Celebrate Juneteenth

It’s everywhere you look.  Prison statistics.  Poverty statistics.  Gun violence statistics.  We gave lip service to ending slavery but never really made our black brothers and sisters free.  Red-lining.  Police shootings for traffic stops.  It should not be illegal to be of African descent.  Juneteenth is a celebration, but a muted one.  There is much, much work left to do.  When “black lives matter” signs are countered by “blue lives matter” we know there’s a deep-rooted problem.  It’s an especially unfortunate, and hypocritical problem for a melting pot like the United States.  We have room.  We have resources.  Until recently we had commitment to freedom.  Now, just as things should be improving we cave once again to unwarranted fears and paranoia.  What’s holding us back from celebrating Juneteenth?

The solution’s not simple, but it has a clear starting point.  Our elected officials must stop valuing power over people.  Racists—of either party—should know without a doubt that they can’t win nominations.  The good people of this country will not stand for it.  Running on a platform of vacuous celebrity only—how many celebrities are really deep, clear thinkers?—should be soundly shouted down.  The two-party system requires at least a third serious challenger.  America’s leadership must start looking like the people who actually do the work in this country, not those who suck up all the profits.  Catering to the wealthy inevitably causes problems on the other end of the social ladder—the end upon which that ladder must stand.  We no longer need slaves.  We never really needed slaves.  What we need is high principles.

Othering may be normal human behavior but that doesn’t make it right.  We are able to overcome our prejudices.  We are able to say “black lives matter” without following it up with “all lives matter.”  We are able to recognize the sins of our past and repent.  Christianity has produced great followers.  These followers require leaders who have the best for the people in mind, not the best for themselves.  Corporate climbers do not understand this.  Brains addled by money, they see America as a company to run and a way to skim profits off the top.  Politicians are constantly comparing the sizes of their “war chests” for the next election when they should be soul-searching instead.  Let’s celebrate Juneteenth.  Let’s say “we were wrong” and “our theology was wrong.”  Let’s promise ourselves that any racist should fear running for high office.  Let’s end systemic racism and celebrate the results.

Photo by Leslie Cross on Unsplash

Companies

Perhaps you’ve seen them too.  Big companies that express what they do purely in platitudes that apparently impress business types.  I’ve looked at some of their websites and after considerable poking around I can’t conjure even a ghost of an idea of what they do.  Love ‘em or hate ‘em, we all know what companies like Exxon, Random House, or even Planned Parenthood offer.  They have a function—a product or service that you can recognize.  Some of these vague large corporations seem to exist simply to exist.  And get paid for it.  It reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons where Lisa asks a corporate executive woman what her company produces and she answers “Synergy.”  We see these “centers of excellence” popping up here and there.  Excellence in what?  Excellence is a quality, not a commodity.  Or maybe I think too small.

Someone I know recently changed jobs and I looked up the company she’d switched to.  It obviously had money for a slick website and an office in Manhattan.  The list of industries it supports as clients was wide and impressive.  But what does this company actually do?  They spew platitudes.  Corporate climbers apparently like this lingo.  You’ll never catch me citing “best practices.”  Are they trying to imply that the rest of us use worst practices?  Do they mean a better way of doing things?  Why not say what you mean?  I like to play with words.  It doesn’t pay very well, but I’m wondering if I’m perhaps missing an opportunity here.

We could form a company that spins out new corporate phrases to make business sorts sound intellectual.  We wouldn’t actually need to do anything except attend company meetings about our company and throw out a few phrases likely to become trendy.  Maybe hire a publicist to get those phrases going.  Surely some company has the money to spend on that.  Those of us who actually do peddle words for a living have trouble getting big corporate money.  Publishing is a low profit-margin business.  But a company that makes you sound intelligent?  Priceless.  Growing up there seemed to be only a few standard jobs.  Of course, I lived in a small town where the options were indeed limited.  Each of them, however, had a defined role.  You knew what the job entailed.  This new company, which will have a vague name, will be in keeping with the times.  Who’s with me?  Just be sure to bring your checkbook.


