Thursday, May 29, 2008

Five things I am grateful for

In his May 20th post on Break The Illusion Blog Davey Wavey wrote:
"Let’s be grateful, together

I’m humbled by the many things for which I am grateful.

Creating a gratitude list is one of my favorite activities. It always brings a smile to my face and a radiating warmth that I can feel in the depths of my being.

I think it would be extremely powerful if we, collectively, put together the ultimate gratitude list. If you’re grateful for something, jot it down in the comments. Try not to repeat something that has already been stated. Let’s see how many unique things we can come up with.

I’ll kick things off. Here’s one of the many things for which I am grateful:
I am grateful for my teachers - as my teachers have guided me to my current perspective. It is because of my perspective that I am able to more fully appreciate my life, and all aspects thereof."
I thought this was an interesting thought provoking idea and would give it a try. Here are five things I am grateful for:
  • I am grateful for having lived as long as I have.
  • I am grateful for being in relatively good health.
  • I am grateful for being gainfully employed.
  • I am grateful for having a comfortable and safe place to live.
  • I am grateful for being debt free.
Looking over some of the comments on Davey's post I'm not sure I got into the right spirit.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Beartooth scenic highway (US 212)

Charles Kuralt once called The Beartooth scenic highway (US 212) The most scenic road in America. The Beartooth scenic highway crosses Beartooth pass on US 212 between Red Lodge Montana and Cooke City Montana. A few miles east of Cooke City, The Chief Joseph scenic highway (Wyoming 296) descends the south side of the Beartooth mountains, through Sunlight basin, where it joins Wyoming 120 near Heart mountain north of Cody Wyoming.
September 2, 2000.

Pictograph Cave State Park

Pictograph Cave State Park
Billings Montana
September 5, 1999

Oregon trail wagon ruts & Register Cliff

Oregon trail wagon ruts, Register Cliff, Cliff swallows.
Guernsey Wyoming, August 28, 1999.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The frustrated perfectionist

I feel like I've been coasting on autopilot for a long time now; maybe for the last 35 years. It seems like my life has just unfolded in a haphazard way; like I was a tumbleweed blown around by the wind.

I use to have dreams and big plans, once upon a time, but those got set aside one after another in a series of frustrating disappointments. I was going to be a famous movie director but all I had was my Dad's old 8mm movie camera and one role of film (home video cameras and computers wouldn't come along for another 15 years.) I was going to be a famous photographer - I shot one wedding, one high school senior portrait and some pictures of cows. I thought I would be a radio engineer or TV repair man but I was afraid of electricity and I couldn't tell the front from the back of a TV. Nothing came easily and I didn't do any of it very well, so the spark eventually died out.

My various ventures never quite lived up to my expectations which led to frustration, failure, disappointment and eventually disillusionment. I think there were some adults along the way that knew what the problem was and tried to shed some light on it. I think my Junior High Principle tried to tell me. I think Jack from the news paper tried to tell me. I think Bob who ran the drive Inn tried to tell me. I seemed to have had a fundamental misunderstanding about life, the universe, and self. Either I wasn't listening or I didn't grasp the concept.

In his book "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff...and it's all small stuff" (1997), Richard Carlson, Ph.D. explained what others had tried to teach me 35 years ago. He wrote:
I've yet to meet an absolute perfectionist whose life was filled with inner peace. The need for perfection and the desire for inner tranquility conflict with each other. Whenever we are attached to having something a certain way, better than it already is, we are, almost by definition, engaged in a losing battle. Rather than being content and grateful for what we have, we are focused on what's wrong with something and our need to fix it. When we are zeroed in on what's wrong, it implies that we are dissatisfied, discontent.

Whether it's related to ourselves - a disorganized closet, a scratch in the car, an imperfect accomplishment, a few pounds we would like to lose - or someone else's "imperfections" - the way someone looks, behaves, or lives their life - the very act of focusing on imperfection pulls us away from our goal of being kind and gentle. This strategy has nothing to do with ceasing to do your very best but with being overly attached and focused on what's wrong with life. It's about realizing that while there's a better way to do something, this doesn't mean that you can't enjoy and appreciate the way things already are.
My philosophy has always been "If I can't do it perfectly then I won't do it at all." No wonder I've been so frustrated and disillusioned! But, that's only a partial explanation. What about this fear and courage business that Forrest Church writes about?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I've been a little uptight and tense

This week I noticed that I am a little uptight and tense. This has caused me to be snippy and short tempered with a few people. I have to check that behavior right now. Just because I'm uptight doesn't mean I should be uncivilized with others or ruin someone else's day. I am a mature adult, so I should act like one.

