Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Quitter Queen Has Gone Rogue (in Vogue?)

In the October 2009 issue of Vanity Fair magazine is an article by Levi Johnston called "Me and Mrs. Palin" about what he saw behind the scenes at the Palin household. Levi is the father of Palin's grandson Tripp. The article is strange on many levels and I'm not sure that I find Levi to be all that credible. Apparently, Vanity Fair magazine did, though, or else they just hate Sarah Palin so bad that they ran with this anyway, to add more fuel to the fire that will hopefully incinerate her political career once and for all.

The question I have as I read the article is "Why would Levi do this?" He has to know that exposing the details of the Palin household would only incur Palin's wrath. She is every bit the petty, vindictive woman we imagine her to be, as her fights with liberal bloggers and David Letterman have shown this year. Levi has to know that this article will only make things more difficult for him with the family, as he visits with his ten month old son. If he lied in the article, it will only make things worse. Why would he lie, though? Was the money offered worth that much to sell the Palins out? Not that I'm defending the Palins, though. Because if Levi wrote the truth about that family in this article, then it only shows the brilliance of the con-job the Republicans have managed to pull on the Palinistas who believe their beloved queen to be what she was packaged to be: a moose-hunting hockey mom who represents the values of conservative, small-town evangelical Christians.

What's the reality, though?

According to Levi, here are a few gems from the article:

"There wasn't much parenting in that house. Sarah doesn't cook, Todd doesn't cook--the kids would do it all themselves: cook, clean, do the laundry, and get ready for school. Most of the time Bristol, now 18, would help her youngest sister, Piper, 8, with her homework, and I'd barbecue chicken or steak on the grill. I only saw Sarah help Piper--the youngest before Trig--with homework a few times, and I've only seen her read a book to her once. I actually never saw Sarah reading much at all--once in a blue moon, I'd see her reading a book, and I've never seen her read a newspaper."

"The Palins didn't have dinner together and they didn't talk much as a family. Throughout the years I spent with them, when Sarah got home from her office--almost never later than five and sometimes as early as noon--she usually walked in the door, said hello, and then disappeared into her bedroom, where she would hang out. Sometimes she'd take an hour-long bath. Other times she sat on the living-room couch in her two-piece pajama set from Walmart--she had all the colors--with her hair down, watching house shows and wedding shows on TV. She always wanted things and she wanted other people to get them for her."

"Sarah was always in a bad mood and she was stressed out a lot. Sometimes she would wonder why she took the job as governor. It was too hard, she said; there was so much going on. Todd was always out in the garage working on his snow machines and drinking beer or screwing off...He's not supposed to have beer, because Sarah doesn't like him drinking. (She only goes to church four or five times a year--mostly on holidays--but Sarah doesn't drink or cuss much)."

"After the nomination, Sarah and Todd wouldn't go anywhere together unless the cameras were out. They're good on television but once the cameras would leave, they didn't talk to each other. In all the time Bristol and I were together, I've never seen them sleep in the same bedroom. (I don't know how she got pregnant). Even during the Republican National Convention they slept in different bedrooms at opposite sides of her suite. Todd slept in the living room, on his little black recliner, with the TV going in the background--usually with the news or an Ultimate Fighting Championship match on--wearing clothes he wore that same day. (Since I used to sleep on the couch until Bristol got pregnant, I know he doesn't snore, so that's not why he wasn't in bed)."

Levi wrote about how Sarah and Todd Palin fought all the time and threatened one another with divorce. He also states that Sarah "wore the pants in the family" and that the Palins never took vacations or weekend trips as a family. They live separate lives, with Todd retreating to a two-bedroom cabin that was a two hour drive away from the home on Lake Lucille in Wasilla, Alaska. Levi also claimed that the eldest son, Track (20 years old) didn't want anything to do with the family dysfunction and perhaps was the reason why he joined the Army, just to get far away from there. As for the affairs, Levi believes it was far more likely that Sarah cheated on Todd than vice versa.

As for Palin's image as a hockey mom and hunter, Levi said that Sarah rarely attended her son's hockey games and she once asked Levi to show her how to shoot a gun she kept in a box under the bed. Levi wrote, "She pays no attention to her kids when the cameras aren't around." So much for family values! Gotta love the phoniness of the rightwing and how the focus on images don't reflect reality.

In preparation for the Republican National Convention, just after she was selected as McCain's running mate, things really got crazy for the family. "Sarah told us to just wait and see the free clothes we were going to get, and the food whenever we wanted it. We didn't even have to do our own hair, she said. She just couldn't believe the free clothes, the free room service, the private jets, and being escorted by cops. We had every room on our floor of the hotel, with one room for hair and makeup, one for fitting, and another for wardrobe. They did all the shopping for us, and all our clothes were already there. I was given two Burberry suits and one Armani suit, Prada shoes, and a cashmere sweater. Back home I'd wear Carhartts and flannels and cowboy boots. Putting those clothes on, I felt totally out of my world. When I went to get sized up for the suits, I remember thinking, How could this get any worse? But they were nice suits and I took them home with me. The campaign asked me to give them back a few weeks after they lost, and I did. Sarah and the girls were pissed off about this and they had to give most of their clothes back, but I still saw some of it around the house after the campaign."

"In Minnesota, the girls were stoked. They were getting Gucci shoes and loving it. Sarah would have a new getup every day, sometimes twice a day, all steamed and pressed. Sarah was all smiles and giggles. She loved the lifestyle and the fact that she impressed everybody. 'Isn't this nice, all this?' she would say, pointing around her suite, with its conference table, flat-screen TV, wrap couch, trays of fruits--there aren't that many different kinds of fruit in Alaska--sandwiches, and huge wardrobe. Sarah got a lot of clothes. She'd never worn anything so expensive."

"The big change that I saw in Sarah Palin occurred when she went from being the governor of Alaska to being a candiate for vice president. Her family and I had come back to Alaska right after the convention while Sarah went off to campaign. She came back to Alaska about one month after the convention, and you could tell that she'd gotten used to people steaming her clothes, doing her hair and makeup, and ordering her food for her. Everybody knew it. "

"She was always putting on an act in front of the camera. We all knew that she didn't know what to say on TV, and that when she was reading a script she was a phony. I'd be sitting with the family in front of the TV and we'd be disgusted watching her. Her family never said anything terrible, but they shook their heads with disappointment. And there were times where we'd sit there and pretty much laugh at the things she said. I laughed every time I saw Tina Fey imitate her. She sounded just like her. I think the kids thought it was funny, too. There were also times when Sarah would be at home and watch herself on the screen and say she did very bad."

After the election defeat, Levi observed that "Sarah was sad for awhile. She walked around the house pouting. I had assumed she was going to go back to her job as governor, but a week or two after she got back she started talking about how nice it would be to quit and write a book or do a show and make 'triple the money.' It was, to her, 'not as hard.' She would blatantly say, 'I want to just take this money and quit being governor.' She started to say it frequently, but she didn't know how to do it. When she came home from work, it seemed like she was more and more stressed out. It seemed like she couldn't handle the job anymore. I think that she was just through with it all or that she'd become used to getting everything she wanted handed to her. She'd rather take the money and keep that kind of lifestyle."

The best gem in the article is the following claim Levi makes, which is astonishing if true (the sentence in bold is my emphasis): "After Tripp was born, Sarah would pay more attention to our son than she would to her own baby, Trig. Sarah has a weird sense of humor. When she came home from work, Bristol and I would be holding Trig and Tripp. Sarah would call Trig--who was born with Down syndrome--'my little Down's baby.' But I couldn't believe it when she would come over to us and sometimes say, playing around, 'No, I don't want the retarded baby--I want the other one,' and pick up Tripp. That was just her--even her kids were used to it."

"Sarah didn't pay a whole lot of attention to Trig. The special-needs baby got special love from Bristol, the rest of the kids, me, and Todd, who was always playing with Trig when he could. ...When she came home from work, she'd tell Bristol she was too tired to take care of him. She'd walk in the door, give him a kiss, and act happy for 1o seconds before hibernating in her room until the next day started. Bristol and I would have Trig until 11 P.M., when we'd put him in his crib. Sarah went to bed between 9 and 10 P.M."

The entire article is worth reading, but those were the juiciest observations about the Quitter Queen from Wasilla. Again, I wonder what Levi's motivation might be to go public with his observations and opinions. Obviously, money is one factor. Revenge might be another. Being seduced by the fame lavished on him by media elite people who seek to maximize the damage to Palin is another possibility. Its hard to know if he's being truthful, if he embellished any part of his story, or if he's just playing along with the view many people already have about Palin: that she was never serious about public service and only used elected office as a means to an end, which for her has been fame (she did want to be a sports broadcaster, for that's what she studied at five different colleges). The reasons she gave for quitting her term as governor with more than a year left didn't make sense to anyone, so Levi's portrayal of her as being seduced by the lavish lifestyle she enjoyed as a Vice Presidential nominee seems to ring true. Its hard to keep the down-home Alaska girl in the remote governor's office once she's been clothed in Gucci and Prada at Republican donor expense!

