What if we just quit bothering with the world? The easiness of essentialism.

What if, instead of worrying about the world and its expectations, we focused on only a couple of key items and let the rest of world just . . . go on its way?

Think about that: maybe there’s only a handful of things we really need to worry about, and as for the millions of other demands the world makes upon us we just ignore them.

Wouldn’t that be amazing?

My friend clued me into “Essentialism,” which redefines minimalism and suggests that we should “discern what is absolutely essential, then eliminate everything that is not.” Greg McKeon argues that we get too caught up in the non-essentials: “non-essentialism is this idea that everything has to be done and that you have to do it all. Everything is equally important so therefore I have to try to do it all. That’s an idea — if I can do it all, I can have it all.”

But what if we don’t bother with doing it all? Why would we want it all anyway?

What if we quit following every news outlet, every fashion, every new-and-latest thing, every competition and demand for our attention, and focus instead on only a few ESSENTIAL points?

We’d be a heckuva lot happier!

Consider how simpler life would be if we:

  • stopped fretting that our houses aren’t up to date (no, you don’t have to put shiplap on every wall),
  • that our kids aren’t excelling in every sport/musical instrument/dance/karate/theatrical production (freeing up afternoons and weekends),
  • that we’re not on top of every trend (anyone remember how fast Pokemon Go came and went? Men’s rompers will go the same way, so don’t give them another thought). 
  • And what if we let the world go on its way . . . without us?

I think about life in the 1800s, how people focused on survival, their immediate family and neighbors, their little communities, and had no idea what the gossip was on the other side of the state or the world. They could think about real things, urgent things, important things.

Whereas we think about silly, petty, and divisive things.

But we don’t have to. We can center our lives on very few priorities and shut out everything else.

So what would those priorities be? How about the only thing that really matters: developing Christlike attributes.

To become like Him is the main reason we’re on this earth, going through this trial of life to see what our hearts really want, and to see how we can become more like Him. And you know what? I’m thinking more and more that being like Christ is the best and only worry I need.

And that “worry” isn’t even a concern. Look what He said in Matthew 11:

 28 Come unto me, all ye that labor [to keep up with the demands of the world] and are heavy laden [with the world’s expectations], and I will give you rest [because we set that all aside].

29 Take my yoke upon you [and throw off what the world expects of you], and learn of me [instead of the world]; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls [because I teach the peaceable things of the kingdom].

30 For my yoke is easy [way easier than anything the world demands], and my burden is light [lighter than anything the world shoves upon you].

Matthew 11:28, We find rest in Christ

And that’s all there is to it.

People assume that because I have nine kids I’m constantly busy and harried. But the truth is–and sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit it–I’m not. Quite often I can spend hours each day in pursuits I enjoy–writing, reading, researching–because we don’t bother with the non-essentials.

My kids aren’t involved in many activities; we don’t run around endlessly every afternoon from one thing to another–I let them entertain themselves like some 1970s throwback mom. I don’t demand perfect grades from them (grades aren’t an indicator of future success anyway), but I let them push themselves, which they do.

My house isn’t spotless or trendy (I’ve got better things to do), I make simple meals for dinner, and, frankly, I’m pretty relaxed most of the time. I almost feel guilty about that . . . but then I decide I don’t need to bother with worldly guilt, either, and let the feeling go.

We take care of each other, study the gospel, go to church, play together, educate each other and . . . that’s about it. Easy.

I am, however, trying to increase the amount of time I spend on others, trying to find additional ways we can be of service, because that’s really the purpose of life: taking care of others as Christ did.

The apostle James put it in simple terms:

27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction [taking care of the vulnerable and needy around us], and to keep himself unspotted from the world [ignore the world].  ~ James 1:27

That’s it. Only two things, just like Christ said to the lawyer in Matthew 22:

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind [not giving any of your heart, soul, or mind to the world which will treat you cruelly].

38 This is the first and great commandment [which will keep you unspotted and unburdened by the world].

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself [by taking care of the vulnerable and needy].

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets [and you need not bother about anything else].

Simple, sweet, and satisfying! (Unlike the world.)

We can do that. Anyone can do that.

And we should, because consider these words of Christ:

36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall again the whole world [be accepted by it, follow its trends and demands religiously], and lose his own soul? [Worldliness kills the soul—simple as that.]  ~Mark 8:36

I’m not saying it’s easy to shut out the world. I’ve been working on doing that for quite some time now, trying to cut off more and more connections to it, especially through social media. Our family quit TV and radio some years ago (just getting rid of advertisements significantly increased peace in our lives). There are still many aspects I struggle with, and likely will my entire life. It’s hard to live in the world and not have some of it rub off on you, like trying to squeeze between muddy elephants without getting dirty.Image result for herd of muddy elephants

Purposely not doing what everyone else around you is can be a little disconcerting. Sometimes I suffer from FOMO: fear of missing out. But just because the crowd is insistent, just because you feel the need to be like everyone else, you don’t have to be. This image, which I ran across many years ago, has seared deeply into my soul. I want to be that guy.

Image result for man in crowd not heil hitler

I’m discovering that when I ask God how I can step further away from the world so that I can be closer to Him, He gives me ideas, nudges me away from distractions and gently prods me toward more important activities. He wants me and my family to be unspotted, and He wants to ease our burdens. I have full confidence that He can get us all the way where we need—and want—to be, because, awesomely, He’s already done it himself:

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace [because haven’t you grown weary of keeping up with the world yet?]. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world [and so can you].”  ~John 16:3

     “You look so tired, Young Pere. So weary, my sweet boy. Did you ever have a day of peace in the world?”
     “No,” he sighed. “Not that I remember.”
     “Then isn’t it time to let go of the world?”
     ~Book 8 (Yes, there’s a book 8!)

Two logical reasons why I bizarrely thank canning jars . . . and everything else

I didn’t realize until I was older that we had a weird tradition in our house. It was mandatory that when a canning jar popped, no matter what part of the house my mother was in, she’d shout, “Thank you!”

If she wasn’t home, that duty fell to me, and I didn’t always want to do it.

My mother, a refugee from Germany after WWII, learned how to can after she came to America. But she was always worried about sealing the jars properly, so she’d watch the jars, waiting for the lid to pop up indicating that it had sealed. Relieved, my mother would exclaim, “Oh, thank you!”

Over the years, it became a habit to thank each jar for sealing properly, and I grew up knowing that when the jars popped in the kitchen, “Thank you!” needed to be shouted. Otherwise, who knew what evil would transpire?

I thought the tradition was ridiculous, especially when I discovered that no one else did this.

When I was twelve, Mom pulled out a batch of pears, then went outside to pick strawberries. It was then that a cooling jar popped, and . . .  I was the only one to hear it.

I knew what was expected—that I should thank it, but how stupid was that? Thanking an inanimate object?

The house became very quiet and still, as if waiting for me to thank the jar for its kindness in sealing, but I wasn’t going to do it, not going to—

“Thank you,” I finally whispered, because the cosmos seemed to demand it.

Two more jars popped cheerfully after that, and I thanked each of them. Fortunately my mom came back into the house and asked urgently, “Did any pop?”

“Yes, and I thanked them,” I said sheepishly.

She thanked each of the jars herself anyway, just to be sure.

It wasn’t until about ten years later, when I tried canning for the first time, that I eagerly and worriedly watched for my first can of tomatoes to signal its sealing. When it did, I cried out, “Oh, thank you!”

And immediately I understood. And immediately I was hooked.

You see, I began to thank all kinds of things; our old vans when they start without spluttering (I frequently pat them on the dashboard, telling them what good vehicles they are); the driver’s side window of my minivan when it decides to go up when I push the button—especially when it starts raining; my printer when it communicates with my laptop and actually prints something; when the traffic light stays green for a second longer; when there’s a 2-for-1 sale on my favorite bagged salad—all of that gets an audible, “Thank you!”

Yes, even in the grocery store.

