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.

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.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Talking on Things We Don’t Know About

Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about
Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about
(“Ten Thousand Words” by the Avett Brothers)

A couple of weeks ago my son and I were standing in the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.—one of the fine museums of the Smithsonian Institute.  We were standing before a picture as man walked up to us, pointed at the image, and firmly proclaimed that the man in the picture was Sitting Bull.  I said, “I beg your pardon.”  The man said, “That is Sitting Bull.”

Now typically I do not correct strangers in public when they are wrong, but this guy was wrong . . . way wrong . . . had the wrong guy  . . . had the wrong tribe . . . and, even the wrong generation.  That was not a picture of Sitting Bull . . . Sitting Bull was not a Crow Indian . . . Sitting Bull was a Hunkpapa Lakota.  The picture was of Plenty Coups . . . a Crow Indian.  I told the guy that, but he insisted that it was Sitting Bull.  I pointed to the name plate under the picture that read “Plenty Coups”.  The man’s response?  “All them Indians look alike.”  Then he proceeded to tell my son a whole lot of mythic tales of how the West was won . . . John Wayne sorts of tales that were wrong.  I just walked away because the guy was talking a whole lot on things that he truly knew nothing about.

His ignorance reeked.

I sat with a group of people a while back as they debated those dastardly Muslims with all of their hatred and jihad attempting to rid the world of all the other religions . . . especially the Christians.  Listened as they rattled on and on about how all Muslims were the same . . . just a bunch of terrorists out for vengeful blood.  They are all the same, they said.  But I asked, “How many Muslims have you ever met?  How many do you actually know?”  The silent stares were answer enough . . . none.  They were talking a whole lot on things that they truly knew nothing about.  I walked away.

Their ignorance reeked.

Such conversations are all around if one has ears to hear.  Ten thousand words on things none of us know nothing about.  Words about other religions . . . about other races . . . about other cultures . . . about other generations . . . about other nations.  They all look alike . . . they all act alike. They are all the same.  By that it is usually meant something that is not good.  If they are not like us do we really have anything good or nice to say?  Not usually . . . but, we still have a lot to say.  We all have opinions . . . opinions based on myths, lies, and misinformation . . . myths, lies, and misinformation because we really and honestly don’t know what we are talking about.

Sadly I have learned that if a person speaks out of his or her ignorance with enough force and conviction others will believe . . . they will believe the myths, lies, and misinformation.  All Muslims are alike . . . blood-thirsty terrorists.  All Indians are alike.  All old people are alike.  All women are alike.  All black people are alike.

I went to a small college in central Nebraska . . . a state with a minority population of less than three percent . . . and that was reflected on campus.  There was practically no diversity as nearly all of the student body was white.  People of color were few and far between.  While at college I ran track with a young black man from Washington, D.C.  One day as we were running he stated that he was dropping out and moving home.  When I asked why . . . he stated that he could not take any more of the passive aggressive racism he was experiencing.  He said he was called a “nigger” by some guy while walking back to his dorm room one evening.  He confronted the individual . . . asked the offender how many blacks lived in the community that he grew up in.  The guy responded that there were no black people in his community, and none even in the county he was from.  “So, if there are no blacks from where you are from,” asked the black man, “how can you hate someone you have never met or encountered?”  Because, replied the offender, all blacks are alike. 

His ignorance reeked.

Ignorance reeks.  That is a fact . . . especially when ignorance is pawned off as fact and truth.  Sadly, as the lyrics above state, “Ain’t it like most people? (we) are no different.  We love to talk on things we don’t know about.”   I have been known to razzle and dazzle with bull poop a time or two . . . we all have.  But, it does not make it right.  Does not make it ethical.  Does not make it fair.  Mostly it disrespects others . . . puts them down . . . oppresses them . . . makes them “less than” us.

