Archive for November, 2008

Blame Canada

November 30, 2008

So I’m checking my Facebook account this morning when there are at least seventeen dozen other, more productive things I ought to be doing.  And I’m surprised to find an advertisement about Canada there on the right side of my screen. 

I’ve learned to tune out adverts online.  One of the benefits of having first gone online in the pre-graphical, text-based days of the Internet (anyone remember Elm?), is that I learned to tune out everything except exactly what I’m looking for.  And trust me, advertisements are *never* what I’m looking for.  However every now and then one of them catches my eye.  Like this morning. 

Being denied your rights?  Consider Canada.  We help gay singles and couples immigrate.  Complete our free online assessment.

I’m unclear initially as to whether their assessment verifies whether I’m gay or not, or somehow contributes to the immigration issue.  In either event, I’m quite certain I don’t qualify.  But the ad is amusing and disturbing all the same.

It assumes that you can be denied a right you’ve never had, and that no one has never existed , anywhere, at any time, in all of human history.  It assumes that you have the right to redefine the institution of marriage for all of a nation, even though the number of people who would benefit from this change is well under 5% of the population.  It assumes that whether dictated by God or selected by nature, marriage is ultimately an arbitrary institution that can and should be defined (and of course redefined) to suit whomever has the most initiative and money (since it’s clearly not a majority rules sort of thing).  It assumes that if you don’t personally get what you want, then the logical course of action is to immigrate.  And perhaps it is.  And there are people who are happy to help you, for a small fee, I’m sure. 

It’s ironic that the people who bill themselves as being the most open minded and tolerant, are somehow understood by certain other people to be the least open minded and tolerant.  I would think that would be incredibly insulting.  Perhaps it is. 

Where Will You Sleep Tomorrow Night?

November 28, 2008

Maybe you’re giving thanks with good reason.  Maybe you have a place to stay tomorrow night.  Just as you did tonight, and last night, and pretty much every night for your life thus far.  Maybe you’ve never had to seriously wonder where you were going to sleep for the night.

In my happy-place imagining of my city, my state, my country, this is how most people are.  People with places to sleep at night.  People who have food in the kitchen not just for today or a few leftovers from lunch or dinner, but with food for several days – perhaps weeks.  People who get up and go to work each day to ensure that they have food in the refrigerator and pantry, and that they have a place to park their car and sleep in comfort and safety for the night.

What if you lost your job, though?

What if you lost your job and couldn’t get another one in your field?  What if you lost your job and couldn’t find another job in pretty much any field that would pay you roughly what you were making before, when the world was fine and you could pick and choose where to eat that night or what to thaw for dinner tomorrow night, or whether or not the weather was really cool enough to justify the flannel sheets on the bed?

What if you couldn’t find another job for a week?  Two weeks?  A month?  Two months?  The average American household has $8000 in debt, not including things like the mortgage or even car payments.  As of 2006, Americans were actually saving negatively – they were using their savings to meet current expenses, making the US rate of savings the lowest since the Great Depression.  One report indicated that Americans save – on average – less than $400 a year.  According to this same article, the total average household debt is over $117,000 – including mortgages and home equity loans as well as credit card debt.   

How long could you pay the bills with $400 in annual savings?  How long could you keep your house?  Conventional financial wisdom says that most households are just a matter of weeks – 90 days perhaps – from being on the street if they suddenly lost their jobs and steady sources of income.  What if the bank decided to call your mortgage note?  What if your home was foreclosed on, and you were evicted?  How much of your clothes and food and furniture and belongings could fit in your cars?  Could you afford a storage unit for everything?  Would you have a massive garage sale?  How long would what you made on that last you?  Would you blow it on a night or two in a hotel?  Or would you consider holding onto the money for food, and sleeping in your car?

Last week you had a house and food to spare, closets full of clothes and rooms full of furniture.  Now you have a car or two stuffed with clothes and kids.  Last week you were the Jones’ that everyone was trying to keep up with.  This week it would be generous to call you the Clampetts

Good, decent folk have jobs and homes and clothes and food.  But what do good, decent folk become when they lose their job?  Who bails them out?  Who gives them a helping hand to keep them on their feet?  Since when do economics define who are good, decent folk? 

