Declaration:   Atheist – No Small Announcement to Make in the U.S.

I was having a conversation with someone the other day; we were discussing the topics that I write about on this blog.  Obviously there is quite a bit of content about atheism (positively speaking) and religion (negatively speaking), I mentioned this to him “I write a lot about atheism, since I am an atheist.”   He responded to this comment by saying that, basically he was too, but he “just didn’t feel comfortable putting it out there,” for fear of backlash from family, friends, and this being America and all…..we then talked a little bit about how the term and those who identify with it are wholly misunderstood, somehow deemed evil, angry, hateful and without morals.  I would challenge us to readjust our thinking about the kind of people atheists really are.

One of the most common questions I get, especially from those who know my ‘christian up bringing’ background is:  “Why do you hate god?”  I respond with the truth:  there is no hate involved, only a logical conclusion reached by a few years of doing my own research and an understanding that science really does unlock the mysteries we are obsessively keen to understand.   “Besides,” I reply, “It’s difficult to hate something that doesn’t exist.  The same way I have no emotion towards Zeus or Mithras”

I suppose, by extrapolation, a perceived hate in god also translates to a perceived hateful disposition because one of the other more common misunderstandings is that atheists are unhappy and not at peace.   In fact, in my experience, the bulk of us seem to be utterly content in the life they lead and this is made especially more meaningful since we are well aware that this is our only shot at life and that in itself is cause for celebration.  (Not to negate the small percentage of the human population who are somehow miserable no matter where their deist preferences lie).  Truthfully?  It is my strong contention that peace comes with understanding, it does not surpass it. On the other side of the coin, I believe that religion itself can rob a person of their peace.  I remember the numerous conspiracy theories that blew through church during the Clinton administration.   I recall distinctly the fear instilled by the church about this or that issue and although I had ‘god to cling to’ I will confess to harboring a certain paranoia when I look back.  In another part of the world, a religion prevents successful healthcare because it ‘comes from the west’ and is secretly poisoned.

Sometimes, atheist hate is perceived by many where really a passion for the truth is the compelling force behind our actions. For instance, we will petition for the ten commandments to be taken down in courtrooms, or sit out the pledge of allegiance in schools, or refuse to include the words ‘so help me god’  in our  reenlistment oath – not because we are evil, not because we are hateful, and not because we are angry.   We do these things to raise awareness to the obvious breech of our nation’s constitution:  that no preference is given to any religion.  It’s simply a matter of exercising our pragmatic right to call out a social injustice and violation of the law.

For those who are raised in closed, religious environment, legends abound of the misdeeds and immoral acts atheists are ‘known’ for.   I had a friend and her lovely little family over for thanksgiving dinner last year.   They are former members of that-one-religion-that-doesn’t-celebrate-holidays-or-birthdays and this was their first thanksgiving or any holiday dinner they’d ever attended.  After the feast, an afternoon of football, visiting, and pumpkin pie, she looked at me and queried, “This is it, fabulous food and football?  No baby sacrifices?  No bloodletting?  No dancing naked around a bonfire?”  We laughed at her joke and I responded that “nowadays, we tend to keep that stuff to just once a year, at winter solstice.” (festivus is celebrated much like thanksgiving, the exceptions being prime rib for dinner instead of turkey and A Christmas Story marathon – completely lacking in blood sacrifices….)

Lacking religion, or a belief in a deity, is usually and also equated with a lack of morality, and I would contend that this is perhaps the biggest misconception of all.   The reality is that the burden of morality is probably greater for an atheist.   We have nothing to blame our goodness or weaknesses on except ourselves.   We accept a deep level of accountability for our actions and typically are motivated to do good just because it’s the right thing to do, rather than expecting some promise of eternal reward in return – neither are our good deeds motivated by fear of being punished if we don’t do them.  We have a sense of camaraderie, in that all humans are connected and are brothers and sisters who share a moment in time together.  We don’t cheat on our spouses because we are bound by some command or fallible piece of literature, but because we take our vow to be faithful seriously and we wish not to cause pain to our mates.  For a real study in the ‘moral’ and ‘religion’ connection, check out those countries where religion is quite the minority, their crime rates are actually lower.

Then there’s the point to be made that religion itself is not so ‘moral’ after all.  Within the realm of christianity, the catholics are dealing with one kind of horror, while protestant churches allow known offenders back into the pulpit.  And, sadly, more and more often there appear headlines of pastors or youth pastors abusing their positions of authority.  Islam’s recent violent surge has all but shattered its claim of being a peaceful religion.

The bottom line, straight out truth is:     Morality is not confined to religion.

“What about love?” they’ll often ask, “How can you really know love if you don’t know god?”

Two responses:  One – god isn’t necessarily all loving himself.  One only needs to look around at the injustices that occur on a daily basis in our world, and yet ‘he’ doesn’t intervene.  I mean, does it make sense that an omnipotent god would curse part of this rock and its inhabitants whilst conveniently blessing another to the point of overindulgence?  Two – religion doesn’t have the monopoly on love.   The dedication and passion I have toward my husband are wholly voluntary, I don’t need to have some outside love to validate or motivate me to love him.  I love him because of the connection we share and the chemistry we create together.   Furthermore, he has confidence in that love because he knows it is purely motivated, not borne from some obligation to a historical manuscript.

