Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Once More for Gore

Today, Al Gore, Patron Saint of the Global Environment, turns 61 years old. Since the early 1990s, he has been the politician I admire the most, and the one I wanted to see as president since 1992. Back then, I saw Clinton merely as the warm up act with the real show begining in 2000 with Gore's promotion to the presidency. Because Clinton did his warm-up act with a sex crazed intern, the taint of scandal was probably enough to turn many voters against Gore in 2000. I know of one lady who admitted this...the one I had a falling out with over her comments on Facebook. She had written to me that she voted against Gore in 2000 because she claimed that he was tainted by his association with Clinton, which I thought was moronic. We can't control how other people act. It would be like firing an employee because his or her immediate supervisor had an affair with someone else. We're not responsible for another person's sexual misconduct. But, I'd bet serious cash that she's not the only one who punished Gore for the disgust with Clinton's sleaze.

It's a shame that Americans vote on non-issues. In all the years of Gore's public life, there has never been any hint of sexual immorality. He is a man completely in love with his wife, Tipper. He didn't have too many girlfriends before her (maybe two or three, from biographies I've read). Gore exudes fidelity and loyalty. If people find fault with him, its because of his introverted nature. The presidency seems to favour extroverts, as we haven't truly had an introverted president since Jimmy Carter (though I can't tell for certain if the elder George Bush is an introvert or not).

My question to Bush voters in 2000 is: are you proud of your vote? Seeing how disasterous his reign had been, do you think he was good for America? If we judge a president by only one criteria (is America better or worse since the start of a presidential administration?), there's no question that Bush was bad for America.

But maybe that is a good thing. The recent Time magazine features a cover story on how the bad economy will be good for our country in the long run (so long as we don't go back to our mass consuming ways). As painful as it is to go back to the 2000 election and think about it, I remember before the election, I had read an article which predicted that Gore might win the electoral college vote but lose the popular vote, and what that would mean for our country. I remember thinking at the time that I did not want Gore to win that way, because Republicans would never accept his presidency and would continue their obstruction and investigations from the Clinton years to try to bring down Gore. The article I read even mentioned that the Bush campaign people had plans in place to legally contest the election if Gore won the electoral college vote but lost the popular vote.

When the election happened the other way (Bush "winning" the electoral vote--though I still believe that he didn't legitimately win Florida; Gore winning the popular vote by more than half a million votes), Bush played dirty and ran to the Supreme Court to put an end to the vote recount in Florida. No matter which way the election went, Bush was desperate to be president (my theory is because he wanted to avenge his father's defeat in 1992; he wanted to finish the job in Iraq; and he wanted to seal up his father's presidential records from the open records law). The nasty way he behaved in the aftermath of the election and his lack of graciousness to the majority who voted against him in 2000, plus his decision to have a far-right administration instead of a government of national unity, guaranteed that I would never support his presidency at all. Not even on 9/11 and the days following. It's not that I wanted him to fail. Had he been more of the centrist he had promised during the campaign, he might've been more successful than his father. But, he sowed the seeds of his presidency's destruction with bad karma. He has no one to fault but himself. Seeing the sad, broken man he became when he left office was small pleasure after the nightmare of the past eight years.

However, the past is past. Though the Bush years are one of the most painful periods of American history (certainly in our lifetime), I believe the fates of Bush and Gore illustrate an example of karmic justice. Bush wanted to be president at all costs and by not showing humility and grace, and representing the interest of all Americans (including the majority who voted against him), he angered a lot of people and never saw his approval ratings above 40% in the last three years of his presidency. He came into office arrogant and smug, and left looking tired, old and unhappy. By contrast, in the aftermath of the humiliating "loss", Gore grew a beard, went off to Europe, and disappeared for awhile. Behind the scenes, he had invested heavily in Google, started an investment group, updated his old climate change slide show, and focused on his true passion: the environment. By 2006, karmic justice repaid him kindly...with a hit documentary film that won an Oscar, his investments in Google made him a wealthy man, he won an Emmy Award for his creation of Current TV (an innovative Internet/TV channel which airs pods created by viewers), and the ultimate award of all: The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, shared with U.N. scientists for climate change.

Gore gained renewed respect while Bush became the most hated leader on the planet. The tale of these two men recalls that famous Biblical warning: "For what doth it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his very soul?" The fortunes of the two men also illustrate two forms of power. Gore has inspirational power, which is far more powerful than the kind Bush branded about: the power of the gun. This idea has been with me since childhood, when I was baffled by what Obi-Wan Kenobi told Darth Vader in Star Wars: "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." For many years, I couldn't understand that statement, because he lost his life to the guy with the power of the light saber. I forget the moment when it hit me, but it was sometime in the mid-1990s. Now, it's kind of obvious. The power of inspiration is more powerful than the power of the gun. Why? Because while you can point a gun at someone's head to make them do whatever the hell you want, doing so only guarantees that they will hate you and it doesn't protect you from someone doing the same to you. Plus, you're not really changing their minds, only how they would act in that moment.

On the flip side, if you inspire someone with your ideas, it affects their inner consciousness. The transformation within can transform our world. Jesus had this kind of power. The might of the Roman Empire may have crucified him on the cross (power of the sword), but here we are 2,000 years later with more than 2 billion of the world's inhabitants who are followers of Jesus. Where is the Roman Empire? It's relegated to museums, ruins that serve as tourist attractions, and the history books.

So...I'm glad that Gore was able to transform the disappointments of the 2000 election into a successful career as global statesman, bringing attention to how we live our lives with respect to our natural environment. Give me inspiration anyday.

In Gore's post-2000 incarnation, he often greets people and groups with the very Asian "wai." This symbolic gesture is a Buddhist sign for humility and gratitude. Though many evangelicals didn't see Gore as a religious person, I always had the impression that he was deeply spiritual (he did attend Vanderbilt Divinity School after serving in Vietnam as a way to atone for the sins he saw in that war). Though he is a Southern Baptist, I wouldn't be surprised if his spiritual views are similar to mine, because he seems to have some Buddhist ideas or beliefs...which you can sense in his Earth in the Balance book.

The cartoon above and the photo from his guest host role on Saturday Night Live in December 2002 play on the stereotyped image of Gore as a stiff and wooden personality. Gore has been known to poke fun at himself, with his favourite joke: "How can you spot Gore in a roomful of Secret Service agents? He's the stiff one."

We may never have gotten to see how America would look during a Gore Administration, but had he been president, we probably would have never heard of Barack Obama. I'm happy with the historic campaign of 2007-2008, that it was the most exciting presidential election season of our lifetime. I'm also happy that Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. No one deserves more good fortune these past few years than Gore...one of the most qualified people to ever run for president. Our country lost a potentially great president, but perhaps he'll play an even greater role for the sake of our planet.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Gore! Celebrate in style!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Music Video Monday: Anggun

For this week's music video selection, I decided to showcase Anggun in honour of International Women's Day several Sundays ago. I first saw her video in 1998 when I was in college and addicted to VH1 and MTV. Their schedule seemed to only show music videos late at night, when I was studying. When the video "Snow on the Sahara" played, I was instantly hooked. This song is an example of the kind of song that aims straight to my heart: a gorgeous foreign lady, an exotic melody, and a place name in the title. Nothing spells out "International Smash" more than this song!

Based on a single song, I bought her CD and it was fantastic. Who was this gorgeous Asian lady? It was like she was straight out of a novel idea of mine (still to be written someday). Back in 1993, I was inspired to write a novel about our country's ongoing xenophobia and how too many Americans still haven't gotten over the loss of the Vietnam War. One of the characters in that unwritten novel was to be a Vietnamese singer who falls in love with the American protagonist. Her hit song was to be called "Saigon Serenade." So, when I saw Anggun's music video, it was like a character I had dreamed up in 1993 had shown up in real life with an exotic song of her own. Yow! I love that.

This video is awesome for many reasons, but I truly love the graceful way her hands move. To me, that's the art and mystique of pure femininity. Perhaps it comes from the traditional Thai dances I remember seeing in my youth, where the Thai women in fancy traditional costumes dance in ways where their hands and fingers arch beautifully in mesmerizing movements. Anggun does it quite a bit in this video. The colours are also a feast for the eyes. And I so wish I could be that bird in the video!


Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Debate About Satan

On Nightline last week was a special "Face-Off" on the question of Satan's existence, held at Pastor Mark Driscoll's mega-church in Seattle. Along with the pastor (who is popular among young adults in the Emergent Christianity movement) was New Age Guru to the stars Deepak Chopra, a former prostitute who now has a "Hookers for Jesus" group, and a former minister who once preached hellfire and damnation but now believes hell is nothing but a lie.

I was stoked to watch this, wondering how on earth they could have a conversation in less than 30 minutes, with commercial interruptions. They spent a little too long on the introductions before mentioning that the debate itself was over an hour, followed by audience questions. One can see the whole thing on the ABC News website, but they were only showing snippets on Nightline. Lame. They could've shown the whole thing. Who cares about Jimmy Kimmel's late show after that?

Because of the time constraints, we only got the gist of everyone's arguments and counter-arguments. Surprisingly, I could understand some of the points Pastor Driscoll said. I, personally, don't like Deepak Chopra because he comes off a tad bit arrogant. Plus, when a "self-help guru" achieves popularity among celebrities in Hollywood, they have a kind of taint to me, because we're talking about a town that is obsessed with Scientology and Kabbalah, where people screw each other over, literally and figuratively. When Deepak Chopra came to Powells bookstore awhile ago, I went out of curiosity to see if my impression held up. I've tried to read some of his books but I don't really like his writing style. I may agree with his ideas, but his presentation needs work. Anyhow, during his lecture, which was packed with people, the manner of his speaking truly turned me off. I got the impression that he spoke in a way to show off how smart he is rather than connecting with the audience. He used too many academic words and sounded like he was giving a dissertation on spirituality to a bunch of university professors. After he was done, he took no questions from the audience and I left with an even worse impression of him.