I was thinking about what might be the source of my tension; I thought at first it might be frustration but now I'm not sure. It feels more like anxiety.

There is no shortage of things to worry about. There is: global warming, food shortages, gas prices, the war in Iraq, Darfur, the Myanmar cyclone, the earthquake in China, international terrorists, elections, Republicans, Democrats, theists, atheist, fundamentalists, lunatics, budget cuts, hackers, phishing attacks, identity theft, copyright violations, and a new boss. Hum, that last one might be kind of important.

It's time for a reality check. Anxiety is a byproduct of fear - typically over things we can not control, are unpredictable or which have an uncertain outcome. I think it's natural to be concerned about global events but I think it is unproductive, even harmful, to expend a lot of energy worrying about them. There are some people who are in a position to jump on an airplane and rush off to save the world but I'm not one of those. I can not prevent earthquakes or cyclones, nor can I end war and famine, nor can I turn the election, and the Democratic and Republican parties are beyond saving.

Rather than worrying over things I can't do anything about, I stay informed, I do make financial donations to the Red Cross, I can speak out on matters of moral conscience, I do vote, and I can give my best effort at work to solving those problems that are within my circle of influence.

Loosing my temper and snapping at people isn't giving my best effort. Spending my energy worrying about things outside of my circle of influence isn't spending my energy solving those problems that are within my realm of influence. But, if I value others and demonstrate respect for them, put on a smile, behave in a professional manner, and do the best job I am able to do, I will be spending my time and effort on the right things and won't have any time or energy left to worry about things I can't do anything about.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On Separation of Church and State (updated)

I and two others were invited to speak May 11, 2008, at the Unitarian church we attend, as part of a "Faith and American Politics" class we participated in. Each of us spoke on a different topic. My topic was Separation of Church and State.
I believe in liberty. I believe in the liberty that gives us the freedom to engage in our own responsible search for truth and meaning.

I believe in the liberty that gives us the freedom to question and challenge the political and religious doctrines and dogmas of the day.

I believe in the liberty that gives us the freedom to communicate our beliefs and opinions in an open marketplace of ideas.

I believe in the liberty that gives us the freedom to gather together in communion and civil dialog.

I believe in the liberty that gives us the freedom to seek and create an equal and just society for all.

These liberties were not originally included in our United States Constitution when it was created. Yet, these liberties were so important to so many that the constitution was immediately amended to explicitly safeguard these sacred liberties.

The first amendment to our constitution reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The first part of the amendment is in two parts - the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from creating an official or established church, preferring one religion over another, or benefiting believers instead of nonbelievers. The Free Exercise Clause prohibits the government from interfering with the expression of religious beliefs (Linda Monk, 2004.)

During colonial times, many colonies established official churches which were supported through taxation. Colonists were obligated by law to attend church and could be whipped for not knowing the official church doctrine, and many Quakers were executed for their heresy (Linda Monk, 2004.)

Separating religion from government creates a healthier environment for faith and religion to thrive. In those European nations where religion still receives government support, interest in faith and religion has fallen, and many people no longer attend church. Freedom and competition are good for religion. When religion is dependent on government support faith and religion lose their vitality. In America, with its wall of separation, religion thrives on voluntary support and is more robust and pluralistic (, 2008.)

But I have a dilemma. I'm not sure I fully support the Free Exercise Clause. Not if it permits the enslavement of women and the sexual exploitation of children under the protective blanket of religion.

Living in a pluralistic society does not mean that "anything goes". Living in an imperfect world, with other equally fallible people, our differing values will come into conflict from time to time.

Fortunately, more learned and accomplished people than I have also wrestled with this same dilemma. When such conflicts do arise we can draw upon our values, tested principles of ethics and sound legal constructs to show that there is a compelling interest for government intervention in service of the higher values of liberty, justice, equality and compassion.

