Monday, November 22, 2010

Who is my neighbor?

So I was perusing the internet(s) during my day and looking through the regular sites to get some news and infotainment. I came across the NPR website to check on a story I had heard about earlier in the day and observed a story that I thought was pretty interesting, “Number of Hate Crimes Down in 09.” If you are as unfortunate as I am you have the time and the resources to check out national news on a regular basis via the internet. I say unfortunate because “news” is rarely news and is far from uplifting. I can’t check out a site without hearing about something Palin related. That woman stands for everything I am against and is totally worth a post solely on her own, but I digress. If you do observe the happenings of the world and the nation you see an alarming amount of concern regarding terrorism and people being afraid of Muslims (refer to previous NPR employee, Juan Williams, fired for saying, “"When I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.")

Within this small article they obviously highlight the positive statistics of hate crime dropping but they go on to expand on the statistics. If you venture to take a look you see something that absolutely baffled me.

Of the 1,376 hate crimes "motivated by religious bias," 70 percent were anti-Jewish and 9 percent were anti-Islamic. In 2008, according to the FBI, about 66 percent of hate crimes involving religious bias were anti-Jewish and 8 percent were anti-Islamic.

I’m put in a tough position because I don’t believe any hate crime is justified but I feel misled by our news organizations that there is some sort of mistrust of people with Islamic faith. In an idiotic hypothetical situation where I was the contestant and the question would be, “In 2009 there were 1,376 hate crimes recorded, that were based off of religious bias. Seventy percent were anti- _______?” And I had three choices and they were; Jewish, Buddhist and Rastafarian, I would still not pick Jewish. More to the point, how is the narrative of America that we hear from news organizations that people will burn Qur’ans, not allow Islamic centers in New York and that the head employees of NPR are afraid to fly with people of the Islamic faith. Yet I don’t hear about the injustices occurring to the Jewish community. What is not being said is that one religion is being picked on more than another, what I’m arguing is that the narrative of the nation right now is, that it is far more profitable to cover the pseudo tension between non-Muslim and Muslim citizens. My understanding from what is covered and what is statistical is the posture we as Americans take towards Muslim citizens is fear, yet the facts show that there is much, much more hostility towards our Jewish citizens. This could mean a variety of things, but what it certainly does mean is that there is complacency in regards to the covering of hate crimes and religious intolerance. I can’t think of a time recently where I have heard anything about a Jewish center in America being picketed or anyone threatening to burn the Torah. There is a disproportionate amount of news focusing on an entire group of people that sheds a less than favorable image while at the same time we have an entire people suffering and going unnoticed.

I know I’m just posing a problem and not giving any sort of real solution because for once in a long time I am shocked. There are no news stories about professional athletes, politicians or public figures that truly surprise me anymore. Call me a cynic, or just a negative person but I have little faith in humanity. But this statistic truly caught me off guard and gave me the motivation to share my findings with the limited audience I have. I don’t know if the problem is certain areas are targeted by the same hate groups or if we really still have a bigoted nation of anti Semites. Regardless the irony is that in a “Christian nation” the most persecuted religions have the same deity as the persecutors; Allah, ABBA, YHWH.

Matthew 22: 36-40

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I prefer times like these

Life is far more pleasurable when you have the ability to enjoy it. I recently have had the ability to enjoy weekends again due to some unfortunate experiences by two of my coworkers. Due to the economy I guess their full time jobs could no longer afford to keep them around so I am continuously getting phone calls to work my shifts. It’s a weird sense of satisfaction to not only take the day off and also be helping someone during a rough patch. All of these positive things are occurring at once which means there are going to be some not so pleasant events in my near future to balance my life out and make sure I stay at my desired level of humility. I am 2 papers away from being done with my last semester of graduate school before I student teach. On top of that I discovered that I will be at the Freshman Center for Blue Springs school district for the second half of my student teaching. This is truly exciting for me because it may not have been in the Lee’s Summit school district, but it is a district that is held in as high regards concerning academics. On top of that I’m just excited to have a group of students that I can call my own. Being a substitute teacher over these last four and half years has given me the confidence and self awareness to know that I can handle a classroom, but can I contribute to a classroom? This will truly be a comprehensive test of my intelligence, patience and drive to be a factor in a student’s life and not just a stepping stone. Through emailing the teacher I’m student teaching for I know he is a younger guy who coaches at Blue Springs South and had some connections at my job at Hooper’s, so I should be able to get along with this person which was a huge concern as to whether I’d be stuck with someone without a personality or something worse like a Tea Bagger.

