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tinman-crying

Life is a song – sing it.
Life is a game – play it.
Life is a challenge – meet it.
Life is a dream – realize it.
Life is a sacrifice – offer it.
Life is love – enjoy it.

Sai Baba

clock

L. Frank Baum really never told his readers how many days Dorothy spent in Oz. In fact, time as we know it, stood still in Oz.  Unlike the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” story who was always running late or J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan who wanted to stop time so no one would ever grow up, Dorothy was not limited to or hindered by time. (When The Wizard asked her to bring him the broom of the Wicked Witch, he didn’t give her a deadline.)

rabbit.jpg

Locked in time

peter pan.jpg

The last moment in time was on the Big Ben’s clock

I was reminded of time in my Marist class the other day when one of the student’s asked me what was my best time.  It was a good question in a class built around the importance of asking questions. I didn’t have much “time” to think about an answer, but my head was flooded with images of past events. And while I was tempted to say one of my best “times” was my year as a student at Oxford, I found myself saying that the present was my best time. And I meant it even though it wasn’t the kind of answer the average college student is looking for.

College students are all about time.  They crave it and want to be washed in “good times.”  They look at the future and want to hurry it up.  Their impatience is understandable because when you are young you are always looking forward.  When you are “older” it doesn’t mean you don’t “look forward,” because you do.  Many seasoned individuals, on the other hand, tend to look back at “good times.”  And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it can be dangerous though when the past is where you live.

Living in the moment often gets an undeserved bad rap.  That doesn’t mean I encourage selfish and careless living where you abandon any sense of responsibility for your actions. What we do in the moment does come with consequences.

However, the present is really all we have.  And while there is always room in the present to prepare yourself for the future, I think we miss something if all we do in think about the future.

There is no arguing that I have far more yesterdays in my life than I have tomorrows.  But I have the present and it is up to me to squeeze as much juice out of each moment in the present that I can.

I am very fortunate to be in the presence of young, eager minds.  And if there is one message I would hope to give them it would be this: There’s nothing you can do about yesterday. What happened is in the books. Believe in tomorrow, but don’t take up residency there before tomorrow happens. If you do, today will slip through your fingers. Make the most of today by living in it and celebrating it. Carpe diem!

oz box

In my opinion, back to school ads should be banned until the last week of August. Summer should be a school-free zone where children can be children.

Other than getting a new pair of shoes, six # two pencils, a Bic pen, a marble composition book and a hair cut, I never got what I wanted, or perhaps I should say, needed before starting back to school. I wanted and needed a place where my natural curiosity could blossom. What I didn’t need was a place filled with pot holes deliberately placed to trip me up. And that’s what school was to me when I was a kid.  It was a place I dreaded because I wasn’t a good student.  Like a batter who has a full count with the bases loaded, bottom of the ninth with two outs…I chocked.

I hated spelling lists. I hated multiplication sheets. I hated text books of all subjects. I even hated lunch because the grape jelly in my peanut butter sandwich leaked through the white Wonder bread.

A school is just a place. And while it has the potential of being a great place for learning, I fear we have forced our teachers to replace teaching with teaching to a test. Instead of making learning a fantastic journey we have made it a long and boring trek.

L. Frank Baum did not have a school in Oz, but he did make a comment on education, a comment I call into question. Talking to the scarecrow he said, “Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma.”

I have no problem with what he said about the brain, but I do have a problem with him saying that the only thing that makes a difference is a “diploma.”

Having spent the last 15 years teaching on the college level I have come to the conclusion that all that matters is the diploma or the degree. One of the problems with a college degree is that it’s like a mattress. You can’t actually compare mattresses because they all hide behind different funny names that mean absolutely…nothing.

It’s almost as difficult to compare college degrees, especially if you are comparing a degree given in 1970 when I got mine and with a degree given to a recent grad. The courses I had to take to earn my degree are not the ones a 2016 grad had to take.

Not that my courses were better because they weren’t. In fact my courses didn’t prepare me an iota for a job, let alone a career.  Today’s grad has taken very career specific courses coupled with internships that have prepared the grad for an entry-level job.

I believe we learn what we need to learn and what we want to learn. We need to learn and to master certain  skills to navigate the rough seas of life. Our little dingy can be flooded if we don’t have a handle on some of the more practical “things.”

Unfortunately, the list of what we have to learn has been lengthened to include only job skills. And while we do need to learn what it takes to be proficient in the field of our choice, many of us don’t make any time in our lives to learn what we want to learn.

And I fear that’s happened because our lives are so frenetic and the marketplace is so competitive that we no longer have time for broad learning that is fueled by yearning.

