Monday, July 10, 2017

It's My Turn to Drive: Finding Inspiration in the Lyrics of Rush

For some reason, I got a number of new followers on Twitter this past week. Some came over because of a friendly exchange I had with Fox News anchor Bret Baier (he and I probably don't agree on politics, but he's a good reporter, plus he likes the music of Rush, so he's definitely okay with me). Others came over because every time I mention Rush on Twitter, new folks find & follow me. I hope I am not going to disappoint all of them:  sometimes I blog about Rush, yes, but a lot of the time, I blog about politics or sports or religion or some other subject that captures my interest.

But as it turns out, today happens to be a good day to blog about Rush.  I often find that music reflects my emotions.  For example, I turn to it whenever I'm feeling frustrated or discouraged, or when I want a temporary (and harmless) escape from problems that seem to have no immediate solution.  And of course, I turn to music when something wonderful happens too.  In fact, if you're anything like me, you have songs that are the soundtrack of your life.  These songs remind you of people you once knew; or places you went; or events that hold a special meaning.  There are also certain rock bands whose music consistently resonates, year after year.  As a former deejay, I feel that way about the Beatles-- much of their music is timeless, and it sounds as good to me now as when it first came out.  And of course, I feel that way about Rush.

I'll be honest:  I don't like every song on every album.  If I had to be alone on a desert island, I'd want to take "Moving Pictures" or "Permanent Waves" or perhaps a greatest hits collection like "Chronicles." But as I've told people before, when I've been interviewed, I can always find at least one song on every Rush album that speaks to me.  Most of the time, it's the lyrics that attract me-- even a simple song like "Working Man" speaks to those trapped in a routine, who wish things were different but don't see anything changing immediately. (And haven't we all felt that way at one time or other?)  But then, sometimes the change isn't what we hoped for-- I witnessed my profession (radio) change, and not necessarily for the better, so I can really relate to "Spirit of Radio."

But that song isn't just about radio-- as I interpret the lyrics, it's also about the effort Rush put into being true to themselves:  "One likes to believe in the freedom of music"-- but most record labels wanted artists who would produce lots of top-40 hits, something Rush didn't want to do.  And then there were the "glittering prizes and endless compromises" which "shatter the illusion of integrity"-- the guys in Rush somehow managed to remain relatively untouched by the music industry.  They never sold out, they never let it change them, and they never became arrogant. Yes, they wanted to make money (for their families, the charities they believed in, and their own personal pride), but they were not willing to compromise or give up their integrity to succeed. That's one of many things I've always admired about them, and it's a lesson worth learning:  be true to your ethics, and don't sell out for money or fame or power, or you will lose your integrity.

Another song with lyrics that I find inspiring is "Freewill."  I particularly like (and as my students will tell you, I often quote) the line about "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."  Some people say the song is anti-religion, but I don't see it that way.  I interpret it as a request to avoid substituting belief for action-- there's nothing wrong with faith, but just sitting back and thinking your beliefs are all you need isn't useful.  Positive action is what's needed to make the world better, and so is critical thinking-- whatever side you are on, just believing everything you hear is no substitute for seeking out the facts and doing your part to make things better.  (I see the lines in "Tom Sawyer" similarly-- the part about "his mind is not for rent by any god or government" to me says don't give up your ability to think, to choose, to decide.  Don't rent out your mind to others, whether religious leaders or political leaders.  Don't abdicate your responsibility; gather the evidence and make up your own mind, in other words.)

Maybe that's why the line in "Driven" about "It's my turn to drive" appeals to me-- we are all driving on a road with twists and turns, trying to avoid danger, but we cannot let our fears stop us from making the journey.  Every day, we have an opportunity to decide what we can do; sometimes, the choices may seem equally bad, but at least we can decide how to react.  And even if we make some wrong turns, we have to find a way to get moving in the right direction.  No-one can do it for us:  after all, each day, "it's my turn to drive."

I am sure you have some Rush songs that speak to you too.  (I've also got a few interpretations of lyrics that some of you may disagree with, but we can do a blog post about that some other day.)  What has always impressed me about Rush is that their music is multi-dimensional; it speaks to fans in so many different ways, and on so many different levels.  And there are so many new opportunities for inspiration when you listen to their lyrics.  It's just another reason why I love these guys, and why it's such a privilege to know them.        

