Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Samuel Gompers, Can We Talk?

On September 4, 1910, Samuel Gompers, the first president of the American Federation of labor (AFL) wrote the following in the New York Times: “Among all the festive days of the year, of all the days commemorative of great epochs in the world’s history, of all the days celebrated for one cause or another, there is not one which stands so conspicuously for social advancement of the common people as the first Monday in September of each recurring year—Labor Day.”  According to Mr. Gompers Labor Day is the only holiday that celebrates the common man (and woman, though not then)—not religion, a war anniversary, or the birth or death of a famous person.  I disagree.  I think that Mr. Gompers and I need to talk.

Someone much smarter than me once said that a person’s religion is those standards that give meaning and dictate the way that one lives his or her life.  It is their purpose in life. This person argued this in saying that there were no non-religious wars . . . that all wars were religious.  Someone was always pushing one way of believing and living onto someone else who did not care to give up the way that he or she was already believing and living.  Another person, again probably much smarter than I, stated that the one true religion is economics . . . that all of life is dictated by economics . . . all of life.  Having now lived more than a half-century I am seeing a whole lot of wisdom in that statement . . . plus a whole lot of truth.  Based on that, I am not sure how Mr. Gompers came to the conclusion that Labor Day was such a clean and pure holiday that celebrated nothing but the common worker.

First of all, what do you know about Labor Day?
Did you know that Labor Day was a result of labor unrest?  In the late 1800s the labor movement was growing and beginning to have more and more influence in national politics.  On May 11th, 1894, a strike took place in Chicago by the employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives.  A month later there was a call to boycott all Pullman railway cars that basically crippled all rail transportation across the nation.  In typical government fashion, the federal government sent troops to Chicago to break the strike.  Well, when push comes to shove the strikers pushed back . . . riots broke out and more than a dozen workers were killed in all of the violence.

So, how does one make amends?  The federal government, under Congress, created Labor Day as a legal holiday to celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers and their contributions to the strength and prosperity of the nation.  It was Congress’ hope that it could regain the support of the American workers.  After all, a little gesture can go a long ways in getting people back to work.  What good is an economy when no one is working?  The date? June 28th, 1894, Congress designated the first Monday in September of each year to be a legal holiday.

Despite the recognition of the government and the establishment of a federal holiday, it would be nearly twenty years later before a whole lot of respect was shown to the common worker.  It was not until 1916 that workers were granted the eight-hour work day through the Adamson Act.  This Act established an eight-hour work day and additional pay for overtime.  Prior to that it was not uncommon for a laborer to work twelve-hour days for six days a week.   The movement towards a five-day workweek started in 1908 when a spinning mill in New England started accommodating its Jewish workers.  The Jewish workers had difficulty observing the Sabbath under the traditional six-day work week.  If they took Saturday off and worked on Sunday they risked offending the Christian majority, but to work on Saturday violated their own religious beliefs . . . so the owners went to a five-day work week.

In 1926, Henry Ford jumped on the bandwagon and started to close his factories over Saturday and Sunday to give his workers a two-day weekend without reducing their pay.  The first union to jump on board this movement was the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America as it negotiated a five-day work week for its members.  The nation ponied up to the five-day work week in 1938 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act that established a five-day, 40-hour work week for many laborers.  It has been said that it is at this point in history that the great American weekend was born.  It only took 40 years to get to this point in was a wonderful gift and recognition of the common worker, until 1938 most laborers were still working a six-day week . . . so, at best the holiday only gave them a two-day weekend, unlike out three-day weekend celebration of Labor Day today.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2013, there are 155.7 million workers in the United States over the age of 16.  Many of them won’t get the holiday that is set aside for them to celebrate because they will have to work.  A good chunk of the workers in the United States are working in retail . . . approximately 4.3 million of them . . . who will not be off due to the fact that most retailers are open for their big Labor Day sales.  Kind of ironic isn’t it?

Looking over the history of the labor movement and the establishment of a national holiday to honor labor, one could argue that the actual holiday is set aside—though indirectly—to honor those dozen or so people who were killed in the Pullman strike and riots in Chicago.  That would make it a holiday for the death of someone.  One would argue whether or not it is a celebration or an appeasement when viewing a history that has taken decades to bring fairness and justice to the labor practices of industry . . . the eight hour work day . . . the history of the five-day, 40 hour work week . . . child labor laws . . . payment for overtime . . . health benefits . . . and on and on the list could go.  The arguments are still there.  And, why? Probably because such changes effect the profit margin of industry . . . usually to the lower end.  When this happens industry makes less money.  Money deals with economics.  Economics is what makes the world spin around.  It is a religion in the minds and hearts of many.

