29 May 2017

Nietzsche - and Dilbert - Revisited

Insanity is rare in individuals. In large 21st-century organizations, it isn't just the rule: it's something they call global stability.

11 May 2017

Why Our Winning Formula Is Trump-Proof: A Tale of Two Anglospheres

Here's something I think I more or less grasp. But as is often the case, I may need some help in one or more areas.

What I've been noticing is a certain historiographic(?) tendency at work, in recent years, in the English-speaking world.

The tendency is for the last third of the Twentieth Century to really beat up on the first two-thirds. Or rather, more precisely, for certain educated people in our century, who read, study or are interested in history, to use the last third of the Twentieth as a stick (or at least a rod of comparison and correction?) with which to beat up on the first two-thirds. Almost as if the earlier part of the century had been everywhere, without exception, so very much stupider, and more evil, and in general more grossly inferior in every respect to the later part that - lo, the period 1900-1966 has virtually nothing at all to teach us wise hypermoderns. Except, of course, by way of negative example. In short, a true and brutal wasteland, from start to finish - and in ways that even dear old Father Eliot (our Age's literary founder?) could never have conceived, much less calculated.

And not just in the world at large. Or in admittedly awful places like most of Europe and Asia at the time. But even - and sometimes especially - in what is nowadays often called the Anglosphere.*

*And perhaps deservedly so? After all, if the penchant for, say, totalitarianism was bad enough in oppressed places like Germany, Russia, China and Japan, think how much worse - how much more insidious and deadly - it must have been in those Anglophone and other white imperialist countries whose oppression drove those poor Germans, Russians, etc, to such madness?

Now I realize that not every apparent bully is wrong. And sometimes the seeming victim fully deserves the beating he gets. All the more reason, it seems to me, why we should try and understand how much more racially, culturally, economically, sexually enlightened times like ours can feel tempted to look down on other eras that are less enlightened. And even feel amply justified doing so. And especially when the previous era's want of enlightenment makes it seem less productive, by today's enlightened standards. Or less efficiency-driven. Or less willing to assign, to those main drivers (as we all know today) of both innovation and customer satisfaction - namely, the Executive Management Levels of Business - a more deservedly central place in the human scheme of things.

So, at least, runs my understanding of the dominant rhetoric of our time. Now I also realize that any rhetoric - even of an official or mainstream kind - may be at best a very poor mirror of what's actually happening in a culture. At the same time, I think the official rhetoric often reflects pretty accurately what many or most people want to be happening in their culture. Or what they think or believe is happening. Or if nothing else, what they'd like other people to believe is happening.

Anyhow, here is the message I've been getting, concerning a principal difference between two historic Anglospheres: (1) that of our time - including that latter third of the Twentieth Century which, I would argue, we moderns have mostly inherited and maintained - and (2) that of the first two-thirds.

And I have yet to be convinced that the message is essentially wrong.

In the English-speaking world of roughly 1900-1966, business was generally understood to have a key place and a necessary function in society. So it was understood, I take it, by many if not most people - including not a few who disliked capitalism, or at very least thought it ought to be run differently (e.g., by the State, by workers' co-operatives, by management-labor boards, etc). Whereas in the period roughly from 1966 to more or less the present, it became almost axiomatic to most people - including many who didn't especially like or trust business - that the place of business was in fact everywhere. And particularly incorporated business. And that a progressive, dynamic, innovative society was one that did not so much understand business as having a key function within some larger social scheme, but rather understood itself - the society - as being but one of the many places, facets and functions of business.

In the first two-thirds of the century there arose an expectation that was to some extent fulfilled. The expectation was that business would use technology, innovation and growth (TIG) to correspond itself to, and to integrate its products ever further into, the lives, first of its customers, and then of consumers generally, in its host countries. Whereas in the final third of the century the expectation was almost diametrically the opposite. It became more and more widely assumed that business - and in particular global business - would use TIG (technology, innovation and growth) not only to conform but to integrate, first its immediate customers, and then consumers in general throughout the globe, ever more fully into the life, needs, procedures, schedules, products, etc, of business. Alpha and Omega, you know.