Friday, June 30, 2017

Trying to Make Some Sense of It All

There's a guy who stops by periodically to leave nasty comments on my blog.  I have no idea why he does it: I mean, if you don't like my blog, don't read it.  But he likes to keep reminding me that "the left" is ruining America, and that my blog is just a bunch of "liberal garbage."  Of course, he's entitled to his opinion about "the left" in general and my blog in particular, but I still find both comments puzzling.

As I see it, there's no such thing as "the left"-- not every Democrat or liberal marches in lock-step, and no, we don't all take our cues from the (gasp) Saul Alinsky playbook, the way Newt Gingrich and other Republicans say we do.  (I must admit I was unfamiliar with Mr. Alinsky until about a decade ago. I mean, yes I heard the name before, but he wasn't someone I studied in college or even in grad school.  I guess I received an inferior education in what Democrats allegedly believe.) My point is, there's a wide range of beliefs on "the left," as I am certain there are on "the right."

When I first began blogging several years ago, I hoped that I'd be able to do two things:  thing one was express my views on various current issues (and for Rush fans, that included talking about our favorite rock band now and then); but thing two was to create the possibility of dialogue between folks on the left and folks on the right.  Of course, I never expected that my little blog would bring about world peace, though that would be nice to accomplish.  I just hoped that maybe some folks who don't talk much to Democrats might come to the conclusion that this Democrat isn't such a horrible person after all, nor are most other Democrats.  Both political parties don't always agree on issues, but at least I hoped we could have an exchange of ideas and seek some common ground.

Ever since Mr. Trump took office, however, I've noticed a change in tone, both in our politics and in how we communicate.  Day after day, I read endless postings on social media that demonize "the left."  They say we're all violent (umm, I thought we were all a bunch of too-sensitive snowflakes; now suddenly we're violent?).  Or they say we're all fascists.  Or Mr. Trump says that Democrats are keeping him from moving his agenda forward (Democrats find this a bizarre claim, since Republicans control all three branches of the government. If things aren't getting done, don't blame us.)  Meanwhile, every conservative I know is firmly convinced that the media are liberal, and college professors are liberal, and anyone whose views they disagree with must be liberal, and every problem in society was caused by someone liberal.  In the age of Donald Trump, it seems more people than ever believe the big problem in life is the existence of liberals. 

I know how much conservatives love that Mr. Trump is a "fighter" who "punches back" when people "insult him."  But as Democrats like me see it, he's not a fighter; rather, he's an autocrat who doesn't like criticism of any kind. Of course, this is a major difference in our two parties, but at least we always used to have a president who acted with courtesy.  This one does not.  Whether it's a cable news commentator on MSNBC or a member of the White House press corps or Democrats in general, Mr. Trump is always ready with a rude (or sometimes crude) comment.  He shows no interest in staying above the fray or acting in a way that historically was considered presidential; nor does he show any interest in bringing both sides together.  He seems perfectly happy to perform only for his base and say what they want to hear.  Everyone else is just "the enemy."

More and more, I see many of Mr. Trump's supporters modeling his behavior-- they see no need to talk to anyone on the other side, and they not only applaud the president each time he makes another combative or insulting remark-- they also emulate his way of speaking.  And if the folks who are on his side regard everyone else as dishonest, terrible people, it does not bode well for the future of our country.  As a professor of communication, I worry when people praise a man who believes name-calling is a good thing; and who believes it's okay to be lash out at anyone who disagrees with him.

It's not just that I don't like many of his policies: I respect that he won the election, and I've disagreed with presidents before.  But what I really don't like is how he talks to people.  Rather than bringing out what Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature," he is empowering the worst in many of us. And in a world where angry and impulsive behavior is considered normal (and even admirable) by his followers, what's the end-game?  Are we becoming a country that is re-segregating itself, not by race this time, but by ideology?  We already have a country where people watch/read/listen to media that reinforce what they already believe. Should we now have a country where opposing beliefs aren't wanted? 