Very few of us who celebrate the big three-day weekend of observing Labor Day on the first Monday of each September actually know anything about the holiday.  As much as Mr. Gompers wants to believe that it is a non-religious holiday, I just cannot agree.  I cannot agree because the almighty dollar is the altar that many of us worship . . . that gives us purpose and meaning . . . that dictates our lives . . . that gets us out of bed every morning.  The truth of the matter is that we, as a nation, would not be where we are today in the economic world if it were not for the dedication and hard work that was put in by those who labor through the years . . . but, the question is: Who profits?  It is not the common laborer.  Someone has been getting rich off all of this . . . and, it is not the common laborer.

As much as I would like to embrace the mythology behind Labor Day, thanks to people like Mr. Samuel Gompers, I find it difficult to jump on that bandwagon in ignorance.  History that is based on facts, not wishful thinking and mythology, usually paints a different story than the one that most Americans embrace and celebrate . . . and this is true in other nations too.  I appreciate the gift of a three-day weekend that Labor Day affords those of us able to actually take it off and celebrate it; yet, at the same time I do not want to fool myself into thinking that it is a pure and simple gesture of gratitude for all the hard work of millions of laborers—past and present.  For a great many, unbeknownst to them, it is a religious holiday . . . a holiday of remembrance for those who gave their lives for equal rights and justice . . . and, based on the fact that many retailers are open, an altar to the almighty dollars that is making someone rich.

As usual, this is my rant . . . my opinion.  But, I ask you: how much do you really know about Labor Day . . . about what you are celebrating?  Labor Day is more than the unofficial end to summer.  What is it?  Well, it depends on who you ask?  Those who run the world’s economy will say one thing, those who are doing all the work another, and those of us who are celebrating it even another.  Maybe we need to sit down and talk . . . wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Gompers?  Happy Labor Day everyone!

Sign Language

On my commute to my job in the big city I have several opportunities to practice my “sign language” each week.  I suppose that most people who commute to work have the same opportunity . . . in fact; I know that they do because I have been the recipient of lots of that sign language . . . at least the universal signs that signify displeasure and disgust.  Other drivers seem to have that effect on all of us on the road.

During the summer between eighth grade and my freshman year I worked at the Colorado Lions Camp for the Deaf and Blind.  One of the requirements of working at the camp I had to learn sign language . . . American Sign Language in particular.  And, I did.  It was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment to be able to communicate with another using something other than one’s voice . . . especially when that communication was understood and acknowledged.

Throughout my schooling I had difficulty learning a second language.  I tried both Spanish and French.  I failed miserably at both . . . yet, I did well with sign language.  Yet, sign language is not considered a “real” language, thus I have never been considered to be bilingual.  Now that I am older I understand how much of a fallacy that was and is.

The point is communication.  To be able to convey a message and have it understood is the whole point of communication whether it is verbal or visual.  In fact, I would venture out to say that a whole lot of communication is done through non-verbal means—such as sign language.  Trust me, lots of people send messages without ever uttering a word.

Tootling down the road fifteen miles under the posted speed limit creates a lot of visual communication . . . a lot of sign language.  Mostly it creates the sort that often gets mistaken for “We’re Number One” . . . or “good luck” in Hawaiian (Look up the U.S.S. Pueblo incident from 1970 to understand that reference.) . . . but most of us know as “the finger”.  It is a powerful non-verbal form of communication that often is returned with as much enthusiasm as it is given.

One of my favorite non-verbal and visual forms of communicating is “rolling my eyes”.  The rolling of the eyes is usually produced whenever a person is in the presence of another who goes on and on and on about some trivial or outlandish accomplishment . . . or is giving instructions and orders that are simply ridiculous . . . or preaching a sermon on Sunday morning.  Rolling the eyes is a powerful statement of disbelief or “boy are you wasting my time!”  It is such a powerful statement that it has been outlawed at the big university where I work . . . rolling of the eyes is not tolerated.  Of course, those of us who use this powerful form of communication just rolled our eyes when we heard the announcement.