A capacity for love, a passion for justice, a logical conclusion, and morality are not limited to the four walls of any church, mosque, or synagogue.  These characteristics are borne of conscious decision, an open mind, and a desire for truth.   These are the earmarks of atheists.  Eventually we’ll have developed a healthier perception about atheism.  Then we can be free to announce our un- belief with confidence and without prejudice.  In the meantime, we’ll go on living our lives and making a difference in the lives of others.

Rock on kids….

Frankie


The Importance of Conflict: How Tension Shapes Our World

I am in the middle of writing a book about a friendship and came upon an epiphany:  I cannot write the story unless I include conflict, within the characters’ own conscience and between the two characters themselves.   Without conflict, I realized, we never learn the measure of ourselves or one another.  Furthermore, without conflict we cannot create – nor can energy be created.

First and foremost creating a story without conflict would be boring:  ‘Sam and Frodo set out on an adventure and they made it to Mordor without any mishaps, troubles, or quarrels.’  OR  ‘Sam and Frodo set out on an adventure, but their bond was nearly shattered by Gollum and the burden of The Ring.’  Which provides the richer content to work with? Which scenario allows us a peek into the universal human condition of the struggle between good and evil?  Secondly, we owe it to our readers to provide a roller coaster ride of emotion as we couch some conflict within finely tuned sentences and long phrases of detail.  It is after all, the very thing that keeps them turning pages.  Finally, the greatest challenge we face as writers is to resolve a story and resolve it correctly.  Without any tension to resolve, there is no reason to write.

Enter conflict.   Welcome tension.  Make yourself at home dissonance.

As I began to explore the different causes that might induce tension into the relationship I am creating, I became aware that our entire existence, really, is comprised entirely of tension and conflict.   I also noticed that much of the time the dynamics involved in whatever conflict one might examine produces some astounding sources of energy.

As far as relationships are concerned, I find that as I mold the two characters in my story, their inner conflicts as well as their outer conflicts literally end up dictating the path of the narrative.   I have to create them in such a way to bring balance to the overall storyline, which means they must be somewhat opposites in order for balance to occur.  Hence, the way I create the book depends on the conflicts I use with my characters, the tension within their relationship and the dissonance they feel towards their outside circumstances.  These are the blueprints to my story, the rest is decorating, finding the right colors, and getting the right ambiance.

There are other kinds of tension that produce energy.  As I sit outside to write, a pleasant breeze flows through the patio.  I am reminded that wind is caused by the meeting of a Low Pressure and a High Pressure weather system coming together and the air moves in an effort to create a balance between the two.  Where there is great disparity between the systems, huge storms can occur.  The conflict of air movement between pressure systems allows us to harness the energy in places where wind is produced steadily and regularly, we light our homes and streets with it.

Our sun provides light and warmth to us primarily because it is one big bright ball of elemental conflict. The nuclear reaction at the core of our star pushes energy out while the weight of the star creates a vast amount of gravity that pushes inward.  Once the core runs out of hydrogen gravity takes over, the conflict is resolved, and the star dies.  For the billions of years this delicate balance of ongoing energy conflict occurs however, we are provided a thriving life on this small rock.

How about if we break things down to some of the smallest particles we know?  Remember our basic chemistry class wherein we learned how the water molecule was formed?  Two hydrogens attach to one oxygen because of the number of positive and negative protons and electrons each possesses, which allows them to come into perfect balance. They are opposites and in this case the conflict resolves itself by creating a balance, as well as the substance most crucial to our existence.

Without conflict or tension there simply cannot be ….. life.  Conflict is never easy and for the most part I would be willing to bet that, given the choice between fight or flight, the latter would nearly always be our preference.   But as writing, and life, have taught me, dealing with the conflict and resolving it not only strengthens our relationships, it provides us with infinite energy as well.

Peace Kids!

Frankie


Pieces…. Of a Shattered Life

Ever marvel at how we can muster the strength to put ourselves back together after our life is shattered?

Maybe it was a death.   A cherished soul mate.  Or a child met only briefly.

Maybe it was a relationship.  A divorce.  A best-friend-forever moving.  A child that walked away.

Whatever the cause, putting a shattered life back together is an immense challenge.

It is work.  Exhausting, depleting work.

There we are.  Standing in the middle of an infinite room with a thousand thousand pieces lying about us.

Shards that sparkle and rudely pierce our darkest grief.

A task.  A chore so vast that some shrivel away.

A task. So profound that only the strength of shear survival compels us to rebuild.

We do it.  Piece by piece we manage to find a way to do it.

We start, one by one of course.  And  deep down we know that what we are building is new and different.losing a

We know it will not be the same.

It is impossible.

Some of the pieces from that shattered life are now missing, we realize.

Some of them will never fit the same together.  Ever again.

Maybe.  Just maybe, some of them we choose to leave alone.