Blood Money

The overdose crisis is very real and very sad.  Even so I couldn’t help being stopped and shocked by how economics was brought into it in a recent New York Times article.  Lab-made drugs are cheaper, so dealers pass on the savings to users.  Does anyone else see the problem here?  Isn’t the real drug capitalism?  Or take the Republican acceptance of violence as a legitimate political tool, also highlighted in a recent Times article.  Their blind followers think it’s about saving unborn babies but anyone who’s studied politics knows it’s about the money.  If you can distract the electorate with an emotional issue you can pick their pocket at the same time.  Capitalism smiles on the wealthy.  And only on the wealthy.

I’m not naive enough to suppose we can do without the dismal science, but the more I learn of economics, the more dismal the dismal science becomes.  I was recently reading about the ranching industry in early American expansion and the amount of power concentrated in those who raise animals for slaughter would make the most bloodthirsty of gods smile.  Indeed, Europeans coming to a new country wanted to make it in the image of their lives back home (they were largely successful).  Especially those who raised specially bred varieties of sheep, goats, and cattle.  Since grazers and browsers require a lot of land, the American west appealed to them.  Although big beef and big dairy produce more environmental problems than most big industry does, we let economics make the decisions.  And in economics the big and the selfish always win.

Photo by Tanner Yould on Unsplash

A bit of wisdom comes from the musical 1776 where John Dickinson explains in “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” that the common person will always vote for those who preserve the (near impossibility) of becoming rich, the myth of capitalism.  The average person lives each day not worrying that they will be struck by lightning.  Those who are often believe it isn’t likely and remain out in a storm.  What are the chances of a poor person actually becoming rich?  In this economic system?  Don’t go outside in a lightning storm.  Americans have been taught to retch at the word socialism despite the fact that it works extremely well in most of Europe.  Instead we proliferate guns and drugs on the free market model and wonder what could possibly go wrong.  Yes, there really is an elephant in the room.  And we’re burying far too many people because of it.


Foreign Christianity

I’ve been reading about missionaries in Southeast Asia.  One of the things that has become clear to me is that as Christians moved into different cultures they perhaps didn’t realize just how their religion was being blended with a completely foreign worldview.  Catholic missionaries were particularly savvy about accommodating local outlooks.  Add the mass on top of them and you’ve got your converts.  What they were, perhaps unknowingly, doing was changing Christianity.  Yet again.  Monotheism has a myth of the pure religion.  The fact is that as soon as Paul disagreed with Peter Christianity had begun to splinter with each faction believing it had the pure form.  When this protean religion moves into other cultures with other ways of thinking, interesting new forms emerge.

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

Today there’s a lot of interest in Celtic Catholicism.  This is another example of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”  Christianity, particularly in Ireland, took on a pronounced Celtic flavor.  It doesn’t always play by the rules, but as long as Rome’s okay with that, well, who’s to complain?  What is Catholicism?  What is Methodism?  What is Anglicanism?  It depends on where you join it.  Doesn’t that problematize those absolute truth claims?  Churches are savvy political players.  The rank and file believer has little idea what goes on behind closed doors.  They might be distressed to find out just how much bishops talk about budgets.  Theology is left to the public view.  No organization can survive without money and church leaders understand this.  Missionaries go to under-developed countries and make them capitalists.

People living in different parts of the world view life from varying perspectives.  Many see change as the nature of life where western religions see fixity.  Many religions know we’re reincarnated.  Western religions see one ride per ticket with souls ending up in a final holding place.  When it comes to eternity, people obviously want some security.  Even with reincarnation a badly lived human life can lead to a worse next life.  The question of what happens when such ideas come into contact with Christianity, or Islam, is a fascinating one.  Judaism, the root of monotheistic traditions, never really embraced missionary activity.  When missionaries encounter those whose very ways of thinking about life approach the question from a different direction, creative mixes are bound to occur.  It’s safe to say that when early Christians were sent out to “the whole world” they had no idea how big that world actually was, under the dome in which lived the sun, moon, and stars.  Nor had they any idea what interesting hybrid religions would emerge after their fertile preaching.