I’ve found myself saying “Thank you!” when:
my sons’ favorite t-shirts are on sale;
that 50% off coupon is still good at the fabric store;
the berries produce;
the bread rises;
I get to the pot just before it boils over; and
when the stain comes out in the laundry.

Because everything deserves thanks, animate or inanimate.

It’s contagious. My oldest daughter confessed that when she cans, she also calls out “Thank you!” each time a jar pops; another child thanks the scooter when it starts up; and the other day I heard my four-year-old thank his Legos for going together.

There are numerous studies showing the spiritual/psychological/emotional improvements when we count our blessings, but here are the reasons why I became hooked on thanking the world:

  • It immediately makes me happy. Think of every time you say thank you, or someone says it to you. There is always—always—a hint of a smile (or maybe a huge one, depending upon the situation).

I have yet to witness a sincere expression of thanks without accompanying happiness.

  • I feel in harmony with the world when I thank it, and that makes me peaceful. So what if it’s weird to thank the automatic door for opening; I do so anyway. It might not have opened, and that may have made me grumpy as I wrestled with doors, trying to leave the store.

But something kind and helpful happened for me, as it does every day, so I show gratitude. It does nothing for the item I thank, but it does ME a world of good: I see the world as a kind and helpful place, which in many,  many ways it still is.

I need to remind myself that there is peace, even during horrific times, or I’ll hide in my closet terrified of the world.

My mom told me once of fleeing the Soviets when they were taking over her hometown of Neisse (Nysa), now in Poland. She was a teenager, fleeing all alone to the west, and had only a sausage in her backpack for food. She found a mother and her child willing to shelter her for the night, and she shared her sausage with them. She thanked the woman for safety from the Soviets, and the woman thanked her for giving them something to eat when she had literally nothing left.

And for that evening, for them, the world was at peace. I don’t know about you, but I desperately want that kind of peace in a world growing more hostile. My mom always remembered that night fondly, when she realized that kindness still existed, and so did God.

Yvonne N Strebel 1

(My  mom, a few years later, in happier times in Munich.)

So really, it’s not so much thanking the world as an inanimate object, either; it’s thanking, in many different ways, the Creator of it all.

“Thank you,” Perrin said again to the forest, wondering if anyone was there to hear it.

Back behind a clump of pines, a man in white and gray mottled clothing nodded. “You’re welcome, sir. My pleasure and honor.” ~Book One: The Forest at the Edge of the World

why-i-thank-the-jars

 

America’s the land of revolutions; let’s start another one!

There are revolutions happening all around us in America, but we don’t always recognize them. But once we do, we realize we can be part of them.

If we dare.

Most of these revolutions arise from breaking with the status quo of our ancestors. And not just talking about change, but actually being part of it. Too often we spout niceties about being original and different, but in reality we’re terrified to not follow the crowd. Too frequently we want to be in on the latest trend, say the right thing in whatever is deemed politically correct for the day, and to be counted among the winners.

And that last reason—to be among the winners—is why people are afraid to be different.

For example, while so many people are personally opposed to both of the major political candidates running for president, they’ll vote for one of them anyway because that’s how it’s always been.

But that doesn’t have to be. We can begin to change the system, this year.

I know that’s scary talk, and I heard someone comment that this isn’t the time for a revolution, but revolutions are happening all the time. Every day people are rejecting what corporations and governments, and what tradition and the status quo, have been dictating should be.

This has always been the way change begins—not with large organizations or ensconced traditions, but with individuals. Margaret Mead famously said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Citizens have always taken it upon themselves to instigate change. Back in 1776 Thomas Paine published “Common Sense,” advocating that the colonies separate themselves from Britain. An individual—not a corporation or organization—gave other citizens the idea to break with the current tradition and be brave enough to begin the Revolutionary War.

Not that all acts by individuals will lead to such dramatic events (and there were certainly many more factors contributing to the war). But people have been going contrary to the prevailing winds for a long time. Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”

What this means, as Hugh Nibley has written, is that we need to “Be different. Then you can make a contribution. Otherwise, you just echo something; you’re just a reflection.”

Emil Neufeldt 002

Emil Neufeldt

Many years ago, the Nazi party tried to make my great-grandfather into a reflection. Emil Neufeldt, who lived in the Prussian region of Germany during WWII, was a wealthy inventor and engineer, with great influence in the sugar industry. The Nazis knew someone with his stature and money would be beneficial to their cause, so in the 1930s they sent one of their best to recruit him.

My great-grandfather wanted nothing to do with the Nazis, but knew that openly opposing them could cause him trouble. So he came up with an idea. Known to be able to hold his alcohol, Emil drank the Nazi recruiter under the table. Then he marched to the local Nazi headquarters and demanded they drag their recruiter home. He told them in no uncertain terms they should never dare again try to make him one of their own.

Did Emil Neufeldt stop World War II? No.

Did he stop the Nazis? No.

Did he secure safety for his family and household, and not be bothered by embarrassed and humiliated fascists again? Yes, he did.

He made a difference in his small part of the world, and eighty years later his great-granddaughter proudly remembers his example of not following the dubious safety of authority. (Even though it involved alcohol.)

My mother also told me of a Catholic priest in their area who, in the early years of WWII, preached openly about the atrocities of the Nazis, and publicly questioned where all the Jews were going.

He vanished shortly after, never to be heard from again. Did he change the world then? Stop the Nazis? Discover and reveal what was happening to the disappearing Jews?

No.

He likely met their same fate in some concentration camp. But his bravery is remembered, right here, today. His words and worries and defiance was repeated, many times over by others just as daring, and eventually the war ended and the horrible truth was revealed.

We don’t remember mere reflections. We remember innovators. We remember those who changed the world, for better and for worse.

We remember contrarians. The word coined by Richard and Linda Eyre means”to go against the prevailing wisdom, to contradict what the majority seems to be thinking or doing. [A] ‘contrarian’ . . . describe[s] someone who thinks for himself and who is not swayed by trends or popularity or styles or the direction of the crowd.”

This is happening, all around us. Contrarianism frequently means rejecting foolish traditions of the past.

For example, when I was a teenager in the 1980s rampant consumerism was the tradition. You were openly judged based upon what you wore, what you have, and how big your house was. (Anyone remember Yuppies or “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”?) The era of McMansions was also born, then: gargantuan houses which no one could fill, and later, no one could afford.

But what’s the movement now? Tiny houses. Brilliantly constructed, carefully planned, and usually financially prudent, tiny homes are becoming the answer for many people who can’t afford even to rent.

So who started this trend? A man named Jay Shafer, along with Greg Johnson, Shay Salomon, and Nigel Valdez began the Small House Society back in 2002.  Not a corporation, not an organization, but a “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” are striving to make housing affordable for everyone.

The government certainly isn’t behind this change. They’re still calling for us to spend, spend, spend in order to improve the economy. Remember a few years back when the feds sent us cash hoping to “stimulate” financial growth? There was no lasting benefits.

In the 1980s and 90s, the tradition to show you have “arrived” was to own a designer handbag. Now, companies like Coach are struggling, along with many department stores and malls, because consumerism was discovered to not be all that it was hyped to be.

The funny thing is, if you’re unhappy, buying stuff won’t fix that. The rising generations, already stuck with debt, logically and contrarily don’t feel like generating more just for a random symbol of status their mothers and grandmothers erroneously thought was so important.

Nowadays, there’s a quiet revolution toward minimalism; people deliberately getting rid of stuff, downsizing their homes, possessions, and priorities. Many websites and books can teach you how to toss all that weighs you down, to organize what you have left, and live a more peaceful, tranquil, simple life.

Again, these are led by individuals who, contrarian-like, have rejected the status quo and have discovered something much more satisfying. And it’s happening all around us.

When I was a child in the 1970s, I first heard about vegetarians, and the idea to avoid eating meat both alarmed and intrigued me. But vegetarians were hippies! Free-loving weirdos and tree huggers! What a non-traditional folk! (And a lot of folks over sixty still regard vegetarians this way, so be warned when you bring it up.) Never mind that there have always been those who have eschewed meat: veganism was only for those on the fringe.

