Thursday, May 4, 2017

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM & MORALITY




“Gentleness and cheerfulness, these come before all morality; they are the perfect duties,” stated Robert Louis Stevenson. “And it is the trouble with moral men that they have neither the one nor the other. ... If your morals make you dreary, depend on it they are wrong. I do not say, ‘give them up,’ for they may be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should spoil the lives of better and simpler people.”

I am offended by the obnoxious belief that morality is the divine providence of the “faithful”.  The rhetoric of those who seem to cling to their faith, afraid of dissension or doubt, would have us believe that theirs is the only path that leads to moral righteousness and values, (without ever clearly defining either of these).   Love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, and a deep faith in the institutions of family and marriage are not restricted to any single faith or doctrine, in fact there often seems to be a decided absence of tolerance and love in cases where there are extreme followers of one or another doctrines.

Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.  I am free to define God as I experience God.  I am also free to deny God; that is my choice.  Embracing the values described above is not contingent on either position.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

CULTURE OF PROFIT GROWS STRONGER When is enough enough?



America has thrived on free enterprise, an industrious work force, and a powerful spirit of entrepreneurism.  At its inception, the philosophical foundation of capitalism was the belief that given the opportunity to acquire wealth (goods, money), people would be satisfied when they achieved enough to live comfortably, and cease to pursue wealth beyond their needs, resulting in a balanced and stable social economy.  Unfortunately the insatiable drive to acquire more was under estimated, and the notion of an equitable distribution of wealth was threatened.  Ideas had to be revised.  Eventually the avarice of greed became acceptable because even though wealth was being accumulated in excessive amounts the system was still contributing to the economic health of all citizens, a position that some have labeled a bargain with the devil.

The result of this bargain is evident today when fewer and fewer people control more and more of the country’s wealth, and the middle class is being driven down the economic ladder.  The drive to acquire wealth is growing increasingly excessive, enticing both individual and corporate behavior to cross ethical, moral, and occasionally, legal lines.  (Think EPI Pens, VW and emission controls, and Wells Fargo, to name just a few.)  For some, devotion to the gospel of the free market has become almost religious. Apparently, making an honorable profit is not enough, it has to be more every year, and it has to be more than the nearest competitor.  The mantra seems to be, “If there is money to be made…let’s do it”, regardless of the affect it may have on the environment and the people.  Growing the profit margin appears to be all that matters, trumping social concerns, community interests, and employment security.

There are those who measure everyone and everything by monetary standards, making the accumulation of wealth their life’s goal.  For them, a successful life is measured by material gains, the size of one’s house and the cars in the driveway.  When the world is viewed primarily through fiscal lenses, and everything and everyone is judged by the bottom line, something vital is lost.  We are unable to appreciate those expressions of the human spirit that are beyond objective measurements – compassion, caring, charity, the arts, and all of the immeasurable human endeavors that serve to create a better life for individuals and community.

I don’t know how the culture of profit over everything else can be muted; government can’t do it, and religion seems to be disinclined to do so (some churches have even embraced a theology of prosperity.).  Perhaps it is an ingrained part of the human character: the drive to achieve the most and to have the best, to be in the front of the crowd, as well as the desire for the power associated with wealth. 

I am not suggesting the abandonment of capitalism, nor am I advocating for socialism. I believe that hard work should be rewarded, and am well aware that millions of lives depend upon the return on investments in private enterprises.  We need the enterprising spirit and the drive for profits by our industrial leaders to grow our economy, create jobs, and improve the lives of our citizenry.  They have served our country well in all areas of endeavor, health, transportation, communications, entertainment, and more.  The jobs they have created have enabled generations of Americans to improve their lives and the lives of their children.

But this is not an either-or situation, although partisan politics quickly makes it one. Consider the question of  “regulations”, those restrictions and guidelines imposed by government on corporations and other private enterprises to protect natural resources, clean up air pollutions, and keep workers safe.  Businesses dislike them because they are cumbersome and costly. It doesn’t matter how noble and worthwhile the regulation’s purpose may be, it is the bottom line that matters. I have no doubt that there are some regulations that are excessively cumbersome, poorly thought out, and accomplish little, and that they should rightfully, and thoughtfully, be thrown out.  However the government has a responsibility to its citizens and to the land, as well to businesses and corporations.  Freewheeling capitalism, without any restraints, is an invitation to disaster.

