Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Discovering Meaning

Who determines the meaning of something? Where/how is meaning attached?
We discussed this in great length in Communication Theory classes. Is the meaning attached by the person who sends the message or the person who receives it?


“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Robert McCloskey

So, in the above quote - Whose fault is it?
Much of understanding or misunderstanding one another revolves around context. It's not the words alone or the symbols alone that get confusing. It's the meaning we associate. When I convey a message - in words or symbols - I attach a meaning based on my context. The next person does the same. The context we share determines how closely we understand the message - hear the words - share meaning for the symbol.
When people feel oppressed with "political correctness", it's a sign of the lack of shared context with someone who may be offended. The person who is offended does not understand or trust the context in which the person speaks. It's painful on both sides.
It is painful to the person who is offensive. Perhaps they sincerely do not mean to offend and don't see the negative context. Perhaps they don't like being called out for actually embracing the negative context.
It is pain for the person who is offended. Perhaps they have become overly sensitive and assume offense. Perhaps they have grown attuned to underlying motives that all too often surface in subtle ways.
So, what is the solution? If you want to be understood, build context. To build context, you need to be a better listener. Build trust. The more open and aware we become, the greater the ease of building understanding. It's not a troubling thing. It's a journey of understanding and exploration to be embraced. Awareness of you and your context as well as awareness of others and their context brings peace.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Freedom can be Ugly...

It's impossible (at least for me) to avoid seeing the stories about Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who needs her religious freedom specially protected because doing her job now interferes with her religious beliefs. And it appears the Pope has said people have the right to take this kind of stance in the name of religion.
In reality, people in the United States have the right to say a lot of things and to do a lot of things - in the name of freedom - generally. That's what makes our country unique. Sometimes the exercise of freedom doesn't look so pretty. In fact, sometimes it's down right ugly.
To my knowledge, there are no laws that prevent the Westboro Baptist church from protesting at funerals of fallen soldiers. The Klu Klux Klan has a right to hold rallies and march - even the ACLU has defended that right. We can think of dozens of instances of people protesting - exercising their rights - and it did not look so pretty to many others. We have lots of rights in this country. We protect those rights but there are consequences.
It is the consequences that need the closest scrutiny. In each circumstance, we need to put a different face on the issue at hand. If we protect - or fail to protect - the individual right (no matter what that "right" is) how does that apply to other similar situations? That seems to be the work of the judicial system - weighing the law - the constitution - and providing some balance.
Kim Davis' job changed after she was elected. She doesn't like that change and doesn't want to accept it. I get that. It's kind of like getting a new boss who does things differently - maybe outside of your perceived ethical boundaries. You raise an alarm and say "hey, I'm not liking this" and expect something to fix your problem. Kim has gotten the answer. Most of us understand that it's not going to be fixed for her. Why not? Because there can be a thousand other similar issues from a thousand other directions that would then require special exemptions/protections. Yes, she has the right to raise the objection. Objection noted. Now about your job...Are you doing it or not? If not, step aside. The job is different now but it must be done. If it is too painful, you can quit. We all have the right to walk away from a job that has become too painful to endure.
You do have a right to keep protesting. You have a right to hold rallies and march about it. Many of us will think it looks pretty ugly. Tax payers shouldn't have to pay for ugly. I'd be fired if I refused to do my job, though I do have the right to protest if I want to do so. The consequences will likely be rather ugly.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"We the People"!!!!

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
This preamble to our constitution very clearly states the purpose of our government. Most notably, it begins with "We the People".  Often it seems there is a growing sense of dis-connect from our government as though it is it's own entity apart from us. It was intended, designed from the beginning to be US - united - centered on justice and tranquility, a focus on general welfare, security and a national prosperity for all.
The cause for which our founders sacrificed and fought was noble. They sought to form a perfect union - a new democracy which would secure the "Blessings of Liberty" for all its citizens. It was to be a government "for the people and by the people". They established no monarchy. They established no national religion. And in the beginning, General Washington - President Washington - was reluctant to create a standing army.
We revere those servants who created our democracy. They are our beloved heroes. But we hate the very thing they created - our government. I believe if any one of them could speak today, they would tell us "If you are unhappy with what your elected officials are doing - do something about it!" I think they would be saying "We designed the constitution in a way that gives you power! YOU are the people we were talking about!"
They didn't sit on the sideline and complain. They did something. That something went far beyond saying "you're wrong". They created something that they believed was a better way. And they fought for it. They created a new form of government. They created it in a way that "We the People" can have a great deal of influence if we don't stand on the sidelines and give our power away.
As we enter this upcoming election cycle, many of us are going to grow weary of the political ads, the news soundbites, the calls, emails and knocks at the door. Now is the time to express yourself. Now is the time to get engaged. Now is the time to insist on solutions. Now is the time to offer solutions.
If there is an issue that bothers you, seek a representative that is actually talking about and is actually committed to a solution you believe will work. If they are not talking about the solution you believe is available - tell them what you believe will work! It's not enough to be against what someone else is willing to do. Be willing to commit to something better! Be ready to offer a better solution. That's what our founders did. That's what they sacrificed to create for us. 
At the very least do this:
1) VOTE - and take time to learn about the candidates
2) Engage - tell your local candidates, state candidates, national candidates what you think.
3) We need to encourage an understanding of government at all levels.
Beyond that, we all need to see service to our community, our state and our country as an honorable thing to be respected.We need to stop talking politics and start insisting on service. Every representative of our government needs to be held to the highest standards of public service and gain our highest regard. It's what our founders did! It's what they intended and it is up to "We the People" to uphold.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

"Seek and ye shall find..."

All philosophy fascinates me. I'm currently reading Elaine Pagels "The Gnostic Gospels" in which she describes the Gnostic texts discovered at Nag Hammandi, early orthodox Christianity and the great divide that developed. She carefully explains those first and second century times and tries to help us understand the cultural and political climate including the horrific persecution of Christians that prevailed.
As I place this book in context with other information I've studied, the reasoning for developing THE "Bible" was quite sound - politically and culturally. If Christianity did not unite under one Orthodoxy, it would not have survived. The orthodoxy required a centralized authority - a patriarchy - in much the same way an army is formed. Gnostic teachings did not follow this way of thinking. And so, the catholic church - the one confirmed (even by Protestants) in the apostolic creed, was established and mightily fought to survive the ages. Gnostic teachings - gnostic texts - were intended to be completely destroyed. Gnosticism did not conform with Orthodoxy and was an internal threat to survival.
Two thousand years later came the discoveries of Gnostic Texts at Nag Hammandi and in other places. These texts, hoped to be destroyed by the orthodox Christians of the time, offer broadly differing perspectives on Christianity, Christ's life and how to follow.  Of course, I find most interesting the Gnostic teachings that treated women as equals and promoted a communal spiritual understanding that did not focus on hierarchy. These communities believed that connection with the spirit was universally available and should be universally valued. Not all Gnostic teachings followed this but I am most convinced that these are what Jesus taught and meant for us to understand.
Christianity has survived quite possibly due to the Orthodox approach. But it has not prevailed in the world. It has not been enough to change the world. Something has been missing. Something has not been quite right. It has not been quite right because something was missing. What was missing is now being re-discovered and confirmed in other ways. (notably Quantum Physics)
The times described in Elaine Pagels book, I believe and was stated by a great Egyptian Guru, began a time of spiritual darkness. I believe we have now entered a time of great spiritual enlightenment. Orthodox Christianity - as prescribed in the apostolic creed - is milk. It can give life and sustain. Spiritual growth is found beyond.
Do not fear. Spirit will lead you. There is more. Seek and ye shall find.