During this debate, the "Satan-believers" (who happen to be evangelical Christians) said the same thing I always hear people who believe in Satan say: "The greatest trick Satan ever played on humans was convincing him that he doesn't exist." What the hell does this statement mean? Anytime someone says that to me, I always ask them what it means and they can never tell me. To me, their non-answer tells me that they are only repeating what they heard someone else say without giving it a whole lot of thought. Its hard for me to respect people who show no thinking behind the statements they all too easily sprout off, as though it would end the debate.

Why is not believing that Satan exists a trick? To me, it makes no logical sense. Another thing these Satan-believing Christians repeat is that "if you believe in God, you have to believe in Satan because you can't have one without the other." Um...that's called dualistic thinking. To believe only in God is unitary thinking. Yes, you can believe in one but not the other. How? Simple. God is all-knowing and perfect. God created the entire universe. God did not create evil. God does not need an adversary. If God is all-knowing...what is the opposite? Obviously, ignorance. Where did ignorance come from? Humans! Since we do not know everything God knows, we make shit up. In our need to be right, we demonize people who disagree. Religions are created, wars are fought, people are killed because they didn't agree with what we believe in. It is our own ignorance that has created this evil. Remaining in ignorance is a form of evil. Refusing to evolve in our thinking is an affront to God.

When I was a teenager, I had to read Lord of the Flies in the 10th grade, then again in my new school in the 12th grade. As a sophomore, I didn't really get the meaning behind the story. As a senior, it dawned on me. There was no evil on that island. The fear in certain boys led to evil being committed. The boys were divided into two groups...one led by a fearful boy who succumbed to savagery, the other led by a boy who thought rationally and didn't let his fears control him or to use that fear to control others. The novel makes a pretty powerful statement about human nature, and of religion as well. For as long as I can remember, in attending other churches, I never liked the fear mongering and sermons that were all about hellfire and damnation. Fortunately, in the church I grew up in, sermons were more about our faith leading to miracles and the hope for a peaceful community of Zion. I rarely heard any talk of hell, damnation, or Satan until my parents started attending a contemporary Christian congregation within our church. The sermons I heard disturbed me, as people focused more on Satan and even blaming Satan for everything that goes wrong in their lives. That's why to this day, I believe Satan is a scapegoat for weak-minded individuals who need someone to blame for the problems in their lives.

No experience is more clear to me than what happened in 1995. I had decided to attend the Contemporary Christian Congregational retreat in Eatonton, Georgia, where my family would be as well as other church folks I knew. I was in the Navy living in Norfolk, Virginia at the time. On my way there, I drove through a torrential rainstorm. Visibility was so bad that I had to stop under an overpass and wait it out. The thoughts I had in my head as I watched the rain come down was one of awe. I thought about how lucky I was to be in my car and I even thought about what it would've been like traveling in a storm like this in the days of covered wagons. Mostly felt awe about the power and beauty of a storm.

I made it to the retreat safe and sound. During a testimony sharing time, two women who also traveled through that downpour actually said that they KNOW that Satan had sent that storm to prevent them from going to the retreat, but they made it and defeated Satan's plan. People applauded them and I was shocked that people actually view challenges that way. To this day, I lose respect for people if I hear them blame Satan for anything that goes wrong in their lives. Take responsibility for your lives!

Watching the Nightline special Face Off, I was actually impressed with Pastor Driscoll. Though I don't agree with all of his spiritual ideas, he did say the reason why he believed in Satan was because humans needed a choice between good and evil in order to utilize the gift of free will that God gives each person, so how can we know love if we don't face temptation and evil?

I'd love to check out his church sometime, perhaps as a YAPS event. We might learn something useful from him, even if we don't like everything he preaches (if I'm not mistaken, he advocates a more "masculine Christ" because he believes that the Jesus so many people think of is too feminized, thus why churches are heavily skewed towards female members as men turn to other interests that don't include religion). He doesn't come across as a Pat Robertson, James Dobson, or Jerry Falwell type of evangelical minister (who are nothing more than shucksters for the godless capitalist class who know that the Republican Party can't win elections without the ig'nant idiots of the Bible Belt). Despite his views, Driscoll does appear smart and sincere, with a desire to make peoples' lives better, and how can we fault a minister for that?

Whether Satan exists or not doesn't really matter to me. But just because I don't make it a point to find out doesn't mean I'm somehow tricked or conned. The Satan-believing Christians think that if you don't believe Satan exists, that means you are denying that evil exists, which I'm not doing. I know evil exists. We just disagree on the originator of the evil in our world. I attribute evil to ignorance or a lack of awareness in a person that his or her actions can have an adverse effect on others. The evil is rooted in the ego run amuck and ego is a part of the human body, not the spirit. I'm bothered when I hear people blame Satan for all that is wrong in their lives, because it's not taking responsibility or even seeing the possibility for what happened.

To give one personal example, probably the most evil that was ever done to me was when I was robbed at knifepoint by a gang of young men on the streets of Johannesburg. After the event happened and I was safely back in my hotel room, and for months afterwards, I never once attributed the event to Satan. I blamed myself for ignoring the warnings of everyone not to be out after sunset. I knew better and made a dumb mistake. I also believed that the young men had no choice but to resort to robbery because they lived in a country that discriminated against their race and where there weren't enough jobs to go around. It's the morality question posed by Victor Hugo's brilliant novel Les Miserables...when a man is starving, how can stealing a loaf of bread be a criminal act in a society that has plenty to go around? Bad situations can lead to blessings, as my robbery experience led to my spiritual renaissance, so how can it truly be evil? If Satan is behind it, he led me straight to the goodness and blessings of God.

Anyhow...I find it interesting that a lot of people I know who believe in Satan also seem to think the man in the photo below is a great Christian man. If I know anything at all, I'd wager that there is no Satan, but if there was, Dick Cheney would come the closest to it. The man just pulsates evil. Good thing he's not in power anymore, right?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fun Friday: Bond Theme Songs

Last November, when the latest Bond film hit theaters, I did a Flashback Friday on the best of James Bond. That particular post didn't really hit it big until February for some odd reason and it has been the most viewed post each week ever since. Now that Quantum of Solace is out on DVD, I decided to do a Fun Friday on a Bond theme. This time, the theme songs in a countdown from least favourite to my all-time favourite.

Ever since I watched the latest Bond film in theaters, I have been holding my own James Bond Film Festival, watching one or two per week, in order of release. I even watched Never Say Never Again in a double feature with Thunderball (the film the former one remade in 1983 under a competing studio). I'm up to The Living Daylights now, which is my favourite of the series and the one I've probably seen the most. It was interesting to watch the ones I've only seen a few times as a kid or teenager, so I appreciated viewing them as an adult with the ability to understand the plot. I didn't realize From Russia With Love was so good. My fondness for On Her Majesty's Secret Service holds up after all these years. And I still don't care for Dr. No very much. The villain is barely seen in the movie so I don't really get his motivation for evil. Diamonds Are Forever is better than I remembered it, but I can't believe they had that scene where the car enters through a narrow alley at an angle and is seen coming out on the opposite set of wheels. I had to replay that one with director commentary track to hear them explain that goof. My favourite moment in the film was when the elephant played the slot machine at Circus Circus Casino and got excited when it won. Hilarious!

One of the most moronic scenes is from The Spy Who Loved Me. I don't understand why Jaws drove the van all the way out to the ruins of some old temple (in Egypt). He knows the spies are in the back of the van but he parks the van, leaves the key in the ignition and runs away to play hide and seek with Bond and Agent XXX following him, then he chases them back to the van and tears it up before they escape. What a retard! I had a hard time buying that scene. There was no logical point to have them go all the way out to that temple ruins site. I bet the filmmakers just wanted to use that as a backdrop for an action sequence, for there was no other reason why the villain would do such a thing.

Moonraker was as I remembered...really good until they go up into space. Didn't like Live and Let Die much, or Thunderball. But I had forgotten how good Octopussy is. The Bond films from the 80s are my favourites.

Now we get to the list of my favourite theme songs (I'm not including the instrumental theme music that opens Dr. No and On Her Majesty's Secret Service), starting with my least favourite...

21. "You Know My Name" by Chris Cornell (from Casino Royale)

20. "Tomorrow Never Dies" by Sheryl Crow (for a woman with a string of catchy hit songs, this one was surprisingly bad)

19. "The World is Not Enough" by Garbage

18. "Another Way to Die" by Jack White and Alicia Keys (from Quantum of Solace)

17. "From Russia With Love" by Matt Monro

16. "Goldeneye" by Tina Turner

15. "Moonraker" by Shirley Bassey (my sister and I love to make fun of the "where are you?" line)

14. "Thunderball" by Tom Jones

13. "The Man With the Golden Gun" by Lulu

12. "Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney and the Wings

11. "Nobody Does it Better" by Carly Simon (from The Spy Who Loved Me)

10. "You Only Live Twice" by Nancy Sinatra

9. "We Have All the Time in the World" by Louis Armstrong (from On Her Majesty's Secret Service)

8. "All Time High" by Rita Coolidge (from Octopussy)

7. "Die Another Day" by Madonna

6. "Licence to Kill" by Gladys Knight

5. "Diamonds Are Forever" by Shirley Bassey

My mom thinks the line "diamonds never lie to me" is pretty funny.