Now I'd like you to note two (2) chief points from what I've discussed. The first is beyond dispute. The second is - well, in any case it ought to be beyond dispute.

1) How much more globally egalitarian and non-discriminatory business has become in our time as compared to the earlier period. Because while it may be true that in the earlier 20th century business was expected to conform itself to its clientele, the fact is that the clients themselves were largely drawn from its host (i.e., mostly oppressive white imperialist) countries. Whereas in the period leading up to our time, the assumption is that business will naturally try to conform to itself customers and clients of every description throughout the globe, in a way that does not merely disregard, but overcomes, and indeed dissolves borders.

2) If you've been wondering why business - and our economic culture in general - has in our time become not only so much more dynamic, inventive, innovative and productive (than in that bad old barbarous earlier 20th century), but so much better at improving the real quality of life of both workers and consumers everywhere (and not just in places like China and India) - well, now you have your answer.

02 May 2017

The Road Back from Emmaus

While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.

Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
                                                                                       Luke 24: 15-24 (ESV)

Notice, the hardest road is always the one to Emmaus. We only know Jesus in the here and now, and what He has been to us in this only-too-limited, 3-years-or-so space of our puny lives. What we really don't know (in those immortal words, not of Luke, but of St John the Evangelist) is where He has come from. And from whom. So how could we possibly imagine - much less draw hope and solace from - where He's going to?

We - you and I, Cleopas and his companion - have only known Jesus as one adult among so many others, among all the rest of us, however exalted-yet-incredible that one unique Life. And that's the crux of our predicament. That's why no amount of tales of an empty tomb or a (surely?) grotesque resuscitated corpse could, even if true, ever be of any real comfort or reassurance to us: we haven't yet seen His whole Divinity, doing what it alone does best - imbuing, refreshing, revivifying the whole of His humanity, and ours. In order to know physically, sensibly (assuming it were possible) His entire God-in-manhood, we'd have to be able to see something like - I don't know, His entire human life? from conception to crucifixion? - simultaneously. But now suppose you had known Him from the very onset of His life, or indeed the very instant of His conception. Would that have given you what is in a sense the supreme faith, the knowledge that a Divine humanity is different? That it is Something so instinct with love as to be able to outlast, rebound from, overcome, defeat, even this unspeakable horror, that you saw with your own eyes just yesterday?

The question as I see it, then, is whether, if we had a certain Mother's kind of love, we would be able to believe through the nightmare of crucifixion, to the ecstasy of resurrection and ascension.

As usual, I can only offer my own opinion.

In a sense, origins are everything, because only they encompass everything that follows. In a sense, every oak is its acorn. Even redemption itself would fail to pierce us to the Chaucerian root, except that like its God it is retroactive, and so changes us wholly, in every room of the expanding house of our lives. Which is to include, of course, not just main and showcase rooms, but attic, cellar, larder, etc. To say nothing of those most exquisitely green, secret, shadowy surrounding grounds and pools (at least when their Gardener is allowed to breathe and rain on them). Redemption always accompanies us to our beginnings, because only from there does any thing move forward. Thank God we have a God to whom time is merely a point on a line that can be shifted at will. How else, indeed, are we going to grasp the totality of any creature (much more any creator), than by loving and knowing its first breath, its most vulnerable and receptive, its most longing, hungering, remembering point? So why the dismissal of infants? Why refuse them, of all creatures, Baptism?

