Part II: The Only Questions

Here is the promised Part II in my series, “The Only Questions You will Ever Need and Should Always Ask”.  Please click on my name in the picture below to be taken to my friend’s  page on Medium.com  Thanks as always for reading,  Jane

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In Praise of Argument

In Praise of Unlike-able Argument

(Caption: You can disagree with me if you want.)

By Jane Tawel

October 2019

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Fight Light TC2 by jimbo0307 licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

A friend shared yet another article by yet another writer who claims we should not argue with each other. This writer is of the persuasion that it is not a likable trait and especially (and here he is wielding the reformulated but age-old weapon beloved by those of the Inquisition), that it is not very “Christian” to argue or disagree, especially in public forums. But no matter Christian or not, I think many people in my own country at least, and no matter their religion or lack thereof, think that it isn’t completely kosher to argue with each other. Of course, if you know me, you will know that I am always dumb enough to think I owe it to other people to jump into the ring. I really have to argue with people like this who make me feel bad for arguing with people like this. Especially when they want to play the moral tone card.

 

 

I have long wanted to make and sell t-shirts that read, “Jesus was not nice, but then neither is God.” Niceness, I’m afraid, isn’t really the point of a god or of a savior. Christianity, at least all too often over here under this flag, has turned God and his supposedly chosen people into self-serving cultists who hide behind tax-free shelters being nice to each other and anyone who agrees with them. Americans, especially, have met so little resistance to our own crusades and imperialisms that we have had no reason to listen to or debate with those from other countries. The United States has had no valuable practice in debating our desperate need to seriously rethink the beloved institutions and historical documents we have enshrined and idolized. And neither church nor state spokespersons understand why, Rodney King fashion, we all can’t just get along– as long as you agree with my point of view, that is.  Janis Joplin might rejoin that our freedom has become just another word for we don’t argue, so we can’t lose. But not losing, doesn’t mean we haven’t lost our way. Thinking we are being nice by not arguing won’t help us find our way, either.

 

 

Niceness is highly over-rated, unlike courtesy or kindness, or sacrifice in the name of love, all which seem to have become virtues we have put on the backburners, along with truthfulness, humility, and restfulness.

 

Ironically this latest article posted by my friend, was shared on social media and the article was about how we shouldn’t argue with people on social media.  Oh, Irony, how I love thee! But then irony seems to be too argumentative a viewpoint for some people today; people who would rather drift along without anyone arguing against hypocrisy, foolishness, wrongness, or the ubiquitous, “that’s just what I think”. The worst are often people like this author; those who claim the Bible says it or some famous person they quote said it, or an historically specific philosophy says it. The worst are those who use that gigantic, greatly misunderstood and little read collection of genres, which is The Bible, and who then make these bold arguments and stunt any dissent; and they do so by cutting and pasting some quip or commentary or verse taken out of the whole contextual mass, or by one of the later day additions to what some people think of as “The Word of God”. Not that you can’t do that, but if you do, please realize that by doing so, you are, in fact, actually inviting people to argue with you.

 

 

People like this author make their sweet-sounding, oh-so-rational and unemotional bullet points about how we should interact, or rather not interact, and that is usually by not arguing with people on social media. Then they get excited that people repost them on…. social media, where …no one can argue with them. Ha!  However, it is not just on Facebook or Twitter that we are unfriended for dissent; we are also strongly cautioned that we are never to debate and argue in the marketplace, or at home, or in the classroom, or in the halls of government, or at work, or at temple or sanctuary or mosque.  God help us! Personally, I would rather you give me instead, any day, the angry, prophetic, justice-seeking disagree-ers like Greta Thunberg; or the friendly, wrangling sages like Kathryn Schultz, who argue about the very basis of our thought processes and our foibles because of our fear of being wrong. Let me read the stories about those crazy old, raging prophets like Jeremiah or Isaiah. And I love to sit awhile meditating on the debates among friends like Frodo and Sam and Boromir and Gandalf, as they argue over which way to go and what to do on their journey of immeasurable importance. It is because the characters argue and discuss and point out to each other their different strengths and weaknesses, that we know that one of the deep truths that the author Tolkien is teaching us, is that though each of us must ultimately make his or her own way, the journey is more “Good” and much better if we all try our best to help each other. Even if they are wrong, it is good to have companions who will disagree with us on the way, and those who will try to shed a bit of dim light whenever they think we might trip and fall. When you have a Balrog on one side of you and orcs and trolls on the other side, then losing an argument is infinitely less important than making it safely across the bridge.