4. "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey

This song has what I've thought since childhood was an elephant sound. It's pure classic. I wish they'd bring Shirley Bassey back for one more Bond theme song, since I really don't like most of the ones the came out after the 1980s heyday. She has an amazing voice.

3. "The Living Daylights" by a-ha

It was hard to decide which one I should put in second place. I really love this song, but everytime I hear Sheena Easton's song, I get chills. Her theme song always brings back some good memories and I love a great power ballad, so I have to give her song the edge over a-ha. Besides, she's incredibly sexy.
2. "For Your Eyes Only" by Sheena Easton

Sheena Easton was the first (and only) singer to appear in the title sequence. She does look like a Bond girl. Interestingly enough, Madonna is the only singer to have a cameo role in the Bond films.

1. "A View to a Kill" by Duran Duran

The only Bond theme song to hit #1 on the singles chart. It is the quintessential 80s pop song, featuring one of the most popular bands of that era. I never get tired of listening to it. They really capture the spirit and excitement of the Bond movies in a song. If you ever doubted that this was pure 80s pop, the title sequence in the film makes use of neon colours, which was popular during that decade (hard to believe now...but how did the 80s end up so neon and pastel?). If pop music is so bad, why do most of the Bond theme songs since 1995 suck?!?

Bon...Simon LeBon (of Duran Duran)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Consulting the Oracle

Saturday night, I decided to try it. I consulted the oracle. Okay...not "the" Oracle, but "an" oracle. The new journal I'm keeping this year has various pages to mark things like gratitude, blessings, goals, as well as an oracle cards layout four times a year (during the equinoxes and solstices). If you're familiar with TAROT cards, then you know what oracle cards are. Last year sometime, I found an interesting oracle card set with an Australian theme, so I just had to buy it since I'm a sucker for all things Aussie.

Though I'm not completely sold on TAROT cards and other forms of oracles, I am open minded enough to give it a try. The information revealed was actually quite stunningly accurate. How does that happen? My experience with TAROT cards goes back to 1994 when a lady I knew was really into them and gave me readings. I had her give me a reading before my trip to South Africa. The cards basically warned me that something bad would happen. I didn't believe it, and I ended up getting robbed. She also did a reading for the supervisor of the Palau Community Center, where I worked at the time. We laughed when the cards revealed that he had a lot of problems with his wife, which was true. She was always causing trouble at the Palau Community Center and angering people who didn't hang out there to deal with her dramas.

After I moved back to the states, I became more involved in my church and stayed clear of TAROT cards. Some claim that they are evil and put them in the same category as Ouija boards and seances. For me personally, I think of TAROT and oracle cards as nothing more than information. Sometimes, it helps to have something to spark an idea you didn't consider. Or it can bring clarity to the problem you're pondering.

As one who is interested in ancient Greek mythology, the most fascinating aspect to me is the Oracle at Delphi (pictured above). The most famous story of the Oracle comes from Plato. The Oracle called Socrates the wisest man in Athens, to which Socrates was baffled as to how he could be considered the wisest since he claimed to know nothing. That's the ultimate irony and paradox of the story.

In The Matrix trilogy, my favourite character is the Oracle. In the scene above, from The Matrix Reloaded, she tells him one of the most profound spiritual ideas I've ever heard in a movie. It deals with free will choice. If the Creator (or "Architect") knows the choices you are going to make, how can anything you do be considered "free will"? It's the question that has stumped people for millennia. The Oracle told Neo that he already made the choice. His purpose now was to understand why he made that choice.

That kind of sums up some of my beliefs, because I believe that we existed before we were born and we made the choice of who we're going to be, who our friends are, and what kind of issues we would be dealing with during our lifetime on earth. So, we had free will choice in the spiritual realm, and on earth, we have to understand why our souls made the choices it made. I can testify to personal experience that the most profound spiritual experience I ever had occurred in 2001 after a year long search for answers to my questions. I got the answers to my "whys" in the most ecstatically blissful experience I ever had. I achieved a level of understanding I never had before and its what I'd call an enlightenment experience. I'd love to have another experience like that soon, after my long search for a better and more meaningful job.

Above is a picture of the box my Australian oracle cards set came in. I love the artwork on the cards, using aboriginal style art with various animals and scenes that Australia is well known for (including the Sydney Harbour Bridge). Each card (I believe there's about 46 of them) is round with one image (or connected images with symbolic meaning). The book gives a background story on the Aboriginal legend for that particular image. In this way, I get to learn all about "Dreamtime", which is the Aboriginal belief system for the creation of the world. I love learning about it.

The card below is one of the sample cards from the oracle deck. I actually drew this particular card in my reading on Saturday.

Basically, the meaning behind this card is that one should focus on taking pleasure in our creativity, and in that process, our needs will be met. Since this card appeared upside down in my reading, it means that I haven't found my path in life yet and my focus is diffused with procrastination as a pitfall. Actively pursuing my dreams will generate an influx of new energy which will propel me back into the right direction.

For Saturday's post, I will write more about my Aussie oracle reading, especially the cards that deal with the present and future. I laughed when I read the meanings behind the card I drew for "the present." I believe this ties in with the recent hashing out of issues I had with the lady I wrote about a couple weeks ago who acted inappropriately on Facebook, so it should be an interesting, yet quite personal post worth writing about.

Above is an example of Greek artwork depicting a visit to the Oracle.

My church has an ordinance that I consider similar to that Greek concept. We call it "the Evangelist's Blessing." What it entails is that the person seeking a special guidance for his or her life will approach a member of the church who holds the priesthood office of Evangelist and meet to discuss it. The seeker is given a few scripture verses to read and ponder. There is also some prayer involved, and to show the serious nature of the request, the seeker will be asked to "fast" something for a week.

In 1999, I decided to get my Evangelist's Blessing because I was nearing the end of my college experience and the timing was right for one. The evangelist I specifically chose to give my blessing was a woman at the Salt Lake Congregation. In the past, the blessing was called a "Patriarchal Blessing" but they changed it once women were allowed to hold priesthood offices (after 1984). I was relieved they changed the name sometime in the 1990s, because I have a difficult time pronouncing "patriarchal." Since I was at BYU at the time and Mormons don't believe that women should hold the priesthood, I specifically chose a female evangelist to give mine so I would have personal confirmation that a woman is every bit as capable of serving in priesthood roles and conducting official and sacred ordinances as men are. I've heard all the Mormon and Catholic arguments against women holding the priesthood and disagree, and my blessing did indeed turn out to be profound and immensely helpful.

I fasted music for the week. The Evangelist told me it could be anything I wanted it to be, but it had to be something I considered important. Since I couldn't live without listening to music at some point in my day, I thought this was a good thing to fast. And it turned out to be more complicated than I thought. I unplugged my portable stereo and hid my CDs for the week. My roommates knew me as the guy who would study late at night in the living room while music from the TV Guide channel played in the background, so that was out. I had to remember not to turn on the radio in my car. Even going to a store, if I heard music play, I would walk back out and wait to get whatever I needed to get after my fast finished. I couldn't even watch a movie that week for fear that a song would play during some scenes.

During this week, I read the scripture verses, pondered the stories and meanings, prayed, and was ready to interview again and set the date for the blessing. It was a cool experience to not listen to music for a full week. A week without music! I felt like my intuitive abilities were enhanced. I should try that again, just to see how I feel at week's end. Trouble is, I work with a lady who always plays the radio, so that won't work.

In the summer of 1999, I received my Evangelist's Blessing in the same Salt Lake church where I was baptized as an eight year old in 1980. Someone took my picture but I haven't converted it to digital yet (my ongoing project this year). The Evangelist put her hand on my head and gave the prayer that she, too, had prayed and fasted over. The prayer is recorded and converted into a nice paper copy that the World Headquarters of the church sends later on. It truly is a sacred experience for me to read the prayer whenever I need guidance. Is it accurate? Yes. And the Evangelist didn't really know me, so that's why its so profound.

Though I won't ever post the contents of it on my blog, I will share a snippet of what it said about me. Basically, the blessing said that I was the type of person who would never follow the conventional path that others might lay before me, and because of this, I would travel a rockier path, which I'm capable of doing with God's guidance. Though it wasn't part of the blessing, the Evangelist told me that I was blessed to have a look that can blend in anywhere, which makes travel to exotic places less dangerous for me than it would be for someone else. Its because of her saying this that makes me wonder if I am meant to work in Iraq or Afghanistan for year.

So, there it is. I view my church's sacred ordinance of the Evangelist's Blessing as a modern-day "oracle" that the Greeks practiced. Though it might horrify some in the church to compare the two, I can't help it. In the year I received my Evangelist's Blessing, I also saw a popular film that featured a character named "The Oracle." Pretty profound, I think.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Tram is Not a Scam by Sam

Last Wednesday, I finally rode in Portland's Aerial Tram to "Pill Hill" as locals refer to the gi-normous hospital complex on the hill overlooking the city of Portland. Awesome view!