But no longer. While advertisements try to push us toward more meat and protein and dairy products, consumption has declined in the past years. The burger places for which people in the 1960s-1980s developed such affinities are finding themselves struggling against a growing number of restaurants offering healthy alternatives. The web is awash in thousands of vegetarian sites, and what was once on the fringes of contrariness is now mainstream.

Again, no corporation or governmental entity has led the movement for healthier eating. (Sorry, Mrs. Obama.) People have decided, after being inspired by other thoughtful individuals such as T. Colin Campbell and “The China Study”, to eat healthier. Subsequent weight loss and markedly improved health are more powerful inducements than any kind of advertisement.

Need further proof of how we’re rejecting what a generation ago believed was so important? If you’re a millennial, you won’t know that starting in the 1970s we were involved in the cola wars, and those extended until the 1990s. Battles in advertisements between Coke and Pepsi were fought viciously to win our loyalty. This explains why your grandmother may refuse to eat at a certain restaurant because they don’t serve diet Pepsi. She’s still a victim of that bloodless battle to win her devotion. Never mind that soda is as unhealthy and addictive as sugared hummingbird water; cola was king.

1985 ad, when we believed one soda might be “better” for us than another.

Mercifully, people have come to realize that they needn’t define themselves by what foods and beverages they’re loyal to.

In fact, I’ve heard of many in my generation and older are stunned to hear their descendants may drink only water, and never want to eat at McDonald’s. No, this isn’t some kind of treachery; it’s individuals thinking for themselves, looking past the hype and realizing there’s nothing of substance to back it up. 

Along those lines, it may also shock and surprise you that there are families who do not want to ever visit Disneyland. Although the masses and advertising claim it to be the “happiest place on earth,” standing in lines and paying for exorbitant entrance prices, food, and swag doesn’t make everyone happy. You may be startled to know that some contrarians’ children will never walk on that hallowed ground, because they and their parents prefer the solitude, quiet, and low entrance fees of national parks.

Contrarians also show up in education, and have been for many years. Common Core and the associated scripts and texts which pander to it, are driving many families to homeschooling which, three decades ago, was a fringe alternative but is now almost trendy and fast becoming the new tradition.

And if you were around in the 1980s, you  might remember a crass movie called “Revenge of the Nerds.” Now, geek culture is the culture, contrary to what anyone would have believed 30 years ago.

Our attitudes of what is “acceptable” and how things “should” be are changing all the time.

Why can’t our attitudes then also change about how we elect a president?

Most Americans still feel obligated to side with either the Republicans or Democrats, even if they feel neither represents them.  And the arguments they use are old and tired: “Because of the electoral college, only a Republican or Democrat will win.”

Or, a vote for anyone else besides Republican or Democrats means, “Your vote will be wasted.”

Rephrased it’s, “Being different will mean you’ll be left out.”

Doesn’t that hearken back to every fear we had as kids? Not being part of the “in” group?

Too many of us adults still harbor those worries, desperate to be part of “the group” so that we matter. In my limited observations, it’s those middle aged and older who are most worried about being obedient to the brand of Republican or Democrat they were brought up with. They still think (hope?) all Republicans are like Reagan and all Democrats are like the Roosevelts.

Now consider this: how often has the “in” group made poor choices which affected thousands and even millions? Begin by listing obvious dictators, and count which societies are still doing well under them.

Think about all the examples I’ve just shown you about individuals making a difference, influencing others around them to be contrarians. Why can’t we extend this bravery and independent thought to overturn an antiquated and manipulative system for something that really works?

Now is the time for each of us to individually say, “I will no longer support this.” Revolutions don’t have to be bloody, angry things. In fact, nearly all of the examples of positive change I listed above have been thoughtful movements.

“As we watch the directions that society is taking we see the folly, and in our most lucid moments, we don’t want to follow the trends, we want to depart from them — to think more clearly and chart our course on light and truth rather than on the herd instinct that seems to dictate what most people do.” ~Richard and Linda Eyre [emphasis added]

Too often we believe that there are only two options: the established way, and the wrong way. But rhetorically speaking, this is a logical fallacy. If you’ve ever worked for a boss who claims it’s only his way or the highway, you know how miserable that situation can be, and it usually signals a business is in big trouble.

Refusing to see other possibilities is what traps us. There are ALWAYS more options—to any situation, problem, or ideal.

Change never comes from the establishment or a corporation. It always arises from insightful, thoughtful, brave individuals who refuse to believe “there’s no other way.”

My neighbor recently demonstrated this by showing just how few Americans really support the Republican and Democratic parties.

#iamsomeone (And, importantly, Dallin Crump’s just an individual who wants to illustrate a point; he receives no funding or sponsorships. He’s just a “someone,” a “thoughtful citizen,” trying to change America. The fact that millions of people have also viewed and shared this suggests he’s not alone).

It’s up to us to stop being afraid of being different, to embrace contrarianism, to stand up against the tide and slow it down, even if only for a little a bit.

incite change

“I have spent many years of my life in opposition, and I rather like the role.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

I haven’t voted for either party in twenty years. At times, I’ve even written in candidates who I felt would be excellent leaders. I don’t feel my votes were wasted; I feel my conscience was satisfied.

We ourselves might not experience rewards from our subtle civil disobedience by not voting for either the Republican or Democratic candidate, but our children or grandchildren may.

It’s not necessarily for us that we stand up at this election, or at any other time, to defy the status quo. It’s for those who follow.

Generations from now, may we be remembered as the Thomas Paines, the Emil Neufeldts, and the Catholic Priests who did something more than meekly follow the noisiest crowd. We should be–must be–remembered as those who lent a hand in turning the country around.

“It’s rare,” Gleace told them, “that anyone in the world comes up with new ideas, or pokes at old notions to discover if what everyone believes is actually true. But you,” he smiled slyly at Perrin and Mahrree, “you poked all the time. And that’s how you got here.”

“Our poking caused trouble,” Mahrree pointed out.

“Ah, but the very best kind!” Gleace declared. “The kind that makes people question everything they know. People need to be poked every now and then.”

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

I hate guns, but there’s something I hate even more (A pacifist’s confession)

I hate guns.

They terrify me. They kill, indiscriminately, even in the hands of the most skilled and trained users.

I hate their shape, their noise, and the smell of the cleaning agents.

My neighborhood is filled with gun-lovers. Hunters, cops, concealed-weapon holders—I’m surrounded by them. I wish I knew who stored loaded handguns in their houses, because I wouldn’t let my kids play there. All of that frightens me, to no end.

Many of my extended family are gun-nuts. They own arsenals. They’re gunsmiths. Bullets are stockpiled as plentifully as toilet paper is stock piled in my house.

Even my husband owns guns. I require that they remain dismantled, and stored in various parts of the house, because I hate them.

There are far too many accidental shootings and deaths. I don’t want anyone to come running to my aid, wielding a firearm, because I fear they’d shoot an innocent bystander in my behalf.

I’ve never shot a gun, but all of my kids have. My son is in the military, and two of his brothers intend to follow him. I’ve handled our family guns a couple of times, only by wrapping an old towel around them. I distrust weapons of all kinds.

You may choose to be offended by this, but I also tend to distrust gun enthusiasts. Some strike me as insecure bullies, hiding behind their weapons in a childish display of bravado and strength. Look at me! Look at the size of my caliber! There’s definitely something Freudian, and something cowardly, about those who feel their many guns give them power.

I’m a bit of a pacifist, if you hadn’t noticed. I crave peace.

I’m struck by the calm countenances I see in those who eschew violence: Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, and many others who would rather take a hit rather than deliver one. My father, who taught me to hate guns, was the most peaceful man I ever knew.