In other Palin news, she recently gave her much touted speech at a meeting of international political types in Hong Kong, which was closed to the media. Some attendees did Tweet parts of her speech for curious people at home (see? Twitter does serve a purpose after all!). I read excerpts on the Huffington Post and on several anti-Palin blogs. Nothing stands out in my memory, though, except that she had praised Reagan and Thatcher as being the models for sound economic policy. Interesting, though, that both Reagan and Thatcher left office with a sputtering economy in their wake. The Tories in Britain have yet to return to power due to the unpopularity of Thatcherism. This was most telling in a recent election in which Tony Blair's unpopularity with his support of Bush's war in Iraq was still not enough to cause Britons to throw the Labour Party out of office and entrust Parliament with the Conservative Party again. I have a feeling that Americans will follow suit. Bush's disasterous presidency will be the albatross around the Republican Party's neck for the far foreseeable future. Palin is definitely no Margaret Thatcher, though.

Just yesterday, the news revealed that Sarah Palin's memoirs is finished and the publication date has been moved up from the spring of 2010. Now, Walmart shoppers (the bulk of Palin's fanbase shop there) will be able to purchase their beloved queen's nonsensical musings (heavily ghost-written, for sure. At 400 pages, its certain to be a snoozer, though) in time for the Christmas gift giving season. I'm sure it'll be in the remainder bins by January. The most shocking thing about the book is the title, which proved once again how ignorant Sarah Palin truly is. She's calling her first book: Going Rogue: An American Life. Some liberal bloggers have wondered if this was a typo, though, because maybe she meant "Going Rouge." After all, she had formed a company called "Rouge cou" (her version of French for "redneck", which if she truly knew French, it would be written: "Cou rouge").

Rogue is not a good word to associate oneself with. No savvy politician would title their book with such a term. According to the dictionary, "rogue" is:

1. a dishonest, knavish person; scoundrel.
2. a playfully mischievous person; scamp: The youngest boys are little rogues.
3. a tramp or vagabond.
4. a rogue elephant or other animal of similar disposition.
5. Biology. a usually inferior organism, esp. a plant, varying markedly from the normal.

On second thought, maybe she is being incredibly honest with herself (finally!). I agree that she has been dishonest, a scamp, a tramp, and an inferior organism. And she is of the party represented by an elephant, with the entire party having gone off into crazy land since the implosion of the Bush administration in the final years.

But then there's the URBAN dictionary definition, which goes further in unintentional hilarity than the whole "teabag" movement: "A male that allows a transexual man to fuck him hard in the ass, yet still claims to be straight."

Honestly, if I was an advisor to Palin, I would urge her not to name her memoirs by that title. It will only serve to continue the public ridicule she will get for the rest of her time in public life. Its amazing to me that Palin is so completely unaware of how she is perceived by the majority of Americans. She doesn't seem to understand that most people see her as a joke. At her rallies in the fall, its easy to understand how she might look out at the huge rallies of people who swarmed to see her (in comparison to the smaller crowds for John McCain) and be seduced into thinking that those numbers reflect a huge percentage of America. The lunatic fringe of Republican voters, though, only represents about 30% of the population, which is a large number, to be sure. However, its not large enough for her to ever win the presidency on, when more Democrats and Independents view her as an ongoing joke (the gift that keeps on giving). A third of America may love her, but two thirds of America don't see her capable of any kind of leadership.

On Sarah Palin's Facebook page, I pointed out to her loyal followers that "Going Rogue" was not a good thing to name her book, citing the Urban Dictionary and the regular dictionary definition. What happened? I got censored! My comment referring to the Urban Dictionary definition was removed and I was told to "grow up!" Then I was called a "crybaby" by some of her blind followers. Um, crybaby? No...that's what Glenn Beck does on his show every night. If I'm crying, its only because I'm laughing so hard it hurts. Sarah Palin still remains the funniest comedian in America. She's funny because she has no idea how stupid she sounds when she speaks. She's funny because she doesn't get that everyone (but her loyal fanbase) can see through her vapid ignorance. She's hilarious in the same way teabaggers are hilarious. They adopt terms they have no knowledge of its real meaning, proving their ignorance again and again.

The titles of political memoirs usually tell quite a bit about the person. Many aim for lofty visions, while others are simplistic. I really liked Senator Ted Kennedy's title (True Compass). I did not think Bill Clinton's memoir title was great (My Life), while Hillary Clinton's was merely okay (Living History). I liked John McCain's (Faith of My Fathers, Worth the Fighting For) and Barack Obama's (Dreams From My Father, The Audacity of Hope). I did not like George W. Bush's title (A Charge to Keep, his 1999 campaign autobiography). His ghostwriter and advisor Karen Hughes had a great title for her memoirs, though (Ten Minutes from Normal). President Ronald Reagan called his An American Life (which Palin incorporates into her own memoirs), while Nancy revealed her motives in hers (My Turn).

For me, titles are important and should be well-thought out. I think Palin can do much better. I know that she got that term from an accusation by McCain staffers who had claimed after the election that she had "gone rogue" and refused to follow the script her handlers gave her (particularly in her outrageous comments about Obama that even McCain had to denounce). This title, if smarter people don't intervene and change it to protect her career from further ridicule, only reveals how petty, vindictive, and ignorant Sarah Palin is. I hope the book follows her around like a ghost for the rest of her time in the public spotlight.

If by chance she braves Portland for a booktour to promote her drivel, I intend to be there to ask a question designed to provoke a reaction. I'd love to ask her something like, "Last year, when President Nicolas Sarkozy of France called you, did you by chance discuss the pros and cons of nuclear power versus Alaska oil to provide for our energy needs?" I'll think of something better, but I am very curious to see what her reaction might be if I treat that famous prank (where she thought she was actually speaking to the President of France until the Quebecois d.j.'s revealed the truth) as real. Would she try to play it off as real or give a deer in the headlights look before speaking nonsensically her usual word salad consisting of "though" and "also"?

Enjoy the following two comedy portrayals of Sarah Palin. The jokes never stop with her. She is better than Dan Quayle and George W. Bush combined!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Exposing the Roots of Republican Hypocrisy

Monday night, I went to Powell's City of Books to attend a lecture by Max Blumenthal (pictured above), who is on a nation-wide book tour to promote his recently published Republican Gomorrah, which exposes the ugly history behind the party of "family values." I knew this lecture would be one of the more crowded ones, because nearly all political books that knock the Republicans often bring packed audiences. However, I was surprised that there wasn't a large crowd of people who had to stand because all the seats were filled. Maybe it was because we got our first bout of cold rain yesterday, thus keeping people from going out. I was glad to get a seat, for once, though.

According to a BuzzFlash review I found on Wikipedia, the book is described:
Inspired by the work of psychologist Erich Fromm, who asserted that the fear of freedom propels anxiety-ridden people into authoritarian settings, in Republican Gommorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party, Blumenthal sets out to explain how in his view a "culture of personal crisis" has defined the American "radical right". Blumenthal's overall conclusion in the 365 page exposé, is that "those who wrap themselves in the flag fear freedom the most" because of their own personal demons and insecurities, making them "pathologically supportive of an authoritarian state" that can provide them with the "emotional security of being a cog in a white Christian hierarchical machine."
In the lecture, Blumenthal gave a lecture for about 45 minutes about the history of the evangelical rightwing's involvement with the Republican Party, dropping names like Rushdoony, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Patrick Henry University, and James Dobson. He got laughs aplenty when he described some of the absurdities of the right, particularly their obsessions with homosexuality when so many of them have been exposed in gay sex scandals (Senator Larry Craig, Reverend Ted Haggart, reporter Jeff Gannon / James Guckert, Congressman Mark Foley, to name a few). He also spent considerable time laying out the agenda of conservative evangelicals and their paranoid obsessions with "the enemy."

Though his book covers this movement from Rushdoony's beginnings up to President Obama's inauguration, Blumenthal mentioned that a follow-up book is probably necessary to cover Glenn Beck and the Teabaggers, because he didn't even write about Glenn Beck, who is only the latest in a long line of propagandists for the ultimate goal of this movement: a complete theocratic and authoritarian government in which the U.S. Constitution is replaced by the Ten Commandments as the rule of law.

Yikes!

He focused on Dr. James Dobson, whom Blumenthal claims is not really a religious guy. Dr. Dobson is a child psychologist who founded the most influential evangelical organization, Focus on the Family. Unfortunately, I know a few people in my church whom I love dearly and respect greatly for the spiritual counsel, yet they are loyal adherents to Dr. Dobson and buy his books. When I was a teenager, my Senior High Sunday school class at the Atlanta North congregation used devotional materials distributed by Focus on the Family.