We orthodox Christians confess the Incarnation. Which is to say, our God didn't choose to become and redeem only the pristine, complete humanity of Adam. Notice how He doesn't come barging in on us, Athena-like, as a full-grown, fully-wise adult; rather does He slip in largely unnoticed, He comes "all so still": an all-needy infant, a playful curious child, a difficult adolescent, with real, worrying parents. Jesus embraces the whole of Adam, not just as he came forth from God, but as he comes down to and from us. And so of course the Son encompasses, descends into, excavates, irrigates, cultivates our whole human nature not just at its Edenic pre-eminence, but at its most fallen lowliness, and its most infantine helplessness. Nor does He leave His Deity standing in the doorway (as we might imagine it) - tight-lipped, arms folded, tapping foot - but takes It with Him! through every furthest, most forgotten room, closet, passage-way, window and staircase. Jesus enters into, He immerses Himself in the "very least" of our humanity, so as to saturate every merest cell with no ordinary divinity, but One even we can digest.

Milk for babes, as they say, before there can be any question of solid food. But if the childhood of God leaves us cold, how are we ever going to warm to, embrace, digest, His maturity? If we can't the taste the savor, the riches, the abundance of His mere birth (or even His conception?), how will we ever stomach the poverty of crucifixion?

01 April 2017

Timeless Truths (except, of course, that this time is different)

Whatever other conditions your business may thrive under - all other factors being equal - it will surely thrive to the extent that it makes your customers happy.

Whatever else may make your customers happy, they will always be happier, to the extent they find your business a welcoming and comfortable place to deal with.

Whatever else you may want your business to project, it will always project welcome and comfort to the extent that it exudes friendliness, not just to your customers, but to those who serve them.

*                              *                              *                              *
Then again, what do I know? I'm just a stupid customer.

18 March 2017

A Beautiful Woman (at the end of the bar)

All those poets, storytellers, playwrights, etc,  who write with a straight face about how one's - anyone's - heart would break for the loveliness, they're right after all. There are real live Ophelias in this world, by whom only a Hamlet would be mad (or fool) enough not to be bewitched. There are also women - and by no means only Ophelias - of whom only one Lover is worthy, and whom only one Lover can satisfy, and in just one kind of Place (however much they may pretend otherwise, elsewhere, in the meantime).

And so of course I'd be lying if I told you I was even a small part of their answer. Or indeed anything remotely resembling the Question. But by the same token, if only they could know (even as I'm hardly the one to convince them) how much he . . . this . . . we (any of us) . . . definitely aren't . . .

16 March 2017

A Man and His Dog: A Love Story

Alright, so you've read my subtitle. But what do I mean by love?

I'd like you to picture the kind of fuss and worry, fret, strain, and all-round uptightness, that seems all but guaranteed to make the object of one's charity at least as burdened as the one being charitable. The kind of charity, in short, in which busy Man finds delight, playfulness and interest nowhere, and tedium, drudgery and obligation everywhere that Love turns His gaze. That, I think, is the most popular brand of unselfish love I see going on around me today. And not just towards dogs.

I mean, considering how it travails and torments itself, it must be unselfish, right?

15 March 2017

Jeffersonian Ironies; or, America Just Before Lincoln (and possibly beyond?)

"One has to admit, we Americans are a combatively independent bunch. A few not unprejudiced observers might even call us fractious. Those are the envious, the timid, the chumps. Not that they don't have a point. I mean, look how contentious and argumentative, and bitterly disagreeable, how 'Says you!' and 'Yeah right!', how 'Whaddaya mean?' and 'Like HELL it is!' we are. And not just about politics and religion, but about - well, practically anything you can think of. Including, I'm told, slavery. Which only means that, with our indomitable wills, both singly and collectively, why, we're the classic textbook definition of the word 'unstoppable.'

"So why even try stopping us? Because if we're not the one country - or, more precisely, the one culture, civilization, IDEA - most fit to rule the world, who is?"

Mind you, I'm not saying anyone actually spoke those literal words in Tocquevillean America. Only that our US history might have attained some breathtaking heights of self-honesty if they had.