That's not a vision of America I'd welcome, and it's not just because I'm a Democrat.  I would hope there are some Republicans who also don't like the way things are going.  Showering insults on those who disagree with you may be comforting; but it's no way to solve the problems our country faces... And no, the problem is not too many Democrats.  It's too little kindness, too little empathy, and too little commitment to following the Golden Rule.  I admit I don't know what to do about the ever-widening divide between us.  But I still want to believe there's a positive discussion we could have-- although lately, that seems like less and less of a possibility.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Conversation We Never Seem to Have, Revisited

It goes without saying that the man who shot at Republican members of Congress, while they practiced for a charity baseball game, was a disgusting human being; I don't know anyone who would defend what he did.  But here's what else was hard to defend:  turning a tragedy into more of the same old politics. Almost as if on cue, some of my conservative followers on Twitter, along with several Republican pundits, immediately blamed "the left."  Excuse me, but the last time I checked, "the left" didn't shoot any congressmen; one angry loner with an assault rifle did that.  (Note to my Republican friends:  given all the violence in our society, I strongly doubt that only Democrats are guilty of it; and I also doubt that Republicans spend all their time reading the Bible.  Truth be told, there are violent and hateful people from both political parties; so don't be so quick to assign blame.)

There was something else that bothered me about today's senseless violence.  It's the fact that it happens so often.  Sadly, violent episodes such as workplace shootings, which are often perpetrated by a lone gunman, have become so common that many of these incidents don't even make the national news.  We don't always know why these gunmen decide to do it, just like we don't always know what their politics are.   Some of these shooters have been mentally ill.  Some were religious zealots.  Some were just angry about whatever (a boss they hated, the unfairness of life in general).  And contrary to internet myth, few of the mass shooters of the past several decades were immigrants:  most were born here, and a majority were white males.

But whatever the race or color or ideology of the shooters, we find they all had one thing in common:  they all had NO trouble getting guns, whether assault rifles or handguns; and these mass shooters all had NO trouble getting lots of ammunition.  But every time some of us try to discuss what could be done to prevent further mass violence, the conversation goes nowhere.  Why? In large part because our country and its politics are dominated by a small but influential group of "Second Amendment Absolutists."  Encouraged by the National Rifle Association, these are people who believe there should be no limitation on gun ownership, and they reject even the smallest restriction on what they see as their total right.  No matter how much gun violence out there, their answer is that more "good guys with guns" are the solution.

Of course, this answer is very beneficial for the NRA, and for the small percentage of gun owners who share the view that more is better:  I read one report from 2016 that said only three percent of American adults own half of America's guns.  Meanwhile, as soon as anyone dares to ask why the average person really needs assault weapons and high capacity magazines, the Absolutists scream that their rights are under attack.  And as soon as any politician dares to question why more and higher-powered weapons are a good thing, the NRA spends its money (and its considerable influence) making sure that politician is defeated in the next election.

No, I am not opposed to gun ownership, and no I am not against the Second Amendment.  I am, however, against the current extreme interpretation of it.  I have never heard one good reason why anyone other than a member of law enforcement or the military needs an assault rifle.  When such weapons were briefly banned, somehow the republic did not fall.  Sport shooters continued to compete.  Hunters continued to hunt.  I agree that banning assault weapons is not a magical cure, but when it was tried, some studies suggested it did reduce certain kinds of violent crimes.  (Common sense would dictate that not having access to semi-automatic weapons and large capacity magazines would result in fewer people get hit by someone attempting a mass shooting.)   

But people who love their guns don't want to have a discussion about reducing gun violence.  Any time such a discussion begins, it usually ends with both sides being incredibly frustrated.  One thing I do know:  encouraging more gun ownership is no guarantee that there will be less crime.  And another thing I know:  unless our politicians begin to show some courage and not bend to the will of the NRA, violent incidents will continue.  Pundits will choose sides, accusations will fly, and absolutely nothing will change.  Evidently, that's okay with most people, but it's not okay with me.  And what about you, dear readers?  Is the status quo okay with you?  And why is discussing ways to reduce gun violence the conversation we never seem to have? 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Attacking Reporters Needs to Stop... Now.

I never thought I'd have to write these words, but then, I never thought I'd see a president like Mr. Trump, a man who thinks it's okay to call the media "scum," "liars," and "the most dishonest people"; who has encouraged his followers to threaten journalists during rallies; and who stated that the media are "the enemy of the American people."  I understand that no one person is responsible for the current climate we are in, but the person at the top often sets the tone; and as I see it, the tone the president is setting is having profoundly negative consequences on those who work in journalism.

Here are several troubling examples.  Yesterday, the offices of a newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky were shot at.  One of the reporters who works for that paper noted that he regularly receives anonymous death threats. (I am told he is not alone-- more reporters are finding this is part of being a journalist in 2017.)  And a few days ago, a reporter who was doing nothing more provocative than asking a question about the healthcare law was body-slammed by Republican candidate Greg Gianforte of Montana; Gianforte also screamed at him, and then tried to lie about it and blame the reporter, saying he was a "liberal journalist" causing trouble.  (To her credit, a reporter from Fox News saw the event and defended the journalist's version of what happened. But it didn't matter-- the Republican candidate won anyway.) The president called it a "great victory."  But I don't think it was.