The point of my trip was to drop off an application for a position with the Veterans Affairs hospital. Application procedures for government jobs are long, and this one required short answers for five questions. Felt like I was in college again! The trouble with government jobs is that you spend a lot of time reading the instructions, filling out paperwork, and checking and double checking that everything is in order. Then you wait and wait and wait. Maybe you'll hear from them, but most likely you don't. Until you get a letter or a postcard thanking you for your interest. I've heard that the trick is to apply to every government job you qualify for on a regular basis, just so your name becomes familiar that they'll have to pick you eventually. We'll see. I tend to do well on essay and short answers and wish that all jobs required it. In 2006, a job I had applied with Tri-Met required short answers and it landed me an interview, which I cancelled after I got hired where I work now. So, I'm feeling good about my chances. My day is coming.

The point of the post, however, is that I wanted to write about the Tram, which many Portlanders were against. I wasn't a resident here when the deal was made, but I've read old articles online as well as comments by long-time residents. The Tram was one of City Commissioner Sam Adams' pet projects. He really pushed for it and it was connected to the Portland Streetcar (from my apartment, I hopped on the Streetcar to the South Waterfront District to catch the Tram to the top of the hill, walked the labyrinth of the connecting hospitals, dropped off my application paperwork and returned. All told, the trip took a little over one hour. Not bad!). The project ended up costing more than projected (don't all government boondoggles?), but is it really that bad? Projects like these (with the "unforeseen" cost overruns) earned the City Commissioner-turned-current Mayor the nickname "Scam Adams."

However, despite the cost of the project, I think it was a great idea and one that should make its money back. If Portland needed a tourist landmark, the Tram might be the closest thing to one...though once you get to the top, you're right at the door of the hospital complex, which is not exactly the kind of place tourists would want to visit by choice. They should have a special observance platform and something that might draw tourists into staying up on the hill for an hour or more. As it is now, the Tram is mostly used as a commuter connection (between the job site and the streetcar line). It's Portland's version of the Washington State Ferry System.

The view from the Tram is unbeatable though. The weather was good last week, so I easily saw Mount Hood in the distance. When the Tram first started operating, a man who lived in one of the homes below put a sign on his roof with a choice profanity as a protest against what he feels is a violation of his privacy. I can understand his concern...but how can you not love a Tram?!? Ever since childhood, I've always loved vacations where we got to ride in one to the top of the mountain. In my hometown of Stone Mountain, Georgia, they have a nice tram to the top, though you can also walk. And one of my all-time favourite James Bond action scenes occurred on a Tram in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in Moonraker.

It might take a few years, but I think the Tram will be one of Portland's "things visitors must experience" while they are in town. All the city planners need to do to make this more of a reality, though, is to create something worth making the journey to the top of the hill, besides a hospital. Maybe something along the lines of a Cristo Redentor statue...but with a local reference (a giant salmon statue?). Portland needs a landmark. Its time for the creative city dwellers to brainstorm! We can outdo the Space Needle, can't we?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Writing Life

The photo above was taken earlier this month at the Writer's Dojo in St. Johns, where I go on Saturdays or Sundays to write, edit, and focus on my writing aspirations. That particular Sunday was an open house for members and I met a few people (including the poet you see in red, and an aspiring director). It's nice to fellowship with other creative types, because writing is a solitary artform. But as you can tell from my blog, I love writing and never seem to run out of things to write about. This is a guy who wrote a 700-page novel before editing it down to 570 pages. Still haven't found an agent. In my search for a better job, I have put it on a backburner, but maybe its time I pursue that again.

For about a year, I had promised an old friend from high school a copy of it. I kept promising to send it but never did until last week, when I mailed a copy of the first section of the novel (it's divided into four parts). On Saturday, he sent me an awesome email giving me his first impression of what he read. Since I had based my novel on experiences in my Senior year in high school and the Navy enlistment, this friend of mine was familiar with some of the people who served as characters in the first section of the novel, which covers the senior year. Now he wants to read the whole thing, so I looked to see if I had an extra copy of the entire manuscript in my apartment and sure enough, I did. So, I will be sending that along this week.

Saturday night, I read through parts of my novel after not having looked at it for over a year and not to be boastful or anything, but I thought, "damn, this is really good! It needs to be published." Seriously! I've never felt more passionate about anything in my life than I do about this novel and the importance of it. I believe it makes a statement about what it really means to be a man and I cover so many ideas in there, but the plot structure is pretty strong. It took me years to develop the story idea. The original idea was sparked in November 1989. I didn't start writing it until December 2000. I finished it in December 2004. I edited it down three times in 2005. I've been seeking an agent ever since.

What is this novel about, you ask? Well...in a nutshell, I wanted to write a coming of age story based on my life. Basically, an idealistic teenager is struggling to make sense of the world in a time when the old ideas are falling apart at the end of the Cold War. Through an inspiring teacher, who turns out to be an atheist activist, he learns a lesson in tolerance that he carries into his Naval enlistment when confronted with issues of patriotism, human sexuality, and the meaning of loyalty. With this novel, I wanted to connect the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s with the military's homophobic hysteria of the 1990s. What does it mean to be a man and what is homophobia all about? When I was in the Navy, if you mentioned having a tolerance for homosexuals, people automatically questioned your orientation.

At the same time this was going on, the Navy was under scrutiny for the sexual harassment of female aviators at a Las Vegas convention in 1991. What is it about the male gender that can be sexually aggressive towards women on one hand, while being absolutely paranoid that some gay guy will rape them in the showers or their racks at night? What is manhood all about?

Anyhow, that's what my novel covers. I think it reads pretty quick for 570 pages. But I understand that its a hard sell for a first novel to be so long. Most agents and publishers look at the 300 page range, which the novel I want to write next will have no problem being because I want to write a simpler story that focuses on two individuals, which is taken from an experience I was aware of as a teenager and felt a personal connection to. However, I have resisted writing this one because of the dark content (it deals with a serial killer who befriends a lonely teenage boy in search of a father figure). Not that I'm afraid to write dark content...it's just that I'm aware how energy works and with my focus on finding a new job, I need to be as upbeat and optimistic as possible. Writing that first novel of mine really brought up a lot of issues I dealt with in the Navy, so it was emotionally exhausting (but I also had a spiritual experience upon completing it like you wouldn't believe). I love writing, but it uses up a lot of energy, which I need to attract the right job opportunity into my life. I feel really close to that possibility right now, so I can afford to wait on this writing project for a couple more months.

My ideal life is to be a novelist. If not a best-selling literary one, then at least one that makes enough money for the publishers to keep them wanting to publish my next one. My goal is to have a published novel every two years (I would not be like Stephen King or James Patterson who put out several books a year or even like Nicholas Sparks and John Grisham, who publish one per year). There are eight stories I'd like to work on, all literary in design. The first one is about the Navy. The second one, I already mentioned. The third will be about a CIA agent who learns in the spiritual realm that everything he worked for and believed in was a lie, so he has to pay the price in his next life by chosing characteristics and situations that repay the karmic debt. The fourth one will be a courtship and dating story based on old courtesan tales from the medieval ages, but set in the modern day. I'm excited to start working on all of them, but it's hard when my main priority is to land a new job. Looking for work is a full time job in itself, but I'm not going to quit until I land a new job. Once that happens, then I can finally put to rest the 26-month long job search and focus my free time on writing my next novel as I continue to submit my first novel to agents.

Life would be so much easier if I didn't love to write and have this burning desire since I was in elementary school to be a novelist someday. It's the vision for my life that never dies, even though the statistics are against you and there are many writers out there who feel the same way about their works. We are in competition for fewer and fewer readers, who have more and more distractions (video games, DVDs, iPods, Internet, Twitter, BlackBerries). America used to be more literary before the onset of the 1960s, I think. When you think about Kerouac being hounded by groupies in a way that rockstars are now, it's difficult to think of any writer today that would get such attention. I've been in plenty of homes where I did not see a single book or even a bookcase. Hard to imagine, especially for a guy like me, when people's first comments about seeing my place is to mention the amount of books I own. Yeah, its an addiction. But, I'm a writer and that's my life. Wouldn't want it any other way.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Music Video Monday: Gary Jules

For this week's music video selection, I decided on a song that is in the running to end up as my favourite song of this decade: "Mad World" by Gary Jules. The song was featured in the film Donnie Darko. The brilliance in the song is that Jules improved upon Tears for Fears upbeat version, making it a more haunting and thus memorable version. I simply cannot listen to it enough. I always get chills when I listen to it.

A couple years ago, at a YAPS retreat in a cabin in the Snoqualmie National Forest, we had a special service where this song was played and we reflected on the darkness in our own lives. It still remains as one of the most memorable weekends I've ever been a part of and I was especially pleased to know that other young adults in my church have taken to this song.

I hope you listen and enjoy.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bromance and Breastaurants

Friday night, I went to see I Love You, Man because I needed to see a good comedy for once. For weeks, I've been in the mood to watch a truly hilarious comedy...a laugh out loud til it hurts so bad because I can't stop laughing kind of comedy. The other night, I was hoping Happy-Go-Lucky would be that film, but I didn't laugh once. Despite an interesting premise (a perpetually happy lady who annoys everyone she comes into contact with), it was more "Crappy-Go-Sucky" than anything else, which confirms to me that British humour is so not my humour. Never liked Monty Python movies either. The last funny movie I saw was Tropic Thunder, but it wasn't as funny as I'd hope it would be (I only thought Robert Downey, Jr., Tom Cruise, and Matthew McConaughey were hilarious). Where are the funny movies like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Down With Love, I Heart Huckabees?