I believe it was with this spirit that the 2007 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly passed a Statement of Conscience calling upon Unitarian Universalist's as follows:
Arising from our Principles, the common denominators of Unitarianism Universalist values are Compassion, Justice, Equity, The Right of Conscience, Reason, and Respect for Others. As Unitarian Universalists, we have a responsibility to give voice to the moral values on which our faith is grounded, not only with a statement of conscience but through acts of conscience that honor the values we espouse.

As individuals, let us:

  • Speak out on moral issues with clarity and confidence;
  • Listen to people with whom we find ourselves in conflict, recognizing them as our neighbors, our kin;
  • Model a religion that embraces liberalism and morality; and
  • Apply our moral values to improve society.
As congregations, let us:
  • State the moral grounding of our social justice agendas;
  • Speak collectively on moral issues;
  • Give ourselves clear and accessible language to describe our moral values; and
  • Urge our religious leaders to proclaim our moral values in the public square.
As an association of interdependent congregations, let us:
  • Speak out forcefully on issues using Unitarian Universalist moral values;
  • Articulate Unitarian Universalist values and their application to living with respect and compassion;
  • Support civil liberties and the separation of church and state; and
  • Work across faith, cultural, and national boundaries to cultivate a Beloved Global Community.
We have been given the liberty to affect our present and influence our future. I believe the only way to defend and retain that liberty is to use that liberty to live, speak and act with compassion for justice, equity, the right of conscience, reason, and respect for others.

Friday, May 09, 2008

I have a moral dilemma

I am faced with a dilemma. I have agreed to give a short talk on Sunday, at the Unitarian church I attend, on the Separation of Church and State. But, do I really value "the free exercise thereof" (religion) clause of the first amendment?

I'm not sure I do. Not, if it permits a religious sect to enslave women and children and sell them off to the highest bidder! Not if it permits the rape and exploitation of children - all done under the banner of the free exercise of religion.

No! I do not value or support the free exercise of religion in such cases!

How can I resolve this dilemma and still save face?

I think I know a way. It's a principle of ethics called the "ends-means principle" which, very loosely, says that the means very rarely justify the ends, but when two roughly equal values are in competition with one another, then the means might justify the ends if the means is in service of a higher value and the means does not permanently inflict significant damage on the lesser value.

Robert Kane in his book Through the Moral Maze writes about "the Ends Principle":
Be open if you wish to other points of view. This may be a correct attitude to start with if you want to find the truth. But just remember that this attitude does not mean anything goes, ethically speaking. Quite the contrary, trying to sustain an attitude of openness leads to the conclusion that some things are really right and other things wrong, and some ways of living are really better than others.

And incidentally, some of those things that are really right or wrong are signified by those tired old commandments you have heard about. Don't kill or lie. Don't steal or cheat. Don't be unkind or inconsiderate or cause harm unnecessarily or be unfair. Don't treat others as means to your own ends, unless you are forced into it by their actions. And when you must, when the moral sphere breaks down, do what you can to restore and preserve conditions in this world where respect for others can flourish once again using minimum force and as fairly or justly as conditions allow. To love rightly is to recognize that you cannot love everything equally - except in a perfect world - and the world is often imperfect. But even where you cannot love equally in an imperfect world, you can love well by striving to restore and preserve conditions in which mutual respect can flourish once again.
I also found several references where the government has in fact placed restrictions on the Free Exercise Clause. The courts do required the government to demonstrate a "Compelling Interest" —a very high legal standard—for keeping a policy that restricts a religious practice.

The "very high legal standard" and "compelling interest" are applications of the principles above and have been used to uphold laws which prohibit Polygamy and child exploitation.

So, I have resolved my dilemma. I think I might revise my script to include a summary of my dilemma and how I reconciled it.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A blast from the past

My 1973 bowling team (standing.)
Standing left to right: Ted, Jerry, Mike, Lance, Clyde.
Kneeling, singles and doubles events, left to right: Mark, Steve, Ken, George.

Unfortunately, I lost contact with all of these people not long after this picture was taken. I do know that Mike (standing center) and George (kneeling far right) are both dead now. I also know that Ted (standing far left) was alive and well 8 years ago, but I do not know the whereabouts or welfare of the others.