Yet, there’s something that terrifies me even more than guns: those who want to disarm my family and neighbors, while still remaining armed themselves

I prefer “The Office’s” version of a Mexican standoff: no guns.

It’s the clichéd Mexican standoff: no one dares to drop their weapon, because it’ll leave them vulnerable. I have to confess, those are the scenes in movies I hate the most. I can’t see any peaceful resolution, and you just know someone’s gonna get hit, probably when they’re walking away.

It’s that hypocrisy that makes me nervous.

It’s the same hypocrisy that I see in the elite of America: those with the money and the power and the influence. Those who make laws and entertainment and products we don’t think we can live without.

Those who are trying, at all costs, to take away from us so that they can have more.

You know who I’m talking about, so I won’t name names, but here’s a brief rundown of what they do:

  • They push for Common Core in the public schools, while sending their children to private schools which don’t follow those standards.
  • They insist on sharing the wealth, but just not theirs, because they still maintain mansions, expensive cars, and designer clothing.
  • They cry about climate change, yet pick up their conservation awards via private jets and gas-guzzling SUVs.
  • They won’t carry guns, but their bodyguards do.
  • They want to disarm America, but not those in their circles of influence.

A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation. ~Adelai E. Stevensen

It’s the same pattern we’ve seen in history, time and time again. America may not have an aristocracy like there was in the French Revolution, but . . . No, wait. We do. They’re based in Hollywood and Washington, D.C.

How difficult it is to avoid having a special standard for oneself. ~C. S. Lewis

These are very dangerous, very powerful people. For many years I’ve tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. So often I’ve defended those who want more gun restriction and laws, not because I agree with their politics (I don’t, at all) but because I sincerely believe that peace can’t happen when so many options for violence surround us.

I thought the elite of America felt that way as well.

But they duped me.

A hypocrite despises those whom he deceives, but has no respect for himself. He would make a dupe of himself too, if he could. ~William Hazlitt

They’re not interested in peace, for everyone. They’re interested only in control, for themselves. You can’t achieve that control if those below you are afforded any power.

My very peaceful father grew up during WWII, in very violent Nazi Germany. His father, a civilian, went nowhere without his sidearm (contrary to popular memes, Hitler did not disarm all of Germany; only the Jews). My parents, both later citizens of America, frequently commented how naive Americans were, how overly trusting we are of those in power, and how little we understand of the horrors of a totalitarian regime.

“This is what politics is about, right? We help the people discover the threat to their security, then we provide them with a solution. Granted, we create the threat that sends them scurrying to us for help . . .” ~Book 4: The Falcon in the Barn

This is why, no matter how much I personally hate guns, I reluctantly, begrudgingly, miserably agree that taking away all of the guns out of the hands of the public will be more disastrous than the bouts of violence we have now.

“Politicians care only about two kinds of people: those who bring them wealth and power, and those who threaten to take it away.” ~Book 3: The Mansions of Idumea

politicians and power

To the elite of America, I promise that this lowly, inconsequential, middle-aged mother of nine who will never willingly touch a firearm will, once again, support your calls for increased gun legislation and even disarmament, on one condition:

Put down your guns first.

But we all know that’s not going to happen.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll do what I usually do during a scene of a Mexican standoff: run to my bedroom and hide in the closet until it’s all over.

I’ll likely be there for a very long time.

(~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti, is now available at Amazon and Smashwords and here)

Excuse me, but your ignorance is showing

Recently a mother of an autistic son in the Salt Lake Valley found the following stickers on her car around her Autistic Child sign:

autism stickers car

Love the random capitalization on the stickers. Hey, let’s make this letter big, just for fun!

What caught my eye, however, was this sticker. Exactly what’s this supposed to mean?

entitled

Uhh . . . what?

It means that the perpetrator is embarrassingly ignorant, on many levels.
Ignorant of autism.
Ignorant of appropriate behavior. (Stickering someone’s car? Really? That may be considered vandalism unless it’s a wedding.)
Ignorant of the English language.

There are marvelous and cringe-worthy examples of ignorance everywhere. A few samples I gleaned from the Internet:

asia

I guess “euthanasia” was too hard to spell?

Image result for bad protest signs

What we call “irony.”

Image result for bad protest signs

So they’re hoping for many years of the same thing?

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Strange, I haven’t seen “half-breed muslin” at my fabric store. (And does it look like that “d” was an afterthought?)

I’m trying to decide what causes such public ignorance. Does passion for the movement cause one to forget how to punctuate, or even spell?

Or does one protest because they are ignorant?

Of course, ignorance isn’t confined merely to those who protest, nor are all protestors ignorant. Some actually know what they’re talking about.

nazi

Ok, maybe not.

But some people, it seems, never know what they’re talking about. Back in the 1980s we were newlyweds, and my husband whisked me back to “the east.” I was worried, because I had this ignorant notion that all east coast people were sophisticated, smart, and sharp. I, however, was just a little doofus from the west. How would I ever communicate?

Then I met a young man who asked what my maiden name was. When I told him Strebel, and that my parents were immigrants from Germany after WWII, he developed this odd smirk and said, “So your family were Nazis?”

I was shocked.
Worse than that, I was livid! The Nazis had ruined my families’ lives. My ancestors fought the Nazis!

I started explain that, but the young man just waved me off and said, “Yeah, you’re all Nazis.”

My new husband pulled me away, knowing there was no reasoning with ignorance.

Image result for bad protest signs

Look at her face. This is not a happy woman. Probably because she’s outraged that she doesn’t know what “you’re” means.

I’ve thought frequently about that incident over the years, and subsequent others. Back in the 1980s when I was working at a trendy clothing shop on the “sophisticated” east coast, one of my coworkers, upon learning I was LDS (a Mormon), said, “Oh, my dad said your husband can have all the wives he wants, that you belong to a cult, and that you drive horses. How come they let you out to work here?”

Oh, where to start! After an hour’s discussion trying to dispell all of that, she still regarded me suspiciously. She knew the truth, or at least liked her ignorance more than she liked my explanations.

Sounds like hell will be pretty full. I know Mormons like me are doomed, but sports nuts are damnable? I was ignorant of that.

Finding the truth was harder 25+ years ago. We didn’t have the Internet. We had to make some effort to visit libraries, read newspapers, or watch the TV news or a documentary. (Really, I’m not trying to sound sarcastic here.)

But today there’s no excuse for ignorance. We have so many resources about anything and everything, and all for free.

And maybe that’s the problem: for every drop of credible information out there, you can find a flood of rumor and nonsense. There are no fact finders on meme generators, our society’s new bumper stickers of truth. Anyone can create anything, and those who “think” they know won’t bother to research the truth.

Actually, these pyramids were built by paid workers, and by farmers and villagers who volunteered during the off season believing that their labor would help ensure their own afterlife. No slaves were harmed in the building of these pyramids. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/who-built-the-pyramids.html

I’ve discovered something about the ignorant: they’re afraid.
Afraid they may be wrong.
Afraid they won’t recognize the truth when they see it.
Afraid to change their attitudes.
Afraid to be humble.

Back to my “You’re all Nazis” man. The more I learned about him, the more I realized he was truly ignorant.

He didn’t read, which is the hallmark of ignorance. Not the news, not books, not anything more than bumper stickers, which constituted the bulk of his education.

His little smirk was his signal of fear. I’ve seen this odd trait in many scared people. Either they’re lashing out in a full, terrifying rage, or they’re trying to pretend they’re more confident than they are, hence the smirk. Watch for that, the next time you’re confronted with someone who’s particularly unpleasant. You’ll see their terror cowering behind the smirk. 

prop_8_protest%20women.jpg

Oh, they’re protesting the CHURH. Whew. For a minute there, I thought they were protesting my church.

I feel badly for these people, I really do. There’s no need to be fearful, there’s no reason to remain in ignorance. There’s such a wealth of information in the world, and many good, kind people who would be willing to share what they know with you. 

But that takes humility: recognizing that we don’t know everything, and that we still have much to learn.