 

 

Don’t get me wrong, there are simply many ideas or statements or point of views that are not worth arguing over, and argument for argument’s sake may get the juices flowing in some people I know and love, but not in me. I have an uncle and a few friends who quite often strongly disagree with me and I with them; and we banter publicly when necessary and privately when possible, but we don’t unfriend each other. I absolutely hate any argument with my children, but I would hate even more, not loving them enough to speak my mind about something I fear could hurt or misdirect them. I love and trust these people because we can keep (sometimes) arguing with each other and we can still keep loving each other.

 

 

And as much as I really do hate conflict, I also want to be able to look at myself in the morning, knowing I tried my best with other people to make bridges, not walls. I don’t sleep well at night anyway, I may as well lie awake regurgitating someone’s arguments against my complacency or fuming over a point of view that I don’t understand, or trying to think about whether I have been wrong –maybe wrong yesterday, maybe wrong this past year, maybe wrong for most of my lifetime. Or I might wrestle with an argument and be even more justifiably and peacefully confident that I am even more right today than I was yesterday, because someone had the chutzpah to disagree with me. With that attitude, I may not like argument, but I don’t fear it. I may avoid it if possible, but I won’t avoid it if preferable.

 

If I have the time and need to say something, then I also have the time and need to listen to someone’s argument about what I said. I may as well try to learn something from someone, even if I continue to disagree. I would rather someone take me seriously enough to not like something I post or communicate and to argue with me, (unless they agree with me, of course, which is why most of us speak out, usually, right? — to gather the like-minded troops with our rallying cries.) I would rather share an exhausting volley of words, than I would like to take time to punch one more “like” button on one more picture of a cute pet. Although, I do really love those cute pet pictures.

 

 

Arguing with someone doesn’t have to mean I am shutting her out or putting down his ideas. No, actually, it is not imitation, but argument that is the greatest form of flattery. Argument means that I take you seriously and that you are worth thinking about. You are worth my time, not just to hit the “like” button, but to engage with, to converse with, to learn with. Arguments don’t have to mean I want to tear down someone, but rather I want to build something with someone. Just because we are now on opposite sides of a chasm or gulf, doesn’t mean we both can’t work together.  I am piling up stones on my side of the chasm or river, while you pile up stones on your side; and I hope that one day, we will meet in the middle on a completed bridge of  deeper understanding, and open communication, and real community.

 

 

Of course, everyone just wants everyone to be nice and to let the people we may call our “brothers and sisters”, or our “peeps”,  say whatever they want to say, post whatever they want to post, whether it is true or not, whether it is good for them, or us, or the planet or the church or the school or the workplace or the family — or not. And so, we don’t argue with them.  We also don’t argue, because we hate being wrong, and if we don’t allow other people to debate what we think, well, then, there is little to no chance we will ever be proven wrong. Staying silent seems nicer and safer.

 

 

And we let ourselves forget that silence means acceptance. Silence means you are letting someone else control your narrative. We forget that it isn’t only words that hurt, but wordlessness hurts as well. We forget how much it hurts when someone we care about gives us the “silent treatment”. We forget that one of the very worst things that other humans do to each other is to stay silent in the presence of great wrong. We forget that the thing we hate most about God, is His silence.

 

 

It is rather clever of this author, and so many like him, to take this stance against argument. It is, however, especially disingenuous to brook no argument if you are in a position of leadership, like those in pastoral or “Christian”-speakership roles, or like Senators or CEOs, or teachers or coaches or parents. These powerful people can speak out or write articles or post things about how we must avoid argument, and since no one can argue with them after reading or hearing it, they have by default won the argument  that they won’t let us participate in because we should not argue. Ha!

 

 

Brooking no debate, is of course, one major way especially in the current versions of Christianity and perhaps other religions as well, in which religious peoples have long erred and gone so very wrong. We have accepted the strange and unspiritual corporate structure and marketplace attitudes that have infected groups of human beings since the beginning of shared space and spiritual yearnings. We have become a group of sheepish followers who do not debate or struggle with truth or meaning. We accept the false doctrine that “church” or “community” or “education” is supposed to be made by having a man who stands in front of the rest of the congregation or a teacher who stands in front of a classroom, and who gets to say whatever he or she wants to say while no one else can ask questions or disagree or argue or “teach back”.

