The Godfather, Part IV

With each passing day I’m reminded of the opening scene from The Godfather Part I where business associates or “friends” of Don Vito Corleone wait their turn to ask a favor.  If you’re a friend of The Godfather and someone is hassling you, come to Don Vito, kiss the ring and he’ll take care of it.

The tough guy approach has its appeal with a significant number of voters as we found out on November, 8th.  Recall from the Art of the Deal, his negotiation strategy is to start at an extremely high price and then come down to what you wanted in the first place.  It’s used car salesmanship 101.

But if things aren’t going so well, he quickly falls back on intimidation.  I simply cannot separate him telling President Enrique Pena Nieto that Mexico is going to pay for the border wall from Don Corleone’s “Making him an offer he cannot refuse.”  I keep waiting to read about President Nieto waking up to a horse’s head in his bed in the near future.

Just this past week, after being told of a Texas state senator who wants to require convictions before the state can forfeit property, Trump asked for the senator’s name and said “We’ll destroy his career.”

Whenever he refers to Iraq he talks about how we should have kept the oil (never mind the experts are saying that’s easily classified as a war crime).

We are America.  We are exceptional.  Kiss the ring.

Don Vito’s story didn’t end particularly well for him, and I don’t think Trump’s attitude about the United States’ role as world citizen will serve us well either.

I’ll be curious if anyone else sees the same Mob boss mentality that I do.

 

 

 

 

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Keeping up with Technology

Those of us old enough to remember the musical progression of LPs, 45’s, 8 Track Tapes, Cassettes, Reel-to-reel, etc., I remember seeing a funny article a while ago where a guy who had converted his library of music from each of these formats to the ‘new’ format of the day, at considerable time and expense, claimed that “If they change it one more time I’m going to shoot someone.” At the time I thought it was funny because I had gone through the same thing and as a kid, was on a low-budget.  It was frustrating.
Next came CDs (yet another library upgrade. Okay, sure I’ll take all my cassettes and import to CD format using my 1980’s technology… probably about an hour per tape.  No problem.
For 10 years I’ve had a rather large case of CDs, some imported to iTunes, most not.  The stuff I had on my phone was a small library and getting old and stale.
iTunes playlists are a pretty cool way to organize things into libraries but first you have to get the music in there.  So for 10 years I’ve had this backlog item I’ve procrastinated on to import the worthy CDs we own into iTunes and make a legitimate library out of it.
Over the Christmas break I finally bit the bullet and over the better part of 4 days, imported several hundred CDs ( a few thousand songs ) into iTunes and organized the libraries.  Musical Nirvana!   And it’s even backed up on a separate Disk.
Next I ordered a Bluetooth receiver that will be able to connect into the overhead speakers in the house wiring and in a few days, we’ll be able to point and click our iPhones playlist at this wireless device and presto, your musical mood of the moment shall be granted.  Same thing with the car and its Bluetooth receiver.
If they change it again however, I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it.  This better be the last format change!

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Happy New Year

I’d like to write a really upbeat blog post about the upcoming year, but I just don’t have it in me.  I am sorry.  Apologies ahead of time.

I suppose I can take some comfort in the fact that our system of government is by design a very slow change management system.  It’s nearly impossible to get changes pushed through (witness the last 6 years of Obama’s presidency).

It’s also true that the Executive branch gets too much credit and too much blame for what happens on his/her watch.  An example of this would be that Obama wanted to invest in infrastructure / jobs but the Senate Majority blocked him every step of the way, initially to ensure Obama was a “one term” president, and subsequently, out of spite, they wanted his record to be clear of anything that smacked of an accomplishment.  It worked.  Ironically, Trump now wants to invest 1 Trillion into infrastructure and the GOP is split as to how to move forward with this idea.

Even more interesting will be to see what happens with immigration.  Trump campaigned on the radical idea of deporting 12 million illegal immigrants and got support from the rust belt states who are still hurting from globalization / NAFTA.  The majority of people in this country want something constructive done and there are many options on the table from mass deportation to full amnesty.  But here’s a prophecy for you.  Nothing will get done during the next 4 years for the same reason nothing has gotten done for the last 30.  Both parties’ establishment wings benefit from illegal immigration.  Major corporations want the cheap labor.  Progressives want the votes.  For Trump to get his way, he’s have to flip the bird at major corporations and the cynic in me says that’s going to be difficult for him to get through.  Anyone heard anything about the ‘wall’ lately?

