Jones of the Nile

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

On gratitude

No better way to cap off this Thanksgiving week than by offering one thought on gratitude. I don't have a top ten list of virtues, but if I did, gratitude might just be number one. Author and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel said that a person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.

I don't know why he thought that. Perhaps it's because knowing what it takes to be grateful requires a certain sense humility and intelligence that only few really have (and that many don't really strive for).

Life can be so ordinary sometimes, so routine. Even the extraordinary seems to become routine after a while. The poison in that process makes us lose sight and perspective in so many ways. I think that's why most adults are cynical.

That is, except for those who admit failure, live humbly, make mistakes, ooze compassion, and know gratitude. For these people I am truly grateful, for your continued challenge to those of us who struggle being grateful, who forget to notice beauty, and who often think of life as linear - goals to be accomplished by this date, money to be made by this age, awards to be received for this project at this point - instead of life as an immersion in wonder.

As theologian and spiritual writer Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Who, What, Where, When and Tao

I read the following passage from chapter 36 of the Tao-te Ching last night. This should be mandatory reading for everyone in our current government. It's something to strive for, I suppose, when we can break free from thinking that we have all the answers to everything, or that our way is the only way.

    Nothing to seek...everything is here.
    If we try to get rid of something,
    it will naturally remain.
    If we try to weaken a habit,
    it will naturally remain strong.
    If we try to push away our thoughts,
    they will naturally return.
    If we try to get rid of our pain,
    we will suffer all the more.
    This is the secret of our path:
    gentleness and flexibility bring the results
    that force and rigidity fail to achieve.
Why couldn't I have learned that in Sunday School!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Declaration of Interdependence

Liberals are funny.

So on December 5, I am going to take part in an "online writing forum" to help craft a Declaration of Interdependence. Don't get me wrong, I love this kind of stuff. Makes me feel like a good progressive.

But at the same time, I sometimes wonder if this is also the sort of stuff that makes the left seem like a bunch of airy-fairy wimps. The "Contract with America" that has some hutzpah. The "Declaration of Interdependence"...not so much.

But it's goals are worthy. Here's the link to their site: And here's a blurb about the reason behind the declaration:

    "Many Americans are outraged by the economic and racial inequality vividly revealed in the aftermath of the Gulf hurricanes. Our government's response was shameful and appalling.

    Occupied with the immoral, opportunistic, senseless, and costly Iraq War, and hampered by cronyism and incompetence, our nation's leaders abandoned the most vulnerable members of our society to die.

    On November 28-29, prominent religious and activist leaders will gather at a summit in Houston, Texas to create a 10-point action plan.

    Following the Houston Summit, Americans of conscience across the nation will gather online for a Town Hall Meeting to proclaim what we want for our society and to act on our commitments.

    This will be a historic turning point for our future together. You will spend 60 minutes online, at a chosen appointment time, to create a Declaration of Interdependence and to affirm the 10-point plan."
I'm excited, though the name is corny. This will be the first time I've done it in a group.

Writing, that is. Yeah, writing. When a final declaration is submitted, I'll post it here.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

When global needs seem too overwhelming

Earthquakes in Pakistan? Tsunamis in Sri Lanka? Hurricanes in Louisiana? Bird flu in Indonesia? HIV/AIDS in Africa? Tornadoes in Indiana? Genocide in Sudan? Riots in Paris?

Hasn't 2005 been great!

Overwhelming is the only word that comes to mind when you think about all the chaos that's happened in the last year. In the more optimistic moments of life, I'm reminded of Anne Frank's quote, "I don't think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains." Sometimes I think Anne Frank was one of the most enlightened individuals to have ever walked this planet.

But when the cynicism and news get too dreadful, it's hard to look at life with an Anne Frank worldview. It's easier to look at life from a Paul Wolfowitz worldview, or a John Bolton worldview - a worldview rooted in dominance, power, aggression and control.

Like Anne Frank did, I find comfort (if only minimal comfort) in journaling. This month, the Women's Perspective on Money and Spirituality have offered a series of questions for people to journal about "when global needs seem too overwhelming." Maybe it's pointless to reflect on questions like these. But then again, maybe it's the least we can do. 'Tis better to reflect than to ignore. Here are the questions...

    Hurricane Katrina, HIV/AIDS in Africa, the earthquake in Kashmir - the news brings us daily images of disaster and suffering. We invite you to respond to these questions in your personal journal on money and spirituality:

  • Do I feel overwhelmed or helpless in the face of news about calamity?

  • In the past year, what condition or disaster has touched me the most?