2016 ozlympic medal

As an “American” I couldn’t help but cheer on the “American” athletes in the 2016 Summer Olympic games.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it did get me thinking about “being” something. Even though we live on a tiny planet in an ever-expanding universe we have taken to divide ourselves into ever-expanding groups of people identified by imaginary boundaries. Some of “us” are Americans, some Brazilians, Italians, Iranians, Bolivians…. (According to a source there are 195 countries and 206 nationalities.) If that isn’t enough, we further identify ourselves beginning with larger geographic regions (states) down to smaller ones (towns and villagers).

If geographic divisions are enough, we further divide “us” by religions This division is further divided by religions of which there are over 4000!

There is a certain irony to all these divisions. An “Albanian” can, through the “magic” of the internet/social media, witness…in actual time what is happening to a “Bolivian” or an “Indonesian.”

In other words, all the walls we have constructed are crumbling. And that’s a good thing. The only problem is there are far too many people who like walls. Good fences do not make good neighbors and people who insist on reinforcing old walls are not good people.  We need to tear down walls by beginning to do it close to home. Very close to home.

We first need to tear down the walls of fear and ignorance.  We need to stop branding one another with the divisions we have created.  Nationalism, when it leads to jingoism, only leads to war. We even need to swallow our “pride” and admit that there is no one single “great nation” or one “right” religion.

The whole notion makes me scratch my head and makes me wonder if I am wrong. Is there anything wrong with the pride that comes from being a (fill in the blank)? Is it wrong to wrap yourself in a flag and pound your heart when your “national” anthem is played?

More often than not I have no answers to most of the questions that bounce around in my head, but when witnessing something like the Olympic games, I can’t help but wonder if will we always build a wall around the yellow brick road.

 

 

 

level field one

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

If the Founding Fathers had twitter accounts I think they would have shortened that line to:

We need to establish a level playing field.

The initial “inspiration” for this post came when I went to fill an inflatable pool for my grandchildren.  No matter where I positioned it on the lawn it was never level enough for a level fill.  This despite the fact that my lawn is, or so I thought, flat.

So, it got me thinking about the current expression of a level playing field.  In may ways I heartily agree with that aspiration.  Many people are unable to reach their goals because the playing field isn’t level.  Whether it’s where you got your college degree, where you live, your financial status, or who you know, many people have an edge.  Doing what we can do provide people with “equal opportunities” can be a noble venture.

However, if we move away from the world of careers and such and get down to the basics, life does not provide us with a level playing field.

level field two

Certainly Dorothy didn’t have a level playing field in Oz.  She had numerous obstacles and challenges she had to meet to get home.  But to be fair, she did have some advantages.  The kiss on her forehead from the Witch of the South protected her as did her ruby slippers.

In  the real world, more people than not do not have a level playing field.  Illness, the loss of a parent at a young age, a painful divorce, the loss of a spouse, and even then, the loss of a job can all “unlevel” the playing field.

Expecting outside forces to level the playing field can have its advantages and often is the right thing to expect. However, unless we play and active part in the process, we are taking advantage.

Life is not a level playing field.  Some of us have more dips than others, that’s for sure. But, in the end, we all need to see how many of those dips we can level by taking new courses of action or at the least by admitting that we might have some work to do.

Will new political policies level the playing field? Perhaps for some, but for others not so much.

The burden is on our shoulders.  If we ever have the opportunity to help level the playing field for someone (who deserves it, I might add), we should do all in our power to make it happen.  Fortunately we might be the one who is being helped.

Like Dorothy, we have our challenges, but we also have our blessings.

fishermanplank

WARNING: This blog might be offensive to people who are strictly literal by nature or default. I prefer absurdity over anything.

I had a difficult time coming up with an image for this blog because I didn’t want to take the easy way out and post a picture that ridicules the subject of this blog, because if anything destroys an open dialogue it’s mockery.

I was reduced to bat-shit bafflement the other day when I watched the news coverage of the opening of the Noah’s Ark (amusement/bemusement) attraction in Kentucky. I might cringe at Bible Villages and Water Parks (Old or New Testament) and other religious themes attractions, but I am rarely left dumbfounded.

It’s not that a certain conservative Christian raised money to reconstruct Noah’s Ark using a Biblical blueprint. It’s the fact that one man’s religious conviction/faith is dismissively arrogant and steel-trap closed minded.

The founder of this Biblical attraction is of the school of a literal interpretation of the Bible. His many visitors/followers are of the same school. That there has been a very vocal negative reaction to this Arktraction (my word) can be found by a simple Google Search.

What saddens me more than the literal reading of the story of Noah in Genesis, is the ripple effect such an interpretation has on almost everything else. Not only does it reduce scientific research and discoveries to a pile of saw dust, it supports such “arkaic” notions regarding life in the 21st Century.