Capitalism in America is strong and secure enough to withstand critical examination of it moral and social obligations.   It does not need to feel threatened by appropriate restraints imposed by a central, democratic government. Their moral and ethical responsibilities to the citizens of our country are no less than their fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

HAPPINESS & WORK



 From time to time someone will ask me if I am happy.  The easy answer of course is yes. Saying no would require an explanation that no one would be interest in hearing.

When everything is going well in my world, I usually don’t think of myself as “happy”; it is too general a word to convey what is important to me.  In fact no single word or term serves that purpose.  Some that come close are: engagement, purpose, & meaning. And of these, engagement works the best.  However, when things go south, and I am angry, discouraged, or depressed, I readily describe myself as unhappy, rather than “un-engaged”.  Go Figure.

Try to create this image in your mind.  Imagine a sailboat on a very windy day - its sails billowed taunt with wind, and the keel buried deep in the water - as it moves swiftly across the surface, harnessing the forces of nature. All the elements are working, and the boat is engaged in doing what it is meant to do.

This is what I strive for, to be engaged in doing the work I am meant to do, work that gives me a sense of contentment, as well as purpose and meaning.  So isn’t that happiness?  Perhaps, but I avoid that description because engagement doesn’t necessarily mean serenity, joy, and peace of mind.   This work is often accompanied by anxiety, stress, and a roller coaster of emotional states, from elation to despair.

Let me define what I mean by “work”, a word I use frequently to describe, in a broad sense, what we do to give our lives meaning and purpose.  It is work that we feel called to do. It chooses us; we don’t choose it.  This is the work that replenishes the energy it consumes, work that may leave us exhausted, but with a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.  In my years of medicine, creating art, and writing, I have been engaged in this good work.  In each of these endeavors I have experienced the fullest range of emotions, from extreme despair to joy and satisfaction, and I remain grateful for the experience.



Thursday, April 13, 2017

OH SO BUSY


 
To a casual observer I may appear to have an ideal life.  Free of any nine to five commitments I can design my own day, and I have a wonderful studio where I can paint, write, and nap, all at my own pace.  Admittedly it does appear to be somewhat ideal, but appearances can be deceptive, and sadly my life is far from ideal.  In spite of my usual rosy, upbeat outlook on life, I suffer from several quietly debilitating maladies.

Perhaps the worst of them is a severe and unrelenting case of the Protestant Work Ethic, rather ironic given my secular upbringing.  Retirement is impossible when one feels the constant need to be productive, either actively doing or mentally planning something.  Doing neither, which would be a total waste of time, results in anxiety and/or guilt.

Unfortunately I also am afflicted with an equally severe case of “Procrastinationism”.  I am a wizard at creating excuses to avoid doing what I know I must do, and eventually will do.  This directly conflicts with the Protestant Work Ethic, and creates havoc with my state of mind.

 And there is more; at some point in my life I acquired the unavoidable habit of rumination, also referred to as contemplation, musing, and pondering.  I spend endless hours in quiet introspection, reading, journaling, and occasionally thinking about why I’m not doing the work I should be doing.

These three afflictions working against one another make for a very uncomfortable mix.  It is easy for me to imagine all of the work I would like to be doing, but it is not easy doing what I think I want to do. This dilemma is best reflected in a recent studio newsletter of mine.

“You would not believe how busy I am.  I am so busy not doing all the things I have to do that there is no time for me to do them.  There are currently four works in progress, two watercolors and two acrylics, and avoiding them leaves me no time for all the other stuff I think I should be doing instead.  It is not easy juggling this workload, and honestly, I think a lesser man could not do it.