  • Why did this situation speak to me?

  • When responding to a disaster, what kinds of activities have felt most satisfying to me (e.g., gathering food for shipment, giving blood, donating money, etc.)?

  • What kind of activities give me the feeling that I have made a difference, however small my role, in responding to a disaster?
For those who feel comfortable doing so, you can share your answers with the folks at Women's Perspective by emailing

On an unrelated note, there's five inches of snow outside my window, and the snow is falling out of the sky like rain. Ahh, the first snow of the year...welcome to winter!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Our new weapon in the War on Terror: Bruce Willis

I'm not kidding. Mr. Willis wants the terrorists to die. And to die hard. To die hard with a vengeance.


Really, I'm not kidding though. Bruce Willis was the guest on "Rita Cosby: Live and Direct" the other night, and said that he will offer $1 million to anyone who turns in al-Qaeda terror leaders, including Osama Bin Laden.

So there you have it, America's secret weapon in the war on terrorism is balding Hollywood celebrities. I hear if this doesn't work they may ask the father from "Just the Ten of Us" to chip in a million, too.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

There were no lions, tigers and bears

A friend of mine sent me a transcript of a sermon yesterday by a Jesuit priest named Bert Thelen, that incidentally talked about the lions and tigers and bears from Oz. How appropriate, I thought, given that the book club I am in is reading "Wicked," by Gregory Maguire.

This sermon looks at the fear that religious and political leaders instill in order to win people over to their side. The context is that Jesus (this is a Christian sermon) has been in conflict with the religious leaders of his time, who are fiercly opposed to his message and teachings, which challenege the fear and power they exert over others. Here's an excerpt from the sermon:

    For some strange reason, as I reflected on this ongoing conflict, what has been going on in my head is the chant in the Wizard of Oz(by Dorothy, the scarecrow, the cowardly lion and the tin man) as they headed into the forest:

    "Lions and Tigers and Bears, O My!
    Lions and Tigers and Bears, O My!"

    For Jesus, it was, "Lawyers and Pharisees and Scribes, O My! Lawyers and Pharisees and Scribes, O My!"

    There is a big difference, of course. In Oz there actually were no lions and tigers and bears, but only the fear of them. But, for Jesus, the Lawyers and Pharisees and Scribes were not only very real, but very, very dangerous - deadly, in fact...

    Why this fierce hostility, this extreme hatred, this mortal fear, this murderous rage against Jesus on the part of the religious leaders? I think we know. Because Jesus dismantled the framework that supported their religious status. He not only cleansed the Temple of money-changers; much worse, he knocked down the pedestals of clerical, priestly privilege, putting them out of business, as it were. How? Jesus challenged and overturned the holiness code they had formulated and were in charge of. The system of goodness, of holiness, had come to be defined as us and them, the
    clean vs. the unclean, the pure vs. the impure. The priests were the only ones allowed into the holy of holies (the sanctuary), for instance, and so everyone else was left outside.

    By his preaching and healing, by the company he kept...Jesus destroyed the hypocritical ystem and division on which it was based: the pure and the impure, the
    Pharisees and the Publicans, the priests and levites and the cursed mob. Jesus, you will recall, sought out and hung around with the impure, the outcasts, the sinners - sick people, lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc. -- all thus barred from the temple. In fact, he took their place and made himself the most impure of all - a convicted felon - in order to put an end to this religious "apartheid" and violence once and for all. ("Cursed is he who hangs on a tree.") In doing this, he destroyed the temple and opened up salvation for all.

    Now, here's my concern, and I pose it as a question for us all. Have we not, in the very structure of our church, restored that very holiness code Jesus died to repeal? Think about it. Are there not, in our church, some people privileged and powerful who have control over others? Do we not exclude from the sanctuary at least 50% of our members? Are there still not some who are refused Holy Communion not just once, but for long periods of their lives, even though we have for a long time recognized that refusal as sinful, or at least contrary to the Gospel? We sing out the glorious inclusivity of Jesus: "All are welcome, all are welcome, all our welcome in this place" But is it really true? Did we not recently hear of Bishops who wanted to deny Holy Communion to some Catholics because of the way they voted their consciences? And what about being at the mercy of priests whose main focus in homilies is sex, sometimes because they are fixated on a human reality they themselves have never personally come to terms with?
Immediately I'm reminded of President Bush: "You're either with us or against us."

Or Pat Robertson (on the recent election in Dover, PA that ousted several school board members that wanted intelligent design taught in schools): "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city."

Or Rick Santorum: "I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts."