As a class, we decided to stop using the material when a couple lessons knocked Joseph Smith, Jr. and called the Mormon church (our religious cousins) a "cult"; while another lesson condemned The Empire Strikes Back as Buddhist-influenced. I raised the objection and was able to influence the other teens and our Sunday School teacher to drop this material from our study. My argument was that we should not be supporting anyone who called our Mormon cousins a "cult" and knock the founder of our movement. Thus why it baffles me when church members are supportive of Dr. Dobson. Why would you support a person who believes you belong to a cult and are not authentically Christian? I don't get it.

However, all is not loss. I credit Dr. Dobson with my breaking out of the mindset that Buddhism was "evil." When I read the lesson in his devotional which pointed out that everything Yoda taught Luke Skywalker in Empire Strikes Back (my favourite of the Star Wars films since I first saw it in 1980) was Buddhism, and therefore "evil", I was stunned. "That's what Buddhism is?" I thought. I was already influenced it, because I had "used the force" to learn how to ride a bicycle without training wheels in the summer of 1980 (in a Mormon church parking lot, even). The stuff Yoda told Luke Skywalker influenced me a great deal as I grew up and fired my imagination like nothing else. So, thank you Dr. Dobson for pointing it out to me when I was too afraid to investigate Buddhism on my own due to the evangelical-indoctrination I received as a teen in Germany when my dad made me attend the protestant youth group meetings and rallies.

During the Q & A portion of the lecture, one lady asked Blumenthal about how to save her daughter who was being indoctrinated into conservative evangelicalism at her ex-husband's house (they share custody). You could really hear the pain in her voice over this agonizing difference of beliefs (thus why I'm such an oddity in my insistence that I must know a lady's worldview when I first meet her because narrow-minded and conservative religiosity is an automatic no go). Blumenthal admitted that without knowing the full details of her personal situation, he couldn't really offer advice to her. He did mention, though, that it would depend on the lady's daughter's personality. He gave examples of people who were raised or exposed to or indoctrinated in conservative evangelical propaganda and once in college, rejected that as they learned about the world and its complexity.

I'm an example of someone who has rejected the views conservative evangelicals had tried to indoctrinate in me during my adolescence when my dad made me attend all those protestant youth group meetings and rallies. I had arguments with the youth leaders over their insistence that we should only listen to Christian music (which sucked in the early years), that other religions weren't evil, and other things that irked me. To this day, I can't stand evangelical Christianity at all. I often get into it with people in the Community of Christ who align themselves with evangelical Christianity despite the view of most evangelicals that our church is a "cult." I side with other maligned groups...the Mormons, Buddhists, Unitarian-Universalists, the Quakers, New Age spiritualists, Humanists and even Jehovah's Witnesses. If our country ever comes to a battle where evangelical Christians are on one side, I will be on the opposite side, fighting against theocracy and intolerance. I would even fight fellow church members who align themselves with the intolerant factions on the right because they are wrong.

Anyhow, what that lady with the indoctrinated daughter needs to understand is the personality type that finds a home in evangelical Christianity. Usually, they are fearful people who don't trust themselves to do the right thing and thus need an authoritarian figure to force them into compliance. There is a such thing as people who are pre-disposed to authoritarianism. Nazism, communism, and most rigid religions wouldn't exist without these types. The best example, though, is John Walker Lindh. He was a guy who grew up in one of the most liberal counties in the U.S. (Marin County, California) to hippie, open-minded parents. What did he do? He went to Afghanistan to join the most extreme form of Islam he could find. Why? Because he needed to follow someone who had a near absolute certainty about religion. His parents' liberal spiritual beliefs and passive acceptance just didn't cut it for him. Had he been born to an Assemblies of God family, he probably would not have gone halfway around the world to join the Taliban and thus find himself in hot water with the U.S. government when we invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 and threw everyone we found in the al-Qaeda training camps into the jail at GITMO.

That's the thing with authoritarian minded people. They don't trust themselves to behave and need a strong authoritarian figure to force them to comply. Because they know this about themselves, they believe that everyone is the same way. They can't understand that someone might have self-discipline and doesn't need an authoritarian figure (the strong father of the 1950s ideal) to live life. Out of all the personality types, the one I get along with least are the authoritarian types. Its pretty much been consistent since elementary school. The one trait that unites all the people I've considered my worst enemies over the years. Its understandable that we'd clash, because I'm democratic to my core, comfortable with nuance and uncertainty, not afraid of change, loves diversity, bored by homogeneity, open-minded and comfortable with different belief systems.

In case you're curious...yes, the lady I had the most clashes with at work (until management moved her out of my workspace) is someone who displays the traits of a person with authoritarian submission. Its so predictable that I don't get along with this personality trait that it has become one of the first things I look for in people that I meet. I just don't waste my time with them any more.

Someone asked Blumenthal for his opinion about why Palin quit the governor's office and if she has a chance to win the Republican nomination for president in 2012. Blumenthal said that he agreed with Levi Johnston and received applause when he said that after dismissing him, he has come to think of Levi as a smart guy. Why? Well, in this month's Vanity Fair is an article about Levi Johnston (the father of Bristol Palin's baby, Tripp). Due to Blumenthal's endorsement, I decided to buy that issue of Vanity Fair to read, which I will post my thoughts on it for tomorrow's blog. Blumenthal believes (as I do) that Palin dropped out to cash in on the book deal. He said that if she does run, Mike Huckabee is sure to attack her by saying that he didn't quit on his supporters when he was governor and that our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan can't quit on us, so what does that say about Palin? If she's attacked on the right, she can't play the victim of the liberal media card.

Blumenthal also mentioned a cynical reason why Newt Gingrich converted to Catholicism. He doesn't believe Gingrich is sincere, because Gingrich has a reputation for cynically using whatever ideology he can to further his ambitions. Since he has been marginalized in evangelical circles due to his hypocrisy (though his intellectual snobbery probably also has a lot to do with it as well), he sees conservative Catholic voters as the best way to the Republican nomination in 2012. Blumenthal said that he hopes that Rick Santorum will also run in 2012, just for the sheer entertainment value (just Google-search "Santorum" and see what comes up!).

Man, liberals are in for a treat if the Republican nomination for president in 2012 include a flake like Palin, the Mormon Mitt, the Hindu convert to Catholicism who practices exorcism Bobby Jindal, the rumoured to be gay Charlie Crist, the beastiality-obsessed Santorum, the serial adulterer who leaves his wife if she's in the hospital Gingrich, and Chuck Norris-approved Huckabee. The mud will fly all over the place! Its the showdown I can't wait to watch (out of the bunch, I find Crist to be the most likeable and reasonable candidate. Who cares what his orientation is?).

When I got home, I Google-searched Max Blumenthal because I was certain that he was Sidney Blumenthal's son. Sure enough, he is. His father wrote one of the best books on the Clinton years (The Clinton Wars), chronicling the obsessions of the conservative movement to destroy the Clinton presidency. They are attempting to do the same to Obama. I'm glad to see that the son has picked up where his father left off. This movement must be exposed and people need to fight it. Such religiously fanatical conservatives must not ever be allowed near the reigns of power ever again!


Monday, September 28, 2009

Music Video Monday: Kathy Troccoli



In honour of this past weekend's Senior High Retreat at the Community of Christ's Lewis River Campground, I'm playing a song we sung during one of the many worship services: Kathy Troccoli's "Go Light Your World." This wasn't the parting song of the weekend as I hoped it would be, but at least it was played at some point during the weekend. The retreat's theme was "Shine" and it was the tenth anniversary.

The weekend was incredibly spiritual and fun. The teenagers were fantastic. It was great to see their enthusiasm for contemporary Christian music, and I heard many new songs which I really liked. Each evening, after people went back to their cabins, I stayed out late under the stars (since I can't see them in Portland) and just felt close to God, as I always do in these moments. There were many great places to meditate and I realized that I don't get out in nature often enough. It really does nourish your soul and everything smells fresh.

On the way home, I asked my ride and his daughter which retreat they liked better. We all agreed that this one was better than the Young Adult one (sorry Sean!). For me, the biggest reason why I liked this one is because we had many worship sessions featuring singing along to contemporary Christian songs, most of which I haven't heard before but really enjoyed because of the fresh music style. I don't remember all the names of the songs, but a few I could remember included Brandon Heath's "Give Me Your Eyes" (I think that's what its called), Steven Curtis Chapman's "Dive", and one called "Perfect People." I'm told that the Community of Christ Garden Grove Congregation in Vancouver WA has a monthly Solid Rock Cafe which features this contemporary worship style geared towards teenagers, and they are always looking for adults to help out, so maybe I'll also go to these.