Of course there are those visual signs that sports fans use to acknowledge their teams . . . especially in college football.  Oregon State has that big “O” sign signifying their loyalty to the Beavers . . . the University of California at Irvine, home of the Anteaters, has a cool sign that sort of looks like a rabid University of Texas Longhorn . . . Texas Tech has the “six shooter” with both hands . . . Texas Christian University has two-finger symbol that looks like the signer is about to scratch someone’s eyes out . . . Kansas State has a neat one in which they form a “W” and “C” (Wildcats) with their fingers . . . Florida University, the “Gators”, have the two-arm chomping sign representing an alligator . . . Florida State has the politically incorrect, yet wildly popular, “tommy hawk” . . . Baylor has the “bear claw” . . . and, the University of Oklahoma, archrivals of the University of Texas, has the reverse “Hook’em Horn” that means “tuck Fexas”.  Upon seeing these signs fellow supporters know exactly which team is being cheered on.  As a University of Nebraska fan I am not really sure what the hand sign is for the Cornhuskers . . . I don’t know if anyone has come up with a corn cob sign yet . . . but I do know that the fans in the stands like to cross their arms across their chest to represent the Huskers “Black Shirt” defense which uses a skull and cross bone to represent themselves.  All I know is that the big white “N” on the side of their helmets means “Knowledge”.

Of course I am of the generation that doesn’t quite understand a lot of the “sign language” that is being used by younger generations.  Lots of musical groups that were never around when I was growing up use a lot of “sign language” . . . mostly gang signs I am told.  Basically looks like a lot of mangled fingers, but my children tell me that they represent something to those who are doing them.  I just want to take them to the closest emergency room and get them some help.  Other times I want to wish them “good luck” in Hawaiian. 

The point is that there is more than one way to “communicate” other than being verbal.  Body language is a big one.  One that took me a long time to understand was the fact that those people in the pews who were nodding their heads were not agreeing with what I was saying . . . nope, they were falling asleep.  Nor were they praying even though they would mutter “Amen” when they finally held their heads up.  Sleeping is a pretty solid message to a person who is speaking that he or she is BORING.

Like my father before me, I was a master of non-verbal communication with my children.  Rarely did I have to say anything to get a point across to my children.  If they were acting up, embarrassing their mother and I, a simple glare would convey the message: “Just wait until we get home!”  If they were being ridiculous . . . a roll of the eyes.  And, if they were really irritating me a slow slash with the hand across the neck would get their attention.  Without speaking a word my children grew up understanding what I was saying loud and clear.

Driving down the road does not afford one the luxury of face-to-face verbal communication . . . after all, blowing by someone does not allow one to roll down the window and have a conversation about one’s driving skills.  That is simply dangerous, but messages must be shared.  The safest and easiest way has become “sign language”, most notably the “one finer salute”.  But I have found that even the “one finger salute” is not much of a message with a lot of drivers . . . apparently they are used to it.  So, I have discovered that even with “sign language” sarcasm is possible.  Rarely do I use the “one finger salute” to express my displeasure . . . I have gone to the “thumbs up” sign when passing a slow moving vehicle.  It is kinder “sign” whether the other driver understands the sarcasm or not . . . at least it often receives a smile in return.  Oh well, I guess I can start carrying hand-written signs that are more to the point.  But, that is a lot of work and I would never get any driving done.  I will stick to “sign language” . . . that is a big “thumbs up!”  Communication is the key . . . after all, I love you.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Out of Reach—the American Dream

In its simplest form the “American Dream” is the belief that with hard work and the freedom to pursue one’s destiny one can achieve success and provide better opportunities for one’s children.  The “American Dream” was a term coined by historian/writer James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book, The Epic of America . . . and we Americans have been clinging to it ever since.  It is as ingrain in our DNA as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie . . . we believe it with every ounce of our being.  The only problem, if we are going to be truthful to ourselves, is that it is out of reach for the majority of us . . . few of us can actually afford it.

According to an article written by the newspaper conglomerate USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/07/04/american-dream/11122015/) the “American Dream” would cost an average family of four approximately $130,357 a year.  This is based on computing the average cost for essentials (housing, groceries, car expenses, medical expenses, education expenses [for two children], apparel, and utilities), extras (family vacation, entertainment, restaurants, cable, satellite, internet, cell sphone, and miscellaneous cost), and taxes/savings (things like a 401k plan).  If a person has more than two children that cost of the “American Dream” increases proportionally.  Now the median income for a household in the United States is about $51,000. In their analysis USA Today figures that one out of eight households earned that much income in 2013 or 12.5% of the population of the United States.  Only 12.5% of Americans actually came close to the “American Dream”, while the other 87.5% were . . . well, dreaming about it.  The dream has become unaffordable for the average American.

I am not sure that the “American Dream” is still that ability is to pursue one’s destiny to the point that it will be successful and provide better opportunities for those doing the pursuing and those whose future hinges on it.  No, I think that the “American Dream” . . . at least for those of us down here in the pits struggling to get by . . . has become survival.  We want to survive and hopefully have something to show for it all when the end actually comes.  I know that that is the case for the wife and I . . . together we barely make half of what it takes to reach the “American Dream”.  I guess half of the dream is better than none of it.