I Love You, Man is billed as the first "bromantic comedy." I'm not sure who coined the term "bromance" but I first heard it a couple years ago on Big Brother All Stars, when winner of season 2, Will Kirby (the evil genius) educated housemates (and the audience) about the differences between "bromance", "romance", and "ho'mance." We all know "romance" (or think we do), but "bromance" is the kind of mutual admiration and love that straight men have towards each other (think George Clooney and Brad Pitt, with all their mutual admiration for each other and constant ribbing over which one has been selected by People magazine's Sexiest Man of the Year issue). "Ho'mance" is nothing more than a booty call that won't lead to a relationship.

The premise of I Love You, Man is simple. Paul Rudd plays a guy who is a serial monogamist. Since adolescence, he has been in one committed relationship after another. He's a "girlfriend guy" who doesn't have a single male friend. Yes, there are actually guys like this. My sister fell for a guy in college who didn't have male friends and basically treated my sister as his "guy friend" to confide in, which confused my sister. It's pretty sad, actually. I believe it's important for people to have same gender friends. One article I read in Time magazine about actor Paul Rudd and this film, the writer claimed that men are biologically programmed to ditch friends after marriage, not gain them. As much as I want to disagree with it, I can't...because I've seen too many friends disappear after marriage. I don't understand this because I don't see women ditch their female friends after marriage. Women are better at maintaining friendships while men seem to let friends go and focus completely on their wives. I have a theory that doing this is part of what causes the midlife crisis, which can turn men into assholes as they dump their wives for younger versions and a convertible. There's nothing wrong with having a male best friend after you're married. Men and women think differently and interests may not coincide on everything.

In the film, Paul Rudd's character is so clueless about how to strike up conversations with other men that he has to get advice from his gay brother, who knows the difference between striking up a friendly conversation versus sending the wrong signals. Throughout the film, Rudd has an easy way with women and seems to prefer their company. His sensibilities tend towards the female side (his favourite day is snuggling with his girlfriend, watching Chocolat). He bungles male bonding moments at a poker game during guy night, or tries to act like James Bond and gets the facts wrong, such as margarita instead of martini.

The reason he's searching for a guy friend? After proposing to his girlfriend and later overhearing her tell girlfriends that she doesn't know who will serve as Best Man and Groomsmen for her Maid of Honour and Bridesmaids, he decides to actively search for a guy friend. Thus, the film follows the formula of a romantic comedy (with a cast of quirky sidekicks) and you can count on gay jokes (Paul Rudd had a funny repartee with another character in The 40 Year Old Virgin as they tried to one-up one another in the whole "Know how I know you're gay?" jokes). There are some good laugh out loud moments, situations that ring true in my own experience with male friendships over the years and being on two all male ships in the U.S. Navy. Gay jokes are a part of guy humour. Male camaraderie might be hard for women to understand, because men and women are different in how they approach same gender friendships.

For example, when I visited one of my best friends Nathan ten years ago and met his girlfriend (who has been his wife for almost nine years now), she was shocked by how we spoke to one another. He and I have playful riffs on each other and when we fell into our routine, she thought we were rude to each other. When we explained to her that this is how we talk to one another, she looked surprised and then said, "with my friends, we just hug!" Later, when it was just Nathan and I, he mocked her statement to me, because he thought it was hilarious.

When I was in the Navy, my second ship had a crew that was 30% female. After being on an all male ship for my first year and a half, I was excited for the dating opportunities of a mixed gender ship. Still, I had the male camaraderie thing going and I was shocked when I heard a girl say that she wished she was a guy because she liked how guys acted with one another. I thought that was an odd thing to say because I've never heard a guy wish that he was a girl. The genders are different, and that's okay. Some guy humour can be a bit too crude even for my liking, but what is it about guy culture? A few years ago, a female co-worker in Atlanta told me that she didn't like watching The Bachelorette show on TV because the guys were so drama free and seemed to get along with one another like it was a fraternity. She preferred The Bachelor shows because she loved seeing the jealousies and cattiness among the women. I've heard other women say that they hate working with other women because of the cattiness. I've worked in all male environments and now work in a majority female environment. Both have pluses and minuses. I fall in the in-between...where I am equally bored by sports talk and by shopping talk. Neither are very interesting to me, thus why I easily fall for a woman who talks international politics. I love substance, not frivolity.

As for camaraderie, the reason homophobia is rampant is because guys show affection in ways women might find odd, but there's a fine line. Guys need to feel safe that the way we show affection towards one another is not mistaken for something else. That's why there are plenty of gay jokes in male culture. Nothing freaks guys out more than having your camaraderie mistaken for something more than just that. There's a reason why the military believes that homosexuals undermine unit cohesion and morale, though I think the attitudes are gradually changing with each generation. The term "bromance" shows that a new breed of male has emerged: one comfortable in his masculine and heterosexual identity not to worry how people interpret his camaraderie with other men.

I Love You, Man is a good film with some laugh out loud moments, but I was hoping for something a little more real and less formulaic. I had a hard time buying the idea that the two men in the "bromance" would actually be friends. Paul Rudd, however, did remind me a lot of my roommate in Washington, D.C. (who has disappeared into his marriage, which I kind of thought he would). I guess some guys are completely satisfied having just one friend who is their everything (best friend, wife, lover). On the flip side, when I was in the Navy I knew a guy who still acted like he was single even though he was married (to a gorgeous lady) and basically referred to her (among the guys) as "in house pussy." I thought that was disrespectful and a bad motive for marriage. I wasn't surprised when they divorced. There is a balance, I believe. I would not be the type to have a weekly guy night but I would not want to give up having male friends either. I like balance. Balance is good. Both scenarios (frequent guy nights vs. abandoning all male friends) seem too extreme and unhealthy.

Shifting gears slightly, Nightline a couple weeks ago talked about a restaurant trend that has been booming in these tough economic times. They call it "Breastaurants." It started with Hooters, where busty women have a preference in hiring and have to wear the standard uniform of a tight T-shirt and bright orange shorts. On my last ship in the Navy, the guys would debate whether or not it was okay for Hooters to discriminate in its hiring practices. In the news at the time was a guy who filed a suit against the restaurant chain claiming discrimination. The guys I worked with held a party at Hooters and asked if I was going. I asked them if the food was any good, and when they said, "food is not the reason you go there!" I declined. What was the point? Perky cheerleader types who wouldn't give me the time of day outside of the premises acting fake so they could get a nice tip on bland food?

If there was a restaurant with an international lineup of females who approach my table and start telling me about what's going on in Uzbekistan, I would be all over them in a heartbeat! The way to my heart is through my brain and I love it when women tell me something I don't know about our world (celebrity gossip shit doesn't count). A restaurant like Hooters that serves its waitresses as mere meat for male customers is degrading for both genders. Yet, its one of few restaurants that has seen an increase in customers in the economic downturn. Nightline sought to explain it. Basically, guys of all ages like flirting with pretty young things but its the oldest trick in the book. Women know how to manipulate money out of men's wallets and into their own. There's nothing wrong with flirting, but when I know I have zero chance with the lady and she's only being friendly to garner a nice tip, that's a game I don't play.

I thought Hooters was a unique phenomenon...one of those Southern redneck contributions to the degrading of our culture, but according to Nightline, there are two other Texas-chains along the same theme. One of them was named after the 1990s television drama Twin Peaks, complete with plaid tops and cherry pie. I'll admit that I would actually like to eat there, since I watched a few shows in the spring of 1990. Though it's not connected to the show, I think its hilarious that someone decided to take on Hooters' unique niche and all of them are doing well in these difficult times. Men are easily entertained, I guess. It's sad that our society continues to promote physical perfection over a developed mind as an ideal. Why is intelligence so hard to find? Staring at a waitress's bustline might make a nice fantasy over chicken wings, but I know enough to know that she won't be going home with me after her shift, so why spend my money there? I'd rather meet a lady at a political or cultural function and click in a way where ideas are exchanged, not money for service.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

No Way Back From Iraq

The past two years, on the anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, I participated in the Anti-War rally, which attracted 15,000 protestors in 2007, and maybe a little bit less last year. This year, I have no idea if they are having it, for the groups that sponsored it the past two years haven't sent around emails or posted flyers. I'm not surprised. With Bush no longer in the White House, it would seem kind of weird to protest against Obama, who voted against the war resolution in the Illinois state legislature.

I'll be honest, though. The reason I participated in the Anti-War march through Portland was because I felt a need to do something to show my hatred of the Bush presidency. I know it's not a very Christian thing to admit or to feel, but I couldn't help it. I hated everything Bush represented and I hated his politics and foreign policy and disregard for the majority who voted against him in 2000. Then in 2003, he dismissed our European allies as "old Europe" just because they wouldn't support his war (the French know all about the folly of quagmire wars, since they endured Indochina and Algeria in the 1950s; and everyone with a brain would understand why Germany would be cautious about going to war). The millions of people around the world who marched against war on the eve of invasion was dismissed by Dickless Cheney as a mere "focus group." Pre-emptive wars doesn't sound like the kind of thing Jesus (Bush's favourite political philosopher, remember?) would do. So, in 2007, I made a great sign accusing Bush of being the fraud Jesus had warned about (taken from Matthew 7:24-29). Lots of people took my picture. Possibly even FBI agents. I'm sure it's in my personal FBI file somewhere in D.C.

I loved participating in the march through Portland. I felt a bond with the others. I enjoyed seeing the various homemade signs with the creative slogans. I saw the rallies as a healthy way to vent all my anger at the reckless and immoral and illegal administration. I participated to make a stand against the president I have hated since the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision that installed him into the White House. My feelings about the war in Iraq itself was mixed. Now that Bush is out of the spotlight and no longer in control of our country, I see no need to participate in any rally, if they even have one. Obama may be our president, but Iraq presents a serious problem for our country.

