Monday, December 6, 2010

Backing Up Your Posts/Comments to New Site is Easy

Originally published, Open Salon, DECEMBER 4, 2010 4:26PM
I haven't spent much, hardly any, time here lately, but there seems to be a bit of panic going on, again, on OS. This time its what happens if sells out, folds, etc. It could happen, but does not look very imminent.
 I wondered about what would happen to my stuff when a similar panic hit shortly after I came on OS. (To my recollection this is the third such panic since I came here in October, 2008). So, in addition to keeping back up files on my computer of everything I post, I decided to set up a "mirror blog" on Google's Blogspot. (Used to be known as Blogger.)
I was more concerned with keeping the formating, the pics, vids, links, etc. than just the content since it is time consuming to set up a post anywhere.
I chose Google's Blogspot over the many other available free spots to start a blog simply because I am lazy and Blogspot does almost all the work for you. They have templates you can choose from to set up the blog in any style you want, and step by step instructions about adding content.

In any case, once you have set up your account, chosen a format, and set up your blog name, etc. here is all you have to do to move content to Blogspot.

Open your Blogspot blog in one tab. In the Blogger "Dashboard" click on "New Post." That will open a window to allow you to add content.

Now, Open your Open Salon Blog in another tab and go to a given post on OS that you want to copy to Blogspot.

Right click and hold down the mouse key to highlight the post, including title, comments, etc. that you want. (You can edit out any ads, and miscellaneous stuff you don't want.) Left click the mouse and select "copy."

Then dump the copied material, pics, videos, etc. and all into the Blogspot window. (Left click the mouse and select "Paste."
Move the Title up to the title box in Blogspot. Move the "tags" into the "labels" box on Blogspot. And clean up any miscellaneous stuff that you don't want moved into Blogspot.

Click "Preview" and take a look at what you have. Edit that if necessary.

 When you are satisfied it looks OK, Click on "Publish Post." You are done.
(You can edit the post further at any time, or delete it entirely.)

That's it. Several of our OS friends have started doing this and many of them have Blogger accounts. You can follow their blogs there just the way you can here, and you can send notices of your posts, etc.

 Take a look at my Blogger "Mirror Site" to get an idea what it could look like, although there are MANY options how to set up your own blog using the templates.

If you have any questions let me know in the comments and I will try to walk you through any issues with doing this.


Links to my Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Essays

Originally published on Open Salon, DECEMBER 1, 2010 8:55PM
moravian star
 Traditional Lighted Moravian Star

These essays are part of my ongoing, and developing, Christian Calendar Series. The links are posted here for those who like to reflect on the truths, beliefs and faith associated with those who celebrate these holy days in the life of believers. It is also hoped that those who do not share the Christian faith will come to better understand the importance of this tri-part season of love, hope, peace and joy.
                                                                      ---  Monte

 Links to Open Salon Articles in this blog:

The Rich Man and Lazarus: Approaching the Coming Holidays 

An Advent Reflection - Leaning toward God  

Advent Reflection: God Does Not View Us From a Distance

My Christmas Gift - -Blessings & Peace 

The Epiphany -- A Reflection on The Word of God


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Story of Thanksgiving: Where Are The Other Nine?

Note: While this is written from my Christian perspective, I believe this essay raises issues for people of all faiths or of no faith at all.

Luke 17:11-19

Jesus was passing along the border of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, ten men who were lepers stood far off and lifted their voices to him, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." When he heard them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were healed. One of them, a Samaritan, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorifying God he fell upon his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Jesus answered, saying "Were not ten healed? Where are the other nine? 18 Are there none who return to give glory to God, except this foreigner?" 19 And Jesus said to him, "Arise, and go on your way: your faith hath made you whole."

This little story about Jesus and the lepers is about a time of great personal crisis brought on by a horrible, incurable disease. And there is no "big deal" in life quite like being really ill, whether it is a sudden onset sickness or a chronic and incurable disease.

Serious illness is one of the worst things life can throw at us. It is not only the pain and physical misery that has to be endured; it is also the mental anguish, first of not knowing what is wrong, and then of knowing and wondering if anything actually can be done about it. All of that mental anguish is a function of being confronted with the truth of our own mortality, or of a painful morbidity that we might have to face for the rest of our life. Death is no longer an abstraction, something that happens to someone else. It is something that is happening to us. It is a time of our greatest vulnerability to the one thing we can't avoid: our own decay and death.

Serious illness is an all too graphic reminder that this life is fragile, finite and short. Even though we know that to be true on an intellectual level it is often only on our sickbed that we finally figure out that our personal earthly life is terminal. At its worst, serious illness is a foretaste of what it is like to have the world go on without you.

Perhaps that is why, when we are well, we often avoid those who are seriously ill. We may send a card or call, but we find it hard to visit. And the more seriously ill a person is the more reluctant we are. I remember that when I was a hospital chaplain back in the early 90s I would watch visitors stream in to see someone who had hernia or gall bladder surgery, or a broken leg. But I would walk down the hall to the AIDS ward and sit quietly talking to those folks and never see them get a visitor for days on end. In those days when science was just confirming how AIDS and HIV were transmitted the general public was afraid that they would catch their death from someone who had that affliction. Literally.

The many stories of Jesus and his dealings with those who had grave illnesses tell us that he understood this fear of death that we try so hard to cover over. This story of Jesus and the lepers takes place as Jesus is on the way to his own death, a death which he has foretold, in Jerusalem. Yet, on that journey he took the time to heal others. In this case, he was dealing with lepers. Ten of them to be exact.

It is hard for us to understand just how awful leprosy was in those days. Leprosy was a sentence of death, a slow, disfiguring, incurable death. But long before lepers died physically, they were essentially dead to anything approaching what we would call living. They were cast out of their homes, separated from their families, forbidden, literally, to come anywhere close to healthy people. In fact, they often lived in caves along the main caravan routes in colonies of other lepers, bound together in their dance with death, calling out for whatever alms they could get for essentials like food. They lived off the scraps of society because to society they were nothing but scraps.

When they moved about they were required to shout "Unclean! Unclean!" so that healthy people could avoid being in close proximity. Meanwhile, the relentless disease ate away at their bodies, distorting their features, even as it ate away at their pride and whatever dignity they had before they contracted the disease. Long before these unfortunates were physically dead, they were dead to their families and their community, even forbidden to practice their religion with those who were deemed "clean".

And so, into this setting comes Jesus, walking along the border between Galilee and Samaria. One of the ten lepers was even more of an outcast to a Jew than were the nine others, for he was a Samaritan. Samaritans were hated as a half-breed, syncretist race who held to a corrupt, compromised religion. That this hatred was ill founded did not really cross the minds of the Jewish leadership. And so, in the eyes of a Jewish rabbi like Jesus it should have been hard to imagine anyone lower than a Samaritan leper.

And thus the scene is set. We see Jesus walking along and, standing far off, the lepers beg Jesus for mercy. What did they want? What could they expect? Did they hope for a few coins, some bread or dried meat? Did they hope for a blessing or perhaps a kind word. Could these lowest of the low actually hope for a miracle?  And why would a Jewish rabbi help them at all, knowing that the priests had condemned them to this life. How could he afford to do anything contrary to custom and law?

Well, Jesus does not break the law nor does he do anything that indicates that there is a miracle afoot. He makes no gestures of healing, does not touch them or come near to them, does not say anything to them that would indicate that he is doing anything for them at all. He simply treats them as if they are healed. And so he commands them to go and show themselves to their priests.

