Another “Great Depression” Needed?

In 1630, before even the ship landed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Gov. John Winthrop spoke to his people, setting forth a noble mission for the brave little group.  He said, in part: “. . . for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us: soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whither wee are going . . . .  But if our heartes shall turne away soe that wee will not obey, but shall be seduced and worship . . . other Gods, our pleasures, and proffitts, and serve them . . . wee shall surely perishe out of the good Land whither wee passe over this vast Sea to possess it.  Therefore lett us choose life . . .”

Our founders, imperfect as they were, saw themselves in a holy covenant with God.  They were to set an example, in this new country, a country that would become a shining light to all nations.  They would not work for their own welfare and enrichment, but for the good of the all.  They would not live chiefly for earthly profits, but would seek spiritual wholeness in this Promised Land.

What we are seeing now in the present financial crisis is the logical and inevitable result of the breaking of that covenant with the Holy.  We have seen individual profit–greed, if you will–taking precedence over the good of the community in our country’s two most powerful arenas: government and business, which have worked so closely together as to be almost inseparable.  The system is rotten at the core.  It has been for some time.  Now all has been revealed.

So what is going to happen?  Unless the people rise up and demand reform, demand that this country change its nefarious ways of plunder and empire-building, we will go under economically, and we will likely drag the rest of the world with us.  Perhaps we need to enter our version of the “Great Depression” before the light bulb turns on, and we discover we have a serious, serious spiritual problem.  You see, spiritual problems always seem unimportant to the secular mind–until one understands that this is the relational ground we all come from, and when it cracks and shatters, we are lost.

God help us.  And I mean that, in the most literal sense.


Cell Phones in the Sky?

One really nice thing about flying–perhaps the only nice thing these days–is the opportunity for a little quiet time.  If I can adequately discourage a loquacious seatmate, I generally settle into a thoughtful book of essays or a moving novel.  I often find myself making notes about future sermons, because any break in my usual world of stimulation and task-orientation gives rise to creativity.

And now I read (NY TImes, 9/14) that American Airlines is offering Aircell’s in-flight internet access, called Gogo.  Oh, no!  Please, no Go-go!

Passengers are not allowed to use their enhanced laptops to make phone calls, but the capability is built in–so how long will it be before the techno-wizards figure out how to make that “emergency” phone call (to their business partner for strategy, to their girlfriend to make amends, or to their mom on her birthday)?  I venture to say, not long.  Maybe about 20 minutes after lift-off.

Now I understand the need to speak to others about important matters.  I do that all the time myself.  But I also rue the day when I began to listen to other people’s conversations in restaurants, in grocery stores, at the pharmacy, in the quiet of the spa, while waiting at the coffee shop for my turn, while walking down the street, while taking a leisurely train trip.. 

A recent train trip to Seattle was perhaps the most offensive cell-phone experience I’ve had lately, when a young woman treated the rest of the car to her end of an anguished argument with her boyfriend.  After fifteen minutes, I got out of my seat, walked back to her, and said, “Excuse me, but do you know that everyone on this car can hear everything you are saying?”  She thanked me and hung up.

There is a principle we seem to somehow miss in American culture–the principle of considering not just individual desire, but how one’s behavior might affect the community.  So someone is allowed to put up a building that is a painful contrast to surrounding historic structures.  Gasoline-powered leaf-blowers, used to render private sidewalks and yards pristine, invade our neighborhoods, and we all suffer from the noise.  Billboards face major roadways, where we cannot fail to see their messages, distracting us from driving and disturbing the beauty of the landscape.  Individuals should not be allowed to invade our senses of hearing, smell, vision, etc., for their own private purposes.

Quite honestly, the cell phone is one of the most disturbing evolutions of this generation, for me. Of course there are legitimate uses for the beast–for road emergencies, to keep up with errant children, to let someone know that you have been irrevocably delayed for whatever reason.  But they should be used in private.  If you count yourself my friend, please do not answer your cell phone while we’re conversing, and I’m pouring out my heart to you about . . . whatever.  Congregants and visitors to the church, please do not interrupt the sermon ever again–or at least interrupt it at a funny moment, not when I’m trying to advise people about their immortal souls.  Or for God’s sake, please don’t allow your phone to ring during the memorial service, as happened in one service I was conducting, when the ring went on and on and on during a most solemn moment in the service.  Thanking you ahead of time.

One playful fellow I know likes to approach people who are having one-sided conversations outloud in public places and just get in on the conversation.  “So how is Sam, anyway?” he’ll say to the person speaking on the cell phone.  He figures that if he’s pursuant to the conversation, he wants to know the whole story.  I myself have fantasized about handing out a small card to cell phone offenders, with the following message: “Please don’t involve me in your private conversation.”  But then I feel petty and mean-spirited.  Cell phones turn me  petty and meanspirited, I suppose.  I should work on that.  Maybe meditate more.

But please, please, please, American Airlines!  Don’t let them start using cell phones on airplanes.  We should all fly less anyway, to save our dear planet.  Well, if  passengers start talking on cell phones, I won’t fly at all.  I can’t bear it.


Using Time Well

Tonight I feel tired and unfocused.  What did I do today?  Actually, when I think about it, I did some significant things.  I started my day with meditation and prayer, breakfast, and two newspapers.  I washed the kitchen rag-rug that my cat Molly peed on the night before.  (What is wrong with that animal??) 

I got dressed and went to church, where I had a meeting with our new intern minister.  I had a lengthy pastoral care session with a young man who is searching for his vocation.  I went for a walk in the sunshine and then shopping, chiefly as a distraction. 

I visited a dying man.  I told him that he was doing this final job really well, and he seemed to appreciate that.  He is a class act.  I told him that, too. 

I drove home, walked to a nearby shop just before it closed, and bought a birthday gift for my best friend.  I feel certain she’ll like it.  

I started making dinner for the man in my life and me, and in the middle of preparing the dish, I realized that I didn’t have an important ingredient.  I got back in the car and drove four blocks to get what I needed.  I finished making the meal.  I ate dinner with my guy, and we cleaned up the kitchen.  I answered my e-mail. 

I wanted to work on a book project today, but it is now almost 10:00 p.m., and I am tired.  I will get ready for bed soon, and then watch Jon Stewart and though I’ll try not to, I’ll probably fall asleep sometime during the Colbert Report.

It’s not that I regret anything that I did today–now that I’m reviewing it, I realize it was all good stuff, human stuff.  But I need time to write, and I just can’t seem to carve it out.  I often think these days about how much more time I will have on this earth–I mean, how much more good time, time when I can create and give generously of myself. 

The days go ever more swiftly by.  I want to be conscious of how I’m spending those precious days.  I want to be as fully present as possible with my engagements, as they offer themselves.  And I want to spend more of my time with writing.  It’s pulling at me something fiercely, and won’t let me go.  When that happens, you just need to pay attention.


Blog Disclaimer

It’s important for readers of my blog to know that ideas, beliefs, and opinions that are expressed on my personal blog are not to be considered as representing the First Unitarian Church of Portland, nor the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Our religious faith calls for each member to decide all questions whatsoever, including theological, for themselves.  I never expect congregants nor other readers of my blog to necessarily agree with me, nor do I expect them to assume that I am speaking for anyone other than myself.