But what is it that could produce and fuel such blithe confidence? Anyhow, here's a speculation:

Imagine everything in heaven and earth being as simple and straightforward as, well, the Declaration of Independence. Imagine there being nothing of real, abiding interest in human affairs to talk about (or even, strictly speaking, to think about); nothing to reflect on, or consider, or wonder at; nothing to discover, or explore, or be surprised by (whether pleasantly or otherwise), or enraptured with. Particularly if you're one big, dynamic, superior, human-tidal-wave of a country poised for serious overland expansion. There are no unexpected twists or turns, no strange curvatures of geography or history, no Burkean particularities to understand and accommodate, to be patient with or sensitive to. Indeed, there is no abiding truth - nothing we do or choose or undertake - that can't just as well be conformed to a straight or perpendicular line. Because, you see, it's all self-evident. Those (surely) are the only truths worth believing in, or acting on. And if all you can do is impose them on some stupidly recalcitrant reality (whether natural or human), all to the good. And if you find they can't be lightly interwoven into the pre-existing fabric, or gently seeded into the pre-cultivated soil, why, so much the better. Just slap 'em down, and steamroll 'em over.

I mean, what's the worst that can happen? The "stuff" beneath your feet, or beneath your plans, will either submit to your overriding, commanding, abstracting Will as if it ne'er had nature of its own. Or else it will change you (the Louisiana Purchase, the War of 1812), and all your plans and agendas (the spoils system, the Mexican-American Warthe Ostend Manifesto), beyond your every conceivable intention or expectation.

01 March 2017

Try Telling That to a Modern Economist

To believe the modern world, man's uttermost progress and improvement lie in his mobility: his unstoppable determination to be everywhere on earth that his ambition and the omnipresent demands of money take him. In today's globe, if you're not moving - constantly - you're either dead or dying. Or at best a pariah.

Wow. And to think the uttermost progress - of anyone - was accomplished by a social outcast who succeeded in getting both hands and feet fatally nailed to a dead tree.

26 February 2017

The Real (underlying) Question

More market resilience. About which, perhaps the most startling thing - if not disconcerting, in some quarters ("This should NOT be happening!") - is how it continues to trend upward. How far this reveals or conceals the true nature of global market direction is, to be sure, a question on which we'd all be wise to suspend judgment. Though that's hardly going to stop me from pronouncing (in my modest fashion) on what I believe is a much deeper, if not more urgent question.

The question isn't whether present global markets are over- or underperforming, healthy or unhealthy, sane or insane. Personally I suspect there's more long-term health in the culture, instincts and trajectory of today's markets than any of us could possibly account for by, say, the mere election or non-election of a Donald Trump; a Brexit or non-Brexit; a reception or non-reception of an official call from Taiwan; a raising or non-raising of interest rates; a Muslim immigration ban or non-ban. Or even a southern border wall or non-wall. (Though I do hope recent market performance - whether because or in spite of the recent election - is symptomatic of a kind of real wisdom and courage, on the part of today's investors, in at least one key area. I.e., maybe they no longer feel quite as hostage to Three Uncontestable Dogmas that, throughout our century's first decade, were presumed to be necessary conditions to market health: - 1) Euro-worship [both currency and Union]; 2) Beijing-worship; and 3) Saudi/Wahhabi appeasement.)

But the real, underlying question is always the same: What is going to make markets everywhere, despite real and considerable volatility, sane and healthy over the long term - as opposed to psychotic, diseased or delusional. And of course every long term is bound to come up short sooner or later: that's just the nature of human history. What I mean is the kind of sanity that can only be stopped dead - as distinct from being merely interrupted or disoriented - by some conscious, deliberate, concerted ideological evil. And no, I'm not thinking of only the kind of evil that can issue in major war. Praise God, the progress of modern jihadism has yet to issue in a war, or even a major economic crisis.* But we'd be epic fools to presume, for those same reasons, that here's a monster we Westerners can somehow tame, appease or manipulate.

* Partly, I suspect, because modern jihadists - being rational in means if hardly in ends - have probably even less incentive than most of us to want to derail that same train of globalization on whose "prosperity" they're also riding.