I do know one thing about my teaching abilities. I know how to pacify a classroom with some good tunes. I had two hours of freshman biology and I knew I had to play them something that would please the masses, while at the same time promotes a feeling of being sedated in their seat. I’m not trying to hypnotize them, just distract them from being young and rambunctious in the classroom. Band of Horses was definitely the trick. These kids ate it up and worked through the whole hour without a peep. There is something about this band that can be somewhat of a pop hybrid. Their sound is plenty unique to not be permitted on the radio in excess, but their songs are so catchy. While at the same time there is a depth to their lyrics which give a more subtle clue to their not belonging in the same genre as linkin park or owl city. But if you’ll excuse me I have a weekend to start involving no; soccer, work, papers that need to be done and a whole lot of “The Office”, dates with a special little lady and socializing to accomplish.

Lucky ones are we all 'til it is over
Everyone near and far
When you smile the sun it peaks through the clouds
Never die for always be around and around and around

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Spend Less Give More

I just tasted a peppermint and it immediately took me to a place in my mind that made me think of the holidays. This is weird for a couple reasons; One, I stole like 10 of these exact same mints from Garozzo’s 10 days ago when we went for my birthday and this was my last one and yet the first time it “tasted like Christmas.” And two, I don’t get excited 2 months out like all the radio stations. It’s an incredibly odd thing to think about but it’s like in the movies when you see the character have a flashback and his/her “entire life flashed before their eyes.” Instead for me though, it was my entire holiday experience flashed before my eyes. The joy of all my friends being at home and the countless holiday parties and meals, time off from work and school and the joy of giving and getting presents. I’m obviously not an opponent of getting gifts on my birthday but for Christmas you get to share in the excitement of mutually opening presents together and there is that lack of guilt because nobody is missing out in your immediate company.

On Christmas my girlfriend and I participate in Advent Conspiracy. You can go to the website or just read my little blurb about it. The point of this organization is for people to donate money in the absence of participating in over consumption that plagues the citizens of America. The money you donate is not just sent to some random charity that chooses what to do with the money and you have to wonder whether or not it gets directed to the cause of your choice. Every donation goes to the building of Well’s in African countries. Many countries in Africa suffer from mal nutrition, poor education, and civil unrest because their citizens do not have the luxury of water. Water is a luxury that we have taken for granted and don’t recognize the power it has. Children do not go to school because the schools do not offer running water, or the water they have causes dysentery and other diseases. These students are limited to what they can learn simply because they can’t get a drink to satisfy their needs as a human being. The lack of education causes lack of growth and lack of economic prosperity. There are no possibilities for agriculture and livestock to survive which limits the nutrition of the areas and when the closest locations for water are 2 hours away you are walking to retrieve water instead of working and improving your economic standing.

This is a Christian charity, by that I mean it was founded by Christians and supported by churches. I think though that it is something that all citizens can get behind and have no theological bias. We can all agree that the amount of credit card debt Americans go into for a holiday is frightful and that the gift of water is far more fulfilling than any sweater or video game. Think of when you received your favorite present. Mine was a Nintendo 64. My eyes shot open and I began to celebrate like I had won the lottery. It’s so strange to think but these kids in these nations have a similar response to just plain drinking water. There is a video on the website that shows children dancing and singing because they know that these trucks are coming to provide them with water. Out of context it is the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard of. A bunch of kids excited for water? In the grand scheme of things these wells are going to dominate their new story. Children will be able to eat and drink without fear, mothers can start looking for work, schools can open and teach the children and the adolescents will be able to work on their education.

Every year Ally and I promise to get each other something small for fun but we donate a good chunk of money each based on what we can afford (because we are still poor college students) to Advent Conspiracy. It takes away from the American spirit of “buy what you can’t afford, for things you don’t need,” and contributes to a cause that gives children a life that is closer to what they deserve. Beyond that it is truly the message of Christmas. The perversion of Christmas by big business has only held us back as a society from growing in compassion. We have been raised and taught about the “greatest country, God ever gave man” but we still spend more on ourselves and create a calloused self entitled posture. I think that this type of celebration through charity satisfies the spirit far more than a blue ray player or a sweater. What is asked by the contributor (other than the money) is for individuals to reengage themselves with the people around them. They ask for you to spend time with people who would normally receive gifts. Spend time creating as opposed to consuming. I hope that this post reaches more than just my normal viewers and can shed a more relevant view of Christmas. I hope people can start planning accordingly to give the gift of water/life/freedom. I challenge you to check out the website watch the videos and not be affected. It’s impossible to watch those children dance and sing and cry and not wonder if you could spare an extra 15 or 20 bucks this year.

