more. Without being able to detail the many ways I am "enamorated" (long live Engrish) of the Japanese, I was at a loss about what to discuss. As it turns out, though, we Americans are a quirky folk, too. I think I'll attempt to make Big Harmony out of what I am experiencing as a quasi-foreigner in my own land.

Also, I will begin the process to become an accredited high school English/French teacher. Hopefully, by the time we hit DC next year, I will be ready to take my final coursework and do my student teaching. I've decided that, other than writing, I absolutely adore those darn kids and teaching them above all else. My greatest wish is that, at some point, I can combine all three passions.

So there you have it. My plans. If you catch me indisriminately stuffing berries (or nachos) in my mouth and looking sleepy, please gently remind me that winter is still a long way off. And for heaven's sake, don't let me rampage through campgrounds. That's just rude.

grizzly photo compliments of

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hallowed Ground (The Fear of Talking About Fear)

I’m a religious person. I consider myself a Christian, not because I believe in some stock credo that Jesus died for my sins but because I believe he died, bravely, for his beliefs. His unwillingness to give into fear and loathing, even unto death, inspires me and always will. But, this is not a religious issue.

I’m an unapologetic liberal. I believe in and defend all the issues important to any good little liberal--a homosexual’s right to marry, a woman’s right to an abortion, and the right for all Americans to have basic health care, to name a few. I don’t believe that taxation is necessarily evil or that walls should keep out Mexicans. But, this is not a political issue.

It’s an American issue. The current hullabaloo over the Muslim center being built near Ground Zero has deeply disturbed me, as an American. I feel for the peaceful Muslims in NYC who long for a quiet and dignified space in which to worship and convene. I feel for those who compassionately support their fellow Americans’ right to this space. I feel for all of us who were traumatized by watching thousands of innocent people be terrorized and then ultimately killed in the twin towers’ collapse.

We Americans have been running scared since that terrible day in September, nine years ago. Currently, we don’t need to be reminded that all we have to fear is fear itself. We are not the World War II generation, isolated from the world and skittish about entering a global conflict. For better or for worse, we now literally attack problems. And, unfortunately, one another.

Currently, there are two camps pitted against each other concerning the Muslim center’s position near Ground Zero. The first perspective is that, as Americans, Christian or Muslim, liberal or conservative, if we start to place restrictions on a citizen’s right to practice his or her religion freely, we invalidate the Constitution and indeed, our core American beliefs. This is fact. If we eschew our core national beliefs, the radicals have “won”. This is not an irrational fear. Every American should sit up, pay attention and acknowledge this as a legitimate threat to our national identity.

There are others who believe that Ground Zero is “hallowed ground”. To place a mosque in this area dredges up our worst fear that we will be attacked from the inside. Many people who oppose this building are being labeled as xenophobic zealots and/or anti-Islamists--people who think that Islam is out to destroy Christianity and thus “American values”. Surely, there are a few of these folks in the debate but, as a whole, I respectfully disagree. I think the vast majority of those who are voicing doubts about this structure are just afraid.

For example, I read a recent blog that took issue with Sarah Palin’s assertion that Ground Zero is a “hallowed” space by pointing out that the surrounding area is also home to “profane” delights such as adult entertainment, gambling and fast-food franchises. In the blogger's defense, I also distrust Ms. Palin’s reasoning and intentions. However, the author might also be missing the point that for many Americans, this “hallowed space” is not in the physical blocks surrounding the site--it’s firmly fixed in our emotional memory. Fear is a natural and logical response to a known danger. It is not political.

Make no mistake about it, radical Muslims live in the U.S., train in the U.S. and are constantly trying to gain access to this country in order to destroy it. This is a fact. They are becoming astute at infiltrating moderate communities. Although we shouldn’t think that blocking the center will protect us from terror, we also ought not to gloss over the obvious: Radical Muslims will stop at nothing to destroy us, our families and our friends. This is also not an “irrational” fear.

So, we are caught between two scenarios, equally terrifying. One allows complete religious freedom but could arguably allow enemies into our house to attempt to destroy it. The other doesn’t include all Americans in the “pursuit of happiness” and therefore encourages our enemies to start disassembling the house, brick by brick. We could just continue to point fingers at one another. We could throw up our hands in frustration and disgust. Or, we could stop a moment and acknowledge each other’s fears as legitimate.

I sincerely believe that this “war” will not be won in the dusty foreign terrain of the Middle East, but rather, here, in the fractured American psyche. If we are weak today, it neither has anything to do with the strength of one religion over another in our country nor which political party is in power. It’s because we refuse to acknowledge one another’s legitimate fears, discuss them intelligently and then purposefully act on them. We can be accepting of religious diversity AND recognize that extremists might be hiding in the shadows of our freedoms. To be eternally vigilant and protective of our freedoms, we must start to work together for each other.

Recently, moderate Muslims in New Jersey heroically ousted (and reported to the FBI) a young man from their faith, who, despite counseling, still became radicalized. I would expect the same out of Christians if one of their believers were plotting to bomb an abortion clinic. If moderate Muslims continue to seriously ramp up the information about their faith and their efforts to discourage radical thinking among their believers, those among them wishing to do evil will be driven from the shadows. Other Americans, religious or not, could also begin or continue to build strong and lasting ties to moderate Muslim communities. In this way, perhaps our national fear could be neutralized…our national identity solidified, in this little space in Manhattan.

If so, it truly will become sacred ground.