What I mean is the kind of sanity that makes investors see the point of investing in countries, as well as companies. The kind of sanity that knows that human beings are at least as important as human actions. And that the latter, if they're not to become quite hopelessly dysfunctional, must exist for the sake of the former, and not the reverse. And that countries, for all their notorious vices, crimes, follies, inefficiencies, etc, are generally far better at acknowledging and confessing this strange, elusive being of human beings than companies are. Perhaps because a country addresses a far less predictable, yet far richer, broader, more permanent stratum of human nature than even the most successful company ever will, or can.

I mean the kind of sanity that recognizes human creatures as consisting of more than the various companies or other organizations they create - or even the ones that employ them. A sanity that understands human creatures as being, in fact, not quite reducible to any thing they merely do. And least of all to those actions by which they try to assert their independence, power, cleverness, or superior creativity. Human creatures - perhaps even at their most imaginatively creative - consist also of two, if you will, residual elements, that began long before we were able to do anything, and that will go on long after any doing of ours on this earth has ended. These both involve our Maker most closely and inseparably - and not (hard as it is to believe in these self-creating times) merely as coach, legislator or moral guide. They are

(1) what God has made us to be at the beginning, and what He intends us to be at the end (though this latter flame has a weird and most unfortunate way of getting all but completely extinguished in many of us by the time we die);

(2) the various things that happen to us, and how we absorb (or mal-absorb) them, from birth - indeed, from the moment of conception - onwards. And in particular those events which provoke and dispose us not merely to plan and act, but to pause, and watch, and wait; to wonder, mourn and miss; to pray and hope and yearn. Sometimes even productively.

And while these older things - these things we residually are and endure, so to speak - may often seem bad or useless enough under the microscope of our modern agendas, they have also been known to prevent those same agendas from crashing, or going off the rails. And though in fact they too, like everything else in this life, are subject to change, they don't change nearly as often - or as drastically - as our busy ambitious actions would have us believe.

At least, not for the better.

02 February 2017

Some Notes for Modern Hamlets

You know you're living in an intensely political age, when folks you've known for years are prepared to end a hitherto warm, hearty, even thriving friendship, because (they have reason to suspect) you didn't vote the way they did. Or tweet the way they did. Or were being insufficiently supportive of their various tweeting campaigns.

By now, of course (unless you've been asleep for twenty years), you will have noticed that ours is one of those intensely political ages. (Not to mention an obsessively economic, money-driven age; talk about morbid obsessions.) But the reason?

No doubt it reflects the vastly greater political wisdom and discernment of our time, as compared with previous eras even of the Twentieth Century. Nowadays we have so perfectly managed to align our political divisions with the perfect will of God or Progress or History or Freedom, we're not only excused for hating - or at least anathematizing? - a friend who voted for the wrong candidate, but we're practically obliged to do so. Apparently the road to Heaven is now paved with politically severed friendships. Not that that prevents even one's closest political soul-mate from being an absolute backstabber in the more ladder-climbing departments of life. Seriously, who can you trust? And how do you love (anyone)?

"Those friends thou hast, . . . their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel."
                                                                                                                                           Hamlet I: iii: 65

Poor old Polonius. Natural enough in those days, I suppose, to warn your son of Machiavellian-style rottenness-and-treachery-in-Denmark, etc, as the most reliable agent for the dissolving of beautiful friendships. Ambition, jealousy, political expedience - these have always worked wonders at making new enemies out of old friends. But what would Polonius, or Hamlet - or Shakespeare - have made of ideological purity, as the most corrosive solvent of all?

20 January 2017

Gospel American-Style: A Brief Retrospective of the Past Generation

Whew. Another contentious Inauguration Day come and gone (though we all know the testiness will continue).

Also, dare I add, most likely an historic, turning-point inauguration. And hopefully in ways more good than bad. As always, only God will tell (provided we listen, of course).