Though President Obama may want most of the troops out of Iraq by August 2010 (in time for his first mid-term election, where he's hoping to increase Democratic numbers in Congress), I just don't believe it's possible for one simple reason: I R A N. Simple logic tells you that we are committed to the security of the Iraqi government indefinitely. In 1980, a year after the coup that brought him to power, Saddam Hussein launched a brutal war against Iran that lasted eight years. Iran lost a generation of men in that war. Ayatollah Khomeini had said that making peace with Saddam in 1988 was "worse than poison." Now, if you are an Iranian who most likely knew a family member to have died in that war, would you want Iraq free to possibly raise up another dictator? It shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone that after the U.S. government knocked out Saddam's brutal regime, we essentially did Iran a favour (we also got rid of their other enemy, the Taliban, in their other neighbouring country of Afghanistan--which kind of makes you wonder if Bush and Cheney are secret agents of the Iranian government). From the perspective of the Iranians, Americans leaving Iraq next year is a GREAT THING. They will finally be able to get their revenge on Iraq for that brutal war by ensuring that the Iraqi government is controlled by Shi'ite Muslims (which is the predominate faith of Iran and Iraq, as opposed to the Sunni Muslims, who were favoured by the secular Saddam, and who make up the majority in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in the Persian Gulf region).

For this reason alone, I am opposed to the U.S. leaving Iraq anytime soon. I know it's the complete opposite of most Americans. I was against the war in 2003 because of the weak case Bush made for war and the law of unintended consequences (which is the idea that things never turn out the way you plan, because you set a chain reaction in motion that might boomerang back to the originator in a disasterous way that makes things worse off than before). Most Americans supported the war because the Republicans knew how to sell it ("we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud"). Americans are a fickle, flaky lot. We are supposed to ask tough questions and really tear apart the rationales for war to expose the president's true motives. At least, that's what Republicans did when it was Clinton in the White House who was trying to sell Americans on war in Kosovo. When it's a Republican president, though, questioning his motives is considered treasonous. Even the mere suggestion that they were motivated by obtaining control of Iraqi oil fields was considered preposterous and not worthy of debate. That hypocritical double standard is the prime reason why I hate the Republican Party with a passion and hope that they never be allowed to run our government again. I want them to go the way of the Whigs...into the dustbin of history (its time to revive the Federalist Party, made up of corporate capitalists types and create a separate party for the fundamentalist wackos, thus guaranteeing that they'll be minority status for the far forseeable future).

So, how do we solve the problem of Iraq? President Obama needs to convince "old Europe" to commit peacekeeping forces to the coalition Bush failed to assemble (token troops from minor countries hardly counts as a grand coalition like the one his father managed to put together in 1990-1991). I know that Europe will balk at sending any troops to Iraq, but this is where he can make a deal. The only way out of this situation is to put Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Ashcroft, Gonzales, and Perle on trial for international war crimes. Conservatives will cry treason, but who cares? They have no credibility anymore. It's easy to commit a country into an endless quagmire, much harder to exit. Iraq is like quicksand for our country. We sink deeper into the quagmire, but are we truly willing to risk an Iraqi-government controlled by the mullahs in Iran?

Since Bush and company put American in this tough position (not to mention wrecking our economy because of the tax cuts and borrowing money to pay for two costly wars), they should be sacrificed in order to bring our European allies into this nation building project. It's the only wise solution I can see, because if we allow Bush to get away with what he did to our country, a future president might see starting a war as a good way to increase his or her power. This is exactly what our Founding Fathers feared, thus why they included a clause for impeachment ("high crimes and other misdemeanors." Which is more serious to national security? Waging illegal war or getting a blowjob?) and why they put the power to declare war in the hands of Congress, not the presidency.

But, President Obama isn't going to do that. Bush and his cronies will get away with their crimes and the war now becomes Obama's problem. Mark my words, though. We will not be leaving Iraq in August 2010. You can quote me on it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Flashback Friday: Biloxi Blues

Since today marks an important anniversary date in my life (the day I went to Basic Training in 1991), I decided what better film review for this week's Flashback Friday than the film I watched in preparation for my boot camp experience.

I learned in Basic Training that many of the other guys watched Full Metal Jacket to prepare themselves for experience, thus they had a completely different mindset going in than I did.

People always laugh whenever I mention that Basic Training was the greatest experience of my life. Eighteen years later and the record still stands. Yeah, my internship for Vice President Gore and the BYU Washington Seminar experience runs a very close second, but its just hard to beat what I consider my liberation experience. Oh, the irony! I found personal freedom in the very place where we didn't have any freedom or privacy for nine weeks.

I had enlisted in the Navy on June 19th, 1990 and wanted to ship off to basic at the latest possible date, which was in mid-May of 1991. I wanted enough time to prepare myself mentally and physically. After I went on my first solo trip across country for three weeks (via Greyhound) in January 1991 to visit my best friend Nicholas in Omaha and my grandparents in Atchison, I knew I was ready to leave for basic as soon as possible, so I asked to move the date up. March 20th was the soonest I could go, which worked out well. When my company was in the last week of training in mid-May, I remember looking at the incoming new recruits with their full head of hair and civilian clothes and thinking, "that would be me right now if I hadn't switched!"

To prepare myself mentally, I read books about guys experience in Vietnam (the only military books available), including the "Letters Home from Vietnam" to get an idea of what it was like in the military. I talked to my dad and uncles about their boot camp experiences. My crazy fundamentalist Christian uncle's advice? "Don't drop the soap!" Har-har, he's such a comedian.

What really captivated me in the late summer and fall of 1990 was a book of Neil Simon's play, Biloxi Blues, which I bought and read, before deciding that I had to see the movie. I found an off-rental copy for sale at Blockbusters and bought it. The film came out in 1988 but I don't remember hearing about it in theaters, so I missed out. I've seen only a few movies that take place in Basic Training (The D.I., Stripes, Private Benjamin, and one made for TV movie in the early part of this decade) but none come close as Biloxi Blues to what I experienced. From reading the play and watching the film version, I immediately identified with the character played by Matthew Broderick. He kept a journal that gets him in trouble when others discover it and read the unflattering remarks he wrote of the other guys. I saw this as a warning for my own journal writing. Yes, I did take a blank book with me to Basic Training and I tried to keep up with it every day. At the end of the experience, I had my company mates sign in the back and its one of those things that I treasure reading back over.

Matthew Broderick is hilarious in Biloxi Blues. I love his wit and aspire to be just as witty. However, his comments often got him in trouble with the drill instructor. One of the important lessons I learned from this movie that prepared me well for my own basic training experience was the mind game the drill instructor (or company commander) plays on the recruits. To create division and discord, the D.I. (or CC) will punish the entire company for the mistakes of the individual, while exempting the offending individual from the punishment. Since I knew going in that this tactic would most likely be used, I didn't fall into the resentment trap like others guys did. I just went along with it as part of the game.

What amazes me about this movie is how timeless it is (a sign of a classic). Even though its set during the World War II era, the interactions of guys haven't changed much. The issues they faced were the same ones we faced in 1991 (race, religion, obsession with ratting out the homosexual). Christopher Walken as the Drill Instructor is a brilliant bit of casting (I love the unique way he speaks). While the film does a great job for most of its story, plot and running time, I thought the resolution was kind of weak. It's almost too predictable that someone ends up going crazy and probably a cliche. But, oddly enough, in my own basic training company, one guy did go crazy and another guy ate suntan lotion in a lame attempt to commit suicide.

Maybe basic training is a rite of passage meant to weed out the weak. As this film shows and my own experience testifies, it really is a mind game. The rules are simple...don't stand out. Individualists were made an example of but those who can blend in and put their individuality on hold for nine weeks will do fine. I'm grateful that I had this film to mentally prepare me for my experience. I'm also glad that I kept a faithful journal. It's such an awesome experience to relive as I read what I wrote 18 years ago. Listening to the music from that era also helps, and the songs I most associate with that experience are Extreme's "More Than Words" (a company mate's girlfriend had sent him a cassette single of that song and it became a company favourite) and Wilson Phillips' "The Dream Is Still Alive."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A I G Stands for American Institution of Greed

Above is a photo of me with the Wall Street Bull on Broadway in Manhattan, from 2002. If you notice, my right hand is a fist. I made that gesture because of what I think of capitalists...which isn't much. That doesn't make me a commie, though. I'm not a fan of "systems" and the problem with our country is that because we went through decades of "anti-communism hysteria", too many Americans think capitalism, as a complete opposite, is the only economic system to have.

The brilliance of capitalism is that it has instilled in our country the idea that any American might get rich someday, thus why so many Americans vote against their own economic interests. This belief that they might be rich some day and not want to be taxed on their future wealth leads many to vote in favour of the arguments made by the wealthy class, who end up laughing all the way to their off-shore bank accounts and tax shelters. Do you think the wealthiest of Americans (the tiny minority that they are) want everyone to be rich?

A friend had forwarded me an email that has been circulating. I laughed when I read it because it was an update of a flyer I saw being passed around shortly after Clinton got elected in 1992. Basically, the email is written from the point of view of some business man who is objecting to the increase in taxes. The letter tries to make the case for why increase in taxes will hurt our economy. It ends on a childish taunt familiar with anyone who has been on a playground. The businessman claimed that if we allow the Democratic president to raise taxes on rich people like him, he will just take his money and leave the country. That means no creation of new jobs in the USA. Doesn't it sound like a childish rant? "I can't get my way, so I'm taking my toys and going home!" All because they don't want to share.