Maybe.  Just maybe, we pick up a new piece instead.

One by one, slowly and painfully the pieces are fit together until one day we become aware that we’ve built a new life.

Shiny, scary new in some places.   Worn and comfortable in others.

And here or there a hole.  A scar.  A reminder of the thousand thousand pieces that once were.

But  – a life rebuilt at last.

A testament to our tenacity.   A banner of pure commitment  to live.  An example to each other.


The Value of a Dreamer

Jacob sat crying, exasperated and exhausted because he couldn’t figure out the math problem.
His mom came over to the table, gave him a hug and suggested he take the rest of the night off. “That assignment isn’t due until Thursday anyway, honey, give yourself, and your brain a rest.” She gave a tousle to his coarse, sandy hair and a peck on top of his head to finish. Jacob slowed his crying and his panicked breathing, closed his book and got up from the table to get ready for bed.

As a twelve year old his bedtime routine was fairly quick and ten minutes later his mom went to his room to tuck him in. She noted that his demeanor was still deflated so she implemented her ‘go to’ strategy of offering to tell him a story of one of his favorite heroes. “Which one do you want to hear?”

“Ummmm, I dunno.” He replied, his big blue eyes were nearly full of tears again so his mom, in an attempt to quell another breakdown, dived right in to one of his favorites.

“Remember the guys who dreamed about the teeny tiny particles that would hold all of everything together, hmm? Small, invisible bits of energy that act like glue and if found, would change how we see the world.”

Jacob blinked back the tears forming in his eyes, mostly for his mother’s sake, and nodded in approval at her attempt. “Peter, Robert, and Francois,” he said, “they were big dreamers.”

“Yes they were, and just like you I am sure they struggled over their maths as well. I bet they still do. So how did these dreamers find their dream,” she asked her son, coaxing him out of his misery.
“Lots of people helped.” Jacob replied.

“That’s right, it always takes more than one to make a dream come true. In fact, so many people believed in this dream that they built some pretty amazing things to make it happen, like…..”

“Like the world wide web!” Jacob interrupted, “That’s my favorite part of the story, hundreds of scientists all over the world working on one single problem. They had to have a way to talk to each other, right? So they hooked up their computers to each other so they could talk any time of the day or night!”

His mom laughed. “That’s right sweetie, and now we can Skype grandma because of their desire to fulfill a dream. Who knows what your dreams will create, yeah? What else?”

“The ell – eightch – seeeeeee…..” Jacob shouted out and let the ‘seeeee’ trail off into infinity. “The big
circle tunnel they built underground in…., where did they build that again?”

“Europe son, it’s so big it exists in two countries, France and Switzerland.”

“That’s right, in two countries!” Jacob mused, “That’s a big circle.”

“It is a big circle, but it had to be in order to make Peter, Robert, and Francois’s dream come true. Do you remember why it had to be so big?” Jacob’s mom moved a piece of hair out of his eyes and tucked it behind his ear.

“Cause the atoms hafta get really, really, really, really super-fast for them to crash into each other.” Jacob was sitting up on one elbow now, engaged and enthused.

“Exactly,” said Mom “They have to spin around and around in that big wide tunnel until they build up enough speed to collide. One group of scientists built a camera to take pictures of the crashes so other scientists could study the pictures to see if Peter, Robert, and Francois were right about their dream. But why would it matter so much for them to be right?”

“Because it would answer some questions about our universe,” Jacob chirped back, “or if they weren’t right, they might at least get a clue about what was right. Right?” he smiled coyly at his mom.

“Yup,” she smiled back at his witty use of words, “but what did they find out about the dream of an invisible force that held everything together?”

“They were right! Their dream came true, they discovered the Higgs boson and the math worked out too. Now we have an answer. But we have more questions too.” Jacob rolled over on his side and put his head on his mom’s lap, she rubbed his back.

“Yes,” said his mother, there will always be more questions, but dreamers like yourself… and Peter, Robert, and Francois, and all the other hundreds of scientists and people who work so hard will always find answers to those questions. Now sleep, I bet you’ll get that math problem right off tomorrow morning. And dream your own dreams my dear, who knows what might happen?”

“I’m gonna solve the mystery of black holes.” Jacob announced as his mom turned off the light and closed his door.
“No doubt you will son, no doubt you will.”

author’s note: This story inspired by the Documentary “Particle Fever” and dedicated to the hundreds and thousands of scientists the world over whose diligence and dreams answer questions we all have. Thank you.


Jack: The True Story of a Faithful Servant

He sat up straight, dark brown eyes focused ahead, ears hearing everything.  Anna smiled at his stoic manner as she flipped through her Facebook feed on her phone.  She was in the waiting room of her doctor’s office, an appointment in the middle of endless appointments thanks to a brain tumor.  Her husband hired Jack at the beginning of the ordeal, some six or seven years ago, as a means to keep an eye on Anna while he worked because he feared to leave her home alone.  Jack was an all business sort of guy, by the book, and it was two or three years before they saw him even crack a smile. Now though, Jack was accompanying her everywhere.  Anna’s husband had recently passed due to cancer; Jack devoted himself solely to her immediately.