And this is where we have come as a country as well, this rotten acceptance that democracy means that with whatever power and freedom I have, I will do what I want to do and I think what I want to think and if you argue with me, you are not nice and I will not continue to discuss things with you or try to work out some solutions to the problems we share. Because like it or not, we all share the same problems on some level or other. Our problem is, we are told that we shouldn’t want to share the solutions.  And then, to feel safe from each other, and self-important, we end up creating and accepting a world with overly powerful leaders in the whole triumvirate of powers, the three- headed beast of state and church and marketplace, and we let these eventually Orwellian-styled rulers apocalyptically write our narrative because they do not have to be nice and they can no longer be argued with. That person who will encourage you not to be argumentative, is, after all, your pastor or priest or mullah, or CEO, or President, or Prime Minister, or owner, employer, or principal, coach, or mom.  And it is why, like that violently arguing prophet, Isaiah said, “all we like docile sheep have gone astray, and each of us has turned to our own way.”

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If we want to look at just one great human being who wasn’t nice and who argued with the best of his argumentative Jewish brethren and who ever since he lived, people have said you should imitate and follow, we could look at Jesus. If you actually read about Jesus, who supposedly all these churches have been set up to honor and follow, he and his followers were little to nothing at all like we tend to think of them today. It would be instructive to look at how much Jesus argued with people who supposedly believed in the same God He did, even just the bits noted in the slight records we have of Christ’s remembered life story. It would be wise to look further at Jesus as the brilliant rabbi, a debater in the temple, a teacher who listened and pushed back and lost as many arguments as the ones that he won. Even from a young age, when Jesus talked back to his parents, dismissing their viewpoint about him as their son, and when a young Jesus questioned his own teachers, he was a man who always wanted to learn more and grow more and open the door to debate to rich and poor, believers and unbelievers alike. Since oral communication with others was the primary way of learning and teaching, the greatest man and teacher and King who ever lived, did a lot of verbal sparring, open-ended debating and question-induced conversing and yes, Jesus did a lot of arguing. Arguing proves someone is listening.

 

 

It might also help some people, like this author, who look to a collection of books they call “The New Testament” and “The Old Testament”, to open-mindedly read what the people in those stories were really like. And I mean, not only Moses who argued with God, or Jacob who wrestled with Jehovah, or Leah who kept nagging God about things from her point of view; but the very people who claimed to know and follow Jesus when he lived here with us for awhile, as a human on our planet. It has been instructive for me to see the saint, Paul, as the irascible, argumentative commentator he really was; a man struggling with making sense of a new form of Judaism, and a worthy opponent who was not always right, but was always up for a good heated back and forth with the others in the ecclesia. This author I am ragging on today, happens to quote Saint Peter. Well, let’s not even go there. If we want to talk about someone, like the disciple Peter, who never waited a nanosecond to make sure he was right or knowledgeable or nice before he spoke out, and who argued with Jesus and the other disciples so much that it’s a wonder he was able to keep  silent when the rooster crowed three times. We are talking about a man, who was nonetheless, specially chosen by Jesus Christ to further the Gospel by continuing to argue with others and for his beliefs, even after Jesus was gone.  Jesus must have been howling with ironic laughter when he said, “By this hard-headed argumentative foolish Rocky of a pugilistic guy, I will further the future of my community of chosen ones.”

 

The current community of the saints was built on centuries of argument and debate, beginning with Jesus and slogging sloppily on through the wrangling of Peter, Paul, and Mary (who had lots of great “hits”, but not a theology nor seminary degree between them). The community of the saints has driven forward rather erratically but it is headed towards home only by the trial and error of argument and debate among those courageous enough to be wrong and loving enough to engage in discussions. The Good News that there is a way that we humans can know truth and love is because of writers, and prophets, and arguers of all sorts and stripes. It is because of people who dared to speak out, speak up, speak against, and speak to others, that the ideas of Jesus and his followers, and with some later-day help from Augustinian Confessions, Ninety-Five Theses arguing against a closed door, and even some wee hobbits and folks in Narnia, have thrived. It is because of people talking with each other, that the ideas that Jesus left us about how we should live are still with us, to argue about and to, first and foremost, seek and yearn after. And if you don’t believe in Jesus, look to your own best man or woman, and try to follow their arguments for engaging in meaningful dialogue with other human beings.

 

 

Instead of arguing for more understanding of the whole of anything, (which none of us can claim complete understanding of, nor can we through soundbites, bite-off all of the whole at once), most of us prefer to keep cutting and pasting ideas or philosophies or Scripture verses or newspaper items, or unrelated facts into manageable two-by-fours which we use to either whack the competing voices with or use to build a foundation for our individual towering house of cards that we have already decided to live alone in until it teeters down on us. We take the bits of ideas that we like and have secured safely, or so we think, into our warehouses of ideas, (gotten there ironically, only by the arguments of willingly or unwillingly hotly debated truths of people who have come before us), and we clip and glue small parts of the whole, taking some one single thing all out of the context of the entire arc of the whole story.