Fight for Mom

The spring holidays come think and fast.  Depending on when you start spring we’ve got Valentine’s Day followed a month later by St. Pat’s.  On it’s roving schedule Easter hops along, with its precursor Mardi Gras.  There’s Earth Day, May Day, and Mother’s Day.  One thing they all have in common, apart from being holidays, is they’re not worthy enough to be days off work.  You have to wait for Memorial Day for that.  Today, in any case, is Mother’s Day.  We stop to think, as if we shouldn’t every day, about our mothers.  Women are pretty poorly represented in the holiday scheme, unless you’re Catholic (and even those aren’t days off).  Mother’s Day always comes on a Sunday so employers are eternally thankful.  A holiday with no consequences.  But should it be?

We’re only just beginning, after being “civilized” for five thousand years, to give women their due.  Only just beginning because capitalist systems are built on male fantasies of growing rich without the female humane element.  It’s not a system friendly to mothers unless we find a way to make people spend money.  Women remind us to look for cooperation and not just competition.  Working together we can make things better for everyone.  Men, left to their own devices, go to war.  Men take what they want and women act as our conscience.  Mothers sacrifice to keep us safe and alive.  Their self-denial resonates better with the Christianity suborned by men into a money-making venture.

It’s Mother’s Day.  It’s a day to put aside our acquisitive, war-like tendencies and think of someone else.  It’s a day to imagine what it might be like if we made a habit of good behaviors.  It’s like those grades they used to give in school for “deportment.”  It wasn’t all just about how well we learned our facts.  Mothers teach us what it means to set aside our own wants for the needs of another person.  Without that the human race simply wouldn’t survive.  Instead of politically stacked courts taking away women’s rights, today we recognize that without women none of us would be here.  The human experiment only succeeds when women are recognized for all that they contribute to life.  To civilization.  To society.  We may not have commodified it, so why not listen to our mothers’ wisdom?  Why not make it every day instead of just the second Sunday of May?  Don’t forget to thank your mother today.  Better yet, fight for her rights.


For Sale for Free

It’s one of the signs of spring.  Although it may be more appropriate for winter when we’re holed up inside for much of the time, the library book sale often takes place when it’s a bit more conducive to being outdoors.  When we travel, which isn’t frequently these days, we often spontaneously stop into an advertised library book sale.  Most of the fare is fairly pedestrian, but sometimes you find something you simply didn’t expect.  On one such recent outing, that’s just exactly what happened.  Back when we lived in New Jersey the Friends of the Hunterdon County Library book sale was a much-anticipated event.  It remains, in my experience, one of the largest of such sales.  (Believe it or not, there are websites dedicated to pointing inveterate readers to book sales and that’s how I found this one.)  That’s not the surprising part, however.

One year when I went, one of the library friends was working the pre-entry crowd, proclaiming some of the treasures inside.  One of them, he announced, was a Bible from the nineteenth century.  They were asking more than the usual one or two dollars for that one.  If I recall, it was $100.  No, I didn’t buy it.  I have dozens of Bibles right behind me at this moment and if I had a Franklin to spend I’d load up on books I don’t already own.  Many of the books mentioned on this blog came from just such sales as these.  That big Bible’s not the surprising thing either.  Here it is: on a recent library book sale day, I saw a shelf with Bibles.  They were free.  Library book sales are intended to raise money, but Bibles for free?  Unexpected, no?

America is the land of free Bibles.  They are printed in vast quantities and sold cheaply, without a thought to what this says in a capitalist world.  Some Christian rock groups were famous for throwing free Bibles from the stage—you’ve got to think those in attendance already had one—and any county fair will usually have at least free New Testaments for the taking.  Ironically, most of those who distribute free Good Books are also the staunchest supporters of capitalism, one of the most exploitative economies ever invented.  Attending library book sales entails more than just finding books that you perhaps didn’t know about.  It’s more than being tempted by something for which you’d rather not pay full-price.  It is, perhaps surprisingly, a learning experience in and of itself.


Highest Education

The average church-goer is often impressed with the idea of seminary.  The thought that someone could devote three years of their lives to theological minutiae in order to take a job with long hours and substandard pay, is mind-boggling.  Having been a seminary creature for so many years, however, makes me wonder if many church folk realize that seminaries are businesses.  Non-profits, yes, but businesses nonetheless.  This is a trait that they share with other institutions of higher learning.  Customers pay money for a good or a service (I’m not sure which) in the form of a degree.  If a student can’t cope academically, they’re often “grandfathered”through because, well, it costs a lot of money and you deserve to get what you paid for, right?