What bothered me about both stories, and others involving journalists being pushed or attacked (whether physically or verbally), is the lack of outrage from most of my Republican friends.  I've read on social media that the journalist beaten up by Mr. Gianforte "deserved it," or "had it coming."  After all, isn't that how you treat a "liberal journalist"?  In a world where the president himself seems to make excuses for violence and threats against reporters, it seems to me that this isn't going to get better any time soon.  (Republicans in congress didn't cover themselves in glory either--few condemned what their candidate had done-- after all, he won, and isn't winning all that matters?)

I know what some of my Republican friends will say-- "Yes, but Democrats are just as bad."  Sorry, but I don't recall any Democratic presidential candidates in my lifetime saying that it's okay to attack a reporter.  I know that many presidents, from both parties, have disliked, or even hated, the coverage they got from the media.  But I don't recall any of them egging on a crowd or asserting that the media are the enemy of the American people-- that is how dictators and autocrats speak; and it gives permission to Mr. Trump's supporters (many of whom have already been stirred up by his harsh rhetoric) to lash out at the first reporter they see.

And by the way, when Mr. Trump accuses the mainstream press of being "fake news" or the "fake media," he is being dishonest.  Fake news refers to quotes that were never said, and events that never took place.  I have not seen mainstream reporters making up quotes or making up events when reporting on his administration. Not agreeing with the coverage doesn't make it fake.  I know he much prefers "friendly media" (Fox News, right-wing talk shows, Breitbart, etc); but again, whether he likes a story or not doesn't mean the story is fake-- and it doesn't make it okay to assault the reporters trying to cover the news.

To everyone who defended Mr. Gianforte's thuggish behavior; to everyone who agrees that reporters with allegedly liberal views deserve to be assaulted; to those who have worn shirts that say reporters should be lynched (not funny, and especially scary to black reporters); and to those who have sent around memes that make excuses for threatening reporters, you are making things worse.  I am fine about your wanting to only read right-wing blogs, or believe ridiculous conspiracy theories.  I am not fine about your belief that we don't really need a free press (or that only the journalists and commentators with whom you agree are worthy of respect).

I fear for our country if this sort of behavior continues. So, if the president won't do it, then it's up to you:  stand up for the rights of journalists and let them do their job, whether you agree with them or not.  You may think intimidating and threatening so-called "liberal" reporters is okay.  But I can assure you, it sets a terrible precedent.  It's a dangerous game the president is playing; and I beg you to put a stop to it... before we turn into a country where dissent is punished, and freedom of the press means only whatever the president wants to hear.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

What I Learned From My Mother

As Mother's Day comes around again, I find myself wondering what my mother (of blessed memory) would say about the world of 2017.  I think about this often, and not just on Mother's Day-- the ways our society has changed, both for good and for bad.  When my mother died of cancer in September of 1989, the internet was not yet a dominant force in society and social media didn't exist.  In fact, as I've noted in other posts, my mother lived before instant communication was possible:  few people knew about email in the 1980s, and even fewer envisioned smartphones or texting.  (Many people still struggled to program their VCRs.)  But even if the internet or social media had been available, I doubt my mother would have used them-- she was very much a Luddite about technology, and she always preferred seeing people in person or talking with them on the phone.  She was also a big fan of writing thank-you notes or sending cards (with hand-written messages).

In 2017, there are so many new inventions that simplify our lives; but the thing my mother would marvel at the most is the difference in how we talk to each other.  She never appreciated rude behavior, and she believed children (of any age) should speak respectfully to their elders.  She loved to read, she appreciated anyone who spoke well and had a good vocabulary, and she enjoyed listening to educated people debating the issues of the day.  So, I wonder what she would say about the Trump presidency (note to readers: while my mother tended to be a liberal, my father's views leaned conservative, so I heard both perspectives when growing up).  No, I am not talking about Mr. Trump's politics-- I am talking about how he expresses himself.  My mother grew up in a time when politicians spoke very differently from how some of them speak today.