This weekend did make me ponder a lot of things, including my thoughts about religion when I was a teenager. During my late teens, I grew resentful towards my father over his making me attend the protestant youth group meetings every week (and also our trips to youth rallies held on other bases) when we lived in Germany. Its one of the reasons why I rebelled against religion in my senior year of high school (twenty years ago, now) and my early years in the Navy. Though I hated being made to attend the protestant youth group meetings as a teenager, from my point of view as an adult, I'm glad that my dad made me attend because it shaped a lot of who I am. For instance, because I was made to go, I did get exposed to some awesome Christian songs (such as "Surrender" by Allies), even though I did not agree with the "Christian music only" diet that the youth leaders were pushing on us.

Most important, though, because of my dad making me attend these protestant youth group meetings and rallies, I learned a lot about the differences between evangelicals and how much the church I've been a member of operates. I saw hypocrisy and intolerance in the ideas and values that the protestant youth group leaders were teaching and practicing. One example that really bugged me was that there was one protestant youth group leader who was a soldier in a unit at that Army base. He was obsessed with sports and winning. Often, he would hurt me on the playing field, by stepping on me, bumping into me, knocking me down. Here was this fit G.I. (probably in his late 20s or early 30s) playing sports with a bunch of teenagers and he was obsessed with winning, no matter who got hurt in the process. Then, after the fun and games, he would give the devotional message, which contradicted his actions on the court or field. Even as a teenager, I could see the hypocrisy between his message and his actions.

In contrast, in every sporting event I've played at my church during reunions, retreat, and special events, no one seemed to keep score. We played for fun. This past weekend, I watched the teens play volleyball with a couple adult counselors. They weren't even keeping score! The whole point in the game was to see how long they could keep the ball going back and forth. This is common among church members and the reason why my church has spoiled me with its value system. I always experience a slice of heaven on earth at church functions. Its one of the main reasons why I'm so loyal to this church. I am who I am because of what I learned and experienced in this faith community. And because I've lived in different parts of the country, I have been able to see a consistent standard everywhere I've been. Its definitely in contrast to the experience I had at the protestant youth group meetings and rallies I attended in Germany. My father making me attend those events in Germany, against my personal wishes, only helped solidify my loyalty to the church.

My brother attends an evangelical church that reminds me of everything I disliked about the protestant youth group meetings and rallies I attended in Germany. The focus is always on "being saved", other religions are put down or condemned, and there is a hypocrisy between the message and the way people behave. The music they play may be great, but the message is toxic. I much prefer our small community of loving people who don't put other religions down or make you feel less of a person because you don't agree with every point. Our church is like a huge family and I was glad to experience Zion once again this weekend.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Another Weekend Devoted to Church

September has been a month in which every weekend has been taken up by church retreats and the Young Adult panel. I don't know who had the brilliant idea to schedule everything in the month of September, but I'm definitely not doing this again. I don't like it when I don't have a single weekend to myself each month...as I have many personal projects that have not gotten done.

I know, I know...no one put a gun to my head and made me participate. I did want to attend Bend Institute. I did want to be part of the Young Adult panel, and then attend my new congregation in Tigard. I did want to learn more about Orphans Africa at the Young Adult retreat on Samish Island. And when someone expressed a need for counselors to serve at the Senior high retreat this weekend at the Lewis River campground north of Vancouver WA, I decided, "why not?" I'm up for a unique experience. I'm curious to see what the younger generation thinks of spirituality and our church. I've only read in books and articles that the younger generation has a different view of how church should be (similar to my view...using both Christian pop and secular pop songs in service, informal style, coffee house type of gathering, and even...gasp!...texting and tweeting during the actual church service).

So, there won't be a blog post for Sunday (and today's is not much of one. Sorry). At any rate, I can't wait until October, though. I've decided to start writing my second novel as well as submit my first one to some literary agents again. All while still applying for jobs, getting my passport, and organizing my things. I may even take a hiatus from church during the month of October, just so I can get back into the Writer's Dojo mindset again. In the meantime, Green Day had it right when they sang "Wake Me Up When September Ends."

I love the Community of Christ, but sacrificing an entire month of weekends has taken a toll on my personal goals for the month. That's not cool. Someone in the Mission Center needs to take into account that putting too many events on the calendar for one month is a bit much. But, if I'm still in Portland next year, I probably won't be going to Bend Institute or the Young Adult retreat, so that will free up my month.

Let's hope I survive this weekend with teenagers first. Gosh. I'm actually going to be a counselor to teenagers! Who would've thought I'd be so responsible like that?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Flashback Friday: The Women of Camelot

I've been meaning to write on this made-for-television movie about the women who married the Kennedy brothers. A little less than a week before Senator Ted Kennedy passed away, I happened to be browsing an awesome used CD and DVD store in downtown Portland, just seeing what DVDs are available (they have a great selection and its rare that I buy a new DVD these days). I was pleasantly shocked to find a copy of The Women of Camelot. I had forgotten that this movie had played on TV a few years back. I never got to see it. The movie is based on a book called Jackie, Ethel, Joan: The Women of Camelot, which I once owned and intended to read. The DVD was only $5, so of course I bought it (along with a few other DVDs I didn't want to miss out on: President Barack Obama's Inauguration--I had no idea it was put on DVD!--and a documentary about my former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney called American Blackout).

As my friends can attest, I love, love, love biopics! Even when its bad, its good! I'll see them even if I'm not a big fan of the subject matter (Johnny Cash's Walk the Line and Howard Hughes' The Aviator, to name a few examples). A good biopic can make me a fan (which Walk the Line, Ray, and Great Balls of Fire all managed to do). With the Kennedy family, though, I love watching everything about them...TV movies (The Kennedys of Massachusetts, JFK: Reckless Youth, The Missiles of October, RFK, Robert Kennedy and His Times, American Prince: The JFK Jr. Story), major releases (Thirteen Days), documentaries, and loving tributes (Emilio Estevez's Bobby). Memo to Hollywood: You can't go wrong with Kennedy movies. Bring it!

When I watched The Women of Camelot in the aftermath of Ted Kennedy's funeral, I was even more in awe of this film. All three ladies who played the Kennedy wives were outstanding. The actors who played John and Edward Kennedy did a great job, but the actor who played Robert did not resemble him very well. Maybe its because Brad Davis and Linus Roache played him much better in movies about RFK. That's okay, though, because the cool thing about The Women of Camelot is that the focus is on the wives. This is their story.

Jill Hennessy plays the elegant Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and she does a fantastic job capturing her essence. She truly does make you believe that she's Jacqueline, the classiest First Lady our country has ever had. There were so many great scenes from her fabulous life. She's notoriously private, thus why she never wrote her memoirs. She took her secrets to the grave when she died of cancer in 1994. According to biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli, Jacqueline saw JFK's flirtations with Marilyn Monroe to be dangerous for his presidential career. To emphasize the threat Monroe posed, Jacqueline supposedly threatened to leave the president with their children in tow before the 1964 election if John did not end it. He would not have survived such an unprecedented move. But of course, we'll never know since Monroe was found dead and then JFK met an assassin's bullet in Dallas a year before reelection.

Several biographers have written about Jacqueline knowing about her husband's affairs and tolerating it so long as he didn't throw it in her face. Her own father (Black Jack Bouvier) was a womanizer, so maybe she thought this was natural of men in that social class, thus cutting a deal with the patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy to remain married for whatever sum of money and perks that he offered. Despite Jacqueline's preference for privacy, she had a regal style and class. She was definitely the Queen of the trio. One of my favourite scenes in the movie is when Jacqueline questions what kind of God would allow such tragedy to fall on her brothers-in-law as well as when she tells a Secret Service agent not to come near her because what good was he anyway? Her grief is understandable. One of the most famous quotes was said in the aftermath of Robert Kennedy's assassination: "If they're killing Kennedys, my children are targets." Thus explains in part her controversial marriage to wealthy Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis in 1968.

Lauren Holly plays Ethel Skakel Kennedy and practically steals the film. She's blunt, tomboyish, and extroverted. Out of the three ladies, Ethel is the one who can most keep up with the Kennedy men. And you want to talk about tough? She gave birth to eleven children, surpassing her mother-in-law Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy by two children. One scene with her that I really like is when she brings baby Rory to her husband's gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery to introduce her to the father she'd never have the chance to know. She explains to baby Rory how things work at Hickory Hill (the Kennedy Estate in northern Virginia): "The older ones take care of the younger ones. The younger ones take care of the littlest ones. And they all take care of me." I laughed out loud when she said that (I have no idea if that quote is authentic). Um...part of being a parent is that you are responsible for taking care of the children. They aren't supposed to take care of you when they are young.

If Ethel really believed this, its understandable why her sons were so dysfunctional. All of them had problems. The eldest Joseph tried to annul his marriage rather than get a divorce, which killed his chances to win the governorship of Massachusetts in 1998. Robert Jr. had a drug addiction when he was younger, but he overcame that and is now one of the best known environmental leaders in our country. David died of a drug overdose in the 1980s. He was the only one of the children to have watched his father's victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel the night an assassin's bullet ended RFK's life. That would be a hard thing for a young boy to endure, so I don't blame him for coping with drugs and not knowing his body's limits. Then there's Michael, who was caught sleeping with his family's teenage babysitter in the late 1990s and then dying in a freak skiing accident in 1997. Maxwell Taylor Kennedy is the only one you don't hear much about.