We’re going to be finding that out in the coming years, I suspect.  It will be a challenging time for our country.  It will be a devestating time for families and good folk all across our nation, let alone the world.  And it will be a time to find out whether people are willing to put their money where their mouths are.  Who will band together to assist those who are losing everything?  What churches will open their doors so that families can sleep in safety at night?  Why in God’s name would a church ever think twice about such a proposition? 

I have much to be thankful for tonight, and a heart burdened with guilt as well.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Being There

November 23, 2008

The Mrs. and I settled in to watch Being There a couple of weeks ago.  It had been probably 15 years since I last saw it, and my memory was a tad fuzzy.  The movie was dryer than I had remembered.  I’m not sure that Hal Ashby was fully effective in hypothesizing the effects of being raised on television, but that’s really a side issue to his major themes of communication and perception.  Television is probably just a suitable medium for providing a great form of baby-sitting, without conveying any actual real educational value.

It’s a thought provoking film, about the power of perception and assertion to effectively create a reality that has no basis in actual reality.  If the right person believes you to be erudite and deep, then you are.  If enough people decide that this person is correct in their assessment of you, then very little you say or do is likely to be seen for what it is.  Rather, it will be filtered through the lens of the person asserting that you are wise and intelligent.  Reality is not nearly as important as what certain people say about reality. 

All of which has interesting implications in how we live our lives.  We all experience this in different ways.  In childhood we’re labeled this, that, or the other, and regardless of what we do or say, to those people that’s who or what we are.  It can be very, very difficult to break free of those sorts of labels.  The same thing happens in family dynamics, work dynamics – all over.  We are constantly asserting a certain understanding of the reality around us that may or may not be accurate.  But our ability to objectively see the error of our assessment is severely limited.

The film’s closing visual scene takes all of this into a potentially theological plane as well.  I won’t divulge the details, but it’s a visual that is acutely related to certain Biblical accounts of an action Jesus is said to have performed.   While Being There is not what I would call a specifically theological film, I have to wonder what Ashby’s intentions were with closing on such a different note.  Was he simply demonstrating the power of assertions about reality, so that the impossible becomes not only plausible, but possible and actual?  Was he asserting that this is the explanation for Scriptural accounts of Jesus’ miracles?  The closing seemed so incongruous with the flow of the rest of the film, that I still am not sure what to make of it.

The one unusual fact about this film’s portrayal of the creation of reality is that the main character, Chance the Gardener (who becomes Chauncey Gardner) is completely uninvolved in the process.  Not only is he uninvolved, he is completely unaware.  He neither seeks to exploit or rectify the confusions about his identity and capabilities, because he is ultimately unaware of those around him and their needs and desires of him.  The world for him is very much a sort of interactive television – it’s not really real, and therefore he doesn’t really take it seriously.  There’s no need to – none of it is real.  Not the danger, or the confusion, or the sorrow, or the death or the passion or the joy.  It’s all just an elaborate television show.   He is reaffirmed in this, because whenever he attempts to divulge some realness of himself, it is ignored, just as though he were talking to the television.

It was interesting to note that Hal Ashby also directed Harold and Maude, another very strange movie that I recently watched again after viewing it about 17 years ago. 


November 23, 2008

I dislike guilt, having grown up with a copious amount of it.  Self-inflicted guilt is really no different than the kind imposed by others, no matter how many mental gymnastics you go through trying to convince yourself that it really is different and somehow, better.   I want to write.  I like to write.  But I hate to write unless I have something to say.  And it seems that lately, I haven’t had a lot to say.  Which is kind of scary, since there ought to be a plethora of things that need talkin’ through.  We’ve come through a harrowing election both in terms of individuals and propositions.  The loving and tolerant folks who lost on Proposition 8 in California have taken to loving and tolerant actions like vandalism.  The economy is in the dumps and figuring out how to burrow through the bottom of the dump and into the ground like some sort of vast, catastrophic Puxatawney Phil. 

There’s no shortage of things to talk about.  But inspiration is elusive.  Perhaps it’s just fatigue at the end of a long Pentecost season.  Perhaps it’s the looming holiday season ahead.  It could be gas, but that usually passes just fine without holding up inspiration too long. 

Whatever it is, I hope it leaves soon.  Or returns.  Or whatever the appropriate metaphor is.