But, why would they? They are a mess, covered with sores, their features distorted, some beyond recognition. Why go to the priests only to be rejected yet again? Had they not suffered enough rejection for ten lifetimes? After all, the priests held their lives in their hands. They decided who was clean and who was unclean. They decided how severe the uncleanliness was and how the affected person was to deal with it.

Yet Jesus, a rabbi, told them to go to the priests as if they were clean. And here is the first miracle: they obeyed. As I have said many times before, trusting obedience is the most rudimentary form of faith: to trust and obey may not seem attractive to us individualists, but it is the first step in faith. Belief "in" something or someone comes later. We do not know why they trusted Jesus and obeyed him. Luke does not say. But many of the graces of God are not explained. I believe that their trusting obedience had to come from some place beyond themselves. It could not have come out of any grace filled experience they had up to that point in their wretched lives. It was a gift of faith.

And so, uncured, they go as they are told to do. And, as they go, the second miracle occurs: they are healed. They trusted and obeyed before they were healed, and having done so they find that they are, in fact, healed.  And nine of them just keep right on going. Apparently they make no connection between their healing and the strange instruction of Jesus.  Like us when we are healed, sometimes we are so happy just to be well that we forget why it happened or who brought it about.

But one leper, the Samaritan, makes the connection between the healing and the healer. He comes back, praising God at the top of his lungs, throwing himself on the ground in front of Jesus and thanking him profusely: "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

And Jesus doesn't pick him up, dust him off and tell him some little comforting parable or saying to remind him of what just happened. Instead, Jesus asks two not quite rhetorical questions. "Hey, what happened to the other nine?" and "Did only you, a foreigner, see fit to come back and praise God?" Then Jesus tells him to go on his way because his faith has "made him whole" (or, "has healed" him).

Now, I know most modern Bible translations say that the man's faith "healed" him. But that is far too obvious a conclusion, and robs the story of its extraordinary power. I believe that phrase should read "your faith has saved you." Luke is trying to tell us something vitally important here and most modern translations are missing the point. The Greek word we see here translated as "healed," "made well," and "made whole" is precisely the word used throughout the New Testament for "saved."

And here is the point I believe Luke is making: we know that all ten were "healed," or "made whole." That is obvious. But only one came back. And that one was "saved" by having done so.  Only one, the Samaritan, turned back to the source of his healing and expressed thanksgiving: joyous, outrageous gratitude; thanksgiving directed at God through the instrument of his healing: Jesus. Only one felt and understood the source of his salvation.

So, what is the difference between the thankful one and the nine who do not come back to say thank you? The ten lepers were all dead people. Spiritually and socially, and, increasingly, physically, they were considered dead. And every one of them would have given just about anything to be made well again, to simply be "normal" and to live a normal life. And Jesus gave all ten of them that. So, what is the only real difference?

Just this. What Luke is really talking about here is the possibility of a spiritual resurrection: a resurrection that gives them a chance to restore relationship with God and not to be just "normal" like other people. And if they did not know that Jesus is about the task resurrecting people to more than just physical life but to be in right relationship to God, then Luke knew exactly that. Story after story in his Gospel portray this role that Jesus plays throughout his ministry.

Luke knew that all of the healed lepers were once "outside" of normal society, and he knew that all are made "insiders" once again by Jesus. But only one, the Samaritan, realizes a spiritual resurrection. This one is not only healed, he is "saved," delivered, made whole, not only in body but in spirit. He alone comes back to say "thanks." He alone realizes that Jesus has now established a relationship with him, and has renewed his relationship with God.  Most importantly, he alone recognizes that he is saved and was accepted by Jesus while he was yet a leper, while he was still sick, untouchable -- before he got well.

That is the true message Luke brings to us in this little story.

Personally I believe that Jesus is saying to the Samaritan, "Your acceptance of my embracing, life giving love, your faith in me even before you knew you were healed, and your recognition that the source of your healing is God; that faith has saved you."

As for the others they too got a wonderful gift for they were healed. The healing of the leprosy came with no strings attached. There was no requirement that they turn back and thank the one who healed them.  And, like us, there is little likelihood that they will. You see they are all back to being "normal." And give it a year and they will forget all about who healed them. After all, their skin is clear, their sores are healed, there is a mortgage to pay, children to raise, shopping to be done, and work to do to make all of that possible.

But for me there remains a certain pathos in that outcome for the nine. What a shame it is to have met the Lord and giver of life and to come away from that encounter only "normal."

What happened to the other nine should remind the Christian believer that we really cannot ignore the One who blesses us, and in so doing not recognize the source of life and the offer of life in Christ's name.

And for my all of my readers, Christian or not, I would hope that you come away from this essay remembering that we really do not get by in this life without the help of others. And when someone comes into our lives and comes bearing life giving, life sparing or life changing gifts, be that person divine or human, we need to ask ourselves: do we both recognize and give thanks for the gifts we are given; or do we take them for granted and believe that no thanksgivings are in order?

The choice, of course, is always ours.


Monday, August 9, 2010

God's Blessing

blessing headline
I haven’t written a post specifically on faith since May 11. However, it is important to me to write only when I think I have something useful to say. My short series on alcoholism certainly was driven by my faith and I shared with you its central role in my recovery.
I have spent a great deal time during this period praying, reading, and thinking about what I could write on faith issues that might be helpful and relevant to you in your daily lives. I hope that this essay will strengthen you on your own spiritual journey.
Blessings and peace to you all.

The Bible speaks many times about the blessing of God and the blessings that God bestows on us. It speaks of God blessing particular individuals, even groups and entire nations. Israel, for example, is blessed, not just for itself, but so it could be a blessing to all nations.

But it also is clear that God bestows blessings on everyone, not just on the religious, and not even only upon on the good, but also upon the evil. Sunshine and rain, two essential ingredients of life, Mathew tells us, fall upon both the good and the evil.

The Bible also speaks about the blessings we should bestow on others. And, of course, it often tells us that we should bless God, both in gratitude for the blessings God gives to us, but also simply because God is God, and worthy of praise, blessing and worship.

But I want to move beyond these theological generalities, because, while they set general parameters for understanding blessing, I would like to bring the discussion down to a much more personal level, one with which we all, hopefully, can identify.

I believe that most people today would say that most of the thanks for the blessings they receive goes to themselves. If we are blessed, mostly we figure we have earned it. We believe that we deserve to be blessed.
A few of us will acknowledge those who came before us and laid the groundwork for our successes, whatever they are. But, still, we believe that we are the ones who built upon that foundation and made it into something. They gave us a leg up, but we did the real work. So, still, we think that we deserve the blessings we get.

The interesting thing about these notions is that they are, of course, partly correct. But only partly. There is something missing in that kind of thinking, something that we have not necessarily consciously forgotten, but that was forgotten long before we came along. Unless we are taught what that is, we will inevitably place our trust in the one we think is the source of our blessings: our own self.

And in doing so we still miss something we have lost, perhaps never really known that we had. That is because we, as a species, lost that something long before there was a church, or a temple, synagogue, or mosque. It was lost before there was anything like a formal “religion.”

And that is an awareness of God as the source of all blessing.

Long ago we lost the understanding that we wholly belong to God, that we are so dependent upon God that our very existence is in God’s hands. We forgot that our lives are nothing more than pure gifts, gifts of God’s steadfast love.

We have forgotten who we are and to whom we belong.

Now, if you are a believer and even, perhaps, a regularly worshiping believer, you may think that what I am saying does not apply to you. And if it really does not I am very happy for you. Unfortunately, I cannot say that it does not apply to me.