Maybe we’ll press on with the status quo for a period, but having lost the White House, Senate, House and soon, the Supreme Court, I suspect change is coming in spades.

Not all of it will be bad.  Should the welfare roles be reviewed every year for fraud?  Yes.  I have no problem with the idea of cutting wasteful spending.  I do however have a problem with blanket cuts or privatization of Social Security and Medicare that hurt Grandma.

Progressives including this writer are in fact guilty as charged of elitism.  I’m guilty of staying mostly in the debate realm on social media and not getting up off my arse to do anything constructive about it.  That will change in 2017.  It’s time to transition from elitist to activist.  On my to-do list is to dig up some sign materials, find the spray paint can and a few staples.

I’ve been watching the country split in half since Bush v. Gore.  I’m learning not to be surprised by the outcomes.  I seriously thought Gore waxed Bush in 3 consecutive debates but alas the voting population felt otherwise.  I was initially skeptical of Reagan’s “trickle down economics” plan and it didn’t take long for me to figure it out.  I remember very specifically getting an extra $35 in my paycheck in the early 1980’s.  Boy did I ever stimulate the Marysville, WA economy with that!   Meanwhile, Reagan’s cronies were ordering new yachts ( to his credit, the yacht building business did boom during those years ).

I was not a supporter of Reagan or Bush, but I didn’t loathe them.  Critical policy differences, yes.  Loathe, no.  Both displayed tolerance for all faiths, minorities, and generally tried to be inclusive as the leader of the free world.

Trump however, cannot seem to go a day without be-clowning himself on Twitter.  I mean, what President Elect in history has stooped to the level of pouring salt on the wounds of his rivals with a faux New Years wish?

So I enter 2017 with a glass half empty I’m afraid.  Just being honest here.  As a very young man in my early 20’s I had my first encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness which resulted in several deep conversations where I learned what they were all about.  In the end I said “No Thanks”, but not before learning much about Armageddon and the End of Times prophecies.  I’ll leave it to your imagination as to why I’m reminded about these events to start off 2017.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t wonder if the Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t perhaps right.

Finally, I’ve read several articles on the 7 deadly sins as they relate to the ego of Donald Trump and as an exercise, you can Google each of them next to the word Trump and fill up 100’s of pages of results.  Just for my own personal amusement, I’ve done that.

Happy New Year!

-Bill

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  1. Lust
    1.      This is my favorite, with Falwell.   playboy    unadjustednonraw_thumb_23ca
  2. Gluttony
    1. 120719055137-trump-international-course-golfing-full-169
  3.  Greed
    1. Trump’s Views on Greed
  4.  Sloth
    1. chemprtwkaex6or
  5.  Wrath
    1. 160331200050-trump-quote-11-super-169.jpg
  6. Envy:  No A-List Celebs at the Inauguration.  Gee, I wonder why?
    1. 49442915-cached
  7. Pride
    1. An astute article on Trump’s pride issue

 

 

 

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Willie Taggart

I was in a conversation recently about the Willie Taggart hire and what I thought about it.  I figured I’d put the thoughts down on a blog post and you can tell me where I’m going wrong here.

First, my list of bullet points that you can agree with or not, but this is my list.

