Thursday, May 29, 2008

Politics and Religion May 2008

May 2008 - Politics and Religion

Political note - John McCain had a very public fallout last week with a couple of his religious zealot mega-church evangelical preacher endorsements he had sought earlier in his campaign. Some rather nutty remarks about Hitler from one John Hagee’s past sermons surfaced on a blog and John McCain called them "crazy" and denounced and repudiated them. He then rejected Hagee’s endorsement and Hagee then later withdrew it anyway. I was watching CNN as the story unfolded and thought CNN’s coverage was modulated about right. It got about an hour of coverage. McCain ended up rejecting the endorsement of another looney-toon preacher, Ron Parsley, as well - something about Christianity's duty to destroy Islam.

McCain claimed he didn’t know about the controversial views of either pastor. Huh? That’s a stretch. No one on your campaign staff knew that either?

Huh? Sound familiar? A repeat of the Obama/Wright controversy in some ways? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander? I thought so. And after the endless and breathless FOX NEWS reporting of the Obama/Wright issue….. I’ve never seen Sean Hannity so excited as when be pounded on Senator Obama and Wright night after night after night.

Anyway, I began to wonder how FOX NEWS was covering the story and so switched over to check it out…..And I swear to God, I’m not kidding, after the thousands and thousands of hours devoted to Obama/Wright bashing, and while the McCain/Hagee/Parsley "denouncing, rejecting, condemning" was going on, FOX NEWS was showing a rerun of a Bill O’Reilly interview with ……William Shatner about fueds on the old Star Trek TV series! And then later, when I checked back, I kid you not, with reruns of a Sean Hannity interview with Jerry Falwell’s son. I checked back several times over the succeeding days and the most I saw was a ticker tape at the bottom of the screen summarizing the event in a dozen words.

I really don’t expect FOX to be fair or balanced, but this was too much. Maybe they covered it and I missed it, but it certainly wasn’t with the breathless endless excitement and zeal of the Obama stuff. But enough about the politics of Religious Bigotry. Let’s move on to the Religious Bigotry of Politics.

There is a serious story here about a nutty vein of Christianity and other religions that attract tens of millions of followers. Religious leaders who are vengeful, angry, self-satisfied, and arrogantly confident in their direct link to understanding God’s Will -- I include Hagee, Parsley, and Wright, and the mullahs, and Osama bin Laden and that whole nutty Islamic fundamentalist crowd, too, in my thinking here. Fundamentalist Judaism is not off the hook either – some of the West Bank and Gaza settlements fit into this category, I think. And I’m not even talking about the crazies waiting for the spaceship to take them back home.

I’ve always feared that the more Armageddonistas out there, the more "end times rapture golden virgins" nut balls marching onward toward their apocalyptic visions, picture Pat Robertson, or Hagee, or Parsley, or Bin Laden, or Iran’s President, whatever his name is, with nukes, the less room there is for the rest of us to somehow muddle through as best we can trying to figure out what should be valued, and raise our kids, and grow vegetables, or paint a sunset or a flower, or read a good book.

Lighten up, dudes, and be excellent to each other!

Bud search for "artbycassiday"

Thursday, May 08, 2008

On the Death of my Father

My dad died Tuesday night, May 6, 2008. He was 89. He declined rapidly this last few weeks and died peacefully in his sleep.

Our last several days with him were spent at the hospital with my mother and siblings and family reading, and doing crossword puzzles, and sudoku, and talking, and napping in chairs, while my dad mostly slept. The medical care shifted on Monday from trying to determine what was happening to him -- to making him comfortable in his last days and hours. Methodist Hospital staff were caring and efficient and present and respectful. We appreciate their skills and compassion.

I found myself listening to my Dad’s breathing for long periods of time and remembering how I used to listen to my infant son’s breathing at night years ago just to be reassured. My Dad’s heavy and labored breathing during his last hours somehow reminded me of the sounds of the Pacific Ocean he loved and grew up next to, the sounds of the surf we as children heard on those many vacations to Larkspur, and San Francisco, and Stinson Beach. The rhythms of the waves and his breathing seemed the same to me, an appropriate metaphor for life’s rhythms. My son has vacationed at Stinson Beach, too, and endured and listened to those same cold waves.

A regularity of the rumbling and whooshing of the surf punctuated by the sound of breakers crashing on the beach. The unexpected silences as the wave rhythms change for a moment for their own reasons. But then the rhythms would continue… Dad's breathing was like that….like hours of the sounds of the surf…regular but with unexpected interruptions....except that it finally went out and and didn't come back. It was comforting somehow on those vacations years ago laying awake at night hearing that rhythmic rumbling of the breathing ocean’s waves….and it was comfort that my dad found when his last breath went out. We’ll return his ashes to that ocean.