"A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Another day older and deeper in debt

Many people I have spoken to and even some family members all are pretty convinced that after a certain age you don’t celebrate birthdays. This consensus would probably halt the normal people in the world to just get over themselves and continue on with their lives. Ultimately, you are missing out on the most self serving holiday in America, “The Birthday.” I grew up believing October 25th was the most magical day of the year, (and it was) because you have a team of people who make it their sole occupation to make your day completely conform to the things that make you happy and alive.

Initially, when I was a kid the mentality was very much, “all about the stuff!” Anymore, though, it has become, “all about the meaning.” Do I love stuff? Yes, absolutely I love stuff. I am an American and can find things on infomercials and gadget stores that I would use for all about 3 weeks. I have a phone that can do everything a computer can do, an iPod touch and other contraptions. I enjoy toys and devices as much as I did when I was an adolescent. Now though in my mid 20’s I would find far more joy in something that was made for me than something that was bought. In the midst of adulthood you find yourself caught up in the chaos of “life.” Bills, long hours, homework and socializing become your routine and define who you are as a person. It’s simple for my life to be completely positive and yet be going nowhere at the same time. Is my goal to be alive? Or are my goals to achieve smaller goals to work up to bigger ones? I’m certain there is beauty in the craftsmanship that is required to establish an individual and these moments of monotony are the glory that we are seeking but do not recognize. I also think that vitality is created in those silly moments like October 25th when I can, for no reason other than that date, plan a completely random trip to the west. Or I can ask my friends to oblige me in a celebratory happy hour to sit around and expect nothing but pleasant company and reminiscences of years past. Without these moments of simplistic self serving joy we are just spinning our wheels. If we have not the moments to reflect, what are we moving for?

This being said I have to confess that I have been concerned with my lifestyle. It appears completely self serving and I think that might be part of the issue as to why I have become so concerned with how I can justify writing a blog in the first place. There really is a limited time on this earth and no matter what you believe in spiritually. There is not some sort of Hocus Pocus that will allow me to revisit October 28, 2010 and fulfill any sort of civic responsibility to the poor or less fortunate. There will be no day in heaven where I can go back to volunteer at a nursing home and their certainly will not be a moment of clarity where I realize that 50 years before I died I could have donated my services to any sort of organization. The country is incredibly void of reality where the rich don’t comprehend what the less fortunate are going through and I can not possibly convey any sort of anthem for change or think I’m any better than those who are not offering their services if I’m just passing time until I retire and wait for death. This is a dangerous thing I’m doing by divulging my shame but I hope that I can find what I’m looking for by exposing the paralysis in my soul. I will have to change my perspective that I’m not losing time, but rather gaining a glimpse into the kingdom of heaven.

“So much has been given to me; I have not time to ponder over that which has been denied.”- Helen Keller-

Friday, October 15, 2010

The King and I

Finally came across some free time and I have actually been pretty anxious to post on here again. Despite just finishing a mid term paper I am still going to take more time out to write. I can’t imagine that I’m at any risk of being over academic in my daily life. The only problem is that I’m not focused but incredibly motivated for some reason. I needed some sort of catalyst that can make my brain, heart, and fingers do some sort of interconnected action that would be legible.

I’m currently at O’Hara high school for some observation hours to count towards my class project. I really had no preference at where I did my observation other than it had to be within 15 miles of my house. I’m already losing an opportunity to work and make money; I might as well save on gas. O’Hara is a private Catholic school where the students wear uniforms and the classrooms are small in number. I had heard from a fellow Rockhurst student who spoke with an administrator that 99% of students graduate. I’d like to verify this claim but I can’t currently at the moment. Based off of my observations thus far I’d probably agree. These kids are from all walks of life and counter the statistics on ethnicity in regards to performance in the classroom.