 

 

By telling others how to argue (or not), how to talk (or not), how to be (or not), we are not only losing the point of this planetary experiment, we are losing one of our best human qualities besides.  Especially for anyone who claims to believe in democratic communities or in a God, we must be willing to argue, for “Pete’s Sake” (pun intended). Because if you read the stories, or if you believe even a modicum of religious thought might be true, then you must accept that even God Himself, has some super good arguments on record, some of which He loses! A God who would create a human being, must have debated long and hard with Herself, before giving that creature free will. Who are we to not argue with that?

 

 

I personally hate conflict and argument, but I hate even more the strange place we, at least in my country, seem to have gotten to today. To encourage someone how to be like Jesus, is to inherently have debate about who He was. And please, can we let the record show that both Jesus and God even called people names. They name-called people! and it wasn’t usually funny, like it was with Peter.  Try having Jesus, in an argument, call you a “dog” or a “viper” and see how you feel. See if you still think Jesus is nice. See if you decide to take your feel-good Facebook posts and go home. Check out some of the adjectives God uses for us, “obstinate”, “arrogant”, “hard-hearted”; or God who in His many arguments with His children when He calls us “chaff”, “fools”, or “dust”. For a great story about God talking back to humans and arguing, check out His argument to the man Job in the book of that name, beginning with chapter thirty-eight and going on and on and on. And here’s the kicker,  at the end of this great myth, Job gets rewarded, unlike his friends, because he respected God enough to argue with God but never stopped worshipping or serving or loving God.

 

 

Of course, I do not recommend name calling as a persuasive technique unless you are perfect yourself , as Jesus was, or unless you are God. But today, considering how many small-minded men think they are God or The Chosen One, perhaps some of us “nice” people need to throw around a few names after all; names like “hypocrite” or “vipers” or “fools” or  “foxes” or “stiff-necked oxen”.   For those of us who hate to argue but do it anyway because we think it is the right, honorable, loving thing to do; please let the record show to those of us who want to be “good” or “loving”, that Jesus, the “goodest” and “lovingest” of all, was in an emotionally charged conflict so often,  that he had to literally flee from other people, even his family and friends, and escape somewhere alone to chill out and recuperate from the emotional and spiritual toil that his conversations took. As our mothers used to say, “choose your battles wisely” but as our fathers used to say, “tell that kid you will meet him on the playground after school because you respect him, and yourself, enough to fight him”.   If only people would spend more time competing with  ideas and throwing around words, than they did competing on sports fields and throwing around balls. If only we would spend more of our lives wielding honest discussion and loving passionate debate, than we do wielding remote controls and loving passionate fictitious soap operas, we might actually make a go of this thing called humanity.

 

 

I think that we have to keep trying to point people to the truth and to the best ideas and ways of thinking and living that we can. But I can’t assume that because I think it is the best idea, that there isn’t room for argument. We can’t be truly our best of either this or that by only posting, tweeting, writing, and gathering “likes”. We have to wrestle, even if we end up with bruises and sore brain muscles. We have to be willing to walk the narrow road of seekers rather than the wide avenue of controllers. As much as I prefer hiding my thoughts and keeping to myself, I write because I want to learn. I wrestle with you, because I wrestle with my own ideas and beliefs and feelings and choices. And I want to learn as much as I can, even from those I disagree with.

 

 

I would rather have to take down a whole lot of the weak, faulty, un-trued lines of rocks that I have built on my side of the gap between me and you, than I would to keep stacking up my ideas into a wall that no one can assail. I would rather you argue with me even if I get hurt, than I would to never reach the middle of a bridge between your side and mine. And I can only do that by looking over at what you see from your side of the chasm between what I think and what you think; and by together building something strong, and beautiful, and worthy of our humanity.

 

 

Because that is after all, why Jesus came to our planet to argue with us; he wanted to give us a shot at making ourselves better at being human together. Believing all that seems a rather foolish theory, I know, but I would still rather be a fool seeking God’s Kingdom, and to open my mouth and remove all doubt when I argue with you, than I would to wait in silence for whatever happens at the end. That is my Pascal’s wager in praise of argument.

 

 

People like this author that sent me into this multi-sided and rambling debate with myself (and maybe you), make “good points” that we all “want to agree with”; and so we erroneously neglect the true theme, the more devious purpose, and the bent  point of view of people like this. They want to wield their own power of communication without giving their audience that same power. They control the narrative. They control the “conversation”. So, while they encourage you to give up and be nice, or learn a bit more before you take a stand, they speak or write as nicely to you as all dictatorial bullies do and without themselves, giving up an inch of their stated “expertise” or power.  The opiate of the masses has long been, not religion, but the idea that we should all be nice little sheep who don’t argue with authority, whether that authority is your Pope, your President, or your BFF on Facebook.