  • The hurry-up offense isn’t a mystery anymore.  Chip Kelly gets credit for being one of the first innovators of the hurry-up offense and practically re-inventing the game.  When the Ducks first started using it, defenses were clueless how to stop it.  Their substitution patterns no longer worked.  The Ducks simply wore down defenses with their break-neck pace and it was fun to watch.  But that was then, and this is now.  For a few years now, defenses have been better at dealing with the hurry-up offense and many schools have adopted it themselves.  It seems like fewer teams use the huddle than do.  So Helfrich had the disadvantage of trying to carry forward Chips ‘let’s try to run a play every 18 seconds strategy, but for the most part, the mystery was gone.
  • Helfrich lead teams have been at the bottom of the barrel in self-inflicted wounds, namely, penalties.  That’s on the coaching staff.
  • Helfrich has an extremely high intellect, but it takes more than intellect to consistently win.  Ideally you want someone who is smart but can also inspire his players to play hard.  Dig deep.  Play with some emotion.  We just never got to see that side of Helfrich, not even at the Alamo Bowl / TCU disaster where I desperately wanted him to call time-out, huddle up his team and give a 30 second half-time speech that inspired his players to quit screwing up.  Instead he looked on from the sideline and reckoned they’d fix the problems when it came time to look at the film.  The problem is it’s too late then.
  • Helfrich was not at the top of his class in the recruiting game ..  a crucial piece of the puzzle.  The Ducks consistently lost top-tier athletes from in-State…  one of the first things Taggart pointed out as a priority to fix.  His recruiting efforts ended up being lop-sided because they had too many players backed up at the skill positions and never enough depth at the line.  Both are bad problems.  Several top recruits from skill positions left the program due to lack of playing time.  Meanwhile the line couldn’t afford to have one injury or the drop off was noticeable.   And even when they supposedly had depth at quarterback, twice they had to rely on 5th year senior transfers from smaller schools to fill the gap.  They next guy wasn’t ready to go.
    • When I coached little league and spent a few years on the local board as Vice President of Baseball, I noticed a pattern of coaches putting their strongest efforts of the season in putting their teams together.  The fact is, if your team is loaded, you don’t have to coach as hard.  This is in conflict with the board’s goal of trying to have some semblance of parity in the league.  When we’d tell a coach that no, you can’t use special rule (z) to put that player on your team, they’d get upset and we’d just say “Don’t be afraid to coach a little bit.”
    • How this relates to college football is, it’s the same thing.  The more 5 start athletes you put out there, the more likely your chances are of success.  The good programs are good because they take recruiting seriously and divvy up their scholarships across a variety of positions they need to fill, not just going 5 deep at quarterback.

 

Here’s what I like about the Willie Taggart hire, based on the few articles I’ve read.

  • Helfrich had an impeccable reputation as a class guy, and with Taggart, it looks like the Ducks lose nothing in this department.  He seems to have his priorities on playing inspired football, graduating, and representing the school well.
  • I think Taggart will bring that missing piece of inspiration to his players and we’ll see the Ducks playing more inspired football ( with fewer penalties.  Hard to imagine how it could get worse ).
  • Personality-wise, I think Taggart will be a better leader because he’s got more personality and will relate to his players better.  His credentials as a player won’t hurt either.
  • I think Taggart will be able to figure out which pieces of the Duck magic to keep, and which ones aren’t a mystery anymore and give us a more balanced team : Offense, Defense, and Special Teams.  Kelly almost got away with doing it with offense alone for a few years until the league caught up with him.  The Ducks could literally give up 40 points a game and it didn’t matter because they were scoring 60.

At face value, it may not look like a huge upgrade from Helfrich to Taggart, but I think it was like one of situations we get into with a car that’s sputtering a bit and you have to decide whether to fish or cut bait.  At the end of the day, I think Helfrich’s lack of inspired leadership led to his downfall.  That was the common theme in the papers.  “Something’s missing in the locker room.”  We’re not privy to the inside talk of the players and coaching staff.  About the best we get is 2nd hand from the local sportswriters.  But I think Mullens had a tough call on his hand.  One 4-8 season isn’t the end of the world if a lot of other things are clicking.  There is such a thing as a rebuilding year, sure.  I just don’t think they had confidence that Helfrich would be able to bring about the necessary team atmosphere that existed under Bellotti and Kelly.  Something was missing.

Hopefully Taggart is the right guy.  I’m have a lot of faith in their interviewing process.  I think they knew what they were looking for and seemed to have found it.

 

 

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Adios 2016, don’t let the door…

Back in the mid 1980’s, an activist friend of mind Dave Aldrich sent out a memorable Christmas letter that was definitely one of a kind.  In this short missive he astutely pointed out about a dozen things that are just wrong in this world, covering the gamut from wasteful military spending, the oxymoron of compassionate conservatism, greedy politicians, abject poverty, the decline of unions and the middle class, and tax cuts for the wealthy.  It was a pithy list of gripes and then he simply signed it –“Merry Christmas.”

At the time I grinned and though to myself “must have had a bad day”, but the point of it all was and still is, complacency bothers him a great deal.  I still remember a quote from a letter a few years later where he pointed out that we worry about these issues after we’ve swept the garage, washed the SUV, and spent out days reading and writing e-mails. We rarely ponder our existence or question the status quo.  I remember thinking to myself ‘guilty as charged’.  I don’t, but I should.

