Monday, June 22, 2009

Obama-nation or Obama-exaggeration?

I usually try to stay out of commenting on politics and focus my attention on the spiritual/religious side of things. But, this is one of those few occasions when I just can’t stay out of the game. Barak Obama has been getting hammered by a lot folks these days for some of his recent activities and speeches. My examination of the facts tells me that these folks are doing some spin doctoring to support their own agenda. Let me address a few unfair criticisms of President Obama:

First, Obama has been chastised for “bowing down” before the king of Saudi Arabia. Give me break! I saw the video of the "bow". It was not a formal bow, but appeared to me be an extended reach to shake his hand and then a follow through bow as a gesture of respect. He probably should not have done it in the G20 Summit in London, but would have been more appropriate in the Saudi King's own country. The White House denies that it was a bow. But, you might recall that Bush held hands with the King while he entertained him on his ranch in Texas. Was that inappropriate? That was probably unstatesman like, too. So what! But, the point is, people are acting like Obama, by this single action, has invited the nations of the world to slap us around like the proverbial step child. This criticism is so ridiculous I have to believe it is motivated by some ulterior motive. And, I think I know what it is. It is the unfounded belief of many that Obama is really a Muslim and once he has tenderized the American conscience he is going to turn us in to a Muslim nation! Look, let’s get over it. Obama is a confessional Christian, Period! Yes, he respects Islam, but so what! Islam is part of his hertitage, after all! Which to me makes his Christianity all the more real. He had to choose between faith systems, unlike most Christians in America who are simply raised to believe and cannot remember a time of individual choice between Christianity and other belief systems. Besides, why shouldn’t a person show some respect for the belief system of others? As Christians we want people of other faith systems to respect our beliefs. And, our beliefs are very exclusive? Just like Islam is. Not that we should respect murders and terrorists and those that support them. Islam has various expressions, just like Christianity. Militants have used both faith systems to do great harm. Don’t forget the murderous activities of Christians against Muslims during the Crusades! Besides, you don’t have to agree with them to respect them. This is a fear of Obama that goes back to the moment he entered the race for the presidency. It is simply an unfounded fear. Additionally, what I find amazing about this criticism is that it is predominantly coming from conservative Christians. Of all people they should know their Scripture, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Luke 6:31.

Second, Obama has been criticized for telling a Muslim country that the United States is not a Christian nation. This is an extrapolation from one of Obama’s statements. It is not at all what he said. This exaggeration is based on what Obama said while in Turkey, which is as follows: "one of the great strengths of the United States is -- although as I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values." has confirmed that Obama never said that America is a non-Christian nation or a Muslim nation. as some are claiming. Furthermore, the truth is, we are not a Christian nation, if you define "Christian" as Biblical Christian. And, it is Bible believing Christians that amazingly are the people making the claim that our Nation is a Christian Nation. The founding Fathers of the country were highly influenced by the predominatly Deistic Enlightment of the 16th Century. Jefferson, Washington, Paine, Franklin were not even Christians. They were Deists. The documents of this country are not Christian documents at all. They are a product of the Philosophy of Rationalism and Deism. We need a big time history lesson in this country, because people just aren’t getting it. Rather, they are getting some very idealistic information about the origins of our country. The original Pilgrims and Puritans were decidedly Biblical Christians, but they were a hundred plus years before this country became the United States and by that time the colonies, while predominantly Christian, were very pluralistically Christian. Including a lot of Deistic thinkers who rejected large portions of the Bible. And these were the guys who led the way! Look at our country today? We are and always have been a nation of immigrants with differing views and philosophies of life, just like the 13 colonies were at the time of the inception of our Constitution. Furthermore, our constitution is set up to favor the rule of law and a democratic populace, not “Christians” per se. And I say that as one who is a Christian.

Third, Obama is being accused of going around the world apologizing for America and trying to appease the nations, as though he is purposefully lowering our position among the world’s nations. Well, what I see him doing is going around the world extending the right hand of fellowship with an olive branch of proverbial peace. And why not, after 8 years of divisive rhetoric that has made us the big bully of the world. Obama is simply trying to follow in the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt, who said, “speak softly, but carry a big stick?” Oops, this is also an ancient African proverb! Maybe Obama’s trying to make us Africans! Silly conclusion, right? But these are the kind of conclusions I see people drawing from Obama’s speeches and actions. Wild Extrapolations. I have never heard or read anything from him that would indicate an apology for the United States. Maybe for some of our hurtful and disturbing actions, but not for the Nation. It seems to me that there is a Christian principle behind this. It's called, reconciliation!? The fact is, a lot of bad things have been done by people and leaders in this Nation which were sanctioned by our federal government. We ought to be ashamed of them and confess them! Isn't that that the "Christian" thing to do? He is trying to establish good will, period. To me it is a breath of fresh air after 8 years of inflammatory rhetoric coming from our administration. Furthermore, gone are the days that a nation can see itself as the center of the universe. Historically nationalism has led to a lot of arrogance and a lot of conflict. I am not suggesting in the slightest that we sacrifice the greatness of our nation. But why can’t we hold it up before others as a humble example of what works. We are a great nation. Not because of Obama, Bush, the Pilgrims, and Christians, but because of our governing system, based on the enlightened principles of freedom and democracy. Let it speak for itself. And it does. And that is all I see Obama doing.

Now, having said all this, I do not find myself in agreement with all that Obama believes or wants to do with our country. And, in that regard, we can thank the founders of our country who set in place a constitution that limits the powers of the executive office, by establishing a system of checks and balances through the Judiciary and the Congress.



Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Never Rationalize Anything That Feels Wrong"

On my way home from work every day I pass a road sign that says, “Never Rationalize Anything That Feels Wrong”. It catches my attention every time and it makes me think deeply about its meaning. At first I thought that this was someone’s attempt to justify an “anything goes” philosophy of life. But, now I think the person who posted the sign is on to something. In my life the dominant thinking regarding “feelings” can be summed up in an opposite kind of slogan, “Don’t trust your feelings”. The idea being that we must follow a set of principles or code of ethics and then live by them whether it feels good, bad, or indifferent. It sounds good, sensible, and right. And, it usually is! If we just go by your feelings it is likely that we will become an ambivalent mess, right? But, the slogan, “Never Rationalize Anything That Feels Wrong” calls upon us to be in touch with our feelings as a barometer of what is right and wrong for us. And that’s good! If we “don’t” use our feelings to help guide us then we can succumb to personal misery and even open ourselves to becoming badly harmed physically and emotionally.

Science of the brain has shown us that emotions and deep seated feelings operate just like the physical sensation of touch. When you touch a hot iron you are going to get burned and it is going to hurt you. We teach our children to trust the sensation of touch because it exists to keep us from harm. The sensation of touch can also make us feel very good, as when we touch the soft and fluffy fur of our pet animal. The fact is, when we feel hurt emotionally it comes from the same place in the brain as the pain we feel from touching a hot iron. This is also true of our good feelings. Therefore, feelings “can” tell us whether something is good or bad for us.

I am sure that many a Catholic boy, had he trusted his feelings, might have been kept from succumbing to the seduction of a priest bent on sexual exploitation. As a Catholic child I was taught that the priest is the chief authority figure in our lives and that the priest is Christ’s representative to us on earth. So, naturally an obedient Catholic boy might not be inclined to follow his feelings of reticence and discomfort at the sexual advance of his priest. He thinks he is doing the right thing by putting his trust in the priest instead of following his feelings. This is precisely how so many children have been sexually abused in the Church, bringing upon them tremendous guilt, crippling them later in life. If it feels wrong it might really be wrong! God gave us feelings for a good reason and science has shown us a thing or two to confirm that feelings can be trusted.

I think about this slogan also with respect to everyday decision making and life choices. There are plenty of people around us who would be happy to tell us what we “ought” to do and how we “should” do things. In fact, what these well meaning people might be doing is simply imposing upon us what makes them feel good and right. We are all alike as humans, but we are all a bit different, too. What makes me feel good may not make you feel good. Don’t forget the well phrased maxim, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.” So I say, Don’t dismiss your feelings when making decisions.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hiking With Angels

Click on the Title of this post to see the video I made of the Angel's Rest Trail hike I did this past Saturday, June 6th (stand away from your computer screen when you view it or you’ll get a head ache from the bouncing camcorder!).

This is a loop trail in the Columbia Gorge that takes in the scenic Angels Rest, The eerie Devil's Rest and the beautifully forested Wakeena Trail. It’s an 11 mile hike with an overall elevation gain of 3400’. This kind of elevation gain makes it’s a good training hike for the brutal ascents on the John Muir Trail that I am going to do with Tom Willard at the end of Summer. I didn’t film any of the grinding ascents during this hike. I was in too much pain to think about filming.

As you can see, the weather was typical of the Pacific Northwest; damp and cool. It was just a light mist today, but enough of a mist to wet my clothing and gear. I had to fight to keep my camera lens from fogging.

There are a number of Columbia Gorge trails that make great training hikes in preparation for the John Muir Trail. The ascents and elevation gains are similar. All these Gorge trails rise precipitously from the Columbia River, climbing the steep basalt walls of the gorge. I wasn’t able to film any of the ascents on this hike. I was in too much pain to think about recording the grind, although I now regret it. The only disadvantage I’ll have using these trails in the Gorge is that the altitude is much lower than the John Muir Trail, which is high up on the crest of the Sierra.

These Gorge trails have always held a sacred attraction for me. The glorious water falls, the old growth Douglas Fir and Red Cedar, the grand views of the gorge itself, and perhaps most impressive of all, the atmosphere of peace and serenity. I remember coming up here to a trail much like this one on a day off from work 5 or 6 years ago. I was feeling particularly stressed out from my job and I needed a respite. As I drove out to the trail I recall telling myself how foolish I was to move here from the Midwest. We were right in the middle of the rainy season at that time and I suppose a lot of people say that during a 30 day stretch of wet dreary weather in the Pacific Northwest. But as I walked the path in the cool mist of the Gorge, all the anxiety of life melted away as I listening to the water falls hiss and the birds call out to me under the canopy of the giant Douglas Firs. I felt an overwhelming sense of God’s presence up here. I wasn’t long on the trail before I was telling myself that I must never leave the Pacific Northwest, for God was meeting me here in this forest.

It was John Muir who said, "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Each section of the trail had its own character, which made the entire hike enjoyable. The Wakeena Trail portion of the loop hike entertained me with its array of wildflowers gracing the trail. There are over 800 varieties of wild flowers in the Gorge. On this trail I had a never ending show of Blue Lupine, White Cucumber and Red Columbine.

On the Wakeena Trail, from time to time, I was able to see and hear the highway far below me. It was a lesson to me that as humans we really do live in two worlds. I suppose we need both, but on this day I was glad to be in this one.

With only two miles to go I took my own rest at the rock outcropping appropriately known as Angels Rest. As I sat on the edge I thought that perhaps angels were at my side, taking their rest with me and enjoying this serene view of the Gorge.

If I were an angel, I know where I would take my rest.