“Anna Thompson” the nurse chirped out.  Jack was the first one up and he waited patiently as Anna gathered her things and stood up.  He followed dutifully behind, eyes scanning the surroundings, making sure all was well.  “Isn’t he handsome?” the nurse asked softly as they walked through the door she was holding open.  Anna agreed but Jack simply passed without looking and followed his charge around the corner to “room six today dear,”  “chirpy chirpy” was all Jack could hear.

The usual tortuous, silent wait ensued after the nurse took Anna’s vitals.  She knew better than to start a conversation with Jack, he wouldn’t utter a word back to her.  Instead she studied the thick black hair that managed to stand straight up on his head no matter what.  It was always a source of amusement for Anna and she smiled at it for the thousandth time as the doctor finally came into the room to break the silence.  Jack didn’t move or even acknowledge that another human being shared the room with them now. He listened to the mundane dance of their voices for several moments then the doctor announced that he’d  “like to draw some blood today to make sure that new med is working for you.”   Anna nodded in consent but squirmed subconsciously on the table at the thought of another needle.  Jack reflexively moved slightly closer.  “Who’s your bodyguard?”  the doctor asked.

“This is Jack, since my husband died he started coming along with me to my appointments.”

The doctor held his hand out to Jack, but the latter merely stared ahead.  “He’s quite the professional,” the doctor laughed and shook off the rebuff in good humor as he moved towards the door.

“Yes he is,” said Anna and she gave a little wave as the doctor turned around and left the room.  The nurse came back and fulfilled her role as a vampire.   Jack shifted uncomfortably from side to side for a few seconds when Anna winced at the needle prick.   “He’s protective of you isn’t he?” queried the nurse.

“Very protective.” Anna responded.

“Well, at least you know you’re safe,” said the vampiress as she set everything back on the tray and took her gloves off.   “See you in two weeks,” she sang with the same chirpy voice and she was gone out of the room like a puff of air.

They left the room, left the office, left the building, then left the entire city behind as they drove home, stopping at the neighborhood Wal-Mart before calling it a day.   Jack sat silently in the passenger seat (Anna loved to drive, so he let her) and muttered not a sound the entire time.   When they arrived home, they both jumped out of the car and Anna opened the gate for Jack to go through.  Inside the house she picked him up and gave him as many hugs and kisses as he could stand, interspersed with high praise:  “You did so well today, baby!”  “You were such a good boy!”  “Mama’s so proud of you, your first time out and you behaved like a pro!”  Jack gave a shake to put his fur right when Anna set him back on the floor and then graciously accepted the small beef bone Anna pulled out of the fridge.  He took it to his bed and sat stoically for several moments before he began to gnaw gently at its tender middle.   He slept well that afternoon, dreaming of car rides and the chirpy voice of the nurse.

Happy Friday Kids, and go kiss your four-leggeds!

Frankie Wallace

*Authors note:  I dedicate this story all the amazing service animals out there who serve their masters with dedicated and admirable aplomb.  They are treasures of this life to be cherished deeply.  Jack is one of the best of these heros….

 

 

 


Something Amiss – How can the Hold of Religion Overpower Even a Mother’s Love?

I am privileged enough to be a mother to three wonderful young men.  I’ll never forget the first time I held my first child and the intense wave of protectiveness and fierce love that swept over me.  Like most mothers I knew right then that I would die for this tiny human before I would let anything harm it.  There is something very primal, very acute, and very ancient about that motherly love.  It enables us to survive sleepless nights, keep watch like a hawk, and always always want the best for our offspring – despite our own hopes and desires for them.  There is no other selfless love than that of a mother.

This devotion is the reason we experience such raw complete pain when we are on the outs with our children.   So far, cross my fingers, I’ve yet to encounter any difficulties with my own boys but I have a couple of sisters whose children have distanced themselves and I see the exorbitant amount of pain and anguish they endure – I hurt for them as only another mother can.  It makes me thankful for the relationships I have with my boys, and keeps me mindful to tend them as diligently as I tend my yard and flowers.

And yet, despite this innate adoration that we experience as mothers, and the pain that accompanies a broken relationship with a child, there are some who would willingly, consciously, unswervingly choose a religion over their child.   I know this because one of my dearest and best friends is currently walking a very fine line with her mother in the hopes that she and her infant son are not shunned completely from her parents life – all because, like any normal human,  she questions the faith she was indoctrinated with as a child.   I ache for her and worry for her.  I wonder at the ‘omnipotence’ of a god who would direct his followers to act as if their children didn’t exist. But mostly, I wonder at the ability of a single denomination of a single religion in a series of man made religions to have such a hold over its followers that even a mother would forsake her own flesh and blood. 

I simply cannot fathom it.

In fact, it is unnatural.  It is wholly unnatural for a mother to forsake her love for her child and abandon it as if it never were.  It goes completely against our motherly instincts.  I can only conclude then, that the religion which teaches the anachronistic practice of shunning must have an unhealthy hold on its adherents if it would override a mothers love and devotion.  