I like what author John Steinbeck wrote: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”  Now, I might not agree with Steinbeck’s politics, but I appreciate the sentiment he is expressing . . . those of us pursuing the “American Dream” cannot see the hole we are in because we do not see ourselves as being on the short end of the stick . . . we see ourselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” who have not yet made it to that one percent.  The truth of the matter is that the deck is stacked against us and we might never reach that one percent much less the “American Dream”.

The problem with the “American Dream” is that we Americans have misinterpreted what Adams was actually trying to say.  We, Americans, have come to understand the “American Dream” in terms of financial rewards and security.  That is not what Adams said.  Adams said that the American Dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement . . . It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

In all honesty I struggle with the “American Dream” as most people in the United States interprets it . . . though, in even more honesty, I have to admit that I let myself embrace that dream from time to time . . . I engage in wishful thinking from time to time.  Yet, the reality is that it is a pretty tough dream to accomplish on what most of us make . . . and, at what most of us make would we be willing to sacrifice everything to accomplish it because for most of us it would be taking on more employment . . . we wouldn’t even have time to appreciate it or enjoy it.  I have a hard time embracing this idea of the “American Dream” when understood primarily on financial security.  It just is not going to happen.

On the other hand, in understanding the “American Dream” as Adams intended it, I can embrace that ideal . . . “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."  Sounds almost biblical . . . like something that Jesus would say . . . to become fully who God created us to be . . . to be accepted for being the best “us” we can be.  That is an “American Dream” that I can pursue . . . and, in a sense, one I have been pursuing most of my life.  It has not brought me wealth in the old bank account, but has made me a wealthy person in life experience.  I have been well blessed in this life that I have pursued.

The “American Dream” is not about money . . . though many of us believe that it is.  The “American Dream” is about the freedom to be the best “you” that you can be . . . to come to full realization of who it is that God created any of us to be . . . to be loved, accepted, and respected for who we are.  But, there is not much financial security in such a dream . . . but, God will provide.  The wife and I have never made the money that others with our education have made mainly because we chose to pursue God’s will in our lives as ministers.  Yet, at the same time, we have always had what we needed when we needed it . . . always had food to feed our family . . . money to pay our bills . . . medical care when it was necessary . . . we have always been taken care of despite our low wages.  God has provided as we have done whatever it was that was necessary to live the “dream”. 

Both the wife and I are getting too old to pursue the “American Dream” as most people understand it.  We do not have enough working years to make the sort of money that we would need to reach the “American Dream”.  Shoot!  At the rate we are going we will probably have to work up to the day they drop us six feet under.  Yet, we could not have asked for a better life . . . a more blessed life.  We have a wonderful family that love us as much as we love them . . . we have people in our lives who make us feel fulfilled . . . we have grandchildren that give us hope for the future . . . we have laughter and lots of good times.  We have each other.  We are richer than we ever imagined we could be.  We are becoming who God wants us to be . . . or as Adams states, we are attaining the fullest stature of who we are capable of being.  We are living the real “American Dream”. 

In the eyes of God that is what counts.  So it should be for all of us . . . to embrace what really counts.  I have never attended a funeral yet in which someone’s bank account is shared as his or her greatest accomplishment.  No, what I have heard is that they were the best that they could be at being themselves . . . and, that is what people loved and respected.  That is the “American Dream”.  When we accept this . . . well, we are living the “American Dream”.  What more could we ever want?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Are We There Yet?

As I make a final right-hand turn onto our street,
my GPS informs me that I've "reached my destination".
"My destination," I laugh aloud to myself.
“My GPS doesn't know squat.”
(Colleen Hoover)

Someone once said that it is not the destination but the journey that matters.  I don’t think that person ever made a cross-country trip with a car load of kids.  If that individual had, he or she would agree that it is the destination that matters . . . damn the journey and let’s get there!

I think a deep rooted question we all have is whether or not we have reached our destination . . . whether or not we are where we are going as individuals . . . whether or not we have come to realization of what we dreamed we would be way, way back when we started the journey.  I think that question is the eternal travel question . . . are we there yet?

Can anyone honestly answer that question?

I don’t know.  I can honestly state that it is a question that I struggle with from time to time in my own life . . . have I become what I am supposed to be?  And, all I keep coming up with is . . . somewhere along the way I got lost.  I think that we all do . . . I think that we all sell ourselves short as we journey through life.