Or Phyllis Schafly: "How can we protect homeland security unless the government stops the invasion of illegal aliens?"

I could go on and on. We have all these people trumpeting fear, scaring voters, or excluding others, yet they are all trying to save the world for Christ. To liberate Iraq because it's God's will. To teach intelligent design in classrooms because it's God's will. To say that the murder of Matthew Shephard was God's will.

No wonder so many of my friends and colleagues throw up when they hear the word 'faith' or 'religion.' How strange that thousands of years later, we're still in the place that Fr. Thelen described: "The system of goodness, of holiness, had come to be defined as us and them, the clean vs. the unclean, the pure vs. the impure. The priests were the only ones allowed into the holy of holies (the sanctuary), for instance, and so everyone else was left outside."

Maybe that's one of life's lessons (so says my brain on this balmy Saturday morning)...that we spend so much time trying to get on the inside, when really, we're called to stand on the outside. After all, look at the company we keep whenever we're on the 'inside.'

Or maybe I just need a coffee and muffin. Hope you all have a great weekend. Sorry I didn't post yesterday, thus breaking my promised streak. I got caught up in writing a grant at work that took all my energy and focus. But, now if anyone wants to give us $500,000, I can tell you how we'd spend it!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

If at first you don't succeed, alter the transcript

You'd think that a White House suffering from a severe crisis of confidence due to corruption, would start to get the hint that, hey, maybe being deceitful isn't so good.

Not our boys, though. Check it out: White House Alters Transcript of Press Briefing.

The gist is that during Scott McClellan's news conference on October 31, NBC's David Gregory asked this question:

    Q. Whether there’s a question of legality, we know for a fact that there was involvement. We know that Karl Rove, based on what he and his lawyer have said, did have a conversation about somebody who Patrick Fitzgerald said was a covert officer of the Central Intelligence Agency. We know that Scooter Libby also had conversations.
News outlets from Congressional Quarterly to Fox News Service transcribed McClellan's resonse as: "That's accurate."

Not the White House, though. They transcribed the answer as "I don't think that's accurate."

Excuse me? That's a pretty big difference.

You can listen and make your own judgment by clicking here. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, er, three times, er, four times, many times have the Bushies pulled a stunt like that? Either way, I think they'll find it harder and harder to fool people when absolutely nobody trusts you, not even to post a simple transcript to the web.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

You know that old saying...

Growing up my mom had this magnet on the refrigerator with an image of a frazzled housewife, trying to vacuum a house covered in filth, while outside the window a hot woman in a red convertible was driving past. Underneath this, it said, "Life isn't passing me's running me over!"

Ain't that the truth. I was reminded of that magnet after coming across this article from Business Week about the best entrepreneurs under 25.

Um, excuse me? Under 25?

As a 27-year-old who's being 'run over' by these megalomaniacs, I have to ask...what the hell drives these people?! I can barely motivate myself to update my blog, let alone start my own venture capitalism firm. (I don't even know what venture capitalism is, to tell you the truth!)

If you click here, you can even view a slideshow of all of these entrepreneurs under 25. And damn, some of them were not only graced with money, but also with beautiful looks!

I bet they're all "slaves to the man," though. At least, that's what I'll tell myself.

But come on, Business Week, at least pick an entrepreneur with some flab on them, or a really pimply face.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Stop the insanity!

Susan Powter used to yell, "Stop the insanity!" when it came to weight loss. Today, I use it to talk about torture, and the ongoing efforts by VP Cheney to get Congress to reject Sen. John McCain's ammendment to the 2006 Defense Appropritions Bill. Cheney, you are one evil fucker.

Luckily, there are so many progressive groups out there yelling and screaming at the top of their lungs that torture is a crime against humanity. The most recent is a Web site launched by the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) and Church Folks for a Better America. The Web site is:

What the goons in the White House are trying to do is legitimize torture by the U.S. government. Their refusal to support McCain's anti-torture ammendment shows not only how craven they are, but also how shallow their commitment to a culture of life really is.

For a great editorial on the torture issue from the San Francisco Chronicle, click here.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The dog owns my life

My dog, Frida, would be so pleased (if dogs can feel 'pleased') to know that she's been mentioned two days straight.

Alas, this furry little Jack Russell-Pug mix has started a blog. I suspect it's being ghost-written by her other father - the Laverne to my Shirley - and though she doesn't talk much about politics, philosophy, pop culture or other such subjects, she does show-off some pictures of her and I that are simply delicious.

So here it is.

Now who says that bloggers aren't journalists?!