This surmise bears out over several academic disciplines, psychology and sociology for instance.  History has given us plenty of examples of cults and sects whose practices require them to completely shut off the outside world and anything to do with it – even family members.   In a more intimate relationship, say between a man and a woman, if he isolates his partner, keeps her from friends and family and feeds her consistent lies about the way the world works,  we do not hesitate call it abuse.  Yet, religion – and the omnipotent god it supports – does that very thing, to the point of triumphing a mother’s innate love .

There is something horribly amiss about the idea.

Here’s to a mother’s love…let no thing….including religion….drive it asunder.

Frankie


Going Back to Work: A Short Story

Carole waited behind the rest of the housekeepers to clock in and then made her way to the cart room with them as well.  Sort of.  She trailed behind with a couple of the older ‘girls’, unable to keep up with the younger generation whose laughter and chit chat echoed along the hallway.

It was her second week back to work and her body was still acclimatizing to the new change.  By that I mean that most of Carole’s sixty something being was aching or paining in some way as she padded along.  Her back was especially sore these past two days since she developed a limp from a blister on her foot due to a new pair of shoes and the limp made her use her back muscles in ways they weren’t meant to be used.  She was exhausted.

About the second or third room into her day she found a rhythm and managed to finish all twelve rooms.  Carole was allotted four hours but it took her four and a half and when she got home she grabbed a glass of ice tea and sat down on the couch to put her tired feet up.

“How was yer day Luv?”  Ed’s gravelly voice reflected her own haggard state and she replied, “Not bad.  We only had twelve rooms today and managed to keep up a bit better.  I am happy that tomorrow is my ‘friday.’ “

“I am so sorry you have to go back to work Luv,” Ed said as he brought her an ice pack for her back. She knew he meant it.  Ed always prided himself on being able to provide for his family but since his last heart attack he could no longer work.  He had a modest pension, but increasing medical bills, prescriptions and food and everything else made it difficult for them to maintain.  Carole worked just a couple of days a week as a secretary when the kids were in school and that was the extent of her work history.  It took some adjusting within the both of them to see Carole become the ‘breadwinner’.

Ed sat down next to her and opened the bottle of ibuprofen to give to Carole, who upended it to empty three tablets in her hand and then she gulped them down.  As she handed the bottle back to Ed she noticed the tears start to form in his eyes again.

“Now stop Dearest,” she said and wiped the first of the tears from his cheek.  “We are in this together and its really okay.”  Ed could not contain himself any longer and he broke down at these last words.  This was a daily ritual for them since Carole started back to work.  Ed couldn’t help himself.  His dear sweet wife being forced to work at this age and after all this time was a difficult situation for his manly pride to bear.  A part of him was crushed.

Carole found it best to just sit and let the moment pass, she rubbed his hand and kissed his cheeks until he finally composed himself several solemn moments later.    She turned his attention to dinner and asked how the roast in the crock pot was coming along.

“Just fine,” he answered, “and I think I’ve figured out the right way to make the potatoes this time,” referring to the distinct taste Carole always managed to give them – her secret was half and half, lots of butter and plenty of pepper.

“Sounds lovely Dearest, ” she said, smiling adoringly “You’ll be cooking as well as our son in no time!” she laughed.  It was a long standing joke in the family that Sam was even a better cook than Carole.

“Pfffft!”  Ed retorted, “I am not so sure about that, but I do know the value of a good vacuum cleaner now.”  Since his wife went to work, Ed took it upon himself to do all the house chores.  He had Carole teach him laundry and dishes before she went to work so that he could take them over once she did.  It was the least he could do and it helped immensely to ease his guilt and keep him busy during the days she was gone.

The rest of the evening passed as usual with casual conversation about how much things had changed the past twenty years interspersed with the latest family gossip.  They clung to each other mentally and emotionally within this quiet routine and the familiarity of each other.  Ed fixed her plate, the same way Carole use to do for him, and got her bath ready after dinner.   He laid out her uniform for the next day before going to bed.  They snuggled in together, whispering short “I love you’s” in  various form and drifted to sleep together, still holding hands.

At exactly four thirty hours Ed awoke and started the coffee for Carole.  His internal clock never let him sleep past this time for as long as he could remember.   He fixed her breakfast and packed her lunch and tenderly saw her off to work three hours later.  Once her car round the corner of his street, he sat down at the dining table and bawled as if he were three years old again, unbeknownst to his beloved.   Ed would never adjust to the idea of his wife working for as long as he had a breath to breathe.

Meanwhile, Carole waited behind the rest of the housekeepers to clock in…….

 

 

Author’s note:  This story is dedicated to the thousands of senior citizens who’ve had to join the working ranks these past two decades as a result of the financialization revolution.  May they find peace……


“The Village” and “The Church”: An Analogy Worth Consideration

M. Night Shyamalan made a movie a while ago entitled “The Village.”  I love that movie and I love it for a very personal reason.  It reaffirms why I left “The Church” in the first place (I’ll take the real world over a made up one any day of the week) and it also conveys the truth of the idea that evil exists within each of us, not as some outward demon.