With that in mind and in the spirit of Dave Aldrich, I offer this summary:  2016 blew.

Not to go completely negative on you, there were some good things that happened during the year which I’ll touch upon, but overall, Donna and I were just talking about the benefits of getting this year behind us.

First, the good stuff.  Our two grandkids Kaden and Karter are growing into fine young gentlemen.  We can’t say enough good things about them.  Both competitive game players, both silly, both good-natured, and fun to be around.  I was going to say that we’re lucky but the more I though about it, luck has nothing to do with it.  Good parents have everything to do with it.  Great job Kelli and Kyle.

Donna and I spent about a week in Chicago and did a deep dive of the city.  The entire trip was scheduled around a Cubs home stand so that we could make sure to take in trip to Wrigley, but we also took in some incredible Blues, Jazz, improv, museums, Navy Pier, and an evening boat tour.  The Cubs beat the Dodgers an a sunny Memorial Day weekend and we really enjoyed the atmosphere.  Having invested in a jersey for herself, Donna became an instant Cubs fan and was glued to the set during the very exciting World Series finish where the Cubs pulled of an extra inning nail biter vs. Cleveland.  She was on the edge of her seat.

This summer the house got painted.  It looks great but it’s a huge time sink to get it done even if you’re not the painter ( see low-lights below ).

In October we traveled to sunny Sacramento, California for the wedding of my cousin Mike Eady to his new bride Shelly. Lovely wedding and always good to catch up with extended family.  We spent some time checking out Sacramento as well and were impressed.

We’ve been doing a new monthly-ish dinner / social gathering with some great friends and neighbor’s and sharing a lot of laughs.  Included a relaxing weekend trip to Manzanita where we ate, drank, played games, and golfed ( yes Glenn, Donna golfed ).

I’ve battled through some challenging health issues and am starting to get my musical mojo back a little bit.  I have a few recordings out on soundcloud and youtube, none of which are that good, but all were a lot of fun to do.

Donna keeps a schedule that I can only marvel at.  When she gets free time at home, stuff’s a moving.  It’s a literal beehive of activity with art and gardening projects.  She’s the ideas person of the family.  I’m the implementor – at least when it comes to the heavy stuff.  In addition to all this she’s got an aging parent to take care of.  Middle age comes at you from all directions.  She’s not a complainer though, she’s a doer.  That’s what I love about her.  The calendar gets pretty full fast, but no matter what’s on there, she just rolls up her sleeves and gets it done.

And lastly, if you know her you’ll understand why this is news.  I beat my sister Patty twice during 2016 at Words with Friends.  That would fall under the category of ‘exceeding expectations’.

So there, I mixed i some positive things.  Now for the overall 2016 Summary:

                          Major Buzz-Kill

Think Planes, Trains and Automobiles where Steve Martin’s wife is anxiously waiting for him to get home to an impeccably prepared Thanksgiving feast at an upscale Chicago home, followed by what it took for him to get there.

Words cannot describe the disappointment of November 8th.  It’s a gut punch when you invest so much time following the news for a year and a half thinking “no way”, and then see your worst nightmare come true.  Trying to hold the family together during a time where close family members feel personally threatened by the incoming administration is a challenge.  It’s emotional.  I’ll leave it at that.

At times like these, I wonder if the Jehovah Witnesses aren’t right after all.  Maybe we are getting near the end of times.  I’m only half kidding.

On the plus side, I feel less of a need to chime in and criticize what the current Mob Boss-elect is under fire for.  He’s perfectly capable of making my point for me with his twitter machine.  I don’t have to say a word.  Just sit back and watch the entertainment, and entertaining it will be.

2016 brought on some medical challenges for me that I was determined to conquer.  The biggest one is anxiety.  I spent about a year and a half not being able to drive on freeways, which is limiting and an added stress on Donna.  But after seeing several specialists, I think I may be getting real close to a solution.  I’ve driven to Eugene a couple of times recently.  It’s not perfect but it’s on the upside.  I look forward to having a less full calendar year of doctor appointments minus the added expen$e and trying to sneak in all these appointments while maintaining a busy work schedule.

The Ducks were 4-8 and lost to the Beavers and both Washington schools.  It doesn’t get much worse than that.  And the Huskies put up 70 on the Ducks at home.  Now I have to be quiet for at least another year, maybe longer.