And so I'd like to begin my own nod to the event, in my perverse fashion, with a brief counter-intuition concerning our new president's two predecessors, plus their almost-successor. And in particular what all three of them had in common.

Counter-intuitive enough, right? If not downright stupid. First off because, whatever one might say - for, against, or even neutrally - about our outgoing president and his predecessor, the one most common surface impression might be that, God knows, the two fellows had little enough in common. I mean, seriously, Bush and Obama: Depending on your bias, what's not to trust, in the case of the one? or not to loathe, in the case of the other? Almost an open-and-shut case of political light and darkness, no?

Consider the typical media-driven scenarios:
A) One president rather disastrously overplaying an already decent American hand in the World's Great Poker Game, followed by the other's very sensible retreat and retrenchment. Or, conversely,
B) one president's far-from-illegitimate attempt, in the face of arduous difficulties and setbacks, to uphold US prestige in the world, and even his success at restoring a modicum of that prestige before leaving office - all wasted, practically thrown away in fact, by the timidity and PCness of his successor.

What neither of these assessments tells us, though, is how our two most recent presidents saw themselves, and what they were trying to do. And in particular how they may have taken themselves seriously, in a way that did not necessarily puff them up, but rather drove home to them the gravity of their presidential responsibilities, and how those ought to be executed. Least of all do the indictments tell us how these two presidents understood themselves to be living their respective religions.

And yes, I know how laughable this is sure to sound to folks on either side of the fence. But I also know something else, that I'm all but certain of. Because I have little doubt that Bush and Obama both considered themselves to be (albeit in very different, if not opposite ways) serious Christians of one kind or another. No doubt, too, they were regarded as such by many of those who knew them most closely and sympathetically. The same might even be argued, however loosely, of the losing candidate in this past election: that, however many corners had to be cut, or characters compromised - or even lives lost?- along the Dirty Road of Politics, Mrs Clinton was in the main trying to follow what she understood to be her evolving (some might say a little too wildly evolving) Christian conscience, in the political arena.

Anyhow, now they're all out, presidentially speaking. And if there's One Current Public Figure who has somehow managed to triangulate - to stand in equally bold contradistinction to - all three of these quite distinct political personalities, it's the guy who's just come in. Mr Trump has been accused, and no doubt will go on being accused, of a good many serious things over as many years. But, so far anyways, tripping over himself in the effort to follow an overly severe (or even an over-sanctimonious) Christian conscience has not been one of them.

Whether that will somehow prove a point in his favor remains to be seen. Big History is seldom less than strange. Indeed, if Mr Trump's recent campaign - and even more his inaugural speech - is any augury, at least the appearance of an active Christian conscience is something he may be in process of acquiring. But before we rush to judge it all pretense or rhetoric, keep in mind two points no less true for being clich├ęs: Sometimes a man or woman can rise to an occasion - and even do a good job of it; at other times the occasion can (re)make the man. Either way we can at least hope and pray.

Meanwhile, again, here we are with one more first-term inauguration under our belts. So naturally I thought this as good a time as any to look back, maybe even try and take stock of where we've been for roughly these past 25 years.

Or at any rate where I've been. Because, for at least a generation now, I've been getting the message that the United States is, like, easily, hands-down, no-contest, dude! - the most Christian nation on earth. Or rather we were, somewhat loosely in spirit if you will (if not in precise letter of orthodoxy) - ("Everything was going JUST FINE!") until a certain Donald Trump came along. Or Barack Obama. Or George W Bush. Or Bill Clinton. Or ___________ (fill in your presidential villain of choice).