This business concept of higher education is dangerous and is primarily prevalent where governments do not support education.  Schools have to raise money and if alumni don’t give, well you have to raise tuition.  And the more somebody pays the better case they have for getting their degree.  Seminaries, however, also suffer from generally low-income alumni and sponsoring churches needing clergy.  (It’s not difficult to get accepted into most seminary programs.)  Only when a candidate is a serious problem will they tend to be weeded out.  And congregations get the results of such a system.  My level of cynicism probably results from having gone through seminary and then having taught at one for many years.  At no point have I been ordained.  In fact, even churches facing clergy shortages have shown no interest.  Call it sour grapes.

To me, however, the crisis in higher education is the result of business practices being applied to education.  The two don’t mix.  In a world where job options are limited for those too weak to dig and too proud to beg, ministry has some appeal.  You can be considered a community leader and an expert in the relatively innocuous arcane area of “theology.” And most of the people you serve will have no idea what seminary delivers, or doesn’t.  I attended events for seminary administrators offered by the Association of Theological Schools—the seminary accrediting body.  I learned that they too are under pressure to approve unless there’s a serious problem.  Even heads of accrediting bodies have to eat.  So we let the system churn on as it has since the earliest universities turned out educated clergy.  And we don’t stop to think what all of this means.

Tradition

Shopping Screed

Capitalism is insidious.  Those of us with modest incomes—and I’m quite aware that many, many people are poor—are constantly being bombarded with new schemes to get us to pay a little each time for something that used to be free.  Look, I realize the economy was hit by the pandemic.  We’re all paying for it.  Still, even basic stores you’ve used your whole life now want you to sign up for schemes that will only cost you a dollar each time and which never really pay anything back.  The one that’s got me thinking about this is a drug store.  Like it’s a surprise that you’ve decided to buy something at a drug store.  They get you to sign something you vaguely understand as you’re trying to rush out the door with your prescription and then they send you daily emails telling you how great it’s going to be.

And surveys—the endless surveys!  They sound more neurotic than I actually am.  Did we do this right, and could we have done it better?  It’ll only take a quarter hour of your time.  Each time you stop in.  And please do that daily.  The last time I did one of these surveys for the promise of a prize worth $90, I ordered their version of a fit-bit as my prize.  I’m curious how many steps I take in a day and no, I don’t carry my phone with me everywhere.  The “prize” arrived late and when I charged it up and turned it on (it came with no instructions readable in my native language) it worked for a total of literally 3 seconds before the screen died a pixelated death.  Now that same company wants me to answer surveys weekly and pay an extra dollar each time I come in.  It’s enough to make me want to use the other drug store, but they’ll probably do the same.

The thing is it’s not just pharmacies.  All the stores are doing it.  You shopped here once?  Look what else we’ve got!  Some of us shop for what we need.  We live on a budget.  If you’re going to start charging me for the privilege of shopping at your establishment I’ll have to start going somewhere else.  The items on offer for promotional plans are things I just don’t buy. If you want me to spend more, then reframe your economics and pay me more.   And I don’t have money to just give away.  Have you even taken a look at your last heating bill (thanks Mr. Putin)?  I’ll come to the store again as long as it’s free to shop there and it has something that I actually need.

Photo by Bruno Kelzer on Unsplash

Words and Belief

Why do we care so little for the poor?   Part of the answer is surely the misguided idea of meritocracy—if you merit good you will be successful.  This kind of thinking emerges from the wrong end of a bull.  There may be poor people who are lazy but the vast majority of the poor are those for whom our systems make it impossible to thrive.  It’s very easy to put them out of mind as long as we can keep them out of sight and just let our prejudices do the thinking for us.  The poor are the victims of capitalism.  Loud voices proclaim them to be a drain on the system, despite the fact that many of them work—some multiple jobs—and remain unable to keep up.  Capitalism is kind only to the wealthy.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber is one of the organizers of the Poor People’s Campaign.  The full name is the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.  The initial part is taken from an initiative that Martin Luther King, Jr. started before his assassination.  He was shifting towards a movement meant to address the entrenched unfairness deep in American society.  These nearly six decades on, we are just as deeply entrenched.  Barber is doing amazing work, organizing, speaking, and advocating.  He’s trying to give a voice to the people.  I do wonder, however, if using the word “Revival” doesn’t work against the goals of the movement.