The story line to the movie goes like this a bereavement support group, whose relatives are victims of violent crimes, decide to escape modern society into a walled sanctuary.  They live a Luddite lifestyle cut off from the world. Modern conveniences such as electricity and motors are shunned, they make their own furniture, live off the land, and are completely oblivious to anything outside the four walls they so carefully built.  Theirs is a peaceful lifestyle, where men and women know their place, children are loved and coddled, and everyone knows everyone else (the narrative is nicely wound around a love story, and a very sweet one, I think).

Since the proprietors of  The Village were challenged to invent a way to keep their offspring from wandering too far and perhaps discovering that they were cut off from an entire civilization, they invented a story consisting of monsters who lurked in the forest beyond  (The Village was an isolated settlement set upon a huge, and privately funded, land reserve) . The monsters were known simply as ‘the others’ and children were indoctrinated at an early age concerning the dangers of crossing the designated borders.  Apparently an agreement exists between The Village and ‘the others':  if the Villagers don’t cross into their territory, ‘the others’ won’t cross into The Village.  A popular game for adolescent boys is to stand on a rock just at the border and tempt ‘the others’ to come get them, of course no one showed up, but the occasional howl of a coyote or wind was enough to give life to the story, reinforcing the narrative and instilling fear.

The elders were quite detailed in the shenanigans they were willing to engage in to keep their children in fear of the forest and ‘the others’. They didn’t stop at merely demarcating a physical boundary between good and evil.  The color red for instance, was labeled ‘the bad color’ for that was the color of ‘the others’.  In one scene a pair of tween girls came across a flower in their yard with ‘the bad color’ and with haste they both dig a hole and cover it up. Offerings are made to the forest to appease ‘the others’. Occasionally we are given the glimpse of a wooden box, tucked away in a corner, looming with mystery.  The box contains memorabilia of the outside world: newspaper clippings of murders and robberies of family members, pictures of their lost loved ones. It serves to remind the elders of their decision to leave the evil world behind.

And yet, evil springs up from within ‘The Village’ despite the elders’ attention to detail. In the opening scene of the movie we watch as a grief stricken father weeps at his son’s graveside.  The implication is that the son might have lived were there simple medicines available to give to him, but in their complete dedication to remain isolated, they sacrifice life.   At the feast following the service, it is noted that, despite even heartbreaking moments, they must remain committed to their cause.

A moment of compromise finally occurs however when a young man is stabbed by a jealous autistic Village member.  This strapping male is recently betrothed to the blind daughter of the very man whose idea it was to found The Village.  She begs her father permission to transgress their rules and travel to the lands beyond in order to get medicine to save her beloved’s life.  Her father bends to her pleas and allows her the freedom to go. Before she leaves however, he tells her of the ‘invented’ monsters, shows her the elaborate costumes complete with a row of sharp fang thingys and coarse fur.  It was apparently worn as a sort of ‘coat’ by village elders at times when a visible reinforcement of ‘the others’ was needed (I am reminded of Dawkin’s observation in ‘The God Delusion’, recently read, that  “…the horribleness of hell…is inflated to compensate for its implausibility.”) These home- made monsters were a bit intimidating, and made all the more so since we are put in Ivy’s place of having to discover them through touch only since she is blind.

Armed with the knowledge that nothing really exists to harm her, Ivy is allowed to breach the sacred boundaries and embark on a quest to find medicine to heal her only reason for living.  There’s a slight caveat given in order to keep ‘the others’ well alive in the mind of the rest of The Village. Ivy is sent with two companions, all three robed in a special color as a signal to ‘the others’ that they mean no harm and pass in peace.  The trio is even given a bag of ‘magic rocks’ for protection as well…which Ivy promptly dumps out once her companions abandon her for home out of sheer terror.

Our blind heroine finds the road, is met by a compassionate stranger (she notices “a kindness” in his voice that she “did not expect”) and obtains the lifesaving medicine for her soul mate, returns safely, and they live happily ever after.

Except, that is,  for the parents of the jealous autistic perpetrator who must live with their son’s deviant actions and subsequent death.  The autistic youth who stabbed Ivy’s beloved in a fit of envy was found to have escaped his isolation room.  They found him later, dead,  in a pit he’d fallen into whilst following Ivy into the forest,  wearing  one of the costumes of ‘the others’.  Alas, the final lesson of the story is that evil exists within, no matter the lengths we might go to keep it out.

As I watched my sons grow up alongside a myriad of children at church, and watched those children who were home schooled compared to those who were not, I noticed a bit of a difference.   It was my opinion that my boys will be going out into the world to make their way and it was my responsibility to make sure they were prepared to survive and contribute positively to society.  If I kept them home, shielded from the realities of the world in which they were born, then not only would be unable to thrive, they would live in it timidly – afraid of others and their motivations…I could already see the beginnings of some of these traits with the children who were more isolated from society.

