Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Thought for the Day

"Human interaction can be Hell. Or it can be a great spiritual practice."

- Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks

Friday, December 09, 2005

I Pledge Allegiance...

Every few months my mother-in-law sends my son her collection of Mini Pages and other fun newspaper inserts, including one called "Colorado Kids." It is a collection of short news stories for children compiled by the DenverRockyPostMountainNews. This morning I read an issue of Colorado Kids, and found an article that disturbed me.

"One Nation Under God?" asked the headline, above a picture of a grade-school age girl on a US flag background. The picture caption read "The pledge of allegiance is under attack again." Intrigued by these eye-catching words, I read the article.

The first paragraph (of this very short four-paragraph article) was a fairly neutral explanation of September's decision by US District Court Judge Lawrence Carlton that "the Pledge's reference to one nation under God violates school children's rights to be free from a coercive requirement to affirm God." The last paragraph was similarly neutral, asserting that at least for the time being children would still be able to/required to recite the pledge.

I took issue with the middle two paragraphs, which showed a definite bias toward the "pledge is under attack" opinion implied by the photo caption. The people they quoted were both on that side of the issue. One was a school district official vowing to "fight for the right of willing children to continue to recite the pledge." Fair enough - are there any school officials who want to fight for the right of unwilling children to recite the pledge without an affirmation of God?

The one thing that REALLY got me to wondering about this article was the way they attributed the next quote by Steve Elliot, founder and president of According to the article, is "an organization dedicated to preserving religious freedoms." OK, sounds good.

But visiting, I find a conservative website advocating all the usual suspects - "Save Marriage," "Support the Pledge," "Stand for the Unborn," etc. Their stated focus is on "conservative, pro-family and pro-faith values" issues. Presumably that includes religious freedom if it's freedom to have God in the pledge. Oh yes, what did he say? "People are really tired of all these attacks on the pledge." Hmmm.

Now I'm all for different viewpoints and interest groups of all stripes, and of reporting their viewpoints and opinions. What I object to in this case is that this article made no mention (other than implicitly by describing the court decision) of the OTHER side of the issue. Why not throw in a supportive quote from the ACLU or Americans United for the Separation of Church and State? Of course that might give these young people the wrong impression of what the issues are.

I object to the recitation of the pledge of allegiance in public schools with or without the "under God" part. I find it contrived and coercive, not to mention idolatrous (I pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth?) . Perhaps this is the result of knowing its history.

The pledge was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a socialist and Baptist minister, as part of an advertising campaign by Youth's Campaign magazine to sell US flags to public schools for use as subscription premiums. I love the irony - one of the icons of American patriotism was originally conceived as a marketing jingle.

The pledge has been revised several times in its lifetime - most recently (and most significantly) in 1954 to include the phrase "under God." This addition was made in order to differentiate "us" from the "Godless Communists" at the height of the red scare. Hard to argue with that unless you want to be branded unpatriotic.

No mention of this history in the article either. Well, I suppose that's part of growing up - learning early on to just trust what you read in the paper, not ask questions, recite the pledge, and sign on the dotted line when you're asked.

Fortunately my son was born questioning authority, and has not been taken in by the pledge. When he started public school we talked about the pledge and its meaning and history, as well as the fact that the Supreme Court has upheld his right NOT to recite it. For a time he recited his own pledge of allegiance - to the Earth. I could get behind that.

When I asked my son what he thought of the article, he said "I think that's good news for the Hindus." Yes, and the rest of us who don't want God (or creed) pressed upon us. Thankfully we all still have the option of honoring our flag as a SYMBOL of what our country ought to stand for (not necessarily always reflected by our actions) rather than joining in this contrived affirmation.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Take Off the Gloves

Over the last few months - OK, since early summer, really - I've been watching my biking gloves disintegrate. First it was a pinhole in the tip of one finger, then an unraveling seam along the palm. By Halloween, I had two fingers sticking out and a full-fledged blowout along the side of my left hand. Time for new gloves.

Being a bit of a cheapskate, I decided to root around the garage for some other (presumably less tattered) gloves. It wasn't hard to locate them, and they were a bit less the worse for wear than the older ones. But they still weren't pristine.

Now of course these gloves are becoming more disreputable every time I ride - there are the usual fingertip holes developing, and a very bare looking spot on the right palm. Guess I'm going to have to break down and actually buy some new gloves soon, or take another look through my boxes of old bike stuff.

Throughout the course of this Saga of the Gloves, I've been thinking about how ego and identity - the intricate stories I tell myself about my life - are like gloves. They start out so stiff and new, sometimes hard to put on but looking great, and then gradually wear in to become comfortable and like a second skin. Eventually, however, come holes and burst seams. I mend the seams and patch up the holes, and they become a patchwork reflecting my evolving ideas of what I believe about myself.

So why wear the gloves of ego and identity anyway? For protection, of course. There are rocks and thorns of hurt in the world, easily shut out by the new pair, but eventually wearing out the thin material of ego covering my most sensitive parts. I guess that's why the fingertips always wear out first. It's a real dilemma that experiencing the world with sensitivity and feeling can hurt so very much.

These "gloves" I wear are much different now than they were only five years ago, and they are getting pretty worn out. The patches just won't stick, and I'm out of thread to mend the seams. My fingers and palms show through in a lot of places, and before long there won't be anything left but skin.

And that's a good thing.