The truth is that day in, day out, I hear myself complain, or I get anxious, about things that are not going my way, or I try to control my life and the lives of those around me, seldom doing a very good job of that. And in the process I inevitably forget whose I am and how I am daily blessed by God. And I, of all people, should not do that. Allegedly, I know better. Alas, what I know does not always translate into how I live my faith.

For me, there is a simple word for such forgetfulness: sin. And, unfortunately for many of us, when we feel a bit too self-righteous, the Bible is there to remind us that we are all sinners. Not some, ALL.

The Bible stories in Genesis that tell us about the time just before Noah and about Noah illustrate the importance of God’s blessing. I will paraphrase the essence of these stories as I go along. [I won’t bore you with lots of scripture quotes, but, if you wish, you can read Chapters 6 through 9 of Genesis for the details. They are short and won’t take long.]
After the great flood, the story says that God tells Noah that God will establish a covenant with him, his descendants, and with every living creature. I doubt that Noah had much trouble understanding the importance of that covenant given that God had just wiped out every living thing on the earth, except for the animals and Noah’s family that were saved on the ark that God had told Noah to build.

God had wiped out all the rest of the land borne creation because the people had already forgotten the source of their blessings. By chapter 6 of Genesis they already had forgotten. To give you an idea how early that is in the Bible, look at it this way. A typical Bible is 1000 plus pages. Chapter 6 of Genesis will be found within the first 5-7 pages of that Bible, right after the stories of the expulsion from the Garden and of Cain and Able. Soon. Really soon.

According to the story, the people were already so evil that God was, literally, “sick to his guts” with their sin. And the Bible tells us that this “grieved him to his heart,” and concludes with a quote from the maker of heaven and earth saying, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created; people, together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But……

But, after the flood, God decided to make a covenant with Noah which would guarantee the salvation of not only humankind but of all of the creatures of the earth. God did this because God saw in Noah a righteous man. And Noah found favor in God’s sight.

In this tiny remnant family God saw enough goodness, enough understanding of to whom we creatures belong, to decide to keep our story going. So, as the story goes, without God remembering Noah, I would not be writing this and you would not be reading it.

And here is an amazing thing. Something that we inevitably overlook in this story. The story of the Noahic covenant starts with Verse One of Chapter Nine. And it starts out with a phrase we always skip over, perhaps because it seems so natural, so simple, so expected that we don’t even notice it. It starts, “Then God blessed Noah….”
Ah. That simple phrase. It just isn’t very dramatic, is it? I mean, we remember the big things that God does in the Bible, don’t we? We remember all the mighty acts of God in history. Those are the ones they teach in Bible School. Almost every child of a practicing religious family can tell you about Noah and the Ark.

Yet the blessing is by far God’s greatest act in that story, for without God’s blessing Noah would have failed even after the flood. It was the blessing that allowed the world to go on to become the world we know today.

Go back and look at the story of the creation in Chapter One. What does God do for humankind after God makes us on the sixth day? God blesses us. We are nothing without that blessing.

When people forget the blessing of their creator no good results. That is the moral of the story and of almost every other significant story in the Bible. Forget the blessing. Forget God. And God will not take that lightly. Fortunately, Noah did not forget that he was blessed by God.

It is easy for us to lose sight of the simple rhythms of God’s blessings in our lives. But we must not forget that there is a continuous, constant, steadfast presence of God in our lives, and it comes from those countless blessings. It is God’s blessing that brings to us fertility, family, nourishment, growth, nurture, love, and well-being. And these are the things that sustain our lives and that give quality to living. These are the “Simple Gifts” of life itself.
Noah knew that. Noah knew that he could endure the hardships of life, could endure the endless days on the ark as he rode out the flood, could endure the pain and loss of so many friends and relatives who chose not to believe, who chose to forget the blessing, who would not listen to God. He could endure because he knew that he belonged to God. He knew who he was, where he fit in the scheme of things, and, most of all to whom he belonged.

And, he knew that even before the flood. Before anyone, even God, spoke the words of blessing over him Noah knew who he was and to whom he belonged. He knew. And because he knew God considered him righteous.

Can we know as much? Or must we see amazing signs and mighty wonders to believe? Do we need to see some miraculous and overwhelming act of God before we remember to whom we owe our lives? It is not likely that in this lifetime we will see one of those mighty acts of God.
But if we just look around we can see God’s blessings everyday. The beauty those blessings bring is all around us. The world itself is a beautiful, wondrous, improbable place. It is a blessing that you can laugh, or work, or play, or think, or feel pain, or cry, or love and be loved. God provides life to us every day. Why do we take that for granted?

If we remember nothing else can we remember just this one thing? Can we remember that we are not necessary?!  Surely that thought has crossed your mind at one time or another. Our lives do not have to be. There is no necessity that we exist. One egg. One sperm. One particular egg. One particular sperm. That makes you. Any other sperm, any other egg, and you don’t exist.

Do you realize that in countless ways every day of your life you are exposed, vulnerable, to things that could eliminate your life in a single heartbeat? But here we are. And that is a blessing.

The life we have been given; the air we breathe; the people we know and love, and who love us, all these and countless more things we take for granted, all are blessings. They are gifts. Gifts from the one who created us and sustains us and loves us. Not “us Christians.” Not “us Jews.” Not “us Muslims.” Not “us atheists.” ALL of us.  All of us are blessed: by the God who gives us life.

For me it comes down to some choices. First, I choose to believe that this world and my life as part of it are not simply random acts of indifferent chance. Others do not share that belief. They are entitled to their beliefs, or lack thereof. Each must decide for him or her self what they believe about that fundamental choice.
Second, I have to constantly ask myself two questions lest I fall into the fallacy of self sufficiency: “Am I my own man, or am I God’s? And, if I am God’s, do I owe my life to my hard work or to God’s blessing?”

Too often we think that we are too busy to think about questions like these. Yet at times of stress, of grief, of illness, or great loss, times when there is no time to think, we often think that we are not blessed. Those are times when our self reliance and our self confidence in our ability to control our lives fail us. Those are the times when we feel most lost, most alone.

We feel alone because we have put our faith in ourselves, and when we fail ourselves we all too often blame that on God. It is very hard, indeed, to look in a mirror at times like those. But we must. We must be honest about who really failed. And we must, at our lowest times, remember God’s blessings.

We must, because it is when the god we have made out of ourselves, or our success, or our science, or our technology has let us down, and we finally realize that we cannot bless ourselves in ways that really count – that is when we must remember what it means to be blessed by God.

But we do not have to wait for some personal tragedy to start thinking about God’s blessing. We can take a chapter out of Noah’s book. Noah knew he was blessed long before the crisis came. He had thought about it and pondered it in the quiet recesses of his heart. He knew.

We too can know in our hearts that we are blessed; that we belong to God and that God takes care of God’s own. We can know that we are blessed because God has given us our very lives. We can know that we are blessed because God loves us. All of us.

It may sound trite, but it does make sense to count our blessings. Add them up. Get a sense of how totally pervasive they are in our lives. Get a sense of how totally indebted to God we are for our well being.

And then go out and pass on some of those blessings that you have been given to someone else. There is much to be thankful for, and one way to show your gratitude is by paying it forward to someone who needs to feel a blessing at a difficult point in his or her life. You are blessed, and, you can be a blessing to someone. It is a wonderful feeling.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Weavers: A Musical Tribute

My latest in the Musical Tribute post series. A tribute to the group that started the popularity of folk music in post WWII America. Videos included. At my mirror Open Salon blog.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Obama: Will He, Can He, Be the One We Thought We Elected?

 I don't write about politics much anymore, but this nation is at a cusp in its direction and we ought to think about and discuss something that can determine the direction of the nation for the next decade.