Unfortunately, ignorance is exceptionally prideful.

I may be a “mavrik” if I knew what it was. Perhaps you could also explain what a “socialest” is?

The South Deserves Better than the Confederate Flag

I understand that, not being a native southerner, my opinion about the Confederate flag likely isn’t worth a slice of pecan pie. I was told by the Wal-Mart greeter, when I first moved to rural Virginia, that I was a “Yankee.” There was a slight sneer in her accent when she didn’t hear any drawling from me, and I naively replied, “But I’m from Utah,” a state which wasn’t even officially in existence during the Civil War.

But, as I learned during my six years in the south, “Yankee is Yankee”, so you can discount my opinion, but here’s how one “outsider” sees the Rebel flag.

I don’t understand what it means.
Really, I don’t. My dear husband, who lived in the south for some time, tried to explain that it represented “southern pride” and “states’ rights.” But I grew up where Confederate flags were seen mostly in history books, with the caption “Symbol of the losers of the Civil War,” so I don’t understand the purpose of holding on to it. After I moved, a native Virginian told me, “Southerners, at least once a day, still lament that they lost the War.”

So I asked several of them, “Do you really still resent losing the war? Isn’t it good that the slaves were freed?” I always got a response like this:
“You see, it’s not really about slavery, but . . .” And that’s when all the responses went predictably vague.
“Because the north was forcing things on us, and we didn’t like that,” or, “Because the south has its own kind of pride.”
So then I’d ask, “Why do you still embrace the Confederate flag?”
“Because it represents all we Southerners hold dear.”

When I push for more specific answers—what exactly does it represent, what do southerns hold dear—I was told something like this:
“Pride. It’s a southern thing. You Yanks just don’t understand.”

No matter how many times I explained I was from Utah, and therefore not a “Yank,” I still never got anything more.

And I think I know why: most people don’t ask themselves those hard questions. The flag has just always been there, a tradition. To question a tradition is like questioning if your Grammy really loved you. You don’t do that.

I understand wanting to be proud of one’s heritage, but can’t that be done through any other symbols rather than the Rebel flag? I think Southerners can do much better. In fact, I think they deserve better than that old symbol of a bygone era.

I lived for six years in Virginia and South Carolina, and I met many marvelous people of different faiths, backgrounds, and races. I grew to understand and be grateful for the meaning of “Southern Hospitality,” and I even learned to decipher some of the deeper accents. (Although our excellent hillbilly mechanic was forever unintelligible to me, nor could he understand us. Fortunately he had excellent handwriting.) I made lasting friendships and realized why so many people love the south.

But I never could understand why such good, kind, generous people wanted to be associated with a flag that, for me and likely many others, represented slavery.

Symbols are tricky, tricky things. No one can control how another views a symbol, nor what it may mean to them. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that we frequently misinterpret symbols, and often we become offended when no offense is meant.

But the Rebel Flag is just as its name implies: a symbol of rebellion. Why is rebellion something to celebrate?

Up until my thirties the only exposure I had to the Confederate Flag was in history books and the occasional stickers on trucks out here in the west. The drivers of those vehicles were always . . . shall we say, “unsavory” at best. Usually the trucks were jacked up, rusted out, and filled with what I would describe as angry rednecks wearing baseball hats which look like they were rescued from the dump. These weren’t happy people. They scowled. Always. Or leered, and then they showed a considerable lack of dental hygiene. I’m not trying to fall into a stereotype, but I never saw someone driving such a vehicle and with such a symbol who struck me as having passed the 7th grade.

And so my association of the Confederate flag was always with men who I tried to get away from as quickly as possible in case they asked me a complicated math problem, such as how much change they should give me back at the gas station.

While this is clearly a very narrow evaluation, I also learned to distrust the Confederate flag and what it may represent from my parents.

I’ve mentioned before in this blog that they grew up in Nazi Germany as children, and even in their later years they literally shrank back in fear whenever they saw a swastika or a Nazi flag. Once when I was about twelve we pulled up to a store, and next to us pulled in a couple of bikers with miniature Nazi flags waving from their back seats.

My parents froze.
My mom, suffering at times from PTSD, whispered frantically, “What do they want?”
I was used to my mom escalating quickly to panic, but I was surprised at my dad’s reaction. He, too, refused to leave the car. “I don’t know,” and his voice was shaky as he stared at the flags.
“You don’t think they know we’re German, do you?” my mom asked.
“Nah, of course not.” But still my dad locked the doors at the motorcycle gang guys went into the store.
“But what do they mean by the flags?” my mom worried. “What do they mean?”

Needless to say we didn’t go into that store that day.

Years later I realized that these bikers likely meant nothing more than, “Oh, hey. Here’s a pretty flag that scares people and maybe makes us look tougher. Let’s use it!” without realizing the vast history behind the flag, nor the horrors that the symbol represented.

Interestingly, the swastika is a very old symbol, appearing in for thousands of years in architecture. It’s of sacred importance in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, almost like a lucky charm.

Until the Third Reich appropriated it in 1920.
Now, for the past 95 years the swastika been the symbol of tyranny and death. My parents regarded it as a symbol of those who tried to control them.

It was my parents who taught me to be equally wary of anyone who embraced the Confederate flag, which they thought was a similar symbol. They had never been to the south, never even met any black people as far as I know, but to them, the Confederate flag was just as tyrannical as the Nazi flag. Out of respect for those who had suffered under slavery, my parents shunned it. They were stunned that many Americans openly displayed the flag.

When my parents came to visit us in Virginia, they were alarmed at the number of rebel flags they saw. “Are you safe here?” they asked repeatedly. I assured them we were, but didn’t tell them that their latest grandson was born in Stonewall Jackson Hospital, where the Confederate Flag was well represented.

On another visit we took them to Charleston, SC for a trip, and my dad wrote in his journal that we toured “the quarters where the slaves were being held before they were sold . . . and it made a deep impression on us. Today these five buildings are occupied by souvenir shops, and people meander through these old structures without giving much thought of their historic significance. We personally felt it would have been better to tear them down!”

You can imagine just how worried they were when we moved to South Carolina for a few months, where once again a child was born in a hospital where that flag flew. Quite honestly, I never felt comfortable in South Carolina. I never could wrap my head around that flag flying proudly, because I was never sure what it really meant. After several years in the south, it still struck me as incongruous compared to the people I knew.

I still remember the very first parade we attended shortly after moving to Virginia. Cadets from nearby Virginia Military Institute presented the colors at the beginning of it, but were soon followed by an entry which shocked our kids.

Confederate and Civil War re-enactors, proudly waving a large Rebel flag.

Immediately my gaze fell upon a black family directly across the street, and I wondered how they felt about what was paraded in front of them.
What did it mean to them? What did it really mean? What did that flag mean to those waving it?
Part of me wanted to run across the road and shield that family’s view, because I thought of the quiet alarm my parents always experienced every time they saw a swastika.

My ten-year-old said, “Dad, why do they have that flag? Don’t they know they lost the war? Slavery was bad.”
My husband once again tried valiantly to explain, “Well, they see it as a symbol of southern pride—”
“Well, pride’s bad, too!” our nine-year-old son said.
My husband gave up trying to explain.

I watched the family across the street deliberately focus elsewhere. Later I realized that they were the only black family there, and while the town had a few minorities, I never saw any of them participating or attending those parades. I didn’t blame them. We quit going after a while, too.

Now that flag is coming down in South Carolina, I breathe a sigh of relief for many who I suspect wondered exactly what it really meant as well.

Southerners deserve to be represented by something better, something that reflects the kindness, generosity, and spirit that all races there exhibit. Therefore, I propose to replace the Rebel flag with something as sweet and rich and good as the south.
I propose . . . the pecan pie flag!

New Southern Flag

I threw this together in five minutes. Surely someone with some skills could come up with an even grander version. And if you think that’s an odd statement for a flag, check out some of the phrases on state flags. This is much, much better.