They are grown now, for the most part – and  I took them out of The Church when I left because I myself had enough fear mongering and conspiracy theories. The eldest has been on his own these past three years now and just landed a great career job, if he decides to make it that.  The other two show great potential as well, comfortable in any sort of crowd, able to converse with just about anyone, and each possess a quick witted humor that makes me proud.   I have every confidence that my children will do well on their own, out in the scary big world because, well, we’ve taught them how to survive in it and they aren’t afraid to listen to new ideas or question old ones.  I feel I’ve done my job as a parent.

As parents we are burdened with the responsibility to raise our children to be independent of us, to live separately from us and thrive in the real world.   We do them a great disservice when we isolate them from the realities of life and coax them into a fearful world full of made up demons and monsters.

We do ourselves a disservice as well.   No matter how big those four walls of any church are, evil exists within it as well as without.  One doesn’t need to peruse internet headlines for very long to see that greed, adultery, gossiping, homosexuality, and child abuse is as alive in the church as it is out of the church.  This truth must be recognized if we are to move forward and progress.

We humans have a history of inventing gods and their demon counterparts as a way to explain our lives and purpose on earth.  It also allows us to blame some demon for a downfall rather than take responsibility for our mistakes ourselves. Evil exists within, and no  matter how elaborate the story we make up, no matter how high the walls we build, no matter how far away we can leave the outside world behind, we will always be confronted with it.   As for me and my house, we will choose the reality of life over man made stories, there is much more peace and freedom to be found living thus.

Peace comes with understanding….it does not pass it.

 

Frankie

 


A Super Bowl, An Election, and An American Horror Story….

We LOVE our Superbowl!   If you haven’t noticed, the last two weeks have been full of Superbowl everything:  Pepsi halftime hype, Arnold in a wig shilling beer, media day, another media day, and all kinds of speculation over who’ll win.  We place our bets, whether big or small (I myself will be forced to make my specialty dessert if my team loses), wear our team colors (I never knew so many Seahawk fans lived in NorCal), and stock up on beer, chips, and salsa (let’s not forget the layered bean dip).  We joke about calling it a National Holiday and secretly thank the work gods that we have Sunday’s off.   We plan where we’ll watch the game (the friend whose house has the biggest flat screen), and  today,  we’ll spend four fretful hours rooting for our favorite team…blissfully happy if they win, miserably humiliated if they lose.

Lets go back in our not too recent memory of another national pastime:  our last presidential election.  Sure, the process is longer, we spend months instead of just weeks hyping up the big day, we wear our team colors with pride and argue with friends about whose offense is best.   We decorate our yards with signs, our cars with stickers, and our national conventions are circus wonders (have you seen what some of those people wear?). We listen to talking heads on the t.v. make this or that prediction, their predictions and analysis disturbingly similar to the conversations studiously churned out by the NFL network .

In his book “Griftopia,” respected columnist Matt Taibbi makes this very comparison between our obsession with a sports event and its eerie similarities to our current election process:

“We get a beautifully choreographed eighteen-month entertainment put on once every four years, a beast called the presidential election that engrosses the population to the point of obsession.  This ongoing drama allows everyone to subsume their hopes and dreams for the future into one all-out, all-or-nothing battle for the White House. a big alabaster symbol of power we see on television a lot.  Who wins and who loses this contest is a matter of utmost importance to a hell of a lot of people in this country.  But why it’s so important to them is one of the great unexplored mysteries of our time.  Its a mystery rooted in the central horrifying truth about our national politics…..Which is this:  none of it really matters to us.  The presidential election is a drama that we Americans have learned to wholly consume as entertainment, divorced completely from any expectations about concrete changes in our own lives.  For the vast majority of people who follow national elections in this country, the payoff they’re looking for when they campaigning for this or that political figure is that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when the home team wins the big game.  Or, more important, when a hated rival loses.”

Think about this while you watch the game today and consider our mentality towards our politics.  This past election did we revel in our victory or did we pout in defeat?  Did we choose our candidate carefully based on his past performances instead of what the media presented to us?  Did we research to find out the team histories:  which has a better record with national deficits for instance?   If our candidate lost, did we find it in ourselves to at least rally around the one that did since obviously the majority of our compatriots thought he was the right one –  or did we choose instead to miserably accept the outcome and wait for the next big game, uh, election.  Did we buy into the losing team’s excuses or did we hold them accountable for their failures?  If our team won, have we blindly followed them to the trophy house or do we call them out if they overstep the bounds of privacy and drone use? This is exactly the mentality that Taibii examines and it’s effect is damning. He goes on:

“Their stake in the electoral game isn’t a  citizen’s interest, but a rooting interest.  Voters who throw their emotional weight into elections they know deep down inside won’t produce real change in their lives are also indulging in a kind of fantasy.  That’s why voters still dream of politicians whose primary goal is to effectively govern and maintain a thriving first world society with great international ambitions…  What voters don’t realized, or don’t want to realize, is that that dream was abandoned long ago by this country’s leaders who know the prosaic reality and are looking beyond the fantasy into the future, at an America plummeted into third world status.  ….Our leaders know we’re turning into a giant ghetto and they are taking every last hubcap they can get their hands on before the rest of us wake up and realize what’s happened. …In the new American ghetto, the nightmare engine is bubble economies, a kind of high-tech casino scam that kills neighborhoods just like dope does, only the product is credit, not crack or heroin. “

Let’s think about these words for a second “America plummeted into a third world status.” There’s our horror story:  From top to bottom in just a couple of short centuries.   We need to wake up.