Try as one might, it is not possible even for a President to be all things to all people. Nor is it possible to be the President of all of the people, if one insists that “all the people” includes giving to the rich, the spoiled, the pathological, the amoral and the immoral what they believe they deserve.

But President Obama is trying to do precisely that. And in the process, the nation, which lost its moral compass under the Bush Administration and has since been wandering in the wilderness, is in the process of reclaiming the dubious title of the “United States of ME,” forgetting that America is about “WE the people,” not “ME the greedy.”

But the President seems to have forgotten this. Rather, he is content to be the one who tries hard not to offend, or to be offended, regardless that he should find some things disgustingly offensive and should be mightily offended by others. He seems more content to be the professor who calmly discusses the subtle nuances of the many shades of gray as a black cloud descends over his Presidency.

Yes, this is the same man who showed us one side of himself during the campaign, the side of the progressive, center-left liberal who championed the rights of the poor, the disenfranchised, the working folk, and, yes, the middle class who, we were constantly told, were the 97% plus of us who made less than a quarter of a million dollars a year.

This is the man those of us who cared about America as a nation of all the people could get behind; a man who offered a clear alternative to everything Bush and his tools stood for. [With the shameful exception of continuing the war in Afghanistan.]

And what was his first act of consequence? To pass a Stimulus Act skewed almost entirely to bailing out Wall Street, a bill that offered but a trickle of funds to those who needed it most, the working people of America. Rather than complain about bailing out institution after institution that was “too big to fail” the Administration threw itself at the feet of the rich and invited them to take what they needed, after first inviting the financial foxes to run the chicken coop.

Then he said nothing in response to Republican complaint about bailing out the auto industry, an industry where real people were employed and where the government exposed a few tens of billions, a subsidy which is working and will be paid back, kept people employed, saved an industry that actually adds jobs and value to the GDP, rather than a Wall Street house of cards that adds phantom value through the trading of paper and the goosing up the “value” of worthless derivatives.

But he was not done. While urging passage of the most comprehensive overhaul of health care in the history of the nation he turned around and did not fight for a public option and did not insist on coverage of the now 45 million uninsured, settling for 36 million and then offering them only “high risk” pools run by, of course, the very insurance companies that ran our health care into the ground in the first place. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Now we are down to a basic political issue: will the Presidentt quit thinking about whether he personally can win in 2012 and start now calling out the Republicans for their obstructionism, their incessant “just say no to everything” campaign? Or will he be left with a Congress that cannot actually get anything done in the remaining two years of his first term? Will he, convinced that he can compromise with Republicans, in spite of the clear and unequivocal fact of perpetual Republican negativism, try to reason with the unreasonable for the next two or six years?

In the next couple of weeks he will have a chance to prove which Obama we will see: the moral leader of the nation, or the weak, deal cutter who negotiates from timidity.
The tax cuts expire soon. A Democratic bill has been introduced in each house to extend them to all but the top 2-3% of earners in this country, those making over $250,000 a year. That windfall to the rich would be allowed to expire and the income from their paying a few percentage points more taxes could be used to fund the programs that we desperately need: including feeding the poor and helping the states avoid going bankrupt.

The Republicans already have told us that they will vote against any extension that does not include all of the original tax cuts, including those to the rich. They will argue, using the usual smoke and mirrors, that the economy demands that we treat everyone “equally.”

The counter argument is simple: The top 3% don’t need the tax break. The lower 97% does. The top 3% will hardly feel the increase. Large numbers of the bottom 20% are literally starving, and/or out of work, without health care, without hope, and hurting beyond comprehension.

There is only, literally, one man in American who can effectively and convincingly make the only  argument that is ethically correct, sway the voting public, and expose the Republicans in Congress for the morally corrupt puppets of big business that they are. That man is the one who ran for President two years ago. The one we have watched in the White House these past 18 months cannot and will not take aggressive action.

Time is surely running out, not just on this Congress, and not particularly on this President. But it is running out on the chance for this country to honor its moral obligations to its people. Who really wants even two more years of what we have now? Its time for our President to remember where he came from, who put him in office and why.

This country is hurling toward yet another decade of moral bankruptcy. We have lost our way. Have we forgotten all that America means? Have we forgotten what “and justice for all” means?

Which President will emerge now?


Monday, July 19, 2010

I am an Alcoholic, Part Three, Final, "To the Bottom"

I have struggled with how to wrap up this brief series. I do not want to go into detail because most of the people who were friends, some of whom were also alcoholics, are still living and I have no right to expose them, even disguised, in this series.

So rather than discuss details that involve particular individuals beyond my immediate family, I would like to reinforce a couple of the truths and to dispel a myth about alcoholism by using myself as the example. Challenging the myth requires a bit of “tooting my own horn,” which makes me uncomfortable. But I also cannot expect you to take my word for the myth's lack of validity.

The simple fact is that the essence of my addictive behavior was set within the first years of my drinking. I drank for the feeling that alcohol gave me: it lightened my burdens, reduced my anxieties, and made me feel mellow, while usually making me happy and extroverted. At times, though, it would unleash my fear, anger or self pity; and that was when I could hurt others the most. Under the influence of alcohol your cognitive ability to control emotions is greatly reduced while your emotions are heightened. And there is no question that alcohol fed my already rather large ego, which made me during those times hardly the epitome of the well adjusted person.

I did not drink periodically, nor did I drink in moderation. I drank daily and to excess. But I did not feel or appear “drunk” until I had many drinks. I had a “high tolerance” for the drug. I can only remember twice when I was “fall down” drunk, and alcohol never stopped me from remembering what I did and did not do. Rather, I was a highly productive “functional alcoholic.”

People who did not know me well did not know how heavy a drinker I was. This pattern never changed until the last year of my drinking when I gave up trying to have a life beyond drinking. Toward the end I was drinking literally from the time I got up until I went to bed, and I really didn’t care who knew it. I was at my bottom. But for the first 34 years I was nowhere near that bottom. The final fall was off a cliff, not down a sloping hill.

One of the truths of alcoholism that I want to reinforce is that I hurt mostly those who most cared about me, my loved ones. I was not an awful husband and father, but I was surely not a good one, even by my standards in those days. I was too often indifferent, unloving, overly strict, suspicious, jealous, tired, short fused, angry, and self absorbed. Those whom I loved did not come first. I did. Or perhaps I should say alcohol and my career came first.

Another truth of my alcoholism is that deep down I knew the damage that I was doing to those who loved me and yet I did nothing about it. If there was a choice between booze and them, and there was, I chose booze, all the while telling myself it was a “false choice,” and that they did not really understand me and the important things I was accomplishing. Yet I knew that was a lie when I left my family after 12 years and sought a divorce, but, even then, I told myself they were better off without me. Perhaps that was literally true, considering that I had no intention of stopping drinking. I will never know. But I know that the wounds from that divorce have never healed in my children.

The myth I would like to dispel is that alcoholics are not as productive, creative, smart, inventive, imaginative, and morally driven as are nonalcoholic members of society. While we all can easily identify alcoholics in history who disprove that myth, social propriety insists that alcoholics are wastrels and worthless.

I fervently believed that when I finally got sober. I believed it because for many years after I quit drinking I came to two conclusions about myself that supported the myth because I was afraid that if they were not true then I would go back to drinking.

The first conclusion about my self was that I had stepped all over others in my career in order to get to the top as quickly as I did; that I was egomaniacal and ruthless and let nothing stand in the way of my personal success.

And the second conclusion was that I would have gotten much further and been more successful than I was had I never been a drinker.