Here’s something everyone in the south can rally around. But you don’t have to listen to me. I’m only a Utah Yankee.

I worry that America is dying

This is my father’s coffin, July 2, 2015. These are the soldiers folding the flag that covered him.050

And while I watched the ceremony yesterday, I was struck that not only had my father died, but my country is dying, too.

I worry deeply about America. I agree with so many others who have written more eloquently, and angrily, that America is no longer the greatest country in the world.

And that would have broken my father’s heart. It’s odd to put it this way, but I’m grateful that Alzheimer’s took away his mind these past few years so that he couldn’t understand what was happening to the country he proudly became a citizen of 60 years ago. He loved America, but he wouldn’t recognize it today, and I worry about what it will be like in another 60, or even 6, years.

I worry because we are not united.
I’m not naïve; I doubt that this country has ever truly been “united,” aside from a couple of occasions. Once would have been during WWII when outside enemies provided us something to fight against instead of each other.
The second would have been a brief second honeymoon after 9/11 when we realized that our land was under no special protection, that we could be attacked like any old place, and that scared us.
But only for a time.

I worry because we all want to be victims.  
The notion of “freedom” has expanded and contracted in bizarre ways, granting to one segment of society the ability to act and demand anything they wish, while another segment is berated and demonized for nearly anything they express.
The fascinating thing is that every segment of society will claim to have been the one persecuted against. We scramble to cry foul and demand vindication and, hopefully, a huge payoff from a lawsuit.
No one wants to be independent anymore.

I worry because we want revenge.
In the past, in any quest for rights, the group feeling oppression marched and protested and demanded equality. And when they achieved it, they rejoiced.
But not anymore.
Many now want to punish those who they believed oppressed them (whether real or imagined), and drag up old wounds to make new ones. We don’t seem to believe in cooperation, or friendship, or forgiveness, or anything else we should have picked up from Sesame Street (I hesitate to say “church” because that may be deemed “offensive”.) We want to hurt those we believe have–or may in the future–hurt us.
None of us seem to want to break the vengeance cycle that could truly unite and free us.

I worry because we really aren’t free anymore.
Not free in choice of health care, school lunch, minimum wage, or even soda consumption.
Some of us aren’t free to choose to do a job, or to reject that job.
Some of us aren’t allowed to speak our conscience without being labeled or libeled. Many of us worry that our liberties will soon be our liabilities, especially if we express what we believe concerning God and His laws.
Soon what passes as “free speech” may be so tightly constrained that there will be nothing free in any speech anywhere.

I worry because we have become a country of selfish children.
Read stories of our ancestors during the Great Depression, or either of the World Wars. They sacrificed for their families and their neighbors. They knew true poverty. Millions of families–not just a few thousand, but literally millions–sent off husbands and sons to WWII, and over a million were wounded or killed. Food was rationed, as was clothing and shoes and gasoline, and Americans labored willingly to help their country succeed.
Today “sacrifice” is an ugly word, and we whine if we lose wi-fi. Even those who the government has deemed impoverished live with luxuries our grandparents didn’t dare dream of. We insist on being indulged, and “I’m entitled” is the phrase that pays. We’ve become soft and wimpy, and I think our ancestors would be ashamed.

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Are we becoming only a reflection of what we used to be?

As I watched the flag suspended over my father’s coffin, the silhouette of it reflecting on the stainless steel (my mother chose their coffins; she loved the glint of silver), I felt that shiver of worry that not only had my father passed from this world, but so also had much of this country which he had loved.

He had emigrated from Germany at the end of WWII. He knew an oppressive society where the leadership demanded complete obedience, where freedoms were restricted, where children were forced into a near worship of the government, and where anyone who spoke against it was carted away to a “work camp” never to be heard from again.

I worry that as the so-called Greatest Generation passes away, so too will our memory of what they endured in totalitarian regimes, and why they fought so hard against them.

And mostly I worry that we’re running headlong into repeating the history we no longer remember.

Why didn’t you do anything to stop him?

“Why didn’t you do anything to stop him?”

That’s what people frequently asked my father. He immigrated to America in the 1950s, and had a subtle yet clear German accent.  “Why didn’t you stop Hitler when you noticed he was ruining everything? He completely changed Germany, and you did nothing about it!”

My dad would answer, calmly and rationally (even though some of those who asked were hardly calm or rational in their verbal attacks). “First, I was born in 1931, so I wasn’t too influential in the politics of the 1930s and 1940s. Second, what could we have done?”

That question has weighed heavily on my mind these past few years as I’ve watched facets of our government morph into something I don’t recognize as America anymore.

Now, this is NOT an Obama-is-Hitler post. But the questions asked of my father have been clanking around in my mind for some time now. “Why aren’t we doing something?”

I won’t go into details of what worries me in our government (except to whine that the ironically named Affordable Care Act isn’t affordable, doesn’t care, and is completely an act; and that the impending immigration reform via executive order [read: tyrannical mandate] would infuriate my immigrant parents who jumped through all kinds of hoops to come to America legally).

But I won’t be surprised when, in years from now, our children ask the same question: “Why didn’t you stop him when you noticed he was ruining everything? He completely changed America, and you did nothing about it!”

IMG_3277

Don’t worry; my baby girl wasn’t traumatized for too long.

Now I freely admit that not everything about Obama is bad. No one is wholly evil (even Darth Vader had a few soft spots).

Personally, we have benefited immensely from the Income Based Repayment program for student loan payments, signed into law by Obama in 2009. Without that, we’d be living in a cardboard box right now, while a huge chunk of our income went to pay off our student loans. I’m grateful for this program and pray that it lasts.

My father, too, was grateful for the Autobahn and Volkswagen, initiatives of Hitler to help the common man. And in many ways, Hitler was a man of morality. He never smoked or drank alcohol, and instituted a “Fast day” where citizens fasted for a meal and were encouraged to give the food they didn’t eat to the poor. Hitler increased education, reduced unemployment, rebuilt Germany’s infrastructure, and—contrary to popular belief and internet memes—relaxed Germany’s gun laws so that more citizens could be armed and even purchase guns at younger ages (the Jews, however, he disarmed, unsurprisingly).

In 2004, my dad was asked to speak to the fourth graders at a local school, and he told them that, “Hitler was a very convincing and inspiring speaker, and he could convert many of his listeners to his ideologies.  . . . Depression, unemployment, and poverty were rampant, and he wanted to turn things around.” And he did.

And that’s when Germans decided he wasn’t such a bad chap . . . until things started to shift.

And that’s when it was too late. Germany was becoming a country unrecognizable to its citizens. Within just twelve years, he changed everything, while Germans stared in disbelief wondering what just happened.

I worry that it’s happening here, too. The Constitution was established to keep our borders safe so that citizens could live their lives as their consciences dictated. But we’ve been drifting away from that for some time now, and considering historically that no republic has lasted intact longer than 200 years, I suppose it’s time for us to implode. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

I’m definitely no politician, primarily because I feel my heart rate increase, along with my blood pressure, when I read what’s changing in our country. How the Constitution is disregarded. How the Supreme Court overreaches. How states’ wishes and votes are overturned by judges not even in their states. And how the president can do just about anything he wishes through an executive order, while Congress bickers and does nothing.

When Ronald Reagan said, “The scariest sentence in the English language is, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,’” he was prophetic.

It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government.
~Thomas Paine

My father told the fourth graders: “At Hitler’s rallies the masses shouted, ‘Leader, command; we follow you!’ With this shout, Germans surrendered their reasoning power and forgot to think for themselves. Later we found out that actors with loud voices were interspersed in the crowd, and at the right moments they shouted this cry and the crowd repeated it.”

Are we all just going along with the crowd as well? Because a few well-placed voices are shouting that it’s ok to follow blindly, to let Common Core decide our children’s education, or that the wife of the president can declare how many calories my kids eat at lunch?