But, and it was a big but that went off in my head like the big bang, Noah’s Arktraction is too easy a subject to attack when “we” are so willing to “accept”  other sacred stories, dogmas, religious rules, etc. on face value.

If we want to poop-poop the Ark ( and there must have been a lot of shit in the hold of that boat at the end of the voyage), we have to be willing to poke a stick at some of the other “big beliefs” proclaimed as truths by the other major world religions.

Walking on water, raising the dead, multiplying loaves and fishes, immaculate conceptions, virgin births, transubstantiation and resurrections, also have to be free game for thinkers and non-believers.

And lest we forget, Christianity is not the only belief system that obliges followers to strict adherence of dogmas and laws.  Have you ever taken a glance at the 613 Mitzvots (Commandments) of Judaism?  Oy! Made me shake my head so many times I risked having it fall off.

Not to mention some of the eye-opening “beliefs” put forth in the Book of Mormon (not the  musical) and the Koran.

Proving or disproving any belief system is a waste of time.  People who are wired to a particular belief system are usually not willing to abandon their beliefs…and people who are adamantly opposed to a particular belief system are equally unwilling to embrace the “thoughtology” of another person.

Because I have pushed the boundaries of a belief system imposed on me as a dumb ass kid and opened my mind to dozens of belief systems, I can no longer be a literalist in any fashion.

Joseph Campbell, a man who devoted his life to unraveling religious thought, once said, “Mythology is someone else’s religion.”

And to be very honest, I am not particularly concerned with religious truth. I wake up each morning excited about possibilities.  I live my day making an effort to be kind and compassionate and when I see a wrong, i.e. where someone’s life, liberty and the pursuit of joy is jeopardized, I will speak up and out.

I don’t need an afterlife. I might need an occasional breath mint after dinner, but I don’t do anything during the day to secure an orchestra seat in a place many people call heaven.

I no longer believe in a God presented in any so-called books of sacred scripture. If there is any truth to the idea that I was created in the image and likeness of “God” I don’t have to take it literally.  I’ll just think that I have to power in my little hands to do my part to create a world where all people can bathe in the sunlight of life.

Declaration-of-Independence

My economic sense is as good as is my sense of direction. Nonetheless, as we the people of the United States prepare to celebrate Independence Day, I couldn’t help but think about price and cost. Economically speaking the price is the what we pay for something, and the price we pay (supposedly) for something should represent the value of what we have to give up in order to acquire that something…and at the 4th of July that something is freedom.

But,as with everything there is always a cost involved and the cost is the amount we spend to produce, again as is the case, on freedom.

Essentially when it comes to our freedom price and cost are inexorably linked. (That’s theoretical, of course, because for many people the price of freedom is paid with the cost of their lives. So, the 4th of July is also another Memorial and Veterans Day.)

What was the price of America’s freedom? In a word, immeasurable.  And the cost?  In lives some 24,000 patriots either lose their lives on the battlefield or in prison. While that number might pale in comparison to the loss of lives in other conflicts, consider for a moment that the population of New York City at the time was only  25,000. So, using that as a comparison the cost of lives in current population would be close to 7 million.

Was it worth it?  No hesitation here. The cost of paying the price for freedom was more than worth it. But, here’s where I scratch my head. Is the price of freedom always worth the cost we pay?  Our freedom was at the cost of English lives. While the men in red coats were our “enemy,” they were fighting for what they believed in. Two centuries later we let bygones be bygones.  That’s easy to do when your differences have faded to dust. But the nationalistic wounds of more recent struggles for freedom are still fresh.

Today the world is struggling to keep freedom alive in a world where some people are willing to pay a dastardly cost to abolish the rights of all people so that a misguided ideology can triumph.

I’m all for “religious freedom,” but no religious belief should trump the rights of any man.  Take “God” out of the equation and let religion stand on its own two wobbly feet.  The very exclusive nature of “religion” is rotten to the core.  That one religion is the right and true religion is bull shit. That some ridiculous sets of doctrines and practices should cause permanent brain damage in the “faithful followers” is fucking unbelievable.

That one has to pray so many times a day facing a certain direction, that one cannot have a glass of milk with a ham sandwich, that one cannot marry the person (regardless of gender) they want, that one cannot drink or dance (and be merry), that one could have gone to hell because they ordered the hamburger helper on a Friday instead of the twin lobster tails, makes me question the belief that we are the most intelligent form of life on the planet. (Aliens take warning. Don’t waste your fuel coming to earth.)

With that said, until some time in the future when we understand the idea of universal freedom, people will still be paying the price for freedom.  What we have to consider is at what cost?