I no longer think that either of those conclusions is true.

It is true that I may have stayed longer in the government part of my career and may have, given time, advanced to higher positions, which would have involved accepting political appointments. But I was a career civil servant and proud of my nonpartisan role in government, and it is highly likely that I still would have tired of working for the government and would have moved on in any case.

And I can not remember one time when I was given a promotion that I had not earned. I believed fervently in meritocracy. Nor did I ever do anything that would have otherwise stood in the way of someone else getting the same job as I got, or a better one.

To help put the lie to the myth, let me give a sketch of my life as a practicing alcoholic.

After the first three semesters of college at Washburn U. in Topeka, I got married on my 19th birthday. I dropped out of school for a semester to earn enough money to go back, and I went to Wichita U the following Fall. I had decided to study and completed my course work with a 4.0 average, taking extra courses, while working full time. I graduated in 1960, BA, cum laude, in Political Science.

I then accepted a post graduate teaching assistantship at Colorado U. at Boulder. I completed the MA course work, 30 hours, in two semesters, 4.0 average, while teaching two American Government undergraduate courses and a senior seminar in Constitutional Law.

I left Colorado for Cornell U. on a post-graduate fellowship at the end of that year to work on a doctorate. However, I was deeply in debt from school loans, had by then three children to care for, and decided to quit after one year.

I went to work for Gov. Nelson Rockefeller at Albany in the NY state Executive Development program. During that year I wrote my Master’s thesis (political theory) for Colorado U. I took the Federal Management Internship Exam the following Spring, scoring in the top 1% nationwide. I received offers from many federal agencies and chose to go to the Bureau of the Budget, Executive Office of the President. I was 23.

I moved up annually from GS 9, to 11, 12, 13 and 14. I wrote and reviewed proposed legislation, and was responsible for reviewing the budgets of the Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management, US Geological Survey, and Federal water resources management programs.

When President Nixon came into office I moved to the Bureau of Land Management, as Director of the Division of Energy and Minerals, GS 15, responsible for management of the Government’s programs under the Mining Law and the Minerals Leasing Act, including Outer Continental Shelf Oil Leasing programs. I was 29.

Three years later McGeorge Bundy, then at the Ford Foundation, asked former TVA Chairman, David Freeman, to launch a high profile study of US energy policy. I knew Dave from working with him when he was on the White House staff under LBJ. He asked me to come to the Ford Foundation with him. Dave became Director of the Energy Policy Project and I was Deputy Director. We published a library of 23 books on US energy policy. I co-authored three of those and edited others. I also designed a new methodology for the Project into which all of the research flowed: “Alternative Scenarios Analysis.”

During this time I gave speeches throughout the US and in Europe, appeared on numerous panels and wrote and co-authored several professional papers and journal articles. I also taught at George Washington U., the Aspen Institute, the Federal Executive Institute at Williamsburg, and appeared on TV and radio in support of the recommendations of the Project.

After the completion of the Project, Elmer Staats, Comptroller General of the US, asked me to come to the General Accounting Office as Director of a new Office of Special Projects where I would implement policy analysis within the GAO using the scenarios analysis methodology. I went to the GAO at GS 17 and the next year, they created the Division of Energy and Materials and appointed me head of that Division at GS 18, the highest level civil service appointment. I was 35.

During the time at GAO we wrote between 30 and 50 reports to Congress a year, and I testified many times before congressional committees, was interviewed often by newspapers, magazines, TV and radio, particularly National Public Radio.

By age 38, I was burned out and tired of offering the same solutions to the energy crisis over and over and seeing essentially nothing happen. So I moved on to NYC as VP of a chemical company, ending up in St. Louis as CEO of a subsidiary of the company. After turning it into a profitable operation, I was out of a job, but with enough of a parachute that I was able to buy a small retail energy conservation company in St. Louis, which I owned for the next ten years.

All of this time I was drinking continuously and heavily. I was smoking 3 plus packs a day and getting about 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night. I was working 60 to 80 hours a week, usually 6 or 7 days a week. I was a successful, productive “workaholic alcoholic.” That I might have gone higher, further, faster is to me, looking back on it today, highly doubtful. At every turn I was the youngest ever to hold the positions I held, or positions were created for me to fill.

In terms of my public service career, I was an effective, competent, and innovative thinker in my areas of expertize, and was recognized as such by my peers, and by the academic and political communities that counted. And I was an alcoholic.

But, I was not a success as a husband and father, and there is no one but me to blame for that. That I could have been a much better father is, without a doubt, true.
In the end after my life all crashed down on me, I was saved, and not by my own doing. I do not know “why me?” But I know how and by whom.

Most of all I was blessed, after being alone for over 10 years, to have met Sue, who saw enough in me to love me in spite of my drinking and then to make me face a choice when I hit bottom: her or the bottle. And for the first time in 35 years I chose correctly. It was the best decision I ever made, and all of my academic and career successes pale into insignificance in the light of that decision.

And there is one thing I am sure of about that decision. When Sue forced that decision on me I was in no condition to make it on my own. I owe that to God. God gave me her and then God put Jim White into my life to show me the path to sobriety at exactly the time I hit bottom. Jim took me to my first AA meeting and stood by my side for three years until he was too frail to continue as my sponsor.

That is why I know that my 20 years of sobriety is a miracle. All we have left are miracles when we have no capacity to create for ourselves a future, when we are beaten down, consumed by something that we have no strength to resist, nor the will to try. Some higher power has to reach into us from the outside and lift us up out of the pit of despair.

God did that for me. While I had been a religious person all of my life, even when I was drinking, I know now that God was not then my higher power. Alcohol was. But when I got sober I dedicated the rest of my life to God, and to the service of others in God’s name. I have never once come close to regretting that.
It has been my intention with this series to show how this one alcoholic has, by the grace of God, achieved the reprieve of sobriety. I am not cured; but I am in remission, one day at a time.

I do not think of myself as unique. Rather, just the opposite. While the details differ there are common things that bind all the addicted. We have many more things in common that we have differences.

I also know this: If I can make it, so can others who share my addiction. And I will continue to reach my hand out to any who will take it. I will help them to walk the path I have been blessed to walk these past 20 years. We can walk it together.

God bless you all.


Author tags:
health, 20100719, addiction, my story, habits off alcoholism, alcoholics anonymous, alcoholic, alcoholism

Monday, July 12, 2010

I am an Alcoholic, Part Two


I have long felt that a key sign of maturation is the willingness to appreciate and live with delayed gratification. A practicing alcoholic has no concept of that. The alcoholic understands only that booze solves the immediate, felt problem. If it hurts the booze anesthetizes the pain; if there is sadness, the booze can, for a while, make you feel, if not happy, at least indifferent and mellow.

I started drinking because I was hurt and angry. I felt trapped in a life I could not control. I was 15. But it was not my age that drove me to drink; it was my feelings, and my inability to “control” my life. Control is a big issue for the alcoholic, practicing or otherwise. And, while booze actually takes away your control, and releases your inhibitions, when drinking you feel like you are “in control”, right up to the point where you start the slide toward hitting bottom.

One of my strongest memories of my early drinking was leaving the house after my mother had beaten me with whatever she could get her hands on. It happened so often that I don’t even remember what she was screaming about, or beating me with.

I vividly remember sneaking out of the house after she went to bed, and going over to my friend’s house, which was on the property of a cemetery where his father was the caretaker. My friend and I went out to the maintenance shed, got a couple of six packs from an old refrigerator, and walked out into the cemetery to drink. He had several older brothers and his Dad let them keep beer in that fridge so it was easy to slip our beer into it and no one was the wiser.