I’m in my 4th year at Cambia and speaking of rapid change, 4th manager.  No complaints about the new job — great people, love the work, but it’s a ball buster.  There are days when I envy Ward Cleaver grabbing his briefcase and heading off to a job where he doesn’t have to worry about being outsourced every quarter, does a bit of work from 9-5 and the comes home to his happy family.  Such is not the case ( except the happy family part ).

Our go-to friends, Wayne and Tricia Wischmann moved to Arizona in June.  We understand why, but it sucks when your social network gets disrupted.   We have such fond memories of time at Haydens listening to Tim and Jim with them, among other events.  We’re planning a trip to Tucson in the February time frame to catch up.  We miss them.

There was the passing of several icons from my generation in 2016.  Gene Wilder, Prince, Mohamed Ali, and George Kennedy to name a few.  Seems like every time we turned around another one bit the dust.

Pickles spent the night in the ER ( that was more expensive than my trip to the ER ) with a really bad infection but is better now.  We were really worried about her but she made it.

So in the spirit of Dave Aldrich, this years missive just tells it like it is.  And it is what it is.

Merry Christmas!

( And bring on 2017, please ).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dave Aldrich

I first met Dave as a member of the choir at St. Mary’s catholic church in Marysville, Wa.  We both played guitar.  At times there were 6 guitars.  The church back then supported 2 Sunday masses.  The early 10 am mass was the more hip mass with more progressive music and while the 11:30 was for more traditionalist catholics who weren’t as keen on the hip music element of a mass.  Either that or they just didn’t like getting up that early.

We played a ton of music from the St. Louis Jesuits, who we found out later at a Saturday seminar that they weren’t from St. Louis, and they also were not Jesuits.  Didn’t bother us, the music was pretty hip.

The ‘choir’ consisted of guitars ( up to 6 ), upright bass, piano, and occasionally a flute + several vocalists, mostly women.  All good singers and fun personalities.  The piano players were top-notch sight readers and all we had to do as guitar players was strum some chords and belt out the tunes.

In typical fashion of me at that age, I underestimated Dave from the beginning.  He seemed like a nice guy, an ‘okay’ guitar player and sang good enough.  Better than myself which wasn’t saying much.  But as time went on and we changed leadership, Dave became the leader of the choir and it dawned on me that he was not only a solid guitar player, he was a terrific singer and leader as well.  He could pull off performances where he was the lead singer and player, and he sounded great.  So much for first impressions.  I was way off.  Before I knew it, I came to respect his playing and singing as he was doing things I wasn’t capable of.

Dave had a falling out with the priest at St. Mary’s in the late 1980’s, left, and never returned.  If I recall correctly, it mostly had to do with an overblown ego by the head priest and it rubbed him the wrong way.  So much so, that he checked out for good.

The 10:00 am choir was a fun very group of good-natured people.  Our annual ‘reward’ for rehearsing 52 weeks a year and showing up on Sundays was an annual dinner out at a nice restaurant, which we looked forward to with glee every year.  I just remember laughing an awful lot and enjoying the company at the annual dinner out, usually up in La Conner, Wa.

Dave was an outspoken critic on local issues including things like the Navy building a port in Everett, Wa.  His prose was frequently in the paper and he never pulled any punches.  He wasn’t afraid to call out local officials who had their own interests in mind over what he called ‘the rest of us’.  It’s perhaps an understatement to say that he had ‘a reputation’ that followed him around as left-wing Democrat with socialist tendencies.

In about 1997 his wife Toni, after having gone back to school to get her teaching degree, we held a party at our house in Mukilteo, Washington which included past and present choir members from St. Mary’s.  I remember writing a song for Toni who had just graduated but had not been hired yet which had the line in it “She’d probably have a job by now, if her last name, weren’t Aldrich.”  This of course endeared me to the Aldrich family as she knew exactly what I meant.

Since I had known Dave, and played with him for about 7 years or so, I kept in contact with him even after he left the choir.  He invited me to his ‘Sunday morning breakfast’ group at a local eatery in Marysville where we’d take on religion and politics and a wide range of subjects.  But mostly religion and politics.  It was this experience that turned the light bulb on for me at just how brilliant this guy is.