The daughters of RFK seemed to do much better. Kathleen served as the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland in the late 1990s but failed to win over voters for the top spot in 2002, which effectively killed her political career (if she couldn't win in an overwhelmingly Catholic and Democratic state, there wasn't much hope for her). In 2002, I wanted to work on her campaign for Governor, but couldn't afford to move back to the D.C. area at the time. Another daughter, Kerry, married Andrew Cuomo, which merged two famous Democratic families, though if I remember correctly, that marriage ended in divorce a few years ago.

Daughter Rory, who was born after her father's death, also saw tragedy on a day that should have been one of the most joyous of her life. Cousin John F. Kennedy, Jr. made that tragic flight in July 1999 to attend her wedding. I can't imagine what her life must be like...to not know her father at all like her older siblings had a chance to, then to see your most famous and beloved cousin die in route to your wedding. Yikes! My heart always goes out to the Kennedys. Too much tragedy for one family.

Based on a biography I read about Ethel, she didn't sound like much of a mother, especially compared to Jacqueline. You can see the results in the children...as Jacqueline didn't like her children getting mixed up with Robert's kids. John Jr. even criticized his cousins in an editorial in his magazine George, breaching family tradition to not criticize another family member to the public.

Ethel's challenges of raising 11 children without a father was nothing like the difficulty Joan Kennedy had in dealing with her husband Edward's philandering and drinking. She was the most frail of the three ladies and often needed the advice and support of the other two. Despite her flaws, she did manage to win Edward's reelection in 1964 while he was in the hospital recovering from a near fatal airplane crash. According to the movie, she was also the one who made the apologetic phone call to the parents of Mary Jo Kopechne, the young lady who perished in the car accident off the Chappaquiddick bridge in 1969. That accident has hounded Edward for the rest of his life and even in death, as conservatives won't let the issue die (while they conveniently ignore Laura Bush's car accident that killed the driver of the car she ran into when she failed to obey a stop sign as a young lady). Conservatives should be grateful, because Chappaquiddick practically guaranteed that Ted Kennedy would never be president.

Out of all of the brothers, I'm the least familiar with Edward (thus why I can't wait to read his memoirs, as well as the biography The Last Lion). As I watched this movie, which starts with the election of John Kennedy to the presidency in 1960 and ends with Ted's concession speech at the 1980 Democratic National Convention, I couldn't believe that he would run for president while separated from his wife and pretending that all was well in his marriage. Her alcoholism and mental state was an issue in the campaign, and in an interview, Ted failed to give a compelling reason why he wanted to be president. It was a disaster of a campaign and one gets the sense that he only ran because it was the 20th anniversary of his brother's election. Its rare for a president to lose his party's nomination, thus why Kennedy's 1980 campaign seemed to lack any kind of logic or knowledge of history. I can't think of any off the top of my head where such a scenario has happened, but there might have been one. I'd have to look it up, I guess.

Anyhow, this movie is great at presenting the different personalities of the Kennedy wives. Jacqueline was the regal and sophisticated First Lady who charmed the likes of French President Charles de Gaulle and redecorated the White House. Ethel made no secret of her desire to be a First Lady after John served two terms. Joan just wanted to cope. Out of the three ladies, I would probably be the most attracted to Ethel because I love her blunt honesty and extroverted personality. She seems like a fun person to know and is actually close to what I consider "my type." I love Jacqueline because she is gorgeous, sophisticated, elegant, and classy. However, I would consider her way out of my league. And Joan is too much of a mess to deal with. She's fragile and made a huge mistake marrying into that family (though her daughter and sons would disagree).

I can't believe I found this movie on DVD for a bargain price of $5! Its one that I will watch at least once a year, if not more. The performances are outstanding. Lauren Holly terrifically captures the way I've imagined Ethel to be in all that I've read about her. She's definitely the Kennedy wife who knows how to make people laugh (as well as offend people by her off the cuff brutal honesty without a filter...but I've always been attracted to women like that). I find it interesting that neither Ethel nor Joan remarried. Jacqueline's marriage to Onassis made her unpopular for awhile in the 1970s, but I don't see why. One line in the film has Jackie saying that she has no desire to play the role of widow that the American public pulls out for a good cry every now and then. I personally think her marriage was one of convenience. She sought the Onassis fortune for her children and Onassis himself got bragging rights with the ultimate "trophy wife" (the beautiful widow of a martyred president). It worked out well for both of them.

God, I love the Kennedy family! They are the greatest American family in our history. Long live the Kennedys! Irish eyes are smiling on them.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

What the Heck is Glenn Beck Doing on the Cover of Time?

The last thing I wanted to see in my mailbox this week is the obnoxious rightwing nutbag Glenn Beck staring at me with his tongue sticking out. What is so noteworthy about this conservative, angry crybaby? From the sounds of things, he is fast becoming the rant show personality du jour, as Rush Limbaugh can't seem to gain female listeners (gee, I wonder why? Could it be because he's a major pig who endorsed Sarah Palin as the saviour of the party all because "she's a babe!" Oh, a lard ass like Rush only wishes he could fuck the likes of Palin).

The lady I had a falling out with earlier this year over her inappropriate personal attacks on Facebook has made herself known as a Glenn Beck supporter, through comments made on a mutual friend's Facebook wall. She was quite defensive about Beck, which I found amusing. The guy is simply another corporate shill designed to rile up the ignorant and religious base of the Republican Party. Beck is considered the "genius" behind the 9/12 teabagger protest day on the Mall (what should be referred to as the Million Moron March. Though the Fox Propaganda Network claimed several hundred thousand people and used dated photos of another event on the Mall to prove their fake numbers, the official count was less than 70,000 people).

I first heard about Beck when I saw a strange book in Powells City of Books a few years back, with the word "Inconvenient" in the title and a guy with a map of California hanging out of his mouth. It didn't reveal any bias, so I thought maybe he was piggybacking on Al Gore's success with An Inconvenient Truth (the documentary film, the book, and the national tour). I didn't pay much attention to it, though. I was surprised to see such a political book sold in the Mormon-owned Deseret Books.

Then I read somewhere that Glenn Beck is a convert to the Mormon religion. I can't remember where I read the article, but it sounded like Beck converted more because of love than conviction (he fell in love with a Mormon lady and she required him to get baptized if he wanted to marry her). However, whether he converted because of love or conviction, I think its still important to point out to his devoted followers that he is a Mormon. The reason is because of the sheer hypocrisy of evangelical Christians. They didn't like Mitt Romney's Mormon religion, but had he been a Southern Baptist or a Methodist, he probably would have gotten the nomination instead of John McCain. So, if evangelical Christians hate the Mormon religion, why are they part of Glenn Beck's army of idiots who do whatever he says?

For example, Beck named several of President Obama's advisors on various issues as "czars" (for the record, the previous president, who was quite beloved by the evangelical base, had 34 advisors who would be called "czar" according to Beck, versus Obama's 31 advisors). Its also a sign of their ignorance when they accuse Obama of being a communist (as well as a fascist, which is ludicrous...its quite difficult to be both!) and citing his appointment of "czars" as proof. Um...don't these people realize that it was the communists who overthrew the rule of the czars in Revolutionary Russia in 1917?

Again, this illustrates how conservative people are able to believe contradictory ideas without any kind of self-awareness. It really hurts their credibility when they fall for this kind of lunacy. As I've told people in the past...if you can't get your facts right about events that are easy to prove because of historical documentation, why should anyone believe what you have to say about an event that supposedly happened two thousand years ago but lacks any kind of verifiable and independent documentation (such as a Roman historian writing about the crucifiction and resurrection of Jesus)?

Time magazine reports that Beck has said on several occasions this year: "I'm afraid. You should be afraid too." Whatever happened to President Franklin Roosevelt's most famous quote: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself"? Or, how about the guy that evangelical Christians really think they know and love? That would be Jesus (not Rush). He constantly told his disciples to not be afraid. Every single authentic spiritual leader has told followers not to be afraid. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his final sermon the night before he was assassinated: "Tonight, I'm not fearing any man because I've been to the mountaintop and have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord."

So how did we devolve from Jesus, FDR and MLK and their talk of courage to the cowardice people we've become today? Why do fear mongers like Rush, Beck, Hannity, Coulter, O'Reilly, Savage, and Malkin hold such a powerful sway over evangelical conservatives? I'm of the opinion that it is time for progressives to not shy away from ownership of Jesus. The rightwing Christian wouldn't recognize Jesus if he came up and offered them free medical care with his miracle. The Republican Jesus would have capitalist disciples collecting money from everyone who was blessed by Jesus.