We sat, leaning up against a couple of tombstones and drank, talking about everything we hated about our lives and what we were going to do when we were free to do what we wanted. We had big plans and ideas about how everything would be different, how we would make our marks on the world and show our parents that we were not losers.

After high school I went on to college, but he ended up working for his Dad in the cemetery. Some years later, I learned that he he had joined the Army and gone to Viet Nam. He came back dead. Some plans don’t work out.

But I remember thinking many times when I was climbing the success ladder in DC and NYC that, “This one’s for [him]” as I lifted my scotch in a silent toast. I was determined to prove that we were both right all those years before when we laughed and dreamed big dreams under the stars in that cemetery.

By the time I was in college I was a full blown alcoholic, but it never crossed my mind. That is not unusual in any way. Most alcoholics not only don’t know they are alcoholics in the early years of their drinking, but they look around and see others who drink too much and think that they are glad that they are not like this one or that one. The ability to lie to oneself is limitless.

I was 17 when I was kicked out of my house the month before my high school graduation. I went to live with my uncle for a while and then got a basement room I shared with another student near the college campus. I lived there for three semesters.

During that time I drank every day, went to school, and worked long hours first in a gas station and then a grocery store. Since my mother had taken, literally, all of the money I had saved for college by working construction the summer before my senior high school year, I had no choice but to work to have enough for tuition. Work was not new to me and I didn’t mind working since I had been working 30 to 40 hours a week since I was 12, turning most of my earnings over to my mother. That may seem harsh but I never noticed that part of it. To me it was pretty normal for a large poor family.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college I joined the laborer’s union, and worked as a hod carrier for an brick mason who was a heavy drinker. We were helping build a Frito Lay plant on the edge of town. He always drank his lunch at a nearby bar and I went with him and did the same. I got into his habit of drinking beer with tomato juice in it for lunch along with eating a couple of boiled eggs. He called the drink a "working man’s bloody mary."

Carrying bricks up a ladder in sweltering heat was hard, dirty work but I actually enjoyed it. By then I was 6’2” and a wiry 160 pounds and was developing muscles I had no idea existed. The booze helped me feel adult, self sufficient, strong, resourceful, and able to conquer the world. And, at that point, I was still not feeling any really bad effects of my drinking. I had become a pro and knew both how much booze I needed to feel mellow and how much would make me feel bad the next day. I had begun my booze balancing act, at the age of 18.

College was something I had intended to do from the time I was a small boy. I always knew I would have to do it on my own because it was all my Dad could do to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. But college course work took second to trying out my wings in the world. I was on my own.

And I really didn’t study much during that first year and a half of college. It was easy to slack off because learning has always come easy to me. I managed As and Bs in all my courses just by attending and listening, taking notes, and crashing the books the week before finals. At that point in my life, to me and my buddies booze and hanging out together were more important than good grades. I later changed my mind about that.

Looking back on those earliest drinking years some things seem clear to me when I think now about young drinkers.

First, Young drinkers always offer a “reason” (excuse?) for their drinking. The need to justify seems almost universal. Yet, in spite of what they may tell you, they seldom if ever start drinking for the “taste.” The fact is that I know few who actually thought that the first taste of beer was really wonderful. Beer is basically a bitter drink and taste for it, and most other forms of alcohol, is acquired. Yet I soon did come to like the taste of beer and quickly learned what brands I liked and did not like. But, even from the beginning, I think that if a Pepsi had the same alcohol in it as a beer I would have never popped the top on a can of beer. Beer was the drink that was easily available to an underage drinker. And it was cheap.

And, in spite of what they deeply believe is true, chances are about a million to one that no one “made them start drinking,” or “caused” them to drink. Yet there is a strong desire to blame their drinking on someone else, especially if it is excessive from the beginning. As you know, I blamed my drinking on my home life, and particularly on my mother who was abusive and had serious psychological issues.

But there is a truth that lies under all of these self delusions, and the attempt to delude others. The bottom line is that we start drinking for the effect that alcohol has.

So if someone tells you that they started drinking because wine tasted so good, or the bourbon was so smooth, or the scotch was so smokey on the tongue, well, I am sure that they believe that. But the truth is that if there were no buzz, they would not drink it. Likewise, if they tell you that someone or something “drove” them to drink, you know that most people deal with similar issues to theirs without pouring themselves into a bottle.

Second, whether they know it or not, they drink to escape, to change their “now.” They cannot see gratification coming soon, if ever, and they have no concept that delayed gratification can be worth the effort to wait. The pain is now. The hurt is now. The anger is now. The hatred is now. And alcohol offers a “now” solution.

Third, once they start drinking, pressure to continue drinking from drinking friends is enormous. It is not by accident that those who actually stop drinking must, to have continued success, not only give up the booze, they must give up their playmates and their playpens. It may work for a while to go back to the same old haunts and run around with the same old drinking friends, drinking Coke or Pepsi while your friends drink beer, wine and liquor, but, if you make a habit of that, you are playing with fire and you will get burned.

Fourth, as important as control of one’s life is to an alcoholic, once alcohol takes hold there is no “control” left when it comes to drinking. An alcoholic can no more control his drinking than he can control the amount of air he decides to breathe. Having one or two drinks is a foreign concept, not because the alcoholic does not want to only drink one or two in a social setting, but because s/he can’t drink only one or two.

The great desire for control can happen in other aspects of the life of a drinker. And that can go on successfully for decades. I could “control” how well I did in school, how well I did later in my career, how and where I worked, and most all other aspects of my life. But, from the first drink, while I was sure I was controlling my drinking, while I was balancing on that tightrope, the truth was I was slowly losing my balance and would eventually fall. Alcohol is patient and cunning and willing to wait for the fall.

To be continued.

Note: a number of readers who are not members of Open Salon have asked how to contact me. You can send an email to

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I’m an Alcoholic. Part One

“Hello, I’m Monte, and I’m an alcoholic. It has been 20 years since my last drink.”

On June 28, 2010 I celebrated 20 years of sobriety, one day at a time. I had forgotten the date until Sue came to me and put her arms around me and said, “Congratulations. Its your anniversary.” I dug into my billfold, and pulled out a faded old wallet card from Alcoholics Anonymous of St. Louis, signed by my beloved sponsor, Jim White. Sue was right. It has been 20 years.

Jim has since passed on and I have gotten old. Old and sober. Had I not gotten sober I have no doubt alcohol would have killed me long before now. I believe in miracles and my sobriety is a miracle.

Jim White was 70 years old and 26 years sober when he took me under his wing. So I figure that after 20 years of sobriety and at the age of 71 maybe it is time to tell my story to someone other than the friends gathered around the table at the AA meetings I have attended, and the many dear friends I have sponsored, mentored, counseled and loved who also share my addiction. It is time to share it with you.

And, with the grace of God, perhaps I might reach one or more drinkers who will find something in my story that will resonate with them, something that will tell them that their kind of drinking is far more than just an occasional social indulgence, and that will encourage them to find the strength to walk away from the closest friend they have ever known: alcohol.

I would like to set the stage for my story by talking about some of the fundamental habits of my alcoholism. There is nothing particularly unique about my alcoholism. These habits, along with a string of others I could mention, are generic and are exhibited by most alcoholics. They are the habits of addiction.

Without understanding some of the basic habits of the addictive personality it is not easy to see the "logic" that we who suffer from addiction see in our actions. That those actions are not "normal" does not occur to us until after we are "clean and sober."