I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation.
~President James Madison

We have no excuse for doing nothing about the abridgement of freedoms we’re experiencing. Again, from my dad: “How was it that Hitler had such tight control over the whole nation? The answer lies with the Gestapo, or State Secret Police. Midnight visitors might show up and take that person in ‘protective custody,’ and they wound up in a nearby concentration camp. Smart people knew how to keep silent.”

We’re smart people (perhaps) and we don’t have to keep silent. We don’t have a Gestapo (but we do have an IRS, which Tea Party members would be happy to tell you about).

The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government — lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.
~Patrick Henry

But we do have social media, we have forums, we have ways to complain and protest—many more than we had in the 1960s when they really knew how to protest—yet nothing’s improving. Political parties squabble uselessly, and we citizens suffer for it. Those who hold religious and moral values are increasingly persecuted for not embracing behaviors we deem against the will of God. And despite our public protests on social media, we’re losing.

If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.
~Samuel Adams

So how do we do prevent our country’s ruin? What would Samuel Adams do? Thomas Jefferson? I’m sincerely asking for ideas.

I also ask this since I can’t ask my father, who’s still alive at age 83, but whose mind is gone because of Alzheimer’s. Back when George Bush declared war on Iraq, Dad wrote a letter to the editor of his local newspaper stating his concerns about the action, and also wrote to the White House. He was proud of the response he received from Washington, and that his letter was published in the paper, but was discouraged that we still went to war. Twice.

Repeatedly he told me as I was growing up that we had to speak up when we thought something wasn’t right in our country. “We didn’t have that possibility in Germany, but we do in America.”

He was so proud to be an American citizen. He served in the Army, always voted, wrote many letters to politicians, and had the phone numbers for Oren Hatch’s office and the White House on his phone list. And he called them!

dad confused

Dad, and his classic, “Oh, brother . . .” look of dismay.

Later, he amended his answer when people asked him why he didn’t do anything about Hitler. “I was a child in WWII, but as an adult I make sure my opinion is heard. I became an American citizen because I love this country and believe in the pursuit of freedom for everyone. What are YOU doing to make sure this country remains free?” 

Strange as this sounds, I’m glad Dad’s awareness and memory is impaired. He’d be dismayed to see how we’ve strayed from the Constitution he dutifully studied. He’d be wringing his hands in worry that history was repeating itself, trusting a man who thought much more of himself than he should, and took upon him much more power than was ever intended.

Most of all, I still hear him saying, “Why didn’t you do anything to stop him?”

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
~Abraham Lincoln

People tend to trust whoever sets themselves up as the authorities, but at some point each person needs to look at what’s claimed and test it. Is the sunset really pink, or is it more of an orange? What do you see?

Did the government deserve her trust? They acted as if they already had it, Mahrree thought cynically. As if they could just take it, not earn it. And no one was questioning that, were they? They collect our trust as easily as they collect our taxes. We wanted them to succeed so we trust them blindly. Foolishly. And they’re using that. If people stop arguing, stop thinking, and are just willing to take—to trust—whatever the authority dishes out, they’ll accept just about anything— 
~The Forest at the Edge of the World (book 1)

 

Don’t judge me=I’m already feeling guilty

Some time ago I came to the realization that whenever someone throws out the “Don’t judge me!” line, it’s because at some level they suspect that they’re in the wrong, but they’re not ready to admit it, and certainly not ready to resolve it, and would rather that everyone STOP REMINDING THEM about it.

It’s called GUILT, and for some reason we often think we shouldn’t have to deal with that emotion.

My most amoral character agrees:

“Man’s greatest weakness! Guilt, regret, feeling bad about behavior . . . It’s a forced condition, you know, shame about a misdeed. A behavior taught to humans that can, and must, be overcome. Ignore it long enough, it dies away as simple as that . . . Humans abuse themselves. With guilt. With regret. It holds them back, makes them feel as if they owe some duty to others, as if there should be some level of behavior all should aspire to. Well, there isn’t! 
~Chairman Nicko Mal, Soldier at the Door

Well, there is!

And my, do we hate it when someone tries to remind us that the purpose of our lives isn’t to indulge ourselves and hope there aren’t any consequences.

I first encountered this very weak logic back in high school in the 1980s, when punk music hit the US. I had a few friends embrace the culture, dyeing their hair black and using a bottle of mousse each morning to make it stand up straight, putting spikes on every inch of clothing, then scowling when people stared at them.

“Don’t judge me!” I never understood that; they purposely put themselves on display, then didn’t expect people to look?

As a senior in high school I became grunge before Kurt Cobain made a name for himself. I wore holey jeans, didn’t bother with make-up, spent only 5 minutes on my hair (and yes, a few boys commented that I needed to “do something with it”—which pronouncement meant they weren’t boys I’d ever be interested in) and I did so for a purpose. I wanted to prove that I didn’t care about my appearance, but wanted to focus only on trying to get a scholarship (since I hadn’t been the best student for the first 11 years of schooling). Yes, people looked at me–this was the height of preppiness; watch “The Cosby Show” to see how I should have been dressing–and I rather enjoyed it. It was also a good test for my vanity; am I still worthy, even though I don’t “look worthy.” I was trying to make a point, and I made it. Judge me! Go ahead!

Social media has given us even more ways to stand up and be judged, or to scream, “Stop judging me!” Today I read Matt Walsh’s blog on why Christian women should hate Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ll state right now that I think the novel is women’s porn, so I agreed completely with his position.

However, the real lesson is in the comments, as it always is; scattered among the remarks of “Thanks for stating what I always suspected about that horrible book,” were phrases such as, “Hey, nothing wrong with reading about a little sex,” or “So what if I like a little excitement in my books?” and, most common among the dissenters: “Don’t judge me based on what I read! How can you be a Christian and be so judgmental?”

Ah-ha . . . someone’s conscious has been pricked, yet again. If they didn’t feel any guilt, they wouldn’t be justifying themselves, and in the huge social media presence of Matt Walsh, no less. There, for thousands of readers to see, they declare their stance yet demand that no one judge them. How very odd.

Weird Al, Mandatory Fun, Word Crimes, Grammarly

I have no doubt a few grammar Nazis wished they could find a similar uniform.

I see pricks of guilt and judgment everywhere on the Internet, and it always tells much more about the responder than what they respond to. For example, Weird Al Yankovic just came out with a brilliant parody about common grammatical errors, and Grammarly interviewed him about it. Again, the great lesson was in the responses to the interview, because poor Al accidentally used the pronoun “that” instead of “who.”

Oh, there’s no group more self-righteous and unforgiving than Grammar Nazis. (I’ve ranted about them here. Grammar snobs put the Pharisees of Christ’s time to shame.) These responders, instead of appreciating the incredible work of Weird Al, which he shares freely on YouTube so that all of us English teachers can kill another five minutes of class time; instead of being grateful that someone with a greater sense of humor has taken up the grammar cause; no, instead of applauding him, Grammar Nazis vilified him:

“People that know me … people that still haven’t figured out” 😦 And he thinks he’s a grammar nerd. <shaking my head>
[As of this is some kind of special club, and he just violated its most sacred rule.]

I, too, was shocked to see that he used that instead of who. 
[Yes, she actually wrote “shocked.”]

Fortunately there was some reason among the rabble:

Alright, everybody caught the “that/who” error. He’s still a satirical genius. Disagreement with that proposition is dissent up with which I shall not put.

Judgment is everywhere on the Internet, and just as we’re quick to not have people point out our faults, we’re even quicker to point them out in others. I think that’s because when we’re feeling guilty, the fastest way to assuage that guilt is to point out how someone is guiltier than us.

For example, I read an article about a woman who recycles clothing from a thrift store, updates it, then donates it back. I was amazed and humbled to realize she’d done over 700 pieces. I can sew (sort of), but it never occurred to me to use that minimal talent in such a generous and creative way.

Again, the lesson was in the comments. There were plenty of judgments which, I suspect, arose out of guilt.

