Sand castle virtues (a reprise)

With my recent trip to the beach, this old post is aptly titled. I think of these words often, when I am walking along the shore as yesterday’s castles are washed away.

I was listening closely to an old song called “Thick as a Brick” by Jethro Tull, when a phrase struck me more so than before. Jethro Tull is renowned for interesting and unusual lyrics mixed in with equal parts flute, guitars and piano making a unique sound. Yet, amidst the lyrics is a reference to “sand castle virtues.” Here is the stanza which includes the term, penned by Ian Anderson:

And the sand castle virtues are all swept away. In the tidal destruction, the moral melee
The elastic retreat rings the close of play. As the last wave uncovers the newfangled way.

I found this reference profoundly insightful, as many of our so-called virtues are not as concrete as we would like them to be. In other words, they are easily washed away by the waves and replaced by a modified version meeting a new paradigm. This is one reason people can support a candidate or politician who changes posture on a topic. Or, when the candidate was against an issue earlier when the opposing party supported it, but now favors it as it suits his interests today, we followers can overlook the previous stance.

The tide has washed away the previous virtuous stance and has been replaced. What is interesting to me is this song was written in the 1970s, so it is referencing that these malleable virtues or positions have been around a lot longer than today. The only difference is today we can more easily find the previous position, which may have only been stated a few years before. Yet, we don’t ask questions of why you have changed. In essence, we are “thick as a brick” by not staying on top of things and realizing when smoke is being blown at us.

Speaking through my imperfections, I find it hard to fathom why we choose virtues like we are at a cafeteria. A friend of mine uses the reference to “cafeteria Christians,” not to pick on this religion, but use it as an example. Some will cherry pick the parts of the bible they support, but overlook overarching themes. But, this occurs in other religions as well.

If we focus on the overarching virtues and endeavor to do the right thing, we will be on more solid footing. It is when we try to massage a virtue to meet an ideologue or a position, do we risk our position being washed away with the tide. Here are few that would solidify our foundation:

– Treat others like you want to be treated

– Be more inclusive, rather than exclusive

– You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion

– Kindness is not a weakness and in fact is a quiet strength

– It is easy to love someone when things go well; only when they don’t is it hard

– Help your neighbor when he needs it, as you may be in need one day

– Pay attention to what leaders are doing and shine a light on poor behavior

– Treat our environment well for the next generation, which is even noted in the bible

I could go on, but these are a few virtues that would not be washed away. These virtues are far more than sand castles and could stand the greater test of time and barrage of waves. And, if we did these things day in and day out, they would become ingrained making us less “thick as a brick.”

A Christmas wish – do our part to break down barriers

The following is an edited version of an earlier post that remains relevant today. In the spirit of the Christmas season, it is worth a revisit.

Last night, my wife and I attended one of a series of “talks” around improving racial relations. It is a weekly chat sponsored by a multi-faith group based in our city. In essence, it is facilitated small group and large group discussions on breaking down barriers and listening to others who do not look like you do. It was well done and very meaningful.

To hear stories about small and large examples of racism is very important. To hear about how assumptions can be made and, if not corrected, can be become more concrete in the eyes of the beholder. Children learn lessons whether you want them to or not, even when you try to do the right thing. So, it is imperative to have open conversations about treating people like you want to be treated and listening to comments, so that they can be reinforced or amended.

Yet, it is we adults that need to do better. A few themes we discussed include:

– do not indict a group for the actions of a few;

– recognize that small sleights can be hurtful, as well;

– try to walk in another person’s shoes; understand that a white person has more liberty to go anywhere, while a black man, even when dressed-up, faces more restrictions and risk;

– shine a light on hateful speech or behavior; tolerance must be viewed toward a greater good, so it is OK to be less tolerant of those who use words to demean and diminish;

– speak up and speak out to people who share your skin color, ethnicity, religion or politics who are indicting others who are different just because they don’t look, think or worship as you do;

– be the change you want to see and see people for whom they are; and

– recognize that racial injustice is also the result of a larger poverty issue, which affects people of all colors.