This is not why I’m motivated to write today. The students are reading The Crucible in class and are discussing the recent events that had occurred in the book. One specific example the class spoke about was when one of the characters, Mr. Proctor, was being investigated about why he doesn’t attend church anymore, he responded with that he didn’t like the pastor and his style of speaking. His main concern was the emphasis on hell fire and raising money. The teacher paused to ask the class if not attending church could be justified because you don’t like the pastor. Everyone in unison said “noooo.” And the teacher explained, “you go to church to worship God. So it shouldn’t matter who is giving the sermons.” I definitely differed in opinion. I had this very same conversation about a month ago with a friend of mine. Although very brief, we both explained our differences and while I agreed with his points I still overall could not justify going somewhere and receiving the same doctrine and expect positive results. When I began attending my church, about 5 years ago almost to the day, I was drawn in by the intelligent sermons and the questions posed. I remember my frustrations when associate pastors or guest speakers would step in and their sermons were watered down or more spiritual than intellectual. One woman would cry in every one of her sermons. This might make me seemed callous and someone might ask, “Why can’t a person become emotional when speaking?” or “what is a woman doing speaking in front of a church?!” The problem was that our church has three different gatherings and at each one she cried at the same point in every sermon doing the same thing (wailing at a cross she had placed in the middle of the pews.) That reminds me a lot of the televangelists of old. People who harp on emotions in order to attain the type of response the pastor plans out should be a crime. The motive should be authentic community. Every sermon should be a part of a movement. Each lesson taught should impact our humanity. King said, “The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well-being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them.” If you are only receiving a portion of the gospel your institution is a, “spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.” King’s words, not mine.

All I really want is for people to discern their feelings upon going to a religious institution and challenge their own beliefs with consideration for the reality of the world they live in. Whatever god you believe in there should be more logic than whimsy. Hopefully there are as many statistics as there are tears and as much community as there is shame. Academia can assist the Kingdom of Heaven far more than ignorance. Questioning dogma (or anything) can produce a stronger allegiance to what you were questioning in the first place. And blindly following a leader is equally as destructive to your own identity as it is furthering the untested agenda of those in charge.

This is a quote I love and it just happens to be a relative of mine.
"The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion."
–Thomas Paine-

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chapter 1

I’m metaphorically blowing the dust off the top of my online journal. I had about a year ago toyed with the idea of reopening the Pandora’s Box that is xanga, “ThenGodSaidLetThereBeNick” (it’s still there, check it out). Then I decided I should be somewhat relevant and check out the blog websites of those people who actually take this seriously. My main turn off in keeping a journal is that my journal is limited completely to what I’m able to experience. What I mean in writing this is that my life is completely engulfed in mundane and monotonous activities that bring with them no promise of excitement or vitality. My excitement is limited to men’s soccer league games and spending time with my girlfriend. Whereas my previous life as a childish 20 something was consumed with road trips, concerts and randomness. I know this is not the settling in of my “adult life” because this onslaught of work and monotony is surely going to pass once I attain that ultimate goal of a full time job with salary and benefits. And even though it is in the near future it is still a long way off.

Yet, at the same time there is life to be discovered in my 16 hour work days and excitement in my broad range of employment. There is still a soundtrack to my life and there are still struggles that are existential in nature that I encounter carrying a weed eater as opposed to hiking a mountain. This blog will grant me the opportunity and oblige me the ritual of exploring events in my day that could have easily snuck by me, had I not reflected on what occurred between my eyes opening and closing. More importantly it’s an opportunity to express my life in a more holistic manner as opposed to the ego-tastic twitter (which I have never and will never be a part of.) This is far more intimate and obviously exponentially more informative then 200 characters. My main burden is not only delving into my day(s), but putting a subtle charm which makes me sound intuitive but not arrogant. I’ve never needed an excuse to share my life, just a starting off point. If I’m going to be any good at this blogging I just have to take a leap and begin typing.

I promise to be transparent and conversational in my style of writing, which is the whole point right? There will be no apologies for the guilty pleasures I reveal and the events that occur because this is me and my life. Unless I have wronged anyone I will not beg forgiveness of anyone. My goals are to bring out of myself humility, purely an onlooker and not of a judge, but at the same time be critical of the experiences I have. Hopefully at some point I will use a digital camera or some other form of media that gives the reader a more tangible context to my life, but until then, eat my words. Lastly, I will be relevant about all spheres of life as opposed to just the things that I find interesting. I hope to read stories about all facets of life and engage in activities that stretch me as a person and a blogger. It truly will cause me to be a member of a community as opposed to an elitist onlooker who gives his two cents. Those are my goals and promises and this is my chance to stratify my life into daily/weekly nuggets that will hopefully help me make sense of, "what went wrong," 40 years down the line.

May we get what we want, may we get what we need, but may we never get what we deserve.