One of my favorite authors is Joseph Campbell.  Campbell was a mythology professor who wrote about people finding their “bliss” . . . finding their “purpose” . . . to give meaning to their lives.  If you find and follow your bliss you will find meaning . . . if you find meaning, you will find purpose . . . and, ultimately you will find yourself.  You will arrive at your destination . . . or, as he puts it: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”  Somewhere along the way, I got lost . . . don’t we all?  Don’t we all, from time to time on this journey we call life, get lost?

Campbell would tell us that those things that make our hearts beat faster and harder . . . those are the things that are connected to our bliss.  He would tell us that those things that make us excited and anxious to do . . . those are connected to our bliss.  He would say that those things that grab our attention . . . grab our hearts . . . those are the signs of bliss in our lives.  Those things that we spend hours thinking about . . . dreaming about . . . learning about . . . those are the things of bliss.  Often they are not the things that we spend the majority of our time doing.  No, we spend most of our time going through the rote of just making it through the day.  Find your bliss, Campbell would say, and find your purpose and meaning and yourself! 

I think that most of us would love to do that . . . I know that I would; but, that means I would have to stop what I am doing right now.  It would mean that I would have to stop in my journey . . . stop in my attempt to reach that destination that is always somewhere out there in front of me.  It would mean that I would have to stop, take stock, and admit that I have not been honest with myself in this journey I call life.  As it would be for me, so it would be for everyone.  And, boy is that scary.

Scary, but shouldn’t we be honest with ourselves?  Shouldn’t we quit selling ourselves short?  Shouldn’t we start believing in ourselves?  Are we attempting to survive or are we really honoring the God-given right to become who God created us to be? 

There are certain areas in my life that really get me excited, yet when I look at my life I am not doing any of those things on a daily basis.  Oh sure, I think that I allow myself to dabble in them from time to time, but the truth is that I am too scared to step out and commit myself and my life to them.  They might not put food on the table.  Might not pay the monthly mortgage.  Might not allow me all the toys I enjoy in my life.  Might not let me keep up with the Jones family that lives down the street.  Might not contribute to my retirement fund . . . put gas in the car . . . it is scary.  So, for the time being, a dabble here and there is all I have . . . just enough to keep the flame flickering.

Campbell would acknowledge that fear because it is real; yet, at the same time, he would encourage me and everyone else to step out and embrace the bliss . . . it is our destiny . . . our only means of fulfilling God’s touch upon our lives and becoming who God created us to be.  Campbell would say: “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”  He would also say: “If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.”

If we are honest with ourselves we would have to admit that there is always that longing to reach that destination . . . there is always that eternal looping question, are we there yet? 

One of the great joys in my life right now is my two-year old granddaughter.  I love the time that I get to spend with her . . . it is a great blessing.  I love seeing the world and life through her eyes . . . seeing the sunset in her eyes.  Some would say that she is opening up the world around me so that I can see it; but, I would disagree . . . she is reminding me of that which I have abandoned . . . abandoned in the hope of surviving until I reach “my destination”.  The truth is that my granddaughter is living . . . living in the moment . . . embracing the gifts, dancing with life, being herself.  She is not trying to get anywhere because she is already there . . . she is in the moment and the moment is wonderful.  She knows her bliss and her bliss is right there where she is at . . . nothing else matters.  Her laughter and giggles mark her bliss.  She always makes me long for that which we all seek . . . the privilege of being who we are.  Campbell says: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

The funny thing is that we all know the answer to the question, are we there yet?  One of the greatest truths from the Bible is to stop and know God . . . to be still and know God.  As it is with God, so it is with us . . . we must stop and know ourselves.  We are the answer to the question. Yet we throw so much of life away seeking the answer when we are the answer . . . or, as Campbell says, “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”

As we spend a lifetime attempting to find our way to some destination, we need to realize that the destination has always been with us.  It is discovering and embracing who God created us to be . . . to love ourselves as God created us to be . . . that is the greatest bliss . . . that is where we are heading.  Sometimes it takes a two-year old to remind us . . . and, sometimes it takes the courage of a two-year to embrace it and make it who we are.  I know that my granddaughter likes it when G-pa lets down his hair, sits on the wall, and throws rocks into the yard . . . it is being in the moment of who we are.  Two people who love each other for who they are in that moment.

I think that if I keep hanging around my granddaughter I just might find my way back to who God wants me to be.  I threw the GPS away . . . granddaughters are a better gauge on making my way back home again and discovering who I am.  Am I there yet?  Not quite, but I am getting closer all of the time.