But there's a further message I've been getting. And it's one I find even more curious. It is that, in particular, the things about us that are most, if you will, contentiously - or even cantankerously - American, are also the things that make us most distinctively Christian. And even that may be true, I suppose, depending on one's definition of Christian (=Scots-Irish Presbyterian?). Indeed, I wonder if the whole question wouldn't prove a richly rewarding field of study: - i.e., to explore how far a certain deeply cultural strain of American Calvinism may have fueled and radicalized, say, both sides of our Civil War. How, for instance, certain elements on both fronts may have been equally (violently) convinced that the Bible, on the one side, unequivocally condemned and denounced chattel slavery, and on the other, just as unequivocally sanctioned and defended it. And that either way, the right way to go was to get fighting mad about whatever God was defending or denouncing.*

* I don't doubt that one side was right to get fighting-mad in its attack upon slavery. But what if the other side had been less fighting, less Biblically sure in its defense?

Nor does every real moral difference - or even moral ordeal (abortion, to name just one) - always justify dragging a country to the brink of civil war. In our case, historians might do well to ask whether a certain strain of righteous combativeness in our makeup hasn't played its considerable part, not only in unifying our impact on the world stage, but in dividing and, at times, even savagely polarizing us domestically. As for whether, if true, this colorful heritage has made us more Christian - that, again, depends on one's definition of the word. Some may argue, correctly enough, that our Lord most definitely knew how to "raise hell" with the Pharisees, and even to tell 'em where to get off, on more than one occasion. I hardly know that that justifies you or me, as good red-blooded Yanks, treating every other person we meet as a potential or prospective Pharisee - or other spiritual bully. If that's our crusade, we might want to start, as the saying goes, by looking first in the mirror. These days I seem to notice, more and more, how the measure of a serious Christianity - Right or Left - is taken to consist of: (1) a heaven-sent sureness of one's own position; (2)  an equally sure knack for demonizing one's opponent. All of which gets me to feeling just the least bit queasy.

Indeed, about all I can say with any conviction is: If rock-ribbed, granite-jawed, feisty, ornery, defiant, cantankerous, take-no-crap-from-nobody Americans (and really, aren't we all - in one degree or other - Scots-Irish in spirit nowadays?) are the quintessence of what it means to be Christian, then Scarlett O'Hara was hands-down the greatest Christian fictional character of modern times. And Heaven and Hell must be something like first cousins.

15 January 2017

Filled to All Fullness

There are real live dogs in this world whose desire to be filled with their owners' presence, and even personality (if not that of humanity at large), is seemingly without limit. They just can't get enough of what is at least generously esteemed to be a good thing. It's not, so far as we know, that they want to stop being dogs. But they especially seem to relish having that doghood augmented or supplemented by whatever additional nature is on offer from the nearest caring human. Neither are all of them, by a long shot, canines of a selfish, demanding or petulant disposition. Many aren't just temperamentally "needy," as the expression goes, but can be quite usefully nice - at times, even in a surprising variety of mixed companies. Nor are their owners uniformly scroungy or contemptible. In fact, as often as not, both sides seem to make out quite well from the transaction.

Right. Now if only we human canines could desire to be thus usefully filled with our particular Owner . . .

08 January 2017

Fountain of Youth? Feels More like a Volcano

Call me an optimist. (Nobody ever does, but never mind.)

It's just that I continue to be fascinated by how often our human nature actually works, instead of merely dysfunctioning. Even during impatient, argumentative, easily offended times like these, most human creatures are intermittently rational. By fits and starts, if nothing else. Which means there may be a limit to how much insanity we can inflict on ourselves and each other before we start actually learning something. (Whether we ever graduate to the next level is a separate question.)

And so one day, I'm convinced - however and whenever this present time (1995-?) passes - we're going to begin figuring something out. Some day - perhaps in an Age less violently impatient and growth-worshiping, or less fiercely progressive and dynamic (or maybe even less for-darn-sure of its benign power to re-shape life and work, gender, family and reproduction?).