“Look at the photos—she’s just shortening the hems and sleeves. That’s nothing too special.”
[And yet, still likely more than you did.]

“She’s only taking fat clothes and turning them skinny.”
[And what have you done?]

“As a plus-size woman, I take offense that she’s reducing the amount of clothing that would fit me, making it for skinnier girls. They already have plenty of clothes . . .”
[Seriously, she wrote, “I take offense.”]

And on, and on.

What I don’t think people realize is how transparent they are, how they give the world a telling image of themselves through their comments. Invariably, the more defensive people become, the guiltier they demonstrate themselves to be. I find myself cringing at their responses, pitying them that they’d expose themselves so freely and easily, showing the world their self-centeredness and pettiness.

Oh, he’s not getting out. Trust me.

It’s the old crabs in a bucket. If any tries to climb out, the rest drag it down, until eventually the crabs have torn each other into pieces. We envy others who dare to climb higher, feel guilty that we’re not doing likewise, don’t want them looking down at us from above in judgment, so we drag them back down and tear them apart with our criticism.

Now, I realize that what I’m doing here is also criticizing, on the Internet, and demonstrating my own transparency. I’m judging and doing all of the same things I’m nagging about here. I’m not going to rationalize away my post, but I will draw a distinction: our society is very loath to declare something “moral” or “immoral.” You want to see declarations of “Don’t judge me!” fly? Then make a declaration of what’s right or what’s wrong. Oh, they’ll be coming out of the woodwork like termites exposed to sunshine to come after you.

Yet, this is what we must do:  make evaluations—of products, of ideas, of media, of people—in order to recognize the strengths and weaknesses, the logic and fallacies, the truth and errors, and publicly declare what we have recognized.

And then, this is very important, then do NOT be offended at what comes back at us. If we’re going to be brave enough to take a stand, we have to remain brave enough to let people see us standing there.

As a practicing Christian, I believe wholeheartedly in the Judeo-Christian beliefs of accountability to a higher Being, in following the 10 Commandments, in realizing that life isn’t about getting what I want and when I want it, but in serving others first. It’s crucial for me to recognize what elements in society detract me from pursuing my chosen lifestyle, therefore I not only read about but also comment on those elements.

However—and this is a BIG “however”—we must also be honest with ourselves as to WHY we are making these public evaluations, these statements of “this is bad, and this is good.”

  • Are we doing so because we are truly concerned about the direction of our society, and we want to point out the slippery slopes to help our friends and family avoid them?
  • Or are we critical online because it gives us a sense of superiority?
  • Because we displace our guilt when we shame others?
  • Because we’re merely crabs in a bucket, unwilling to let anyone else rise higher?

And when we decide–and it is a decision–that we are “offended,” we also need to be honest as to why.

  • Has someone pricked our conscience?
  • Demonstrated where we’ve strayed from our personal yardstick of acceptable behavior?
  • Were we looking for a reason to hate “X” or shun “Y” and so we’ve chosen to be offended?

Sometimes we swing that word around proudly, as if being “offended” is some kind of virtue.

Personally, I think it’s a weakness. Years ago I heard someone state this philosophy, and I’ve taken it as my own: “You cannot offend me, for I simply refuse to take your criticism, to see your opinion as overriding my own, to give your hurtful words any room in my mind. If I am right with God, then I needn’t worry about where you think I am wrong.”

(Yeah, it’s a lot like, “I’m rubber, you’re glue; whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you,” but a bit more eloquent.)

I’m not saying I live this philosophy perfectly—I took a beating from trolls not too long ago that really tested my resolve—but I’ve found that when someone says something that threatens to offend me, it’s usually because they’ve knocked something inside of me that I’ve tried to hide, like C.S. Lewis’s proverbial rats in the attic that we’re shocked to discover, but were always there, hiding despite our attempts to ignore them.

Over the years I’ve learned to not blast those “stupid people!” in online forums, but I instead I retreat to my closet, get on my knees, and ask where I should be doing better.

And I’ve also realized that God’s criticism is much gentler, more instructive, and more uplifting than any arguments I engage in on the Internet.

In the meantime, I appreciate those who state boldly their opinions on issues that concern me. Even if they declare, “There’s really nothing wrong with a little bit of porn,” I’m grateful, because then I know who I need to distance myself from in the future.

“She knew that in a very real way, she controlled the world. At least, she controlled the way her students would see it.”

“That’s right, sweety—that’s a dog. Doggies are bad. They will always bite you, even if they look nice. Keep walking . . .”

That was the conversation I overheard between a mom and her three-year-old daughter yesterday. I was pushing my son in a stroller past them, and glanced over at the evil beast behind a massive fence.
It was a small, fluffy mixed breed dog, panting happily, not snapping at all.

Not that I’m a huge fan of dogs—I tolerate them, at best—but I worry when an adult passes along their fears, irrational or not, to their children.

I cringed, but the damage had been done.
The child shuddered obediently and gripped her mother’s hand as they rushed home. The girl had been indoctrinated.

The thing is, we all indoctrinate our children, in good ways and bad.
I’ve heard some adults argue that “religious nuts” brainwash their kids into believing in their faith, but it’s still propaganda when adults persuade children to not believe in anything at all.

As parents we literally present the world to our children—a view which they then spend the rest of their lives believing or disproving, or talking to a therapist about.
A difficult question then is, What view of the world have I given to my children?

My mother was a classic case of paranoia run amok. Suffering in Germany as a child during WWII, losing her parents, her grandmother, and several cousins to the war, seeing some of her family interred in concentration camps, then escaping from her home (now a part of Poland) to the west by herself as a 16-year-old, just one day ahead of the invading Russians, is going to leave some scars.

Unfortunately, she refused to have those scars looked at, insisting every time we tried to get her treatment for her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that she had things under control.
She didn’t.
She feared the world. She was afraid of people in uniforms (she hated the Boy Scouts—just like Hitler Youth, she claimed), people in stores (you never know why they’re looking at you), and people just chatting in the halls at church (she knew they were gossiping about her). Every person was a potential threat to her happiness, as it were.

Sometimes she was fine, going for months being cheerful and even joining in the conversations with other women in our neighborhood.
Then suddenly something would snap again—we never knew what the trigger was—and for many months and even years she was sure everyone hated her for her German accent, and that someone was coming to get her.

All of that rubs off on a kid, and even though I learned to distance myself from her delusions and paranoia as a teenager, I still feel my chest tighten when I see a group of women and I think I’m supposed to talk to them.
But rhetoric courses I took in college demonstrated how each person views the world in a different way and, most importantly, those views can change.

In my mom’s later years, her paranoia blossomed—one of the lesser-common side effects of Parkinson’s disease is hallucinations. And she did them magnificently.

My 40th birthday will always be memorable because she called to wish me a happy birthday, then said, “Well, your father’s all but out of the family now since I discovered he’s been having affairs.” The man was 78 at the time. My mom also complained about the listening devices in the house, the person living in the attic demanding sugar, and the horrible statue garden my brother and his wife had put up in the backyard.

My older sister called me two hours later to say, “I just had Mom committed to the mental hospital to stabilize her. How’s that for a birthday present?”

Now, four years later, my mother barely knows where she is or who she is. As her life slips away, I mourn for her that she never fully knew just how wonderful it could be. The world held her hostage since she was a little girl. She never knew how to change her view of the world, nor did she fully realize that for the past sixty-plus years she had a very easy life. All she could focus on was her fear.

That’s why I cringed when I heard that mother yesterday telling her daughter to be afraid of dogs. Undoubtedly she’s had some trauma in her past that she never got over, but to pass those fears on to someone innocent?
To taint an entire collection of creatures with just one ugly color because of a bias?
To assume that we as adults truly know how everything is, and that we’re completely correct in all our assumptions?

I don’t know whether to call that prejudice, or arrogance, or ignorance.
Whatever it is, it needs to be resolved to give our kids a fair and fighting chance.
And that’s probably the toughest thing for a parent to do.