Adding to my difficulties is the writing I’ve been trying to do between the times I am not spending on the paintings.  I am overwhelmed by all that I have not written these past few weeks, and I know that it will all have to be revised once it is written.  But being the tiger that I am, I soldier on, undeterred by all of this.  I could just sit in my room all day and work in my head but that is not who I am.  I insist on going into the studio every day where I have arranged space for me to write, and not do the work there.  The key to productivity is to remain busy and avoid the deadly trap of death by contemplation - over-thinking everything I’m thinking about while I’m thinking about it.

I am what I am, and it’s not always easy.”




Monday, April 10, 2017

Just a Bump on the Road




Actually the bump was in my abdominal wall, and no, it was not a well-developed “abs” muscle (although I can understand why one would think so).  It was a rather mundane, boring umbilical hernia, probably the result of my overly strenuous working out, or less likely from my expanding abdominal girth.  In either case it was a nuisance and not a problem, until it became red, warm, and painful.  Because of my medical background I immediately recognized that this was no ordinary umbilical hernia, and that major surgical intervention was indicated.  Sensing grave danger my tigerness immediately kicked in, and my first instinct was to protect my sweet wife from undue worry about my condition, so I refrained from running to her crying in pain.  Instead I took a wooden spoon from the kitchen and sat quietly with it clamped in my mouth to help manage my reaction to the pain.  Unfortunately she saw me since I was sitting directly across from, and bless her heart she laughed at me, knowing that levity would help.  She is very considerate that way.  And like any good nurse she told the doctor what to do.   And like any good doctor, I listened to the nurse and lay on my back on our bed.  The bed was more convenient than the back yard that she suggested.  The relief was considerable, but I knew it was temporary and definitive measures were needed.  But where - Mayo Clinic, Duke, Vanderbilt?  I was searching the Internet for the leading medical centers in the repair of umbilical hernias when it dawned on me that the best surgeon I knew, Dr. Kevin Stigall was right here in Paducah.

I consulted with the good surgeon, and he explained to me what the surgery would entail. Being insightful and wise he down played the gravity of the situation and said I might be able to go home the same day of the surgery and not have to spend 3 days in the surgical ICU.  But I could see the concern in his eyes.  Clearly this was no ordinary hernia.  He checked his calendar and suggested a date; I’m sure he wanted a time when back up teams of surgeons and cardiologists would be available in case they were needed.  He did not come out and say this directly, but I could sense that was what he was thinking.

Yesterday morning we arrived at the hospital at 6 a.m. to sign in and begin the prep.  I knew I had to be strong for Patience, but I wasn’t sure I could carry it off, especially when I had to take all my cloths off and put on the gown IN FRONT OF HER. Since the top of my head is not very far from my feet the gown reached down to the floor and I looked like Yoda from Star Wars..  I did not cry when the nurse started the IV in my arm, or when Patience had to leave the room.  The nurse said she was giving me something to relax so my sobbing wouldn’t make the surgery more difficult.  The next thing I knew I awoke with this huge bandage on my belly, at least 2, maybe even 2.5 inches wide.  I was breathing fine, and my vital signs were stable; clearly I had dodged a bullet thanks to the skill of the fine Dr. Stigall.  We were back home by 4 p.m. where I would begin the long arduous recovery under my wife’s stern but loving care.  When it comes to healing I’m a tiger, and I expect to return to my usual routine by the end of the year – but it could be sooner, perhaps a week, if Patience has any say in the matter.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

From TRANSITIONS a journey in words


NOW



I have been standing – waiting – waiting

Waiting to move closer to the edge

Slowly – imperceptibly – moving toward the brink

Slowly – imperceptibly – removing myself from those around me

The path wanders, my journey falters, appearing to cease

But always – always moving closer to the edge

Where I must step up to the brink and declare my faith

And the willingness to stand alone – and face the darkness

1/19/78

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

From my book - TRANSITIONS


I AM NO ONE HERE



I call my name
And no one hears

The song began so long ago
I heard it once
And did not know

How clear the clouded dreams
Seen only by the blinded heart
Or so it seems

Soft and gently across my soul
Outrageous winds
Continually roll

We claim the mystery that is ours
As despair retreats
Before silent tears of joyous hours

1984