Monday, June 08, 2009

A few things

Thing One. Today, SCOTUS refused to hear an appeal of the Army's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on gay soldiers. That sucks, though perhaps a different phrase would be a more appropriate condemnation. More disturbing, though, is that the government filed briefs in support of the policy.

That would be the Government as in the Obama Administration. As in my President who promised me he'd drop this ridiculous policy. Why is Obama dragging his feet on this? Why wasn't this a no-brainer rubber-stamp kind of action to satisfy the liberal masses?

I'm not expecting Obama to do anything about gay civil unions right now. Why should he? The states are, one by one, taking care of this for him at the moment. But, in a United States where gays can marry legally, the notion that they must adhere to a "don't ask, don't tell" policy is ludicrous. Come on, Obama.

Thing Two: this op-ed piece. Someone who knows a heck of a lot more about higher public education than I ever will thinks that the path to improving same includes actions like high pressure tactics to curb truancy, and advertising like crazy to encourage public college enrollment.

I read this piece through several times. And I cannot grasp the logic in the argument that spending beaucoup bucks to encourage college enrollment is going to improve the quality of higher education. Having more people attend college won't make the education they receive there any better.

And encouraging truants to mend their errant ways is a fine idea. But, again, having more children attend and graduate from high school will not in any way improve the quality of higher education they could receive in college. Could it be that the author is confusing the notion that the winner of the advertising wars is usually the best product available?

Perhaps we should encourage public post-secondary institutions to focus on improving the education students receive in the institutions, rather than simply trying to persuade people to attend. Maybe we should send the author back for a remedial logic course, too.

Last thing. Stanley Fish's blog has an interesting discussion today of Obama's allegedly changing use of personal pronouns. I haven't paid enough attention to render an opinion on whether he's right or not. I do know that the dichotomy between Obama's avoidance of "I" and Hillary Clinton's consistent use of same during the campaign was persuasive rhetoric on its face.

I'll have to think more about what kind of pronoun use I expect from my President. :-)


Saturday, June 06, 2009

worship and attention

A friend sent me this speech, highlighting the following passage:
"In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive."
Go read it; it's short. I read it. I liked it. A bunch. In some passages of big blaring prose, Wallace gave us a sliver of what unattended life is (hell on earth) and what the attempt to give attention to life can be (somewhere between better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick and heaven.)

He attempts to divorce the discussion from religion or morals or dogma, though for the life of me I can't figure out why. I admit to complete ignorance of his writing which, upon remediation, will probably fix that. But, like most of life, its strands cannot so neatly be separated out or excluded by such labels.

My buddhist sensibilities (or go with desert monastic thought, if it suits you) heard Wallace's words as a logical follow up to "Regard all dharmas as dreams"; all of life and thought is fleeting, a bubble in the wind. All is meant to be seen completely, touched gently, and released, so we are ready to attend to the next moment and the next.

Of course, all these words of attending to now and thinking beyond myself led me to, um, lose myself in my head, examining and thinking instead of being right here right now. When my brain starts to think that it's thinking, reveling in both my words and others, overheating is inevitable. I move from rummaging in my brain for words to ransacking books. I knew that there were complimentary pieces, words that I'd read and tried to store up, that will match up with Wallace's words like parts of a jigsaw puzzle.

I started remembering Scott Russell Sanders and his sense of rootedness in place as part of a spirit-filled life. Reread a bit of Kathleen Norris' meditation on daily chores as potential joyful worship in "The Quotidian Mysteries."

I couldn't quite find the passage I was seeking in one of Pema Chodron's books on buddhism and compassion. Somehow, I ended up in a Barbara Brown Taylor book, reading "(b)e kind, wrote Philo of Alexandria," for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

And so, an hour later, I found myself at the kitchen table, the table hidden under books and my head buried in words. Don't get me wrong. Books are good. Words are good. Thinking is good. For me, though, they are a sure path to the very unconscious living of which Wallace speaks. Lost in my words, I start to think my thoughts are important, something to worship. But they're not.

When I bushwhack my way out of my head, my thoughts, what I think of others' thoughts, I'm left with this: Every moment I can choose to pay attention, and to what I will pay attention. Attention is akin to worship. Where my treasure is, there is my heart also. And to what do I pay attention and treasure this evening? I am embarrassed to say and would rather hide in my words and books.

Maybe tomorrow I will make different choices.