I try really hard not to get roped into discussions based on ignorance . . . try real hard not to be baited into arguments based on myths, lies, and misinformation . . . try real hard to razzled and dazzled by a whole lot of b.s.  I try real hard not to display my ignorance when I really don’t have a clue about what people are talking about . . . instead I try to ask questions so that I can learn and become knowledgeable about what others are talking about.

I am trying real hard to base my thoughts, ideas, statements, and opinions based on experience, research (on all sides of an issue), and a whole lot of discernment and prayer.  I am trying real hard to have more conversations with people and things and situations where I am the one who is the fish out of the water.  I am trying real hard to be one who is willing to walk in another’s shoes before I pronounce judgment.  I am trying real hard to be open . . . authentic . . . and willing to listen to everyone’s stories.  I am trying real hard to understand.  I am trying real hard not to be like everyone else . . . I do want to be different.  I want to be who God wants me to be . . . I want to be me . . . a person called to love God and others . . . to love others even if they are different than me and I do not understand them.

That is the point.  None of us is created the same.  Why in the world would we ever think that we are?  There are so many colors in a rainbow . . . why do we all have to be the same one?  That was never God’s intention, so why is it ours?  Ignorance reeks . . . let us not sit in our stink.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tell Me What I Need to Know

“It wasn’t in books. It wasn’t in a church. What I needed to know was out there in the world.”
(Robert Fulghum)

I guess I have been slacking off lately . . . at least it feels like it.  I haven’t quite been keeping up with current events as well as people think I should.  Seems that I have not been vocal enough on a lot of the issues effecting the world in which I live . . . whether it be on the local or world scene.  It seems I just haven't been keeping up with the issues facing the lives of people in the world.  I’ve been slacking off . . . been missing the boat . . . just not getting it, and it does not matter who you ask.  Seems that all sides of any issue actually agree on one thing—I have been missing the point!  The problem is . . . I am not sure what the point is anymore!  I just wish someone would tell me what I need to know!

Locally, in the little town I live in, the big issue is an increase in the sewage rate that everyone is going to be charged in order to do the necessary work that needs to be done to bring the community’s sewers up to state standards.  Not being up to code is not new “news” to the community . . . the community has known for years that there was work that needed to be done to meet code . . . work that the council and community chose to ignore for a whole lot of years.  Now the piper wants to be paid and the community gets to carry the burden of paying for it.  There are opinions on both sides of the issue.  At the council meeting in which they were announcing the increase I listened to people argue . . . and argue . . . and argue a point that was basically moot.  It was a done deal.  My head was spinning after an hour of arguments having people attempt to convince me one way or another about what should be done.  The bottom line was that it was too late . . . apathy reared its ugly head and bit the town and its people right in the butt! 

Down the road in the “big city” the city council voted down a Non-Discrimination Ordinance that would have insured equal rights for all people in the community . . . and, I mean all people whether they were male, female, or anything in between.  On both sides of the issue there were lots of words and opinions thrown around . . . thrown around with conviction and belief that what was being said was the bottom line.  Pretty divisive issue with lots of heated conversation.  It was enough to make anyone’s head spin. 

Then, of course, there are the issues surrounding the shooting of a teenager in the community of Ferguson . . . a suburb of St. Louis.  The teenager was black and the shooter was a white police officer.  Pretty violate situation that has torn apart that community . . . and, the nation.  Lots of opinions being spouted out on both sides of the issue.  Lots of hot words.  Seems everyone has an opinion about the issue.  Both sides are arguing out of all sides of their mouths.  Everyone is claiming that their truth is the only truth.

There is the issue of the Middle East and all the news about good Christian people . . . about the Jews . . . about just about anyone who does not believe in the political party (if they are that) who wants control.  Both sides argue that theirs is the “right” way.  I just wish I could a straight answer from either side.

Politics in the United States . . . plenty of opinions on both sides of the coin and everything in between.  There are opinions on the “right” side . . . on the “left” side . . . and, everywhere in between.   There are “liberal” and “conservative” opinions . . . Republican and Democratic opinions. 