Newsflash! Trickle down economics DOES NOT WORK! How many times does our country have to go through this painful lesson to have it ingrained? If you cut taxes on the wealthy class and give more money to them, the money DOES NOT reenter the economy in the form of job creation. The wealthy class generally takes that extra money and either invest it in the market, put it into tax-free shelters in Caribbean banks, or buy luxury vacations in exotic locations or other luxury goods. They aren't going to use the money to hire more people, which is how to grow the economy. It's all selfish indulgence, because rich people don't want any more people to join their ranks. They want a kind of future that our planet has seen too much of throughout history: a tiny minority of wealthy people and a large poverty class. It's all about power.

While this system that has created so many wealthy people is far better than the alternatives (feudalism and communism), it is also so corrosive that it can undermine any ideology (including tightly controlled dictatorships, Islamic-influenced societies, and even Christianity). However, capitalism has finally met its match that it won't be able to vanquish like the others: the sustainability of our planet. The mindless consumption has hit a brick wall in the past few years. Economists and environmentalists say that if every person on the planet lived the average American lifestyle, it would take FOUR planet earths to sustain such resource depletion. Since we don't have four planets like ours to rape and pillage, that means only few options: reducing our consumption based lifestyle or mass genocide through more wars and other horrific actions. I don't know about you, but changing our lifestyle to be more in line with our planet's resources is the only viable option.

Though I've never been a fan of capitalism for as long as I remember, it wasn't until earlier in this decade that I came up with a word that defines the kind of economic system I would like to see replace capitalism. It's not socialism, because as good of an idea as socialism is, it still presents its own unique problems (such as how Europe's declining birthrate will strangle the socialist economy in a matter of years). The new economic system I propose to replace capitalism is: ETHICONOMICS. Basically, it would address what capitalism does not: a focus on ethics as the bottom line. Capitalism is a morality-free system. Greed has become the operating principle.

We saw this earlier in the decade when Enron went bust. It's funny...when that Bush-connected company filed for the largest bankruptcy in history, the feeling I had at the time was that the same thing would happen to our country when Bush got through with it. In case you can't remember the details of Enron, basically, the executives lied about the financial health of their company and encouraged employees to invest in their company's stocks for their 401k. The executives moved money around from account to account to hide quarterly losses and make it look like they were always gaining until the bubble burst. Where did the money go? Well, executives like Lay, Skilling, and Fastow were living large. Can you say "corporate looting"? To make quick money to cover losses, Enron manipulated the energy supply in California, which caused rolling blackouts that inconvenienced millions of people (can you imagine driving in Los Angeles when traffic lights couldn't operate for hours during designated "black out" periods?). That's the problem with greedy people...they don't care who gets harmed so long as they get rich. And the beauty of our country is that many of the people affected by their greed actually vote the way these wealthy criminals want them to vote!

Now, AIG is the latest company to come under fire because they requested the federal government to bail them out and news has come out that over $130 million of that money has been used to pay about 78 people bonuses that the company executives said that they were "contractually obligated" to pay (or risk lawsuits). What is wrong with that picture? All our government has to tell them is that they will not take bonuses from the government bailout or else face an IRS audit and jail time. If liberals in the Bush era could be accused of "treason" for not supporting his expensive and unnecessary war, why is it not considered treason when people basically loot the U.S. Treasury and companies, causing untold damage to our economy and millions of Americans? The capitalists who brought our economy to ruin are TRAITORS and if we had the kind of passion that the French people had in their revolution, the guillotine would be rolled out for massive "heads are going to roll" form of instant justice.

The problem I have with all these corporations that asked the government for bailout money is that when times were good, they balked at paying taxes and sought to hide as much of the money in offshore accounts as they can (Cayman Islands in the Caribbean is a notorious tax shelter for American capitalists who don't want the government to get its cut). A phrase I read somewhere sums it up perfectly: "Privatizing the profits, socializing the debt." What that means is that these capitalists greedily reap the profits for their own personal benefit, but when their company needs the government's help in order to stay in business, then they want the tax monies. Anyone see anything wrong with that picture? Let's put it back into the childhood playground scenario. Imagine a spoiled rich kid who brings his fancy and expensive toys to the sandbox to show off to the other kids. He won't share his toys and won't even let the other kids touch them. All they can do is watch him play with his toys and be impressed by the fancy devices that light up and make sound effects. Imagine that something happens where the toys get stolen or destroyed. Now imagine the greedy, selfish brat wanting the other kids he taunted to share their toys with him or even to pay for the replacement of his fancy toys! Would that fly?

My message to the person who wrote that letter that's being circulated on the Internet as well as to the AIG executives who are stealing from the people's money so they can maintain their lavish lifestyle: you don't deserve a single penny of the bailout. If you want to cry and take your wealth elsewhere, go ahead. Your citizenship should be stripped away so you will never be allowed to vote again and you should be barred from ever stepping foot in our country. Go live in some developing world country, where the infrastructure is poor. Yeah, you might have a fancy mansion with a security gate and a few guards in your employ...but in a few years, you'll grow to appreciate the kind of infrastructure our country has developed through the taxes we pay.

A true patriot is someone who wants to see this country be the best in everything in the world, and that includes standard of living for all 300 million Americans, not just the obscenely wealthy few.

There is nothing wrong with wealth, if you use it properly (like Bill and Melinda Gates, for one example). The privilege of having amassed such a large amount (more than what any person truly needs to live a good life) means that a giving back to the community is expected.

I've read that wealthy people tend not to be religious and maybe many of them don't believe that there is an afterlife. If that is the case, I can understand why they feel a need to amass as much wealth and luxuries as possible. They have created their own heaven in the here in now (but damn everyone else to hell). One of my favourite passages in the New Testament was Jesus telling a rich young ruler to give all he has to the poor and follow him. The rich man turned and walked away. Jesus told his followers that it was difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Why would he say this if it were not true? What did he mean by this? My interpretation is that too many wealthy people have fallen prey to idoltry and betrayed their humanity. When they become more concerned with protecting their properties instead of the plight of fellow humans in need, it is a sin.

That's why I have little sympathy for the wealthy class. I want a fair government that looks after the poor and middle class. Let's face it, the rich don't need government. They can afford anything they want, such as medical care. But looting our national treasury so they can buy lear jets to fly to exclusive tropical resorts around the world and live in well guarded mansions with exotic cars...they have no sympathy from me in these economic times. I'd like to see extensive IRS audits of everyone who made gobs of money in the Bush era. They should face prison terms and have their properties seized by our government for public auction. It's time to make GREED the dirty word it is and to make famous more people like the guy Obama had pointed out in his address to Congress last month. That guy accepted a buy out of his bank and split the $60 million profit (if I remember correctly) to all of his employees and even former employees (it amounted to $150,000 per person). That's the kind of people we should honour. He is someone who values community and someone I would love to work for (his employees are so loyal that they stayed in the job even after receiving that generous gift).

I don't know what AIG stands for, but from now on, I'll only know it as "American Institution of Greed." I hope this culture of selfish indulgence will fade into obscurity like the president who supported it, and that in the Obama era, we see a renewal of shared values of ethics and honour. Yes, it is time to transform the pettiness of capitalism into an ETHIConomy. A new day is dawning and whose side are you on?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Am a Powerful Being

As I pondered the post I wrote last Saturday about the former friend who thought I was susceptable to joining a cult because I admired Democratic politicians, I just shake my head that she thinks that of me. All because she put me in the category of "searcher" based on my interest in reading New Age spiritual books, my interest in attending other churches and religious services, and my decision to go to BYU. I suppose that my open-mindedness looked to her as someone who hasn't "found himself" yet, because searching is seen as unstable.

However, in the books I've read, if you aren't constantly searching for a better idea or a better experience or a better way of being, you are stagnant. For me, being "stagnant" is the worst feeling in the world. So, I don't see searching as a bad thing. And just because I'm always searching for the next spiritual idea I haven't discovered yet doesn't make me vulnerable to a charismatic cult leader.

I've thought about all the times in life when my strong sense of self made itself apparent. In Kindergarten, I remember that the cool thing to do was put Elmer's glue on your tongue. All the kids were doing it. They tried to get me to do it, but I passed. I thought it was dumb.

In Second Grade when my family lived in Pennsylvania, my class learned about geography. Mrs. Smith told the class that Kansas City was the capital of Kansas. Since I just moved from Kansas and learned about Kansas history in the First Grade, I knew the real answer was Topeka. When I shared this information with the teacher, she insisted that it was Kansas City. The kids at my table all marked Kansas City on their maps, while I put down Topeka. I tried to get the other kids to mark Topeka as the capital but they didn't believe me. The next day, Mrs. Smith apologized to me in front of the class and said that I was correct. Topeka was the capital and Kansas City was the largest city. I corrected her again. Wichita was the largest city in Kansas. Kansas City, Missouri is larger than Kansas City, Kansas.

At church camp in Iowa in the mid-1980s, the cool thing to do was make each other pass out by pushing each other's diaphram up (I don't even know if I'm saying that right). The teens tried to get me to do it but I felt that there was something wrong about it so I refused. I was so alarmed, that I told adults so they could put an end to it.

In the sixth grade, I stood up to the class bully when no one else would. He wanted to pierce my ear with a safety pin and I refused. I fought a kid on the playground who brought a Chinese throwing star to school (violation of school rules) and threatened people with it.