Certain words have been poisoned by their abuse among various religious groups.  Especially among the young.  The word “revival” may fall into that category, calling to mind, as it may, repressed people working up to an emotional fever under the banner of Hellfire and brimstone.  Believing a bit too literally a message that was contained in a book viewed magically.  Names can be important.  Many of the younger generation are put off even by the word “church” since so much hypocrisy (something the Republican party has openly embraced) has come to light over recent decades.  I fully agree that we need a moral revival, we need people to wake up and demand that our government promote the justice it claims to seek.  I do wonder if religion, as previously packaged, has the credibility to do it.  No matter how we take on the task, it’s clear that the poor have been abandoned by the system, through no fault of their own.  And some in the church have begun to find their voice in the Poor People’s Campaign.

Photo by Katt Yukawa on Unsplash

Search and Research

Woe to those who live to research but who have no professorship!  I have been prone to research since about high school, driven by the need to know.  Almost Wesleyan in my need for certainty, I have always been inclined to check things out.  It took college and a doctorate to teach me the necessary research skills.  It took years of teaching for me to learn how to frame questions on my own.  And it took years of being shunned by the academy to realize that as I’ve been pursuing my personal research agenda that I lack the time to fulfill it.  I’m a slow learner.  Yet I can’t give it up.  The thought process that led to Holy Horror was a kind of epiphany.  I could write a book without reading every last thing about the subject.  The problem, however, would always be time.  I’ve read an awful lot about horror media and I’m only beginning to scratch the surface.

I’m not totally naive.  Okay, I’m pretty far along on that path sometimes, but I want my readers to know that I understand movies and television are made for money.  It’s a business, I know.  But I’m an artist at heart and I like to think the creators are fond of their characters.  Writers are advised to drown their darlings, to put their protagonists on a cliff and then throw rocks at them.  And I also understand that money can make you do even worse to them.  Of course, I’m still thinking about Dark Shadows.  For me it’s been a rediscovery of my childhood.  And just how much time I’d need to make sense of just one television series with a five-year run.  There’s far more information on the web on Dark Shadows than I was able to find in print on Asherah for the years of my doctorate.

And the expense involved.  Plus, it’s only early April and the lawn needs mowing!  I’m still wearing a heavy jacket some days but the grass is always greener.  Period.  What a time to fall into a research reverie!  I need a sabbatical but they don’t have those in the 925 world.  And I need a professor’s salary to be able to afford the media required.  The Dark Shadows series alone has over 1200 episodes.  House of Dark Shadows introduced the fear of the cross to my understanding of Barnabas Collins.  My world has been shaken and to settle it I need research.  What I have, however, is work starting in just a few minutes.

Now watch this, for time is fleeting

Buying Copyright

It our current capitalist, individualist world, copyright is a good thing.  It’s often misunderstood, even by those who hold it.  It can also lead to confusion.  Basically, anything you create is covered by copyright.  This applies to written work, artistic pieces, photography, music, and so forth.  Even the words on this blog are covered by copyright, although it’s difficult to enforce on the internet.  If someone wants to use a work covered by copyright, they have to have permission from the rights holder.  You can sell copyright.  That’s essentially what authors do when they publish books.  They sell copyright for the promotion and, if they’re lucky, royalties the publisher provides.  Once money’s involved, everything changes.  After publishers, say, have the rights they can do anything with them, if it’s specified in their contract.  They can sell them again, or sublicense them.  (This is going somewhere, I promise.)

Different countries have different copyright rules and so sometimes a book is available in one country and not another.  Now Amazon, and some used book sites such as Bookfinder, have made used copies available.  Used copies can get around national restrictions.  I remember wanting a certain Hebrew grammar that was only available in hardcover in the US, and very expensive.  When we moved to the UK, it was available cheaply in paperback.  That’s just one example of how it’s intended to work.  Here’s the twist: the same book can be sold under different titles (even in the same language) if published in different countries.  It’s possible to mistakenly think that they’re different books and buy them twice.  Publishers don’t mind that at all.