 

 

I used to teach young people, you can’t control or craft how you write or debate something, until after you learn what it is you want to say and most importantly, why you need to communicate it.  You must write and speak freely, feelingly, unafraid of error, but also unafraid of others who may come along later and point out to you that you might be wrong. We need not only freedom to disagree, but also good conscience to listen to other people’s arguments, and to accept other people’s ways of arguing, even if they argue with passion or emotion or even with wrong facts. When did we start thinking that by listening, we had to agree? When did we start thinking that we learn best by sitting still and shutting up? Or that it is better to never risk being publicly wrong because then we never risk being publicly right?

 

 

If we continue to unlearn how to argue, and go on disconnecting from discussing, debating, arguing, sometimes fighting our ideas even heatedly, pigheadedly, foolishly; then how will any of us ever learn which of all the doors ahead that we can open are the best ones? Sometimes, while we are standing, looking up and down the roads one might take, we need a good friend to argue with us, about the different directions one might use on this path called life.

 

If we are unwilling to argue with each other about important things, belief-type things, planet-survival type things, love thy neighbor type things, then we will not  be remembered as smart, or wise or “Jesus-like” or likable beings on this planet. We will, if we somehow survive to be remembered by anyone at all, be remembered not as nice, but as lost.

 

The Wonderful Thing about You, is You’re The Only One

The Wonderful Thing About You, is You’re the Only One

By Jane Tawel

September 2019

 

I took a personality test today. Well, a pathology test they called it, which, I don’t know, sometimes in our modern era, personalities and pathologies seem sort of like the same thing. My results didn’t surprise me but I guess they sort of flummoxed the researchers (see below) and skewed the statistics, both results which definitely do fit my personality. Ha!

Here are my results:

MULTIPLE RESULTS: “You appear to have two or more equally prominent Pooh Pathologies. It is possible that you are an equal fit for all of those characters. On the other hand, it is also possible that you simply answered the questions in such a way that you ended up with tied results, even though, in reality, you do have a definite Pooh Pathology. Whether you really are an equal fit for all of these characters, or you just happened to get an equal score on all of them, we are unable to say; we are therefore also unable to give you a more personalized description. But you can consult the chart above to see which of the characters you scored the strongest on.”

Well, I could have saved everyone some time, because I really didn’t need to consult this particular chart. I have already scored myself and all my family members, years ago, on my own personal Winnie The Pooh Personality Test.

I don’t put much stock in either tests or statistics, but I had to take this silly test because any thing remotely related to brilliant worldviews, psychological delvings, and thematic explorations by great artists, like A.A. Milne, are to me, like drawing a magnet across the face of an old Wooly Willy Toy.

 

My children and I loved the “Winnie-the-Pooh” books and every single one of us had (and have) Pooh character names. I even had a Winnie the Pooh poem read at my wedding. It was called “Us Two” and my grandfather (and we could never be sure with Grandpa if he was being serious or making a joke) asked out-loud during the service why my sister was reading a poem about “poo”.

The reasons for each of my family member’s nicknames, seem obvious to me, but then, it’s my story melding with Milne’s, much as Milne melded his adult-view stories with his own son’s children’s tales. My husband, even before our wedding, has been long my own “Winnie the Pooh”. My eldest daughter, dubbed herself “Tigger” early on. We still call my second daughter,“Roo” to the point that some people think it is her birth name. When my third daughter came along, she was our own cute little, anxious sounding, “Piglet”; and my son, well, I must admit there are many days he sounds exactly like his nickname implies, as the grumpy, pessimistic “Eeyore”. As the best mate of the silly ‘ole bear and the mother-figure to my children, I have had a role with many of the same skill sets and jobs as Christopher Robin. And just like Christopher Robin, as my children have grown up and left my story to start epic tales of their own, it has been hard for me to grow-up and leave my stories with them and my best-est, most beloved playmates behind, and find another “me” to be. Maybe that is why this test failed to tell me who I am. I am not sure myself who I am yet, in this new chapter.