Berkeley educated ( in the 60’s no less ), with a degree in History and if I recall correctly, some background in studying the philosophers as well, Dave would articulate his points in convincing fashion at these Sunday morning breakfasts and leave my mind ready to challenge the old school of thought and re-think the basic tenets of the belief system I inherited at birth to formulate my own as an adult.  It was a transformation to say the least.

We talked a lot about why he left the church and come to find out, he had been an agnostic for a long time and was struggling with the church’s teachings but stayed a member mostly for the opportunity to champion social justice issues as well as reaping the benefits of being part of a church ‘community’.  I think it was the loss of the church ‘community’ the hurt the most for him.  The teachings he was struggling with anyway.

It was through this experience that I came to realize there are 2 types of catholics.  Those that are drawn to the social justice possibilities, and those that are comfortable with the repetition and look the other way at the church dogma that does not align with their political beliefs in the slightest.   I’ve written about this in previous posts .   In the 1990’s I used to participate in the local discussion through the Tualatin Times and this Soapbox comes to mind as one that was heavily influenced by Dave.  In fact, he may even find that a few lines in it were lifted from articles in his blog snohomishobserver.com .  I couldn’t resist.  He was just too brilliant.

Life has its changes and one of mine was moving back to Oregon in 1992.  I left a pretty secure job at Boeing to take on a new challenge in Portland, Oregon where I grew up so that both myself and my wife could be closer to family as well as the fact that we both liked the geographic location of Portland better than Seattle.

As a subscriber to articles published via snohomishobserver.com, I devoured every post with constant amazement at just how brilliant this man is.  I envied him to be so highly educated, so principled as to sacrifice material benefit for doing what’s right in his mind.  So passionate about social justice that he frequently excoriated foes publicly for their greed, selfishness, and stupidity.  I often thought of him as one of my main mentors.  The first person to really make me think.  How can you put a price tag on that?  You cannot.

This week I was shocked to get an e-mail from Dave’s wife Toni that he has stage 4 liver cancer and has about 3-6 months to live.  I was at a meeting over in an adjacent building near my usual office at 200 Market, downtown Portland when I felt my phone vibrate that a new message had come in.  The meeting was over so I decided to check it out on my way back to 200 Market.  In it, Toni revealed Dave’s health issues and prognosis.  I read enough to know this was one of those personally devastating letters you get in your life and between buildings let out a brief sob.   I couldn’t wrap my head around this loss and I still cannot.

A while ago I realized that each person encounters a few people in their lives who have a huge impact.  Top 5 I call it.  My father was one for me.  My wife Donna is another.  There are a few others I won’t mention who opened my eyes and gave me ‘aha’ moments that I am eternally grateful for.  They’ve had high impact.  Dave Aldrich was a high impact player for this smart guy wanna-be.  Reading his snohomishobserver.com posts I was repeatedly humbled at what a brilliant writer really is.  I am privileged to have known Dave Aldrich and his family.  He’s an incredible human being and I will never forget him or the causes he championed.  He’s shaped my thinking in ways I never would have imagined.

I think the best way to honor all the work Dave has put into his social justice causes is to grab a sign, get out there and start marching.  Question authority.  Be a champion for the poor.  Write about the hypocrisy that comes with individuals being born on 3rd base and complaining about the poor ‘mooching off me’.   The next 4 years will certainly provide some opportunity here.  Count me in, all the while remembering the incredible contribution of one David Aldrich.

 

 

 

 

 

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Soapbox to the Tualatin Times circa 1996

The Tualatin Times afforded readers the opportunity to chime in with a Soapbox article — up to 800 words if you were so inclined.  It was basically a format for those who wanted to address a hot topic that warranted more than a “Letter to the Editor”, of which I had written many.  I’ve written a dozen or so Soapbox articles for The Times, but this is one of my better efforts and I would date it back to about 1996 or so.   At the time it was in response to a Letter to the Editor by a frequent conservative member of the community who often wrote bitter, close-minded opinions and I let her have it with both barrels.  I believe there was a reply the next week but I don’t recall it being very convincing.

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A wise man once said “Be careful about what you wish for, it could come true.” A recent letter to the editor “God needed in school more than a survey” suggests that our kids would be better off if only we could revert to the days when God was ever present in our classrooms.

 

Of course the first question is, which God? God as in the Jewish God of Abraham? God as in the trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? God as described by the prophet Joseph Smith? The “Jehovah” I’ve read about in The WatchTower? Allah as experienced by the prophet Mohammed?