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Of course, what would any relaxing weekend away from work be like without a staring contest between me and my dog? (note: I didn't buy her that dress! But it is cute, isn't it?)

Have a great rest of your weekend, everyone.

Cool words from Picasso

Here's Picasso on success:

    "Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility."
Several friends of mine insist that Tom Cruise plays the same person in every movie. Perhaps this is his problem?

Anyway, a brief Sunday toast to originality.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

More talk about certainty

For those who really dig reading about spirituality, faith and politics, you should definitely check out the writing of Sr. Joan Chittister. I don't know anyone else today who ties it all together like she does. If you click on the link above, it will take you to her latest column in her "From Where I Stand" series, published by National Catholic Reporter. Her writing is progressive and accessible, I think, for people who get queasy at the mention of religion.

Anyway, I'm reading an old book of hers, "Seeing With Our Souls," and I came across a quote she used from writer Walter Lippman in a chapter on humility. Here's her take:

    Walter Lippman calls humility, "the saving doubt of our own certainty." In fact, are we ever more wrong than when we are certain we are right? Humility allows us the sliver of possibility that we may still learn something.
Are we ever more wrong than when we are certain we are right? Does a certain president of the United States come to mind after reading that question? Do a million television commentators? We're certain Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, we're certain that war is the right answer to defeat terrorism, we're certain peace can only be achieved and maintained by violence.

I don't feel so certain anymore. Maybe that's why this President and his administration are failing. Can you even detect an ounce of humility in anyone who works at the White House? Leadership isn't all about twisting arms and bravado. It's about learning from mistakes; or more importantly, having enough humility to know that we're all apt to make them.

Sr. Joan writes in another part of her book:

    "I always wonder why it is that we ask whether a candidate for the presidency is tough enough to push the nuclear button but we never ask if they are strong enough not to."
Food for thought, I guess, though I don't expect that question to be addressed by any politician in my lifetime.

And then there's this story, and anyone who's read this blog more than three times knows that I love me some stories. Here goes:

    A seeker searched for years to know the secret of achievement and success in human life. One night in a dream a Sage appeared bearing the answer to the secret.

    The Sage said simply, "Stretch out your hand and reach what you can."

    "No, it can't be that simple," the seeker said.

    And the Sage said softly, "You are right, it is something harder. It is this: Stretch out your hand and reach what you cannot."
To me that's vision - because knowing that it can't be that simple requires a whole heck of a lot of humility.

All right, enough talk of humility and certainty from me. The word 'certainty' has appeared so much in this blog over the last two days, I might as well change the name of this thing to "Certainty of the Nile." But I won't.

I will, though, go on with my day in a good space, grateful for this story. It's also my 27th birthday today, so I've got 27 years to be grateful for.

Hmm...I hate to make this blog any longer, but now that I brought up birthdays, an example of humility came to mind. A good friend of mine who I've unfortunately lost touch with (my fault - I have issues) would, as a way of celebrating his birthday, send flowers to his mom. I used to think that was just sentimental, but now I see it as more than that. I see it as a recognition that, despite the pomp and circumstance, humble people know that birthdays are more about the people we share our lives with, than the attention of aging another year.

Have a great Saturday, all.

Friday, November 04, 2005

"Old woman, no one is listening to you"

I think anyone with half a conscience would admit that, in our day and age, we've got a lot of problems. Disease, war, poverty, genocide, famine, political corruption...people have been blogging about these things for centuries (really, what is the difference if it's written on a cave wall, or typed into Internet Explorer?). How do you stay afloat amidst all the suffering? Or is it even in our best interest to stay afloat? Wouldn't it be easier to just ignore the suffering, chalk it up to human nature or God's will, and not let the pain seep too close to us?

That must be the direction so many find certainty in taking. How else could they ignore 2,000 deaths in Iraq, or hundreds of thousands of deaths in Sudan? How else could they look at starving bodies in Niger, and not break down, even just a little?

How they know for certain that ignorance is bliss, I'll never know. Philosopher Bertrand Russell said, "The central problem of our age is how to act decisively in the absence of certainty." I think he's right. Lately the only thing I'm certain of is that my life, like I imagine so many others, lacks a good degree of certainty. Certainty about how to save the world, about whether saving the world is even possible; certainty about whether there's a higher power, and about what that higher power expects of us. And more.

So I search for answers as humbly as I can, because even though I've got two college degrees, it doesn't mean I know more about the meaning of life than the six-year old across the street. In fact, it probably means I know less.

There's that saying about inaction in the face of suffering that gives me pause today. "It is possible to do nothing, but it is not possible to justify doing nothing."