It is funny how all the names rather suited all of us Tawels, though I do not think any of my family members have pathologies. Tendencies though… well, it is rather flukey how the nicknames fit a bit of the person each of us is. A.A. Milne in “The Winnie-the-Pooh” stories, was definitely onto something about adults versus children. But Milne also knew that adults and children could have so much more in common, if only the adults had a bit more imagination and the children had a bit more say. Milne recognized that adults always have the same fears and foibles that children do and that children have the same abilities and wisdom that adults do. It’s just that real children, no matter how old, know how to laugh at themselves and how to admit they are wrong so they can try again. Adults, no matter how young, forget, but children know that there will always be enough if we share, and that the world needs more celebrations than it needs more money. Children know that intelligence without humility is a sure way to end up lost and rambling alone in “The Scary Woods”. Children know that being “stuffed” full, but without empathy, makes one an animal and a pretend animal, at that. Children know that if you go through life without love, the Heffalumps just might catch up to you. The great thing about Milne’s characters is that each was just a little part of the great big “whole” that we call being a complete human being. We all have a bit of Tigger and Eeyore and Christopher Robin and Pooh in us. And to play along with my Grandpa’s pun, we would all get along much better if we could just accept that everyone has Pooh.

But as Tigger said of himself, The wonderful thing about my own loved and very individual family members, Tigger and Roo, and Piglet and Pooh, and me and Eeyore, is each individualistic one of us is “the only one”. And today, although according to the test, I may not have a discernible Pooh Pathology and though I may have multiple personalities, each struggling within me and wondering which of them I’ll choose to manifest today; the wonderful thing about me is, I’m the only one.

Be the you, you are today. Not the “best” you; not the “favorite” you, not the “dream” you, just “The You” that makes this great big “Hundred Acre Forest” of a world something that needs you at the table. After all, the wonderful thing about you is, you are the only one.

A Fair By Any Name is Still So Sweet

A Fair By Any Name is Still So Sweet

by Jane Tawel

September 2019

 

Going to the Los Angeles County Fair always gives me a giggling “superiority complex” when I compare it to the “real” fairs of the Midwest I grew up going to.

 

I will never forget the first time I took my four young kids to the L.A. Fair. They had already been to our Indiana Kosciusko County Fair by then. Our Kosciusko Co. fair is small potatoes compared to the gigantic, wondrous, and multitudinous State Fairs of the Midwestern States, but it’s still a real fair, with barns of competing 4H entries, with scores of animal and crafts barns, and a midway to rival the Mouse’s, and all that. The first time that I, with great excitement, took my young kids to the L.A. fair, I remember so clearly that we had been strolling around a while and my children were already hot, and sweaty, and cranky, and hating the whole “fun” day. And of course, my kids were kinda hating me by then for “forcing” them to go to a Fair. You aren’t laughing if you have never been a parent of young kids, and you aren’t laughing if you currently are parenting young children whom you are forcing fun things on, like going to fairs and amusement parks. BUT if you once upon a time were a parent of young kids, and you have survived them, then you are laughing with recognition at how much your kids once “hated” you for the fun things you took them to.

 

So the first time I took my four young children to the L.A. Fair, I finally walked up to and asked one of the Los Angeles Fair workers, “Where are all the animals?”

 

I was standing in what I thought was a little kiddie petting zoo area and I had been looking for the gigantic row upon row of horse and cow and sheep barns. And this young worker guy looked at me like I was crazy and pointed to the four small pens of dejected looking guinea pigs, the three pens of wilting in the heat rabbits, and the five scrawny goats and two sarcastic looking cows in a small enclosure, and he said as if speaking to a blind idiot, “They’re right there”.

 

If you have been to a “real” fair, you’ll understand my concerned amusement. 

 

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Yesterday my hubby, Raoul, and I trudged off in typical 95-degree SoCal-in-September weather, knowing what we were in for, and we still had a blast. We don’t eat the unbelievably expensive and completely always deep-fried foods (sorry all you deep-fried pickle and Snickers lovers); and we don’t ride the rides. But we love sitting in the blazing September heat and being amazed at the talent apparent in the little shows put on in cramped arenas by the jugglers and gymnasts and yesterday, by this super delightful Wild Bill Hickok Western Show. We like petting the animals that they DO have, and seeing the cow milking demonstration; and we always have to see the pig race show where the audience members get to cheer for their side’s pig as it races against other pigs — Hilarious! We enjoy strolling through the crafts barn (Although I have a sneaky suspicion that the crafts are the exact same ones every year, dust-ily displayed year after year, pretending to be newly made by young and old crafters lurking throughout our megalopolis. I think they just switch up the winning ribbons). And of course, you can’t beat a fair for people watching, although almost everywhere in Los Angeles is ripe for that.

 

All in all, a summer fair is tradition. And whenever and if ever you can, traditions are worth keeping. We missed you at the Fair, yesterday, my kiddos, but Dad and I are keeping up those traditions for you, even the ones you hated.