All around me there seems to be a million, billion opinions of what I should believe . . . what I should think.   It seems everyone is willing to tell me what I need to know.  There are plenty of talking heads out there willing to fill me in on what is wrong or right . . . plenty of opinions that are pretty much cut and dry . . . damn if you do, damn if you don’t.  It is like there is some sort of common belief that no one can think for him or herself . . . and, the sad thing is that most people seem willing to let someone else do their thinking for them . . . willing to let others opinions to become their opinions without checking it out for themselves.

More or less I quit watching television over a decade ago.  I pretty much quit listening to the radio about the same time.  I still read the newspaper and news magazines.  I peruse the Internet.  I take the time to glance at what is trending on Facebook and Twitter to see what is going on in the lives of friends and family.  In all of them there are plenty of people willing to tell me what I need to know.  It makes my stomach hurt that so many people are so willing to tell me what I need to know . . . thus I quit watching television and listening to the radio. I am really tired of being told by others what I should think and believe.  The noise of all these opinions is drowning out the life that is within me.

M. Scott Peck wrote years ago that the root of all sin is laziness . . . that the human race is always looking for the easy way out.  If someone else can think for us—right or wrong—we are willing to accept their assistance without any questions asked.  If it is good enough for a talking head, it is good enough for us.  And, the scary thing about all of it is that it is true.  In what I am seeing on Facebook is downright scary.  What I am reading in the “letters to the editors” is frightening.  What I see on so-called news sites on the Internet—on all sides—is espoused as the gospel truth whether there are facts to support it or not.  It is like the human race was gotten itself stuck in neutral  without having the ability to move.  It is scary because it seems as no one can think for him or herself.

I learned a long, long time ago that the truth is rarely found in the extremes, but rather somewhere in the middle.  Yet we live in a polarized world when it comes to the opinions that people have about so-called “current events”.  And, boy, if you don’t take the time to understand where you are standing on certain events . . . well, let’s just say it is not good.  Hell is going to be crowded with a whole lot of people on both sides that were certain that their side was right.  The truth is somewhere out there in the middle of it all waiting to be discovered.

A sign of maturity—which is something we all seek in our lives no matter how young or old we are—is the ability to form and state one’s own opinion.  An opinion that is based on experience and on one’s ability to check the “facts” out for him or herself.  From what I have been seeing lately . . . well, let’s just say that the human race is moving faster towards immaturity than fully coming to accept reality of being able to think for itself . . . of discovering one’s own beliefs.  And, that my friends, is scary.  When people quit thinking for themselves and start espousing some talking head’s opinions . . . well, it is scary.  Scary because it leads to places that end up repeating history . . . history like the Second World War and all that lead up to it.

Truth of the matter is . . . I do not need someone else to tell me what I think of what I believe.  I do not need the television to do this for me.  I do not need the radio to do this for me.  I do not need the opinions that my friends re-post on Facebook or Twitter . . . no, I would rather have a thoughtful and honest statement about what they really think and believe.  I just do not need others telling me what to believe or think . . . I do not need that noise rattling around in the ol’ rock garden I call my mind . . . nor do I need it to be bouncing around in my heart. 

I think I can make up my own mind.  In fact, I think that is exactly what God wants me to do . . . to make up my own mind based on my love for God and others, not on what someone tells me I should believe or think.  I want what I know and believe to be based on what I have experienced in my life, not in someone else’s experience and life.  I truly believe that God wants us to think for ourselves . . . to be ourselves . . . not someone else, not something else . . . but ourselves.

I truly believe that each and every one of us has the ability to think for him or herself.  The truth is out there.  We do not need others to tell us what to think . . . to tell us what matters.  God trusts us to make these decisions on our own . . . why don’t we trust ourselves? 

Of course, this is my opinion . . . do you have one of your own?  Or, do you let others think for you?