One thing that irked me about Glenn Beck was that earlier this year, he published his version of an update to the Thomas Paine classic Common Sense. That 1775 pamphlet was considered to be the rallying point for American colonists still sitting on the fence about whether America should become independent of the British Empire. We are taught since elementary school that America's independence was born of a deep hatred of taxes, which is not true. It was the taxation without representation. And taxes on all kinds of things. You were taxed based on the number of rooms you had in your home (including closets). You were taxed on paper supplies and newspapers. Tobacco. Tea. It was excessive. Along with the practice of quartering of British soldiers in people's homes.

The crisis came to a head, though, after the French and Indian War, which American colonists were gung ho about because it expanded territory beyond the Appalachian Mountain chain, which formed the first boundary between the English and the Native populations and their French allies. This war was expensive, so King George had to find a way to pay for the war that the colonists wanted and benefitted from. Imagine that. Taxes paying for war.

Now we just had another bad spell of being ruled by a tyrant named George, who waged two expensive wars overseas and passed two tax cuts in the midst of the war, the first time in history that any people got a war without securing a way to finance it. Of course, Bush did the tax cut as a kind of bribe because had he told the American people that he would have to raise taxes to pay for the wars, the American people would have been against going to war at the start. Instead, Americans have only come around about seven years too late, once people realized that we squandered a lot of money in trying to nation-build two countries with no history of democracy or even an interest in anything other than strongman dictators and religious extremist theocrats in charge.

So...all of Glenn Beck's cries about taxes and government spending ring a bit hollow. Where was he when Bush was spending the surplus into the largest debt our country ever had (surpassing even ole Ronnie's record in the 1980s)? These conservative teabaggers who are crying about government spending were no where to be seen in the Bush years. In fact, they were probably the ones who claimed that liberals who protested Bush's expensive war-mongering are committing treason and calling us "surrender cheese-monkeys." The hypocrisy reeks.

Beck doesn't have a clue about Thomas Paine, who was considered a rabble rouser and known to be an atheist. The documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 is more along the lines of Paine's Common Sense. Both were controversial and served as a kind of wake up call to action. Beck is late to the ballgame and displaying his ignorance of history. The idea that one can wage a war without paying for it in the shared sacrifice of taxes represents a kind of detached narcissism that I find most disturbing about my fellow Americans. We seem to want it all, without realizing the costs involved, both in terms of lives and treasury.

One thing I don't understand about conservatives is their anger. Its been ongoing since 1992, when Pat Buchanan raged about the culture war as the Republican theme for the election that year. The conservatives were angry over every little scandal of the Clinton years, culminating in the Monica Lewinsky affair. Then when an election gets stolen in their favour, they still remain angry because quite a few Democrats refused to accept the Bush presidency as legitimate (I was one of those people, I'm proud to say). Through all kinds of incompetent disaster, the conservatives were angry and turned to Rush, Hannity, and O'Reilly for their daily ranting points. Now, Beck has become the de facto leader of conservatives because he appeals to conservative women (something that Rush hasn't been able to do). He's not ashamed to weep for his country on television. But I think he's really crying crocodile tears. In reality, he has become a wealthy man in the past couple of years. If anything, he's laughing his ass off all the way to the bank at the poor conservative saps who buy his shit.

This anger, though, is just baffling. They had control of all three branches of government from 2001 through 2006. Are they angry because Bush turned out to be the incompetent idiot many liberals pegged him for in 1999? They hate that liberals were right about Bush. So now they want to destroy Obama's presidency in a jealous and petty tit-for-tat. The damage was self-inflicted, though. In 1999, they saw Bush as the second coming of Reagan, even though he had a historical record of bankrupting all three of the companies he founded (which includes Arbusto and Harken Energy). They tried to make amends by selecting John McCain to lead us eight years too late. The damage was done. To show that they have not processed the reasons why Bush was so damaging to our country, many of these evangelical conservatives are supporting a candidate with EVEN LESS experience and knowledge than Bush, as though she will succeed where Bush has failed in restoring the mythology of the Reagan era.

On Sarah Palin's Facebook page, I have been having debates with Palin supporters about God. They believe in a jealous, vengeful God who smites anyone they happen to disagree with (that would be me). When I wrote that it is impossible for a perfect being to possess a flaw such as jealousy, anger, vengefulness, and petty hatred, and presented a God of love, these Palinistas accused me of being bitter, hateful and angry!!! I've read that conservative people are good at projecting their inner states of mind on others (thus why many homophobes supposedly harbour secret homosexual desires). So, calling me hateful because I promote a universal God of love is the kind of logic that only makes sense in the pretzel mind of a conservative. Up is down! Black is white! War is peace! 2+2=5! "We've never been at war with Eastasia. We've always been at war with Eurasia." I love Big Brother!

I'm thinking of going to the next teabag rally with a sign that will say: "How do you reconcile your love of Glenn Beck with your hatred of Mormons?" I'm sure it would go over their little heads and small minds. The great thing about conservativism is that no thinking is required. You just have to be like Pavlov's dog. Salivate on cue when code words are repeated on the Fox Propaganda Network and the echo chamber of Rush, Beck, Hannity, O'Reilly, Savage, Coulter, and Malkin. Because terms like "cap and trade" really represent a normal conversation most people have over the dinner table!

The following photos were taken from a DC area blogger (someone named Oznick?) about the 9/12 Teabaggers rally on the National Mall. You can see just how much conservatives love our country in the photos...


They love America so much that they toss their signs on the ground after the rally, as though they don't intend to reuse these signs in future protests. Maybe its just a one-shot deal for them. When I marched in Portland's anti-war protests in March 2007 and March 2008, I did not see discarded signs after the march. And in 2008, I saw many of the same signs that I saw in 2007's march. Liberals reuse their protest signs!

Overflowing garbage cans. I do agree, though, that the messages on these signs are mostly garbage, so its where it belongs.

Gotta love it...the Bald Eagle is crying because somehow, Americans have gotten "less free" in the Obama era than from the Bush era of wiretapping, the USA PATRIOT Act, rendition, torture, illegal warfare, and "free speech zones" far from the routes and sites of the town hall meetings. I think the Bald Eagle would be proud that America voted for a minority as president. It shows the world why our country is great.

This picture was very interesting because of the placement of the American flag on a pile of trash next to an overflowing waste recepticle. Granted, the American flag looks like a piece of cheap plastic that one would see on used car lots all over our country, but still. For a group of people who accuse liberals of being unpatriotic traitors to treat the American flag this way is just an example of their hypocrisy. If you cannot live the values you preach and you condemn others for doing what you do, nothing you say has any credibility. Until conservatives realize that hypocrisy is an easily solveable problem, they will never convince me that their arguments have merit. Jesus, after all, criticized hypocrites more than actual sinners. There is a reason why he did so. Hypocrisy simply means that you don't believe what you tell people that you believe. So, when actions and words don't match, it is your actions and not your words that reveal the truth of who you are. The best way to eradicate the mental disease of hypocrisy is to not condemn others what you are guilty of.

When I was in the Navy, it was the hypocrisy of conservative sailors that pushed me firmly into the liberal camp. On a personal level, I am conservative. But I don't hold other people to the values I live by and you won't hear me condemn people of doing things I'm guilty of. I will fess up to my flaws and tolerate them in others. Most importantly, though, I strive to not be a hypocrite because I consider that one of the worst things to be. As I told the Fundy lady at GBI earlier in the decade: "I'd rather be a sinner like Clinton than a hypocrite like Gingrich." She would get mad whenever I said that, but the point was simple. Clinton never condemned another person for sexual immorality. Gingrich tried to use Clinton's adultery to win big in the 1998 mid-term elections, even as he was committing adultery on his second wife. What is so hard to understand about why hypocrisy is one of the worst sins you can have?

If people want to be happy, though, listening to Beck and his dreck is not the way to do it. I recommend listening to people like Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, Jerry and Esther Hicks and others of a spiritual worldview. True prophets of God don't fearmonger the populace into paranoid rantings. There is an awesome quote that goes: "Perfect love casts out all fear." Its in the Bible. Evangelical conservatives should turn off their Fox programming and Rush radios and read the good book sometime. They just may learn something about spirituality that way.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

An Enduring Culture

Last weekend, I attended what I suspect is my last Young Adult Retreat. I would not have attended this year if not for the guest ministry of Orphans Africa, a non-profit organization founded by three members of the Community of Christ. The focus of this group are orphans and widows in Tanzania. I was glad to learn more about their mission and hear that they want volunteers, as I have been looking for an internationally-focused organization to be a part of and hopefully add my experience and interest to benefit the organization, as well as the people it serves.

The retreat, though, was a disappointment for me. We had a dozen people, which is down from the 40 or more who attended in the previous three years I've participated. I don't know if its because of a bad economy or illness (several people fell ill the past week), or if people weren't interested in the theme ("We Are Marching in the Light of God") and guest ministry. Maybe I'm corrupted by my organization about its focus on numbers...but to me, that was the biggest disappointment. I was hoping for a few more young adults, particularly ones I've met earlier this year and was hoping to see again. But, at least I got to meet a few more church members I haven't met before, so my network within the church continues to grow. That's always a great thing.