 

At the Fair, my husband I strolled and talked about how much we miss being with our kids, all now adults, and how slightly weird it feels to do things sometimes, just us two; things that we used to do with (and for) them. But we also confirmed that we are deeply happy to have all that we have and for our children to have all that they have, including the memories we share. And that’s the same way I feel about the silly, funny, small potatoes Los Angeles County Fair. I’m truly glad to have the fair that I have.

 

So take that, Midwestern Mega-Fairs. A Fair by any name, is still sweet.

 

Thanks for another fun day, Los Angeles County Fair! And until next year…

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What Are We So Afraid Of?

What Are We So Afraid Of?

By Jane Tawel

September 2019

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(Jane and  her son Gordon with Americans and Mexicans working together in Tijuana Mexico)

 

I am confused about what people are afraid of. I see this fear infecting the whole world, but as a life-long, card-carrying American, I have to address this fear-mongering problem that is rising in my own nation, like yeast in Egypt before the Hebrews left for the Promised Land. America as an empire has long been an example of capitalism on steroids, masquerading as “democracy” or worse, giving the lie to something certain people call “Christianity”.  It makes me tremble to observe our (and I include myself) hypocrisy and power-hungry, greedy worldview not only rampaging through the world, but in true Orwellian fashion, calling ‘darkness’, “light”, and ‘hate’, “love”.

 

The most shocking (and obliviously, hypocritically ironic) are the people who are so terrified of and who therefore, have no love for the immigrant, the sojourner, the children of different races, ethnicities, cultures, or social strata. These are the people who want in now because they need to leave their homes elsewhere (often because of something we did to their homeland in the first place). These are people who simply want to live. Ironic much, Americans? Hello, calling any immigrants out there in America? Oh, yeah, that’s right, ALL of us are here because of our immigrating ancestors, except for, of course, the Native Americans who we conveniently trounced when we first came here or the slaves we brought here in the name of “more for me”.

 

 

The very fact that we have dubbed certain people “illegal” is a true indication of our rotted value system. These immigrants are not breaking the law, they are begging us for help. If you want to look for law-breakers, though, you don’t have to look to our borders. The entitled oligarchy here does tend to break the laws with impunity and not be penalized; and many of them work very little for the enormous amounts they are paid compared to what their employees are paid. And yet, there are those of us who fearfully brand things like equity and fairness, justice and mercy, and ‘doing unto others as we want done to us’, as “socialism”. Brand someone who is not like me as “illegal”, and it has the added bonus of making everything I do, as “legal” by default.  This is true for those who “serve” us in our government as well as the real people running this country– the 15% of people running mega-companies or the independently wealthy individuals and those who own 86% of this “Republic’s” wealth. If Americans are so up in arms about law breaking, so fearful of others who are not like the “average Jane or John Doe”, then they need look no further than our own beloved institutions and leaders of government, religion, industry, and social entertainment.

 

Historically this has been true of every Empire, I am afraid, and yet, all these years I have lived here and I am still always a bit taken aback when America, which was to be the “shining city on a hill”, proves to be no different. This is what I mean when I ask what values do people think poor immigrants are not catching on to? Perhaps you know different ones than I do? But any recent immigrants that I know of are hard workers, good students who often put themselves through school while holding down jobs; they are people who care for their children, parents, often even grandparents while doing jobs no one else wants to do; they are creative, grateful people who are bringing good things to our nation. Compare them to the “legal” citizens’ whose kids got into colleges by deceit and lies. Compare them to the “legal” immigrants who send their money and jobs to other parts of the world to increase their wealth, while fleecing our citizens. Compare them to our leaders who have no care at all for the health of our own grandparents and children. Compare them to the “legal” citizens who are now almost daily shooting up our citizenry with their freedom to buy weapons of mass destruction. Compare them to people who spend my tax dollars as elected officials and increase their own wealth while in office, not mine. Compare them to pastors or priests or spokespeople for any religion such as Christianity who make millions of dollars a year in God’s name and have the nerve to say their religion is being persecuted. Are those the values some folks are so anxious that our immigrants are supposed to want and have? We are picking at the specks in the eyes of the “other”, while the planks that are blinding us to our own truth, are growing at the same rate that we are deforesting the world.