There are many more lessons that were conveyed during the session, but one of my takeaways is this is religion at its finest. Welcoming, including and helping. Let me end with one more tidbit on how religion can help provide solutions and create a welcoming dialogue. Walk the talk. Words are easy. The person who gets up out of his or her chair to help people is admirable.

Jesus said it so well in his Golden Rule. Treat others like you want to be treated. If we do this, we are way ahead in the game. So, welcome, include and help.

Be careful of what you read, even if comments in your own blog

As an independent voter who tries to stay well read from legitimate sources, I continue to get puzzled by the level of vitriol and zeal in some comments on various blogs. I do not mind if someone is more conservative than me on some issues or more progressive. Tell me what you think without telling me I must be insane for believing the way I do or someone else does.

I read in the news Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is dropping out of the race and supporting Joe Biden, even though she does not agree with all of his positions. Of course not, there is not a candidate running that anyone can rightfully claim they agree with every position he or she has taken or is taking. If they do, then they are not being truthful with themselves.

I don’t agree with everything Biden or Bernie Sanders posit, but I would vote for either one over the incumbent president who I view as corrupt, untruthful and bullying. Both Biden and Sanders are decent people. I cannot say the same for the current president, who will only do something decent if it helps his image.

But, my main thrust is be mindful of your sources. There is one progressive blog I follow where I am convinced a frequent and lengthy contributor is not what he or she seems. I actually think the person is a Trump or Russian troll doing very zealous and heavy lifting to garner victory for the incumbent. I may be wrong, but the zeal and frequency of comments far exceed that of the blog’s host who welcomes other opinions.

One of my other blogging friends was visited by a Russian troll to the point the blogger had to block the commenter. How can one tell? You really can’t. I may be dead wrong, but I worry how blogs can be taken over by someone who tries to own your blog. I have had a few bizarre commenters in the many years, one where the theme of the post is hijacked for other messaging.

So, please be careful of what you read and where you read it. Misinformation abounds. So, does disinformation. Do I worry that this is or may happen to my blog? Of course. I do not mind passion or zeal. But neither give someone permission to take someone’s head off. I fortunately follow some very good bloggers who welcome push back, provided it is done civilly. I am fortunate many of these bloggers follow mine in return.

So, let’s just be civil. Let’s remember that Golden Rule which can be found in most religious texts. Just like politicians, there are no perfect bloggers or commenters. This one included.

A brief, but profound sermon from a surprising movie

In the early evening of Christmas Eve, my wife and I watched for the second time. the movie “Chocolat” starring Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Hugh O’Conor among others. While it seemed a strange choice to show on Christmas Eve, the movie is about the ugliness of exclusion toward newcomers who do not fit in and the redemptive power of kindness and inclusion.

The mayor played by Molina, led a town who used overt piety as a means to treat a single woman and her daughter poorly, even trying to close down her sinful chocolate shop. The mayor even edited the young priest’s sermons.

After the realization he was on a bad path late in the movie, the mayor and others see the error of their ways. Freed from the mayor’s editing, the priest, played by O’Conor, offers an off-the-cuff homily on Easter Sunday. Its brevity should not betray its profound message.

“I’m not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of Our Lord’s divine transformation? Not really, no. I don’t want to talk about His divinity. I’d rather talk about His humanity. I mean, you know, how He lived His life, here on Earth. His *kindness*, His *tolerance*… Listen, here’s what I think. I think that we can’t go around… measuring our goodness by what we don’t do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think… we’ve got to measure goodness by what we *embrace*, what we create… and who we include.”

Amen. This is the overarching message of Jesus, which is so profound, it can be found in other religioius texts. Treat others like you want to be treated.

Let me close with the other key message of the priest and the movie theme. When religion includes it is at its finest. When it excludes it is at its absolute worst. Welcome people. That is what Jesus did.