In his last few days before he drifted off in sleep, he was concerned with what time it was. Where was his watch? We had taken it off, but eventually we put it back on for him. He had to be able to see the clock on the wall of the hospital room, or his watch on his wrist, or the clock on his dresser from his bed at home. The connection to time gave him a reference point perhaps, an awareness of the passage of time maybe. But now a lifetime has passed in the blink of an eye.

The vastness of the ocean and the smallness of one person, and the smallness of the earth and the immensity of one person. The importance of a moment and the enormity of time. The contradictions and paradoxes are there, and far greater minds than mine have contemplated them. There are more stars in the universe than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the earth. And we’ll return his ashes to the ocean he loved and his ashes will be a part of that vast ocean and those tiny grains of sand. And we’ll continue to look at our watches and clocks and schedules, and time will come at us like those waves and receding and returning, occasionally crashing down in those giant noisy roars and startling yet expected silences.

Words seem important to me as I write this, but maybe they’re not. My son suggested I do a painting for my dad, and I will, but not right now. My son and I arrived back at the hospital shortly after my Dad’s last breath Tuesday night. We won’t have the memory of his last breath, but we'll have the memory of that ocean breathing on that beach where my dad liked to spend his time. And now his time is over.

Bud Cassiday

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Creationism, The Big Band Theory, and Omaha Community Playhouse

Dear friends:

One of my student's essays was on evolution v. creationism. In attempting to explain creation theories, she was criticizing the obvious scientific flaws in evolutionary theory and the big bang theory of the universe - "but there's no proof." I pointed out that 99.9999% of scientists believe the theories to be true, generally accept them in their totality, and that the disagreements in the scientific world are more related to evidentiary matters and the interpretation of the millions and millions and millions and millions and millions of fossils, scientific dating of rocks, astronomical observations that galaxies are moving away from each other, physics super-colliders doing their stuff, and mathematics explorations of dozens brilliant people from Einstein to Hawking. All are primarily interpretations of the intricacies of the evidence, not challenges to the basic theories.

Her main source for the creationism point of view was a born-again former high school science teacher turned preacher currently serving a 10 year sentence in a Federal Prison for tax evasion. I attempted to discuss issues of credibility and evaluation of source material. Her primary response was that evolution says that people descended from apes and the chap in prison said that could be proved to not be the case because of some carbon-14 dating and argon gas thing. I tried to steer her to more credible sources and peer reviewed material and am hoping for the best.

I need to develop a better pedogogy for dealing with issues where the overwhelming totality of evidence is on one side and fringe conspiracy theorists or religious beliefs are on the other side but both are "equal" in the eyes of the internet and the eyes of those who look at them. I for one am far more willing to consider our mythology and religious texts as metaphor and truth, but not necessarily as fact and facts, and have been able to continue my search for faith and a continue simultaneous appreciation for science and actual knowledge.

My student was more willing go along with the imprisoned high school teacher than the best and brightest minds in the scientific and theologic world of the last two and half centuries. It's unsettling. I have another student wanting to write about the theory that it wasn't a handful of Saudi anti-American zealot jihadists who piloted the jets into the World Trade Centers; it was a vast US Government conspiracy, including George W Bush and VP Cheney, the Pentagon, and Congress who planned and carried out the attacks to bolster their own political careers. As much as I am opposed to and criticize this administration on a regular basis, this is just nuts. The less evidence there is, the greater the conspiracy must be. A total lack of evidence is considered to be the highest standard of proof that a conspiracy must exist! But back to evolution v. creationism.....

My student is quite willing to think there is "proof" of God; great theologians and philosophers have wrestled with this immense proposition for centuries; but to think there's "proof" or even "evidence" of evolutionary theory is too great a stretch to her. Her main source for her point of view is this imprisoned former high school science teacher. I'm going to point her in the direction of actual theologians and philosophers as well.

Now to the fun part -- her paragraph on the creation of the universe. She kept referring to the "Big Band" theory of the origin of the universe. The "Big Band" Theory. The Glenn Miller as prime mover theory. The Benny Goodman as first cause. The Music of the Spheres theory! The Lawrence Welk, and uh-one, and uh-two.......and the universe began.

Have a nice day....until I get a regular job....soon I hope....I sometimes have way too much time on my hands and get to thinking about all this stuff....and can't help sitting down here at the keyboard. My apologies.

Bud C

ps. I'll have some art in the lobby of the Omaha Community Playhouse for its Stage Right Art Gallery fundraiser silent auction from May 15 thru June 15. Crucible and South Pacific are showing during that time. Stop by and take a look and submit a bid. All the money goes to fund the Playhouse.