Monday, September 24, 2007

Embracing the Conflicts

The other night I went to my son's high school to go from class to class and meet his teachers -- the usual fall experience known as "Open House."

It was a pretty good experience - especially meeting his English teacher.

This is a woman who has a clear love of the English language and of literature - I hope my son learns from her.

One of the things she talked about was teaching her students about the elements of a good story - the settings, characters, conflict, climax, and resolution.

Here's the interesting part - she said that she could use the same test for any number of books. It doesn't matter whether they're reading Jane Austen, Mark Twain, or S.E. Hinton - she could ask the same questions and they would still apply.

Somehow, I think all of our lives are like that. We all have our stories and we all think they're unique - but the reality is we could all be given the same set of questions and they would apply.

Here's the thing, though, while we all have settings and characters and conflict leading to a climax and resolution - I think most people just want to skip ahead to the resolution. They want to just live “the dream” - peaceful retirement, no problems, no worries, tee time at 10:30, nice weather, every day a holiday.

Or, maybe there's a desire to live just for the climax - to score the winning touchdown, get the true love's kiss, slay the dragon, or win the race. Some almost seem to throw their lives into chaos in an attempt to create that moment over and over again.

I wonder if we should maybe focus a little more of our attention on the conflict - really work through it - in order to give the climax and the resolution more of an impact.

I mean, think of your favorite story - it could be a book or a movie, it could be an adventure, a romance, anything. Now, imagine sharing that story with a friend, but just skipping to the end:
“…and she married Mr. Darcy and they lived happily ever after!”

“…and Luke blew up the deathstar and the Rebels won!”

“… and Neo just blew Agent Smith to pieces and the other guys ran away - it was so cool!”
Pretty lame storytelling, huh?

I think if our lives were just climaxes and resolutions they would be pretty lame, too.

So, here's to embracing some of those conflicts - may they make the climaxes and resolutions that much better.

Does It Matter?

So, does what we believe really matter?

This is a question with which I've been wrestling for some time.

I mean, as long as we're not killing each other, does it really matter what our belief system is? I'm limiting this hypothetical to the world in which we currently live - let's not go into anything about rewards or punishments in an afterlife - I want to look just at the here and now. Does your belief system make a difference?

But wait - before we start with that discussion - we first have to determine what our current belief system actually is.

Based on my analysis of the visits to this blog (yes, I do check these things out) - I think it's safe to say that 80% of those of you reading this would identify yourselves as having a Judeo-Christian worldview. About 15% would probably call yourselves “spiritual” without feeling comfortable with a specific label. And yes, I know that about 5% of you would place yourself into the Atheist/Agnostic/Pantheist category. Quite frankly, I hope there are some who are reading this who would call themselves Buddhists or Muslims, because I would love to get your take on this conversation.

You will notice that I referred to how people would identify themselves, not their belief systems. Maybe it's just me, but I get a feeling that if we were to poll the vast majority of those who claim to hold a “Christian” worldview - I believe we would find most actually hold a belief system that's closer to an Eastern understanding of Karma, an Ancient Egyptian view of judgment, and/or some sense of cosmic justice. There seems to be this sense that if something bad happens to someone (especially someone we don't particularly like), then they are getting what they deserve. By the same token, we somehow believe that if good things are happening to us it's because we're doing the right things.

If you take some time to really examine the Judeo-Christian God, you are left with something altogether different - confounding, simple, complicated, frustrating, liberating - Grace.

T Bone Burnett is known these days as the musical genius behind such music as the soundtracks to “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Walk The Line.” Mr. Burnett has always been an interesting musician and an incredible songwriter. In 1988 he recorded a song called “The Wild Truth” (if you ever get a chance to purchase “The Talking Animals” by T Bone Burnett, do - it is an awesome recording). Anyhow, the song ends with these lines:

Are was supposed to take all this greed and fear and hatred seriously?
It's like watching dust settle.
It never changes.
It's too consistent.

Mercy is not consistent.
It's like the wind.
It goes where it will.
Mercy is comic,
and it's the only thing worth taking seriously.

I need the wild truth.

So, do any of us really, truly believe in this mercy, this grace? I am more convinced than ever that this is the concept that must be experienced (both receiving and offering) in order to truly claim to have a Judeo-Christian belief system.

Back to the original question - does it matter what we believe?

I mean, if I believe that everyone is getting whatever they deserve, then when I go to the grocery store and the person in front of me in line starts yelling at the cashier and rudely walks away, then I simply purchase my items and go on with my day. But if I believe in grace, then I might offer a smile to the cashier and maybe an encouraging word. I know, kind of a cheap example, but you get the idea.

I was recently checking out a web site that had this little game. It was an environmental web site, and the game is designed to make you think about your impact on the world. You simply put in how you live - what kind of house you live in, how far you drive, whether you carpool or use public transportation, etc. - and the program would figure out how it would look if everyone on the planet lived like you live.

I wonder what it would be like to have a game like that set up for belief systems - what would the world look like if everyone had the same belief system as you?

I welcome any thoughts…

Friday, September 7, 2007

World's Smallest Political Quiz

OK, quick disclaimer -- this quiz does not come from a neutral organization.

Having said that, it's an interesting exercise that should only take a minute or two to complete.

Take the world's smallest political quiz here.

Then come on back to post your score (or at least let us know where you're leaning).

After a couple of your responses, I'll reveal mine (feel free to take some guesses).