Even in the same country, publishers can give the same content different titles by releasing a hardcover version first and later publishing a paperback with a different name.  Sometimes it’s difficult even for someone who works in the publishing industry to know if that’s happening.  Copyright is meant to protect the creator.  For the buyer it’s caveat emptor.  There are times when it’s convenient to have two of the same book.  Like libraries, however, houses also have limited physical space.  And the owners limited budgets.  Publishers need to make money, I realize.  Hardcovers, being more durable, cost more than paperbacks.  And overseas sellers face different markets so sometimes have to give the same book different titles.  In this interconnected world, the buyer must beware—capitalism encourages spending and copyright can be most protean.  Especially when money’s on the line.


Underestimated

Under-printing, ironically, can create great demand.  Books are generally under-printed because publishers don’t see much of a market for them.  Back before the days of inexpensive print-on-demand (POD, in the lingo) books may not have even existed as electronic files.  Often a publisher won’t print a book unless it anticipates that it can make back its costs.  If they think it won’t sell that well, they’ll print just enough.  And they might even melt down the typeset plates to reuse them for other books.  I’m not sure if that happened in the case of a book I’ve been looking to consult, but something has made this under-printed book extremely rare.  It’s not on Internet Archive.  WorldCat shows it in only two libraries world-wide, the nearest one over 3,000 miles away.  Its price used (and there seems to be only one copy) is $46,000. I can’t tell you what it is because you might buy it before I can.

For the purposes of my research, this is actually the only book on this particular topic.  (The subject isn’t even that obscure.)  The book is cited everywhere this topic is mentioned, and at least one person on Goodreads has actually seen a copy of it.  I have to conclude that all those who cite it must live within driving distance of one of two libraries worldwide.  For the rest of us the book is simply inaccessible.  As an author this is one of the worst fates imaginable.  Even if some price-gouger is selling a copy for $46,000 the author gains nothing from it.  Royalties are null and void for used book sales.  The only profiteer is the person who happens to have found a rare book (from the 1990s!) and is determined to ensure only the most wealthy will be able to purchase it.

I’ve known people who sell used books online.  Those who want to move books try to undersell the unfortunate under-printed title by pricing a bit lower than the competition.  There is no regulation, however.  You can charge whatever you like.  The funny thing is, if someone eventually forks over $46,000 for this book, and then has it appraised (it is a paperback from the 1990s), its actual worth is probably at most in the hundreds of dollars.  Back when we watched the Antiques Roadshow we always knew that the poor person who brought in a book would be disappointed in the appraisal.  Last time I was in Oxford I saw rare books from the 1400s for sale for far, far less than $46,000.  I only hope that my books, as obscure as they are, are never deemed that expensive.  And I would encourage publishers to print a bit more generously, for the sake of knowledge.


Routine Interruptions

Ironically, having just written about routines, we experienced a power outage with a wind storm.  Sitting home of an evening, the lights in every occupied room began to flicker.  We grabbed flashlights, suspecting what would come next.  The power outage led to a temporary loss of the internet, the god of this age.  Routine was interrupted.  This brought to mind just how fragile all this is.  As supply-chain issues have demonstrated, everything has to work just right for our society to operate at expected standards.  And an internet outage leads to an interruption of routines.  Whenever this happens, it reminds me of how complex our lives have become.  And how unfair.  There are people across the world who struggle with daily necessities such as clean water, safe homes, and reliable sources of power.  And a wind storm in eastern Pennsylvania doesn’t mean that the company’s power in another state is out.  Does this mean I take a vacation day?

As this winter winds down I again lament the loss of snow days.  They were local holidays, of course, and based on the unpredictability of nature.  Our power outage, followed by internet outage, was a personal kind of snow day.  Nobody wanted it and we all planned to work today.  Other than the outage, we’re fine.  Just like a snow day.  There’s a feeling of helplessness to it.  To fix the internet we rely on someone who knows how to do such technical wizardry.  Anyone can stuff a rag in a hole in the window, but to replace the glass it takes an expert.  How do you contact them when the internet’s out?  (Of course, everything’s back on in time for work.)

