Friday, December 09, 2011

The costs of media's concocted political 'wars'

When historians write about the incivility of American politics in the early 21st Century, they need look no farther than this nation’s media.

Indeed they need look no farther the relatively staid Oregonian. Today’s front page will do. Here's the headline on a major story there:

ad wars
your TV

Cornilles and Bonamici
fire a fusillade of 1st
District commercials for
the holiday season

Here’s the story's lead, “The ad wars have started in Oregonian’s special congressional election, with plenty of hard-hitting political commercials in store for Portland-area voters over the holiday season.”

Sure, things may get nasty on your living room screen, but war? Targets? Fusillades?

Once again, the mainstream media roll out their tired old “war” metaphor to describe politics in this country.


On the front page, the story to the immediate right of this one tells of real war.

More Oregon soldiers home for Christmas
The Guard’s Mideast presence nears a 10-year low as Iraq War ends

Welcome home, the paper seems to be saying. Welcome home to another war. The one we at The Oregonian have created to tell the story of American politics. Perhaps you, soldier, would like to end this one too.

My advice is this: It’s easy. Just stop reading the newspaper...and watching TV.

Stay away from the message that democracy American style is as bad as war.

Perhaps we all should declare peace and have nothing to do with the "democratic" fighting. Funny thing is that most of the voting age population does just that.


Could it have to do with the desire for peace and civic sanity?

The problem is that if those who value peace and sanity turn their backs on democracy, who ends up running the country?

Answer: those who are infatuated by or profit from war. Those who control the media. Those whose being is defined by conflict, inflated egos and a distorted sense of patriotic superiority.

Meanwhile, the Occupy Movement, dedicated to non-violence, gets trashed by the politicians, the ones whom the media tell us are waging “war” with each other to get elected.

Mixed in with the Occupy crowds are the cast-off veterans of real wars, those life-destroying conflicts declared by the ruling class with its insatiable need for oil, power and third homes in the Bahamas.

Do I roam too widely here? Perhaps; perhaps not. I hope these thoughts and my anger take you beyond the headlines of this morning’s newspaper.

If only we could change the story line and the metaphors of tomorrow’s reporting and headlines.

Would someone in management at The Oregonian at least send around a memo to the headline writers. “Lighten up! We are talking about an election, not a bloody war.”

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Using City parks to respond to societal disaster

Strange. The City of Portland has named 17 parks where citizens are to gather in case of a major disaster.

In the same issue of The Oregonian that informed us of the opening of the parks, we learned that the City is sending the police to close a single park to Occupy Portland demonstrators.

The protesters are, in real sense, messengers and victims of a disaster happening now. And it is huge, affecting the “99 percent.” It has been going on for at least the last 30 years. For many it has been going on for centuries.

The disaster’s rubble and victims have been ignored in a society addicted to consumption, spectator-ism, false fear, enemy-making and growing debt.

Thanks to the Occupy movement, our eyes have been opened. We see the destruction everywhere — in the American political system, in the ravaged “no jobs” economy, in the shrinking middle class, in militaristic spending priorities, in the ravaged environment, in the inanities of a pandering media, and in a skewed system of “justice.”

On the day the articles appeared, Occupy said it would stay in a single park for two weeks. The police were ordered in to remove them after just a few hours.

In the case of a major “natural” disaster, like an earthquake, refugees would stay in 17 parks for an indefinite period. Will the police be sent in to remove them after two weeks?

The City’s disaster preparedness could be tested and put to work in this real, immediate American disaster by welcoming the Occupy movement. Rather than evicting the protesters, see whether they can be adequately cared for, housed and fed for a fortnight.

Greet and embrace the protest and its message with hospitality, not hostility. Acknowledge that we are today our system has produced a living disaster. In the communities formed in our parks, we must begin clear away its causes and rebuild.

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Monday, December 05, 2011

Leaping over a language barrier

All religious groups (and really all groups) suffer from unintended “language barriers.”

The problem goes beyond nuisance jargon and its resulting confusion — language “barriers” confine our thinking and our very being.

Take language barriers created by Quakers, for instance, a religious group I belong to.

Our language barriers for newcomers are considerable and even laughable. I’ll briefly share examples without trying to explain them.

What’s a “clerk”? Why is this Quaker meeting, which meets weekly, called a “monthly meeting”? Why do some Friends seem to shy away from the very word “God”? Does “Spirit” suffice? How do I learn “the manner of Friends”? What’s this business about quaking, anyway?

The list goes on and on.

More troubling are the barriers that our Quaker language creates for our own spiritual awareness and evolution.

Recently I’ve explored the problem as I’ve been preparing a presentation on the topic of “Quaker Language Barriers.” That preparation and a chance reading has led me to consider, or reconsider, a frequently cited tenet for Quakers:

“There is that of God (or the Spirit) in everyone.”

How often we Friends find ourselves turning to that core belief for clarity, understanding and grace. For me it has stood next to the testimonies (simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality) as fundamental.

It is at the heart of “love thy enemy.” “That of God in all” is where love begins.

Sure, I’ve stumbled over the “that of” part which doesn’t translate smoothly into modern English. Does “that of” mean “a part of”? I don’t think so. I take the entire sentence to mean that “God, or the Spirit, resides in us all.” The idea is similar to the notion that we are all God’s children. We human beings are inheritors of the divine spark.

And yet, with our “language barrier” in mind, I’ve been pondering and meditating over another quite different conception of who we are in relationship to Spirit and God. Rather than “that of God” being within you and me as individuals, suppose WE reside within Spirit or God. Or to take it one more step, what if “we” are parts of everything and “we” ARE Spirit? As Willigis Jäger writes in his book “Mysticism for Modern Times,” we are “representations of the whole” and “everything that happens to an individual part has an effect on the whole.”

Jäger speaks in terms of the “old paradigm,” which sounds not unlike our Quaker belief about “that of God" within us. The old paradigm, he says, has us “experiencing God within” us.

The new paradigm is that we ARE Spirit. “We are spiritual beings who have a human experience.”

There’s clearly much, much more to say about this, but now, for me, this is enough. I am trying to inhabit this paradigm, to feel myself as pure spirit that has happened to take human form.

As might be imagined, the silence of Quaker worship, like other forms of meditation, helps with my leap over the language barrier.

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