During an afternoon session, people wrote questions on a slip of paper and Sean put the papers in a can to draw out at random. Most of the questions dealt with getting young adults involved in activities and church life, but I remained silent for those because I honestly have no idea how to solve that crisis. I'm such an oddity within the church. My personal spiritual views are closer to New Age spirituality and Buddhism than traditional Christianity, yet I remain loyal to the church I was raised in. I'm also one of the few church members to have attended BYU and remained a church member after my brainwashing--er, I mean, "education."

Why do I see the value in remaining a member, despite my different views on religion and spirituality? I think its because I have a lifetime of experience meeting church members all over the country, so I feel a definite part of a community, despite my status as a "nobody" (not a priesthood office holder and didn't attend Graceland University where many members first gained important contacts with other members). I'm just a real life Forrest Gump in the church, having "six degrees of separation" in two degrees or less whenever I meet church members.

The question I did answer, though, was regarding culture and something along the lines of how do we maintain our distinct culture in an age of globalization. I listened to other people express their opinions on the matter, hoping someone would speak with a similar view as me, so I didn't have to speak. But, no such luck. My view truly does seem to be a bit outside the norm of most people.

What I shared was essentially this:

What is culture, though? For example, my heritage is a mix of my father's white Midwestern culture and my mother's Thai culture. I lived six years of my life in Europe and in many ways, I find my views to be more European than American, but if I were to live in Europe, I would be considered more American than European. When it comes to our culture, I find American culture to be a bit too narrow-minded and nationalistic than I prefer. I'm a true internationalist. But we make a mistake if we think culture lasts forever. When I lived in Italy, I could see remnants of the great Roman culture, but Italian culture is quite different than the culture that existed in Rome, even though they share the same land and heritage. Will American culture exist a thousand years from now? Native American culture has been decimated and the Amish are a small group of people still living in the 18th century. Culture is not a static thing, but continually evolves. That's the way of history, so we should not be stuck on preserving a specific culture if it no longer serves a purpose.

In another group discussion, one lady mentioned that she does her part to save our planetary resources by recycling and pulling cords from electrical sockets when not in use. I must admit that I don't unplug cords because its a tedious process, and some are behind a dresser or desk or bookcase. I mentioned that individual acts are good, but we're only kidding ourselves if this is enough to "save the planet." I've read several articles that have mentioned that a complete cultural change has to occur. A few conscientious do-gooders are not enough to make the huge changes necessary. I brought up the squandered opportunity that President Bush had after 9/11 when Americans were asking what we could do to improve our world. Bush's response was: "The American lifestyle is not under negotiation" and "Go shopping!" If he asked for shared sacrifice, Americans would have been willing to do so, but it was bad for the economy. Only shopping would prop up our consumer based economy, and that's not good for the environment.

I know my views are not the norm, for I don't see much of the current American culture worth preserving. I would love to see a spiritual culture emerge. What would this involve? Well, it would mean selfishness would be such a stigma that everyone would do things for others just to avoid being thought of as selfish. Greed in businesses would be severely punished. Generosity would be rewarded. Huge resources would be devoted to eradicating poverty and wealthy people would gladly spend sums of their fortunes to creating a fairer system. People would stop building huge mega-mansions to live in because not only is the expansive space unnecessary, but also bad for the environment to heat in winter and cool in the summer.

Our need to be entertained all the time would be replaced with a need to be inspired (and to inspire others). People would buy less crap, workers would get fair wages for their labour, and most of the magazines you see on shelves would go out of business (the gossip rags would certainly be the first casualty in a spiritual culture). Our movies, music, and television would consist of quality that inspires or provokes thought in good ways. People would talk about ideas rather than other people. There would be a new energy dynamic in this spiritual culture. It would be a kinder world with happier people. This is what I seek to transform in our society someday. Not me alone, but working in tandem with others of similar mind. People who have found nothing but emptiness in our material consumption based culture and want something more for our country and ourselves.

When it comes to culture, I am an orphan. I have a heritage from two continents (Asia and North America), was influenced by the six years I lived in another continent (Europe) and have a strong spiritual bond to the continent of Africa as well as an inexplicable lifelong bond to the continent of Australia. What does that make me? A true internationalist, best represented by a photo of the Guatemalan belt you see above. I have a belt that is similar to this (the colour patterns were different, though). The story on my belt was that it was made in Guatemala, but I bought it in Madrid, Spain from a street vendor who was from Senegal in West Africa. Talk about a four-continent transaction! Because of my lifelong comfort with globalization, I don't fear it like some Americans. I embrace it because there is nothing to fear. We live in the greatest period of human history...when knowledge doubles every few years, and the world gets smaller with our ability to travel and communicate around the world.

Cultures blend and change over time. Only those who can't deal with changes (Native Americans and the Amish, to use a couple examples) are isolated as they maintain the ways of their forebears. I'm not saying that Native Americans should give up their culture, because they have some important spiritual knowledge in their traditions. However, its difficult to live in isolation these days, roaming the Plains with Buffalo herds. The best strategy is to bring forth the best of one's traditions and culture and leave behind the superstitions that were based on ignorance (such as what I learned that Africans believed about all kinds of things that a basic understanding of science can eliminate).

As the theme of the weekend perfectly stated: we are marching in the light of God. Into a brighter future. A new culture will emerge. This can only be a good thing. Let's embrace it with our best selves.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lost in Symbols

Sunday evening, I finished reading Dan Brown's long-awaited follow-up novel to the mega-selling The Da Vinci Code. Dan showed his sense of humour with two personal references within the novel, The Lost Symbol. His alter-ego, Robert Langdon, who is a professor at Harvard University and a world renowned "symbologist" (there is no such job, though it would be cool to have), is approached by a fan who tells him that his last book on The Sacred Feminine really stirred up a hornet's nest in her church reading group.

Langdon responds: "Scandal wasn't really my intention." This is Brown's tongue-in-cheek way of addressing the controversy his last novel caused, as many churches offered classes to refute the claims he made in The Da Vinci Code about the history of Christianity. Its actually a good thing his novel caused. Too often, believers don't ask questions of what we're taught to believe in our churches. Hard questions need to be asked and answered to our satisfaction. There's no point in believing ancient myths if they lack logic or if history got it wrong.

The character also pokes fun at Langdon's "uniform": charcoal turtleneck, Harris Tweed jacket, khakis, and cordovan loafers. So, where did Brown get the inspiration for this outfit?

Oh, right. That's exactly what he wears. No great mystery there. Later on in the novel, Langdon calls his editor in New York to get a phone number so he can make an urgent call to a lady in danger. His editor asks if Langdon has pages for him to read and edit. Near the end of the call, when Langdon thanks his editor and says that he owes him one, the agent says: "You owe me a manuscript, Robert. Do you have any idea how long--" before realizing that Langdon had hung up on him. The scene ends with the line: "Book publishing would be so much easier without the authors." I got the impression that Brown wrote this as a way to atone to his agent and publisher for his four year delay in getting this novel completed. It was quite clever and fun to read. A sly, literary way to make an apology within the text of the story to all the fans who have anticipated this novel since 2005.

Recapping the Robert Langdon series, The Da Vinci Code was published in 2003 and became a huge phenomenon around the world, selling in excess of fifty million copies in hard cover (by contrast, John Grisham is considered a giant in the publishing world, but his hard cover novels sell about 2-3 million each title). The novel focused on the hidden information that Leonardo da Vinci contained in his paintings that point to the supposed truth about Jesus and the Holy Grail: that the secret covered up by the Catholic Church was that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a family, with a bloodline that still exists to this day. The Louvre in Paris and a cathedral in London provide most of the backdrop. The movie version was released in 2006, featuring Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon and Audrey Tautou as French cryptologist Sophie Neveu, who learns that she is the last living descendant of Jesus.

Angels and Demons was published in 2000 but didn't achieve success until fans of The Da Vinci Code thirsted for more and realized that Dan Brown had written a previous Robert Langdon novel. This one was about the re-emergence of the Illuminati, plotting revenge against the Catholic Church for the historical persecution of scientists like Galileo and others whose findings contradicted Church doctrines. Rome and Vatican City provides the setting, and the selection of the next Pope provides the backdrop drama as Langdon tries to uncover the mystery before a bomb made of anti-matter completely decimates the St. Peter's Basilica. The movie version was released this past summer and was a marginal hit, though it didn't surpass The Da Vinci Code in either controversy or box office receipts. I hope the lackluster reception does not prevent the next Langdon novel from being made into a movie. The saga continues...

**SPOILER ALERT!!!** I have to offer a warning to readers right now. If you are even remotely interested in reading The Lost Symbol someday or watching the movie version whenever that gets made and released, it would be wise not to read any further because what I write about may spoil any of the surprises in store for you. If you don't care about reading the novel or seeing the film someday, then by all means, continue reading....