No doubt, many aspects of our lives are better.  We can pay our bills without using a stamp.  We can look up basic information online.  Even attend religious services virtually.  (Who doesn’t want to linger in their pajamas on a Sunday morning?)  Yet, for all of this to happen our power must be on and steady.  Our internet connectivity must be strong.  We have to be able to connect to work so that we can be paid so that we can keep the power on.  It seems an odd way to spend our time.  Obviously, if you’re reading this they—that mysterious they—have got things working again.  The power is on so that I can type this, and the internet is connected so that I can post it.  And yet I don’t feel any more secure.  And I know I’m one of those who has it easy.


Pennsylvania Dreaming

“I finally understand what I’ve come here to learn,” I said.  I was incredibly happy.  I recall the sun was shining, making its way up from my feet to my legs in a symbolic way, soon to reach my head.  I was on the cusp of an epiphany.  That’s when I woke up, needing to head to the bathroom.  Of course, after that it’s difficult to fall back asleep.  I knew that even if I did it would be to a different dream and I wouldn’t learn what it was that I’d come here for.  So it is with the great experiment of consciousness.  Either we’re continuously learning or we’ve already died.  Nobody has all of the answers.  Consciousness may be the true final frontier.  There is no scientific explanation for what it is that is universally accepted.  We all, however, know what it is though daily experience.

Dreams are considered part of our subconscious.  While we sleep we’re said to be not conscious, although we all know that at times we are.  Sleep can be somewhere between.  And we don’t even know what consciousness is.  The study of dreams is still valued in psychoanalysis—it is a form of thinking too—but in our materialist, capitalist society we tend to dismiss dreams.  They generally don’t bring in money.  In ignoring them we move further from understanding consciousness.  Enlightenment, while not a scientific category, still seems possible, even should it come in dreams.  If only we could stay asleep long enough to see it through.

I have a friend who also thinks too much.  He sometimes wonders if this constant focus on what the “they” want isn’t a plan to keep us too busy to think things through.  I often think that the monastics had it mostly right.  At least the part about taking time to contemplate.  When you encounter an idea that feels like a key and you know the door that it opens will be profound, it always seems that work comes to interrupt right at that point.  The job where you can wrestle with ultimate reality and not worry about not producing “product” for which you’re paid, is rare indeed.  That’s why waking from this particular dream was so difficult.  I had a semester break while teaching where I read three books that changed my outlook forever.  It was possible because I had a few weeks before I had to be back in the classroom.  Since then the dream, I guess, has been to return to where you’re paid to learn, for the betterment of all.


Love on a Monday

I hope you may find love on a Monday.  I have a feeling that if we took Valentine’s Day more seriously the world would be a better place.  Capitalism, however, abhors interruptions (unless you buy lots of stuff) so many of us are at work this Monday.  I was recently reading how the full, unbroken eight hours’ sleep is a product of the industrial revolution.  I’d never thought of that before.  Everyone is different, of course, but it is natural for our species to wake in the night and be up for an hour or two and then to fall back asleep.  That, of course, interferes with the nine-to-five (925) that capitalism holds so dear.  In response, humans have altered their natural sleep patterns to conform.  The results are predictable: a line at the coffee machine every day at the office.

When I raised this with a friend, I was reminded that much of our life-style has been determined by the industrial revolution.  Certainly the concept of the weekend was.  And the constant feeling of never having enough time to, well, exist.  I awake when my body tells me it’s slept enough.  Generally that’s around 3:00 a.m.  I begin work early because Protestants have this work ethic going, but then I always get sleepy around 8:00 a.m.  Napping on the job is essentially the same as being a communist, so like many others I struggle through the rest of the day, not quite as efficient as I was for the first couple of hours.  In many cultures a nap is built into the after lunch slump.  Intravenous coffee is preferred by capitalists everywhere.

What if love catches you on a Monday?  Is it a sick day?  A vacation day?  A personal day?  Or all of the above?  It’s an opportunity to be human, but less than a true capitalist.  Someone could be making money off your time!  And whoever heard of more than ten paid holidays in a year?  I’m not complaining.  I love weekends and the scattering of holidays I receive, I really do.  Still, I miss the spontaneity of life.  The flight from a predator.  The shutting of the eyes when tired.  The celebration of love when it’s found.  A Faustian bargain was made when Christianity wed capitalism.  We’re encouraged to buy valentines for our sweeties, but show up to work and be there bright and early again the next morning.  May you nevertheless find love on your Monday.