 

So, I honestly have no idea, I really don’t understand what in the world people are talking about when they want somehow to “go back” to something they think America (or maybe your nation? Or maybe the whole world?)  once was.  It wasn’t; and it isn’t; and it never will be, unless that is we own-up and make it so. I’m not being argumentative, I just don’t get it. What is wrong in this country is what wise people and philosophies and holy books have tried to tell us has been wrong since the beginning of humans’ inhabitation of the earth. What is messed up in me, in you, in us is what is messed up in America. Every one and every place have always eventually gotten broken and messed up, unless and until goodness and truth and right values are either restored and rebuilt or else these things eventually die out so much that the soul of the person or the soul of the place dies along with them. But for God’s sake, or if you’d rather, for America’s sake, just because it is broken, doesn’t mean we don’t have the responsibility to actually try and fix it. But something broken can never be fixed by trying to go back to an imagined Past. It is only by embracing the Future and the hard task of living into the unknown that we can even survive let alone thrive. It is only by accepting what we have been given (not earned) for Today, with  a heart and mind filled with gratitude, grace, and love, that we can mend the brokenness within and without, and together can build something worth keeping, worth treasuring, worth sharing.

 

We have not risen to the clarion call of our ancestors, whomever we might consider them to be. What we really have done is sunk and hunkered down into the values of false pride, self-entitlement, and overarching greed. We are all a result of America’s worship of capitalism or “manna”, in the name of nationalism (selfishness). And all of what we are so anxious to hang on to for ourselves are not valuables based on the moral high-ground of some belief system, but are the result of our true values, which are nothing to do with democracy or justice or freedom, and definitely not anything at all to do with goodness or love or God or Christianity or any such ideal.

 

If you want to spiritualize, which I obviously always tend towards, we “must be born again”. That means, at a minimum, that we must humble ourselves and become like little babies, not in a selfish way, but in an innocent, anticipatory way. As newborn “citizens of the world”, we would have to accept that we each and as a whole have a gigantic amount still to learn. Being born again would mean that just like a newborn baby, I can not differentiate between colors. As a baby, I don’t care what color you are or language you speak, or how old or calloused your hands are when they hold me, or what you believe in as long as it includes a belief in love, or what you eat for dinner, as long as I too, am fed. As a baby, I am not afraid of tomorrow, because today, it is enough to be alive.  And like a baby, I need you; and I have an innate, as yet unformed idea that you probably need me, too.

 

Tragically, our current identity in America has nothing to do with any ethical values that supposedly this nation or our supposedly major religion of choice were “founded on”. And although historically and factually it is highly debatable that either were in fact truly founded on these grand ideals and sacrificial selfless morals, there are still just so many truly good people trying to do good things, that if we can all just stop being afraid of the wrong things, there is great hope. We can still hope that more of us will actually want things like justice for all; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; all people viewed as equals; and just some straight-up real love of others in need. These are still very, very, very good ideals to strive for, both as individuals and as a nation. Don’t we want more people coming here who want to share those values with us?

 

Immigration, legal and otherwise, is a red herring in our national myth. I keep looking for those people who claim that America is the new Israel (God forbid if you actually read the Tanakh), or Christ’s Kingdom on earth (God forbid if you actually read the Gospel). But our actions speak lies louder than our words speak truth. So, feel free to espouse the values of self-first, that is very American. Feel free to espouse the values of I don’t want to share, that is very First World.  Go ahead and gripe and complain about what the people in power are doing or not doing if they are not on your team and go ahead and support the ones on your team no matter how much they lie and steal from you and the world at large.  Go ahead if you want and say, “I just don’t want any more people coming here”, fine, at least that is honest, although indefensible as a good ethical stance. But for the love of God, don’t claim that these ideas have anything to do with either American ideals or Christian values.

 

Real values and honestly earned virtues are hard things. A life of value does not come easily and will not stay, if it is not pruned and weeded. Fear is the antithesis of ethical living. And yet, as the greatest humans have always known, a life of true value without fear is also paradoxically very simple. “Love God as He Is and Love all others in the same way you love yourself.” “Pray humbly for your daily bread and let it be enough until tomorrow.”  “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.” “Love conquers all.”

 

Remember we all come from the same dust, and we all yearn for the same eternity.

 

It takes so much misguided effort to somehow do the mind -gymnastics or spiritual -voodoo necessary to say or think that we who are currently on top of the heap and who lead today in this nation, in these halls of justice, in these religious temples, in these mansions, and conglomerates of industry, deserve what we have while those who want in, do not. Many of us have of course come about our station by sincere virtue but none of us is here through something uniquely “value-able” to America. America is so obviously struggling with our worship of the false idol of capitalism. For people to continue to try to convince me that the issue of immigration specifically, but also the other important ethical issues of our times, are about claiming our superior ethics or morality or values, or God forbid, to somehow think that self-serving ideals or fearful hoarding of resources can be anything at all to do with democracy or Christianity, well… I am confused and I just don’t get it. But I am not confused about how afraid that makes me.

 

Blessed will be those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

 

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“The fears” by giltay is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0