 

In her best selling book A History of God, respected historian and former Catholic nun Karen Armstrong talks about how man’s idea of God has evolved from a pluralistic form to the modern day monotheistic God at the time of Abraham and Jacob. Jacob, ever a pragmatist, cut a deal with the God “El”. In exchange for much needed protection, Jacob agreed to worship El as the one and only God that mattered. Is this the God we’re talking about?

 

We have a cross section of all of these belief systems right here in Tualatin. Surely someone who would suggest God be re-instated back into the classroom would want to be inclusive of their neighbor’s belief system.   How do we do this? About the closest I’ve seen to a common denominator is the term Higher Power, but I suspect few would be satisfied with this watered down description of God.

 

Since the very definition of God it is a hard question, I’m in favor of using a little class time to explore what each of us means when we say the word God. In fact, while we’re at it let’s expose our kids to the concepts behind a variety of belief systems so they can make an informed choice.

 

There would be many benefits to a comparative religion study in public classrooms. Jews, Muslims and Christians might gain an appreciation for each other’s point of view and stop killing each other.

 

Kids would get the opportunity to do some critical thinking as they form their own belief system. As a parent of 3 kids, above all else I value giving my kids honest answers to their questions. They’ve come up with some whoppers over the years that are tough for me to deal with because I have more questions than answers myself. If God set up the universe as an experiment, and then gave us free will so he could then reward the faithful, couldn’t he have chosen an experiment that didn’t include so much human suffering?   If God is all powerful and all knowing, then he has both the knowledge that there will be suffering and the power to prevent it but chooses not to. Why is this? Eve takes a bite of the forbidden fruit and the price imposed by God is a human sacrifice? Sounds like sort of a vindictive God to me. Are you sure this whole thing isn’t just a cruel joke to get me to behave the way you want?

 

Talking serpents, plural marriage, child sacrifices, Jonah inside the belly of a whale for 3 days and living to tell about it? Virgin births, rising from the dead, purgatory, life beyond the grave, cannibalistic themes like “eat his body, drink his blood”? The salacious story of Sodom and Gamorrah. I’m having a hard time telling the difference between the Old Testament, a Stephen King novel, and Greek mythology.

 

Should the knowledge of the 1st century be considered the infallible truth of the 21st? Didn’t Nicolas Copernicus teach us anything about questioning the puerile beliefs of our time?

 

I see it as a dangerous practice to ascribe literal truth to a compendium of writings drafted over many centuries by scores of different authors with vastly different agendas and perspectives. I find it ironic that those who hold that God belongs in the classroom are usually the same people trying to keep Harry Potter out of the school library.

 

It’s clear a lot of good has occurred in this world due by people who have a strong faith in God. Unfortunately, history also has recorded the atrocities of The Crusades, the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the IRA in Northern Ireland, and Al Qaeda to name a few, all in the name of God.

 

When kids ask hard questions about God, instead of giving the usual hand wave answers (my favorite eye roller is “God didn’t want us to be robots so he gave us free will”), sometimes I find the best answer I can come up with is “That’s a great question but a tough question, so I won’t pretend to have the answer for you at this time.”   Being a parent does not somehow make me an authority figure on God. But I do get to decide if my approach will be rationalism, which seeks to reach the heart through the head, or theology, which seeks to reach the head through the heart.

 

Whether we like to admit it or not, most of us inherited our belief system from our families. We did no study of belief systems followed by the process of making an objective choice. Someone we trusted made that choice, and in many cases, at infancy. Growing up we were allowed to ask a few questions, but as the questions got harder to answer, instead of admitting they don’t really know, the people responsible for our faith development fell back on that age old tactic that gets ‘em every time: Fear of eternal damnation.

 

When you’re an impressionable grade schooler, the idea of eternity in a place like hell is a tough thing to get past. Perhaps this is why many children just adopt the belief system that’s been brow beaten into their psyche and move on.

 

I admire many people who have a strong faith in God, especially those who walk the talk. But it’s been my observation that those in favor of re-instating God back in public schools are the same ones who would be marching down to the principal’s office if teachers were to engage kids in a conversation about God and find out the teacher’s definition of God doesn’t match theirs precisely. Perhaps this is why public schools avoid the issue altogether. They can’t win no matter what they do.

 

In any case, spending classroom time on the subject of God is fine by me.

 

Bill Toner

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