I started drinking when I was 15. My home life was a mess. My mother had serious mental problems and was abusive. I was nine years older than the oldest of my four brothers and I was expected to help care for them, keep the house clean, go to school, and work a full time job, turning most of the money over to my mother. Beer took me away from all of that, if only for a few stolen hours late at night. Soon it was every night.

I never met a beer I didn’t like, and I never could have only one. In beginning I never drank anything but beer. My friends who were 18 could buy beer for me, but not liquor so it was the natural choice. In those early years I seldom had hangovers, even if I drank a couple of six packs.

Later, that would change. When I turned 21 and could buy liquor, beer stopped being the drink of choice and then came headaches, hangovers, and, toward the end, severe panic attacks and the fear of spending any time in public. It was stock up on booze, stay home and drink. Alcohol was closing in for the kill and I was an active party to my own destruction.

I didn’t notice it but very early on there were habits developing that I would carry with me for the entire time I would drink.

– Lying.

Lying is essential to the alcoholic. First you lie to yourself and tell yourself that you are not drinking too much, that you deserve to drink, and that you can stop any time you want to. Then you lie to everybody else. You say that you only had two drinks when the two drinks were six ounces of scotch each with a spritz of club soda, that you have not had a drink at all when you have been drinking vodka to cover the smell, that you are sick or tired or busy or sleepy or whatever other thing you can think of to cover your drinking.

The more and longer you drink the more you tell yourself that your lies are working, and the less they actually are. In the end you are the only one who thinks that nobody knows you are a drunk.

– Protecting the supply.

From the beginning you are hooked. It is my firm belief that no one slides into alcoholism. You are born with it. What can change is that you increase your drinking to the point where you finally realize that you have a problem, thus convincing yourself that you are “becoming” an alcoholic.

And one sure sign is that you notice how you protect the supply. If you are underage that comes naturally. It did for me because my mother would physically abuse me if she knew I drank. So I hid the supply with other boys who were older and allowed to drink. It was worth sharing a few beers with them to stash my booze with them. But mostly I needed them to buy the booze for me.

Later, as an adult I would squirrel away bottles of scotch, gin and vodka around the house, in the car, and, toward the end even at work. And if it looked like I would run out and could not get any more quickly I would literally have a panic attack. The solution to that was never to wonder whether it was normal to have a panic attack over not being able to buy liquor on Sunday. Rather it was to buy my scotch by the half gallon and stock several half gallons away from sight in the basement – my liquid savings account.

– Choosing the right friends

This is seldom at first a conscious thing. But the alcoholic will soon gravitate toward other drinkers. As time goes on you become aware how uncomfortable you are if you have to spend, say, an entire afternoon or evening with people who do not drink. You are nervous and feel trapped and you know that a couple of drinks would take the edge off. So you make excuses not to go back to their place or to functions where drinks are not served.

And, if you have to go to a place where there are no drinks served, you have three or four stiff drinks before you leave, preferably vodka, brush your teeth, use mouthwash, carry a breath spray and go. And be sure to leave early.

When I was in Washington, DC I made sure that I went to lunch with friends who had two or three drinks before eating, usually martinis, and I went to happy hour with those who had a few before going home. Those turned out to be the same people, and naturally became the ones that I spent time with on weekends, going to sporting events, parties, etc.

This, in turn, led to a justification for my own drinking: “Everybody in DC drinks. I don’t drink any more than they do.” Of course not. They were mirrors of me. So you choose the friends who share the same best friend you do: alcohol.

– Blaming your problem on something and/or someone else

When you come home at night you need a strong drink because your boss or your partner or someone with whom you interact with was a real jerk, had a stupid idea that involved you, did not like your brilliant idea, did not agree with your ideas or, in your mind, otherwise disrespected you.

And you needed a second one because your wife did not understand, or agree, or wanted you to do something you did not want to do. And two drinks were not enough to take off that edge so a third made sense, then a fourth.

When you went to a party or a reception you made sure you chose a party with an open bar. If you just went to a bar to drink with your buddies everybody was drinking and they kept telling you to have “just one more” before you leave.So how could you leave? You can’t disappoint them; after all they are your friends.

– Proving to yourself that you are not what you know you are

You don’t have to drink and you can prove it. You can stop any time you want to. And you can and you do – for a few days or a week. You can’t be an alcoholic because you have proven the old saying, “Sure, I can stop drinking. I’ve done it a hundred times.” To others it’s a joke. To you it’s proof.

If, through the fog that you don’t know you are in, you realize you are drinking too much you go through elaborate ruses to prove to yourself you don’t drink too much. “I won’t drink before I get off work.” Later, “I won’t drink before noon.” Or, I will only have three drinks.” But, you don’t say how much scotch you put in each drink. So you say, “I will only have 4 jiggers tonight”, and then you choose the biggest jigger you own. Or you say, “I will only drink beer, “ or “I will only drink wine.”

These tactics will work for a few days and you will “prove” you don’t drink too much. That lasts until some major stress comes along and you decide to have as much as you need to take the edge off, to avoid the stress, the pain, the disappointment. Then, when you finally mellow out you are drunk, and you are the last person on the planet to know that. The truth is there is always a good reason to have the next drink.

Most active alcoholics have never heard the old Japanese saying, “First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man.” And if they do hear it they won’t believe it has anything to do with them. They won’t understand that until they hit bottom. And that can take 35 years. I know.

To be continued.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Larry Gatlin (& the Gatlin Brothers).: Tribute Post

First posted on Open Salon, JULY 1, 2010 3:35PM

Larry  Gatlin

Larry Gatlin has been one of my favorites for almost 40 years. He was one of the so-called “countrypolitian” singers of the 70s and 80s who helped bridge the gap between country and pop. He has 33 Top 40 hit singles on the Billboard Country Charts.

What many people ignore is that he was one of the great song writers of that generation, in any genre. He wrote songs for himself and for many other country stars, particularly for his mentor and friend, Dotty West.

His pure tenor has a bell-like quality and his inflections carry a deep sincerity that few can duplicate. Most popular male country music are baritones. There are a few tenors who are exceptions, particularly Marty Robbins in the 50s, David Houston in the 60s, and Gatlin in the 70s and 80s.

While he no longer tours much, spending most of his time with family and with his shows at his Myrtle Beach theater, he can sometimes be seen on the Gaither gospel show, singing the old Southern gospel songs that he loved as a child when he and his brothers sung in the Texas church the family attended.

He also does another type of "touring": visiting schools and churches, being interviewed on TV and radio, and using other venues to tell his story about his alcohol and drug addiction, something which he personally went through with devastating effects on his own career.

As with my other tribute posts, this one shares a few representative You Tube videos. As usual, I urge you to use good earphones, earbuds, or quality external speakers to have any real idea about the talent of the artists in this Tribute Series.

Links to my other music tributes and music posts are gathered together in the left column of this blog.

So, sit back, put the headphones on, and enjoy one of the great swing, ballad and pop oriented country singers on the last 50 years.


Ten Videos:

First, a recent interview on a Christian talk show which gives you an idea of his backgound and his thoughts on writing songs, ending with a live renditon of his hit, “All the Gold in California.”

Early recording of “Broken Lady”

An upbeat swinging “crossover” hit: “Somebody’s Baby.”

A favorite of mine that never made it big, but just listen to the truth of the words. “Midnight Choir”

A Crossover hit that features great harmony. “Sure Feels Like Love”

“Sweet Becky Walker” was an early hit. This is a later re-recording. Their voices have matured and deepened on this track.

A big hit in ’80 or ’81 right before Larry’s downward spiral with alcohol and drugs. "What Are We Doin' Lonesome?”

Upbeat Texas Swing hit: “Houston.”