I like that statement - it has a sense of certainty to it. If you can't justify doing nothing, it must mean that you have to do something, even if it feels futile...perhaps even if it is futile. But why?

A Sufi story gives the answer...

    Once upon a time, the story goes, a seeker ran through the streets crying, "Power, greed and corruption! Power, greed and corruption!" For a while people stopped to listen. Then, gradually, they all went back to the routines of the day. But the woman never stopped running, never stopped crying out, "Power, greed and corruption! Power, greed and corruption!"

    One day a small child stepped out in front of her. "Old woman," the child said, "no one is listening to you."

    "I know that," the old woman said.

    "Then if you know you're not changing anyone, why do you shout?" the child asked.

    "Oh, my child," she answered. "I do not shout in order to change them. I shout so that they cannot change me."
Maybe that's the reason to let a little pain from this world enter our lives. If we break down a little in the face of suffering and violence, we draw closer to those that need us next to them. If we fail to do this, we become part of the masses that all go "back to the routines of the day."

And there's one thing I can be certain of - that fulfillment isn't found in a life that's routine.

Wow, enough grandstanding from me today. Enjoy the weekend, everyone. Peace.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I've been hit

My friend at You Forgot Poland! has "MeMe'd Me". Sound dirty?

Actually, my task should I choose to accept it, is to go back in time and:

1. Go into your archives.
2. Find your 23rd post.
3. Post the fifth sentence (or closest to it).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
5. Tag five other people to do the same thing.

Here's the drivel from my 23rd post, "Obsessed with Security, from June 2, 2005:

Mudslides in Laguna Beach shouldn't equate to security and nuclear weapons.

Great, now all the poor people in Laguna Beach who lost their fancy houses to mudslides get to be pissed at me again. Thanks for dragging that comment back into the limelight!

As for tagging five other people...well, I'll just have to take the nine years of bad luck, or the forty years of impotence, or whatever the poison that comes with breaking the chain.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Ch'an Mind, Zen Mind Series

This month's exhibit at The Photomedia Center is a wonderful complement to the postings on meditation and contemplativeness that have been posted here lately. The artist is Jing Zhou, an artist born and raised in Chongqing, China who now teaches art at Monmouth University in New Jersey.

Here's how the site describes her work:

    "Jing Zhou creates visual dialogues between eternity and transience, oneness and variety, existence and emptiness. As a Chinese artist living in the western world, she utilizes her comprehensive understanding of Chinese philosophies (the prudent and contrary-minded Taoist beliefs, the attached-to-the-earth reality of Confucianism, and the sudden enlightenment and intuitive insights of Zen) delicately balanced with western art, literature, spirituality, and philosophies to describe what is the true nature of beauty and life."
I have to be frank...I'm not smart enough to really understand exactly what all that means (as many of my friends know, I don't get artists' statements. They read like geometry theorems to me, which has got to be more a sign of my stupidity than their writing abilities). But hey, I like the work nonetheless. So check it out...the direct link to the exhibit is here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Lame Joke of the Week

Dick Cheney to George Bush...

"Mr. President, I have some bad news for you. Three Brazilian soldiers have died in Iraq."

"Oh, that's too bad. How many is a Brazilian?"

From vampires to Jesus

A coworker told me this morning that Anne Rice's new book, published today by Alfred A. Knopf, won't be about vampires, ghouls, or the undead, but instead about Jesus Christ.

And sure enough, her new book is about Jesus according to this article from Laura Miller of the New York Times, so much so that it's narrated by a 7-year-old Jesus. "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt" is the book's title, and apparently stems from the author's reconnection with her Catholic faith. Or her apparent desire to have a boss that is a Jewish carpenter.

Miller's desription: "Christ the Lord is one result of Rice's rediscovery of her faith. With classic Ricean audacity, the story is told in the first person by Jesus himself. Otherwise, Christ the Lord seems likely to surprise Rice's fans and detractors alike. It is devoid of vampires, witches and feverishly gothic prose. Instead, in simple sentences, it describes the domestic life of an extended Jewish family in first-century Palestine as seen through the eyes of a 7-year-old boy who has only an inkling of his true nature."

His true nature...that to elect conservative Justices to the Supreme Court? To justify wars in the Middle East? To lobby for tax cuts for the wealthy?

Well, I guess we'll have to wait and see, since this is going to be a series from Anne Rice. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt, as the premise sounds interesting and a lot could be done with this. But if this is Anne Rice's departure into the "Left Behind" series of literature, then I'll start longing for the days of incestuous vampires.