Someday we're going to begin to understand that all this cult of youthfulness, this spirit of young adulthood we keep trying to inject into our 90+ life-spans isn't just a crock. It is, in fact, just so much arrested development. If not tried, convicted and sentenced-to-life development. In short, what we nowadays call Progress is mostly a four-walled prison masquerading as an endless highway to (a singularly hellish kind of) heaven. And not just of ourselves as individuals, but of a whole Society: one that somehow goes on increasing exponentially its experience and sophistication while gaining almost nothing in commensurate wisdom: a New World(ly) Order bent on amassing, in less than a generation, far more information, skill and power than anyone could ever learn or benefit from in a thousand lifetimes. Much less digest - without serious food-poisoning - within the bounds of a single life.

On that Day, I believe, we shall finally stop bewailing how beastly hard it is to shepherd our young people through an adolescence that's becoming, every year, more unmanageable, more uncivilized, more savage and depraved, the more fiercely we grownups try to cling to it ourselves.

02 January 2017

A Small New Year's Revolution

I've just discovered a grossly stupid common error (God knows I've made enough of them).

Surely every break we get, in this breakneck orgy of speed we call Modern Society, ought to be savored for all it's worth? Or at least to whatever degree we find the leisure, humility and wisdom to savor anything? (A dubious enough proposition these days.)

How blind we are, then, to treat any universally acknowledged milestone - like, obviously, the first day of a new year - as just another "day in the life." How blind, if even here we see no opportunity to pause, and put in reverse - to ruminate, to take stock (or even re-stock), to be grateful, or graceful, or remorseful. To recall the thing that gave us the most resonant (if not the most scintillating) pleasure. And why we've since then continued to avoid or detour round it. To find that remote, secret arbor, in whose silence we can see and hear through - past all the whirring cogs, belts and blades - to the vehicle's actual movement. Maybe at last even figure out (provided we get close enough to the Cross-roads) where the contraption's going.

Not that everyone's necessarily moving quite that fast, or so (perhaps quite literally?) Hell-for-leather. But even one who is house-bound may be able to look out of a window. Every morning of every day - even if you're stuck in the house - can be a kind of window into grace, freshness, innocence. Surely today is as good a time as any to ask yourself three questions all but guaranteed to puncture even the stuffiest, stubbornest, bullyingest routine:

1) Who, and (perhaps more importantly) WHAT, am I?

2) Have I been created for anything?

3) Is my present endless monotony of urgent tasks even remotely satisfying either of the above questions? Much less making happier the one who's asking?

If there's one thing I've learned over the course of a somewhat long and not terribly productive life, it's that there is no illusion more domineering, or more disappointing, than that of an unbreakable routine. Today's Global Busyness promises that unbroken stream: an endless continuity of tasks, systems, operations, agendas, that seem to cradle and buffer us - though in fact, as often as not, they cut us into little segments (when they're not tearing us to pieces). And then all of a sudden - earthquake, fire, flood, illness, job loss, a revolution, a baby - all of a sudden the Big Wheel stops, on the proverbial dime. Sometimes, rudely enough, when we're not anywhere near dead or dying.

It is the nature of whatever domineers over us to be most convincing when it masquerades as some all-consuming urgency. And these days, what could be less urgent, or more disruptive of a busy life-plan, than a pregnancy unplanned? But see now, here we have a new God-child, who comes not to consume us, but to be our bread. Imagine it: an infant seeking not to eat but to feed! And lo, He may even want to play with us, if we have the time. Besides, He's been known to carry with Him an urgency all His own. Given what we already know of that high Summons, is it perhaps high time - even this New Year - we stopped heeding that of the Dominator?

01 January 2017

WHAT I GET OUT OF "BREAKING BAD" (the more rarefied connoisseurs can further enlighten me)

Keep in mind I haven't written anything remotely resembling a poem in at least eight years. And before that, maybe ten. Anyhow, here goes:

When the going gets tough,
           Let the meek get rough.
           Let the rough get mean.
           Why yes, even criminally mean
If that's what it takes.

Of course we all knew they were bound to fail.
           But can you blame 'em for trying?

W C Fields Re-Packaged for an Unkinder, Ungentler Time

Always give a sucker an even break.

You never know when you may be the next one.