When other boys listened to heavy metal music and flirted with Satanism in the 6th and 7th grades, I stayed clear of that without my parents having to tell me anything. They weren't even aware it was going on and I knew enough that I didn't need their guidance on that.

In Germany, on a class field trip to Nuremberg to visit the famous Christkindle Market, some classmates got drunk on wine. One of the boys sat next to me and reeked of alcohol and wouldn't shut up the whole ride home. I complained to the German teacher who was the chaperone about having to sit next to a drunken jerk, but she denied that he was drunk and my whole ride home was miserable.

Other teens tried to get me to smoke cigarettes in junior high, but it just wasn't for me.

In the evangelical youth group meetings that my father made me attend while we lived in Germany, the adult leaders continuously urged us to give up secular music in favour of crappy contemporary Christian music. It was a serious bone of contention with me, as I loved 80s pop and saw nothing wrong with it. I monitored the music I listened to myself, and stayed clear of groups like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne, etc. I didn't need anyone telling me what kind of music to listen to.

At youth rallies that I had to attend with the local group, they had moments where you "give your life to Christ" and they tried to pressure me into "becoming saved." I argued with them, saying that I was baptized already. They wanted to know what church and after I told them the full name (of the RLDS Church), they said it wasn't Christian, which insulted me so I refused to take part.

In Junior year, after the success of the play I was in, we had a cast party at one actor's house (who lived in my neighbourhood). Practically everyone was drinking and passing a joint around, but I declined, even though they tried to make me feel like the odd one for not participating.

In Senior year, I refused to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance, even though the other teens in class taunted me with accusations of being unpatriotic. Still, I stood my ground.

When I graduated, I wore my Batman imprinted Converse high tops as a sign of non-conformity (since the guys all looked alike in our green graduation garments) after one classmate had asked me not to embarrass the entire class by wearing them.

In Basic Training, the Company Commanders selected guys to be the Section Leaders (we had 6 different sections) and the one for my section was an ass who thought he could pick on me. I undermined his authority by making wisecracks that caused the other guys in my section to laugh. What I realized later was that my boldness in not being obedient emboldened them to not be obedient as well, thus why he got frustrated and wrote a resignation letter to the Company Commanders, which they then read to the entire company in mocking terms. The next section leader chosen for my section was cool and I did nothing to undermine his authority until he kept on touching me, even after I told him not to. After a few times, I had had enough and just started yelling obscenities at him and calling him a faggot until he got so embarrassed that he never touched me again. Weeks later, people in the company were still calling him a faggot and joking about his possibility of being gay. Another guy thought he could pick a fight with me and when I unleashed a torrent of obscenities in his face, he left me alone for the rest of the time we were in basic training.

In the Navy, guys tried to influence me to drink all the time (I did have a few episodes of drunken debaucheries, but they weren't as frequent as most other guys), go to prostitutes, get tattoos, hang out in the seedy side of the towns we visited, and rat out gay guys...but I simply refused to take part.

Mormons in Italy and Mormons at BYU tried to get me to join their church, but I never did because certain questions they were unable to answer to my satisfaction. For me to be convinced by any idea, it has to make logical sense, and most religions are inconsistent. In my mind, reincarnation is the only thing that makes logical sense, but that took many years before I would accept it as the most likely scenario for the spiritual process God has set up for our advancement.

I have chanted with the Hare Krishnas, meditated with the Buddhists, prayed with the Muslims, partaken the Passover seder with Jews, listened to the Sikhs, accepted fire from the Hindus, attended an audience with Pope John Paul II in Vatican City, and visited various Christian denominations in my lifetime. Have I left the church of my father and grandmother? I am fifth generation member and loyal to my core.

Yes, I search for spiritual ideas outside my faith tradition.

Yes, my views might be considered too New Agey for some members.

Yes, my views might be considered too Buddhist for some members.

Yes, my views might be considered too Mormon for some members.

But I am an independent agent exercising my free will to believe that which makes sense to me, while discarding the stuff that does not. Some call it "salad bar spirituality" while others call it "cafeteria Christianity." So what? We have to believe the ideas that make the most sense to us, and there isn't a single religion out there that I agree with 100%. I choose to maintain my membership in the Community of Christ because it is my extended family. We don't abandon our families because we disagree with the things they taught us growing up, do we? Community is all about commitment, even when we disagree.

When I was on my last ship in the Navy, a co-worker didn't understand why I did not like telling someone what to do. He said that this would become a problem if I ever became a First Class Petty Officer (E-6), because I would be a leading petty officer in a division. I already had some leadership tasks...such as leading the chemical weapons team during damage control drills. Did I know what I was doing? Hell no! When I was off to Basic Training, MEPS Atlanta selected me to be responsible for everyone's plane ticket and to lead them to the airport. It was about 6 of us, but she noticed that I wasn't up to the task.

My personality is such that I really don't like telling other people what they need to do. I'm not a believer in hierarchy and I often have a problem with people in management, particularly if they don't seem to care about morale issues or are so aloof from the office environment that they allow dysfunction to happen (as my current place of employment proves). I am more compatable with a "networking" type of co-leadership. It's the idea that people are equal and no one has power over anyone else. A true teamwork environment. Each one contributing to the success of the team or goal, based on their unique abilities.

So, considering all that I am...how on earth can someone even begin to worry that I might be prone to join some cult? I've never gotten along with authoritarian types. An example of this was in the 10th grade when I was on the Yearbook staff. The teacher who lead the staff suggested that I draw a cartoon falcon (our mascot) to use as the cover design for that year's yearbook. The staff (made up of students) liked my drawing. We voted on the cover design and my cartoon falcon won a clear majority of votes. It was set. Until the yearbook staff president, who was a senior, complained that "we have a falcon on the cover every year! This year I want something different." So, her desire overrode the majority. I was fuming mad. Had the staff rejected the cartoon falcon by majority vote, I could live with that decision, but to win the majority only to have one person overturn that vote simply did not sit well with my democratic mentality. Hmmm...no wonder why the 2000 elections made me so angry!

What do we know about cults? They are NOT democratic organizations at all. They are founded by a charismatic individual who holds the power over other people's lives. We see this pattern over and over. Jim Jones managed to convince a thousand Americans to abandon their lives in the USA to resettle in the jungles of Guyana in the late 1970s. A Congressional investigation led to a Congressman's death, which caused a panicked Jim Jones to tell his followers that the time had come to partake of the Kool-Aid of death. In the 1990s, we saw what happened with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. He ordered his married male followers to give up their wives to him, and they did. Again in the 1990s, a strange looking fellow named Herff Applewhite managed to convince his band of androgynous followers that it was time to eat some poisoned applesauce so that they could leave their human bodies to catch a ride on the Hale-Bopp Comet, where aliens were waiting to receive them.

What kind of person joins a cult? Usually insecure followers who lack any kind of trust in their own inner ability to live an independent life. Is that person me? The guy with a history of standing up to peer pressure, of battling with ego-maniacs, of being comfortable questioning ideas presented to me? Cults that require members to move to the commune and cut off contact with non-member loved ones just seem like hell to me. I hate being micromanaged in my current job, so why would someone think that I would tolerate having my entire day and life managed by some ego-maniacal control freak? I'm all about personal freedom and I always feel an urge to bolt after three years in a place (whether location or job). I love living alone and having my own place to come home to. Nope, no cult risk here.

This lady who was once part of Jeffrey Lundgren's group, I can see how she might fall under someone's charismatic sway. She's obsessed with doctrinal truth and I've heard her say negative things about the leaders of the world church. She believes that they are too liberal and moving away from scriptural authority, so of course some lunatic who can quote scriptures backwards and forwards might sweep her away from the mainstream church. It was Lundgren's knowledge of scripture that first impressed her. She did notice, little by little, that he would twist things just a tiny bit so followers wouldn't notice. The whole "frog in a slowly boiling pot of water" scenario. I don't know what finally convinced her to get out, but she did before the whole thing turned deadly in 1989.

I've never been impressed by someone's "scriptural knowledge." When I worked at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Atlanta in 1997, one guy who worked there was always reading the Bible. He took breaks for 15 minutes of every hour and when he wasn't on break, he would preach to you what you were doing wrong. It annoyed the hell out of our supervisor, but I thought it was hilarious. I would seek creative ways to break through his religiosity by asking him things like "what does the Bible say about taking breaks all the time?" I guess I've seen too many religious kooks that someone preaching the Bible or showing scriptural knowledge simply doesn't impress me much. To me, it doesn't matter if you don't believe in God or if you do. The only thing that matters to me is how you behave. I value intelligence, moderation, humour, and an appreciation for the complexities of life. The tragic flaw with a lot of cult leaders and those who aspire to lead a flock (even the prosperity theologists of mega-churches), they are too serious and often lack a sense of humour. It's the sign of ego at play. A warning sign to stay away.

In evaluating my own life...I realize that I am a powerful being. I don't need to lead anyone or tell them how to think and believe. People have followed my example when I've shown courage to stand up to bullies and misguided leaders who abuse their authority. I have the ability to undermine authority in those who mishandle it. So, anyone who thinks that I'm some kind of pushover who can be talked into anything...you have no clue who I am and what I've done. I am more powerful than you think I am. My desire is to neither lead nor follow anyone. I will merely walk side by side with you as far as our interests coincide in our journeys through life. That's the approach we should all take in our faith journeys. To give away your power to another person is foolish. We need to guard our power and use it wisely in the pursuit of our own spiritual advancement. No cult leader is going to lead you there.