Now that I have made myself clear, I will write freely about my thoughts on this latest Langdon novel. The photo above is of the painting on the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building. It incorporates ancient mythologies with an American translation. The painting is called "The Apotheosis of Washington." From what I learned about mythology and "the hero's journey", the word "apotheosis" means to become god. This is supposedly the main point of our existence: to become god. Though I see it as a metaphor, there are some groups (such as Masons and Mormons) who literally believe this is true.

As I read this, it struck me that maybe this is where Joseph Smith, Jr. got his idea about men becoming gods of their own world someday. He was a Mason who got kicked out after Masons learned that he was using Masonic rituals in his church's temple rites. This doctrine of men becoming gods was introduced during the Nauvoo period of church history (when Joseph Smith was a Mason). In the aftermath of Smith's assassination, the people who refused to travel west with Brigham Young and formed the church I belong to rejected this concept (along with polygamy and other strange revelations of the Nauvoo era).

Anyhow, I was very excited about reading The Lost Symbol because it deals with the mysterious Freemasons, our Founding Fathers, and the symbols found on government buildings in Washington, D.C. As an intern in D.C. back in 2000, I worked in the Office of the Vice President in the U.S. Capitol building and it remains as the best office space I've ever worked in. The office I worked in each day was just off the Senate floor. The ceiling had paintings on it, so I felt like I worked in a museum. It was cool to look up and see a painting of some person staring down at me. When my internship ended, one of the gifts the office gave me was a thick book on the U.S. Capitol, with plenty of pictures and history about this building.

Brown's novel only makes me more curious about the building, and the hidden rooms and chambers. I know from walking around the labyrinthian basement (with passageways that lead to all five office buildings where members of Congress and the Senate have their main offices; as well as the Library of Congress) that there are hidden nooks and crannies which offer perfect hideaways. The night of the State of the Union 2000, I was walking the empty hallways of the Capitol building when I saw a distinguished older gentleman and a younger lady nervously come out of a room I didn't even know was there. Of course, I couldn't help but wonder if they were just getting it on in some hideaway. I've heard that stuff like that happens all the time.

In the third novel, Professor Langdon is summoned by an old friend to give a last-minute lecture in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building. When he arrives, he sees only tourists and wonders what went wrong as his friend is nowhere to be found. Soon, the mystery begins to unravel when his friend's hand appears in the middle of the floor, an invitation to the Ancient Mysteries. The CIA show up and things turn serious. Who to trust?

Like the previous two novels, this one follows the formula of a lot of running around, chasing after clues, solving them to discover more clues, as the clock ticks and people's lives are at stake. Also to formula, instead of the albino Opus Dei monk named Silas of The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol features a muscular guy named Mal'akh who covered his entire body with tattoos. He has a personal vendetta against the Solomon family. Peter Solomon is a 33rd degree Mason who is the keeper of the secret that will supposedly change our world if revealed. His sister Katherine has a secret lab where she is conducting scientific experiments in the emerging field of "noetic sciences" to prove spiritual ideas once and for all. Such as weighing the human body on the verge death to see if there is an actual weight change after death, to prove that there is a soul.

A few months ago, I came across information about the Institute of Noetic Sciences, but I don't remember how or why I came across it. I remember wondering what the word "noetic" meant, so I looked it up. Then, to find that this California researched-based organization is mentioned in Dan Brown's new novel really interested me. This is the kind of field that I really want to get into (forget politics! Metaphysics is where the future is for me). Noetic Science is still hard for me to explain, but from my understanding, its about how the mind can affect the environment and one's outer experience. To use a New Age term: "the Law of Attraction" or the ability to manifest your inner vision of desire.

I believe that we are fast entering an age where reincarnation can be scientifically proven, so I am very interested in getting involved in any group that is devoted to the study of metaphysics and noetic sciences. I'm even thinking that this is where I should look for my dream career, because I'm so passionate about studying these sort of things and have no fear of respectable scientists looking down on me because they are too wrapped up in their atheism to open their minds to other ideas.

In this novel, a Masonic Pyramid plays a huge role (like the Cryptex did in The Da Vinci Code). Though Brown doesn't really go into any detail about the mysterious pyramid with the all-seeing eye on the back of the U.S. dollar that has haunted me since childhood, the pyramid is a part of Masonic lore, dating back to the actual pyramids of Egypt. The design is supposed to remind us that we need to look heavenward. But its also a convenient way of organizing society: the many on the lower levels prop up the few at the upper levels. That's capitalism in a nutshell.
Pictured above: the reading room of the Library of Congress, which is one of the scenes in the novel.

The action of the novel goes from the U.S. Capitol to the Library of Congress to the National Cathedral. I learned an interesting tidbit in my reading: this cathedral features a gargoyle of Darth Vader. I can't believe I never heard that before. Of course, I had to do a Google search on it and found what it looked like. I wonder where its located on the Cathedral. Its awesome that the designers of the Cathedral would allow such a pop culture icon to be a part of this architectural beauty. The Cathedrals of Europe might be older and more impressive, but not as hip and cool as ours.

Naturally, the Washington Monument features prominently in the novel. This structure is 555 feet tall and supposedly the tallest structure on earth when it was built. Of course, every capital city in Europe has an Egyptian obelisk in a prominent location. It seems like a standard fixture for every city. A phallic symbol if there ever was one, revealing man's eternal obsession with his dick. When I lived in D.C. in 2000, the Washington Monument was undergoing a renovation and was behind scaffolding. When the scaffolding finally came off, I remember a church member saying, "Oh look, the condom is finally coming off!" I wanted to go up in the monument for the view of the city, but it wasn't open for visitors yet. According to the novel, at the pyramid portion on the tip, the words "Praise God" are engraved in Latin and gets illuminated each morning at sun rise. Also in the novel is the claim that the cornerstone contains a Bible.

Our first president, George Washington, was a famous Mason and helped plan the capital city named after him. In paintings and sculptures, there was an attempt to deify him (man becoming god), though I don't know if that was his intention. He was, after all, humble enough to reject being named a King and setting up a new kingdom in our country, with leadership inherited rather than voted by the people. How fortunate we are to have had George Washington set the precedence on presidents, and not someone like Dick Cheney!

The above photo is of the Kryptos sculpture at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. As a White House intern, I was fortunate enough to go on a special tour of the headquarters and I saw this sculpture for myself. It still hasn't been solved by the cryptologist experts working in that organization, and its about 20 years old. This sculpture does get a brief mention in Brown's latest novel but does not play a role in the plot.

While the novel did have me unable to put the book down until my eyes got too sleepy to continue, I was hoping for more. It is a good read and Brown presents a lot of intriguing spiritual ideas worth further study, but I couldn't help but think, "That's it?" There were a few twists, which I couldn't even predict, but the writing style did grate on me this time. Brown has a tendency to over-hype his ideas. He strings readers along by withholding information until later, planting intriguing hints along the way to pull you along. There were times when I just wanted him to reveal the information earlier, when he merely hinted at it just to get you to turn the page and keep reading. I noticed that he uses a lot of exclaimation points (!!!) in his sentences, as if to emphasize his revelations. This is actually elementary writing that a high schooler would do. The novel, though, has some clever puzzles he presents to the reader for Langdon to solve.

In the end, though, Brown wimps out. He makes an elaborate point to defend the Masons and their rituals, which if most people saw others doing would freak us out. I couldn't help but wonder if the Masons got to him and warned him about what he planned to reveal in this novel. Was the secret worth the hype? I'm still unsure what the secret is, though. Brown explains what The Lost Symbol is, and even the lost word, but the "secret" seems more like a rip-off of that New Age documentary and book that was all the rage a couple years ago (called The Secret). What is the secret? Supposedly that each human being has the potential to become creators like God, using our minds to alter our material world to our liking. This is "apotheosis." Is humanity ready for this awesome power?

Will there be a fourth Robert Langdon adventure? I'm thinking that if there is one, Egypt and Jerusalem would be the natural locations for the next novel. Or maybe he could focus on the Mayans and the 2012 mystery. Though Brown's writing style leaves a lot to be desired, I really do like the way he is able to blend history and symbology into a compelling story that gets your brain pondering deep mysteries as you read this suspense novel. Its the reason why he ranks as one of my favourite writers, because its not easy to come up with the kind of ideas he has. People who knock his writing, I dare them to write a story as compelling as any of his three Langdon novels. He obviously put a lot of work into this novel and it was well worth the wait.

Though I still prefer Angels and Demons, The Lost Symbol is about as good as he could make it. My disappointment was that he didn't write as much about our Founding Father's intent for our country than I thought he might. Then again, this is about a spiritual understanding, not a history lesson. The spirituality he advocates is the way of the future, and churches better get behind it before they get left in the dust, and lost in the symbols of the past.