We need to pay attention.  We need to realize (myself as well) that we get so caught up in the game that we forget the stakes are high, a matter of life or death to our nation.  We need to do our research.  On a weekly basis I encounter two or three conspiracy theories on my Facebook feed, full of fear mongering, conservative anxiety, and meant to keep me distracted from the real issues.  ARE there FEMA camps throughout the U.S.?  No, but our congress is allowing Wall Street to write legislation, effectively making us a plutocracy.  IS there Fukushima radiation in my milk?  No, but I do know that the NRA is mostly funded by ….. gun companies and so their interest in gun legislation is certainly monetarily based, not second amendment sanctions.   Did Phil Robertson have his constitutional rights violated?  Not in the least, but our voting rights are being carefully restricted in thousands of counties.   Does the ACA have an exception for Muslim believers?  No, but I do know that those states whose governors have  chosen not to enact the law have millions of Americans who are without medical coverage.  We interrupt the news because a celebrity was arrested but few people notice the signs that another financial bubble is already starting to arise.  Are you getting it yet?

We always have a choice.  We have the choice to make a difference or ignore the evidence and await disaster.  Either way, the burden falls to us to dispose of our cheerleader/spectator role and become well-informed citizens who vote not because we want our team to win, but because we desire a nation that functions for the people, by the people instead of for the corporation, by the corporation.

Enjoy the game today kids, but as we watch, let’s keep in mind Mr. Taibbi’s comparison with our game mentality towards elections.   It is my sincere desire that we learn from this lesson so that we may build a better nation to leave our children, and perhaps avoid a true American Horror Story.

Choose truth…however hard you must dig for it….

Frankie

Taibbi, Matt.  Griftopia: The Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History. Spiegel & Grau, New York, 2011.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        You can also read Matt’s blog at the following address:  http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog


Must Read from Bill Gates – if you wanna have hope for our future, that is….

I found this on my twitter feed the other day and it lends more hope and insight than anything I’ve read in a while. Takes a few minutes to read, but the information is dynamic and honestly too important to pass up. Mr. Gates confronts three prevalent global myths and deftly proves them wrong with a slew of data and success stories…For instance, here’s what he has to say about the first myth he discusses:    Poor countries are doomed to stay poor.

“So the easiest way to respond to the myth … is to point to one fact: They haven’t stayed poor. Many—though by no means all—of the countries we used to call poor now have thriving economies. And the percentage of very poor people has dropped by more than half since 1990.”

I don’t know about you but I am astounded that we have eradicated the very poor by half in just two decades. THIS is a HUGE achievement!

The second myth Mr. Gates contends with (and its a big contention) is that “Foreign Aid is a Big Waste”. He pretty much makes the ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’ case here, but he adds a great deal of proof to back up his argument, namely our overall health in global terms has increased substantially in the past half-century -

“Let’s put this achievement in historical perspective. A baby born in 1960 had an 18 percent chance of dying before her fifth birthday. For a child born today, the odds are less than 5 percent. In 2035, they will be 1.6 percent. I can’t think of any other 75-year improvement in human welfare that would even come close.”

Foreign aid, coupled with private donations, enable the most indigent of us with vaccines, food, schools, contraception, mosquito nets, and start-up money for national investments. Mr. Gates mentions that foreign aid really creates an overall synergistic environment and that most of those countries who have received aid in the past are now self-sustaining or require less aid than before. A healthy population leads to a healthy economy.

Since  survival rates have increased, it seems logical that perhaps we would need to be concerned with over-population. Mr. Gates carefully draws from demographic data to demonstrate that this thought too is a myth.

“Given all the evidence, my view of a sustainable future is much more optimistic than the Malthusians’ view. The planet does not thrive when the sickest are allowed to die off, but rather when they are able to improve their lives. Human beings are not machines. We don’t reproduce mindlessly. We make decisions based on the circumstances we face.”

“When children are well-nourished, fully vaccinated, and treated for common illnesses like diarrhea, malaria, and pneumonia, the future gets a lot more predictable. Parents start making decisions based on the reasonable expectation that their children will live.”

He’s turned me on to a new term as well, something called the ‘virtuous cycle’…

“The virtuous cycle is not just development jargon. It’s a phenomenon that millions of poor people understand very well, and it guides their decisions from day-to-day. I have the privilege of meeting women and men in poor countries who commit the small acts of love and optimism—like going without so they can pay their children’s school fees—that propel this cycle forward. The future they hope for and work hard for is the future I believe in.”

In other words, any investment we make in our future, big or small, global or local, makes a difference. Let us all be willing to do our part to make our future one we can believe in.

Choose Hope Kids!

Frankie

http://annualletter.gatesfoundation.org/?cid=bg_tw_ll1_012317/#section=home


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