Larry is a lifelong Pentacostal Christian and loves to sing gospel. Here he is singing a modern gospel tune. He is often invited to sing with the with the Gaither Gospel Choir by his old friends, Bill and Gloria Gaither. "Healing Stream”

Final Video: A huge hit that features Larry at his best. “Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall”

Research Resources:

Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day: Take Time to Remember

Bath National Cemetery, New York
Bath, NY, National Cemetery

Note: This is an edited version of a post about Memorial Day that I posted here last year. It is based on a Memorial Day address I gave in 2005 at the Dover, Ohio Memorial Day observance in 2004.

Not enough people will read this or the other Memorial Day tribute posts. Most will be out enjoying a "three day holiday weekend." And I intend to do the same. But my prayer is that at some point in this weekend we will all stop, find a quiet place, and lift a prayer of gratitude for those who made the supreme sacrifice so that we can have three day weekends knowing that we still hold our liberty as one of the highest values of this nation.

Men and women have fought and died believing that they were serving a cause far greater than themselves. Some have died in wars where the enemy was clear and they knew exactly who they were fighting and why. They knew that the people of this nation declared them to be "good" wars, wars against evil. Others have fought in wars that were not worth their sacrifice.

But we must distinguish between the morality of a war, or the lack of it, and the men and women who fight believing they are doing it for us, and for our children and our children's children. And so we should honor all who gave of themselves, their blood, and, too often, their very lives. All those we honor this day.

When I was a child we called this time Decoration Day. And we used to pick flowers and carry them to the cemetery in town and lay them on the graves of soldiers from the town who were honored on that day. But the custom of honoring those who have fallen in war began long before I was a child. It began in the Southern states immediately after the Civil War when people decorated the graves of fallen Confederate soldiers.

In 1868, General John Logan, who was then commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, named May 30, the date of discharge of the last Union soldier following the Civil War, as a day to decorate the graves of Union soldiers as well. Later the graves of all soldiers, sailors, and marines were so honored regardless of what war they fought in, or whether or not they died in combat. The date was moved from May 30 to the last Monday in May several years ago.

What we need to remember now is that, for almost a century and a half, throughout this nation, we have dedicated this time to the memory of all those who have fallen in the defense of this nation, regardless of the branch of military in which they served.

And, in more recent years, we have also taken this time to remember not only those lost in battle, but also those of our own loved ones and friends who have gone from us by accident, through tragedy, or in the normal course of life.

I am sure that many of us, and others throughout this great nation, are this day are remembering the great loss of life that we suffered on September 11, 2001, and the 5000 plus American service personnel who have since lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan these last long eight years.

For longer than anyone alive can remember, we have honored our dead by celebrating this special time. Remembering is the key to Memorial Day. Memorial Day is about is remembering. We all know too well how easy it is to forget, to take for granted, or to deliberately close our minds to the hardships and sacrifices which are sometimes difficult and painful to recall.

But there are some things we must remember. For without memory, without the history and tradition of remembrance, we cannot know the price which has been paid for our freedom. Without remembrance, we cannot know the debt that we shall always owe to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us, sacrifices made when many of us were yet unborn.

REMEMBERING. The word is so common that we sometimes forget what it means. "RE -membering" literally means to put the members back together, to gather together what has otherwise been torn apart. We can’t do that physically in this life, for we must wait for God to provide that miracle for us and for our lost loved ones and comrades who have gone before us. But, until then we can RE-member them in our minds, and most of all, in our hearts.

Remembering is what separates us from those who don’t care, from those who are so caught up in their own importance that they have no time to think of others. Remembering is what separates us from those who are sure that what they have is what they alone have earned, and who believe that they owe no debts to anyone, past or present.

We who will bow our heads in a silent prayer or simply in remembrance on Memorial Day know better. We know that we owe our liberty, our freedom, to all those who died for the right for us to live as free people in a free land.

On this day I put away my arguments about the evil done in the last Administration and the lack of seeming purpose by the present Administration to do something to set that right. There will be many future days for me to continue that fight. Today is not one of them. Today we should be more unified than we ever are, a day when there is no right or left, no Democrat or Republican, no insiders or outsiders, but only Americans. Americans remembering.

Remembering separates us from the cold and unthinking, from those who would pay no allegiance to anyone but themselves, and who would give no honor to those who died believing that the values of this nation were worth fighting for, and, if necessary, dying for.

Patriotism is a battered concept today. For too long it was defined as those who supported the regime in power. That is changing but it will take time to replace allegiance to party with allegiance to country. In too many places in this nation we argue over even what basic human values and virtues are.

This should not really surprise us. It should not surprise us -- even though it should dismay us -- that our dead are not honored as they should be.

Community Memorial Day services are not widely attended these days. We have other things to do, or, as in my case, my health will not allow me to spend that kind of time in the heat.

But that is no justification for me not to remember. I can still think about the sacrifices made. I can still say a prayer in thanksgiving for that long line of those who put their lives on the line for me and my family, even though I know not their names, no did they know mine. But I know that many of them paid the ultimate sacrifice for the ideal that we all might be free.

For the last several days, families across America have been preparing for their Memorial Day weekend. And that is fine. I have too. I doubt that any of the honored dead for whom Memorial Day was established would begrudge American families the opportunity to have some quality time together, for people to relax and enjoy themselves.

But we must not forget what this time is really about. This is a time in which we, as a community, as a nation, gather together in groups as small as a family, or a couple newly in love looking for some time to just be together. We can gather in groups small and large, and while gathered, or even while alone, remember.

On this day we pause to remember that there are essential lessons to be learned, and re-learned; lessons for young and old alike: to remember and appreciate the blessings of freedom; to recognize the enormity of the sacrifice that has been made for us, and to pay honor and respect to those who gave everything on behalf of our common good. This day reminds us of what we can achieve when we pull together as one nation, respecting each other in spite of our differences.

And this day reminds us as well of our duty to honor not only those we lost in freedom's cause, but also, through our thoughts and our actions, to remember the service men and women who came back home from our wars, and are now our veterans. It is a day to remember, as well, the families of those who lost loved ones, and the families of those lost for whom there has never been a final accounting.

We must remember as well those who are putting their lives on the line for us in far off wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars that we may not individually support, wars that I do not personally support. But our service men and women are there. They are in harms way. And we, you and I, are not. That too is worth remembering.
There really are answers for those who think that this time is just like any other- except that we get a "long weekend"; to those who pause not an instant in their pursuit of their personal pleasures. We say “No. You are wrong.” to those who say that there is nothing worth remembering, no one worth honoring, no country worth saving.

This is not the time to lift my grievances, or for me to complain about how so much of what this nation does in the political and economic sphere makes little sense, about all the things we write about so passionately, about all that is "wrong" with America.

This is a time when I have something more important to do; a time when we look back and remember the shoulders upon which we stand as we look forward to what we hope will be a new and brighter day for this nation. There are those who will say, "Why bother?" Its past history, isn't it?" "Its time to move on, to look to the future, isn't it?"

To them we say, perhaps we will do what you suggest tomorrow. But, for today, we say that we remember. We remember. And we are thankful. And we will never forget the sacrifices made for us. Never. We shall remember.

And we shall teach our children, and our children’s children, of the great privilege and honor of being Americans, and of the great sacrifices that have been made for us.

On this Memorial Day we will pledge to carry a simple message into the future. Our message is that there were, and that there still are, those who loved this country enough to fight and to die, if necessary, to preserve the American way of life. That, my friends, we shall never forget.

May God bless each of us and our families, and may we always remember and give thanks for sacrifices made.