Don't get me wrong:  political campaigns were never courteous events, even in the "good old days."  As the fictional character "Mr Dooley" remarked in 1895, "Politics ain't beanbag."  But even politicians who were the most bitter rivals would not have cursed during a political speech, nor can I imagine Ronald Reagan or Lyndon Johnson (both of whom were well-acquainted with bad language), publicly expressing their beliefs about their opponents in vulgar terms.  I've remarked on this before, since I vaguely recall watching presidential debates on TV when I was a kid-- but in my mother's day, political campaigns were mainly conducted in a manner that was passionate but respectful. Society did not think kindly of a politician who lost his temper or violated social norms (like refusing to shake hands with someone).

My mother taught me that the two most important things in life were caring about others and treating others courteously.  She didn't just talk that way; she lived that way. We had some relatives (as every family does) who were not the nicest of people and who sometimes showed her no respect.  Yet she always tried to be courteous to them.  No, she wasn't a doormat and she didn't allow people to be rude.  But she tried to give them a chance to change; and if they disappointed her, she never came down to their level, nor did she get into shouting matches with them.  In her own way, she let people know when she'd heard enough, and she let them know when they had gone too far.  She was much more patient than I am; but I must admit, it was fascinating to watch her deal with people who made the mistake of underestimating her.

I did not always get along with my mother, and I know I often tried her patience.  I could be exasperating sometimes, and I know that what I wanted out of life career-wise was not what she wanted for me.  (Yes, she wanted me to be happy and to succeed, but she never understood why I wanted a career in the media; she believed a more stable occupation like teaching would be better, but she gradually came to understand that my heart was in broadcasting.)  However, more important than whether we always agreed (and what mother and daughter always do, except in movies?), I believe that I have honored her by living as she taught me to live.  She taught me to always be ready to do a mitzvah (a positive action that make the world better in some way), and she taught me to avoid being harsh or cruel in how I speak to others.  Courtesy and good manners were so important to her; and if she were alive today, I think it would sadden her that both seem to be in short supply.  So, once again, this year as every year since she died, I will do a mitzvah in her memory, and I will continue to make an effort to speak courteously.  I know I won't always succeed, but she'd want me to keep trying.  And so, I will.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

I Miss My Old Friends

Every now and then, the lyrics of a song just resonate with me.  Sometimes, they remind me of an event that took place in my past:  don't we all have songs that call to mind people we loved and lost?  Sometimes, the lyrics take me back to a city I worked in:  this happens to former deejays all the time ("Oh, I remember where I was when that song came out!").  And sometimes, especially as I get older, there are songs that make me nostalgic for a different time and place.

I was watching Grey's Anatomy the other night and at the end of the episode, there was a ballad, sung by a female vocalist, and it contained these lyrics: "I miss my old friends, 'cause they know when I need them the most/ I made some new friends, and they're cool friends, but they don't know/ what I do, what I've got, who I am and who I'm not/ I miss my old friends."  I searched for the song online (the deejay in me remembers when we used to call up our favorite station, and hope the person on the air would answer the request line and play the song for us), and I found it was by Jasmine Thompson.  Of course, there was a YouTube video, as there often is (you can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtM_QZvCvBc); and while it seemed to be aimed at a teen audience, as I watched it, the video brought back memories of going to amusement parks, or hanging out at the mall, and not worrying about who was president or what was being said on the news.

I don't know why the song struck a chord with me-- I usually like rock and roll, and this was a simple top-40 pop song.  Yet the lyrics, especially the distinction between my old friends and my new friends, made me think of some of the people I used to enjoy talking to, people I can't talk to anymore because they've passed away; or people who were once an important part of my life yet somehow we've gotten out of touch over the years and I have no idea how to reconnect. In a few cases, Facebook has brought some of the people I used to know back into my life, but the conversations now are very different from the ones we had back then.

As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, I did not grow up in an innocent time-- I was in college during an especially contentious era.  The Vietnam War was going on; and in addition to heated debates about that, there were ongoing debates about the women's movement, the civil rights movement, and the gay rights movement.  In the midst of so many controversies, it was nice to have a few friends I could talk to, who didn't get upset if we disagreed, and who, as the song says, knew when I needed them the most.  Some were from radio and the music industry.  Several were professors of mine.  There were never a lot of them, but each one was special to me. We bonded over our shared experiences, and while I value my new friends (especially those I've met through being part of the extended family of Rush fans), I miss being able to sit and talk about the 50s and 60s with people who went through them as I did.

We're living in another contentious time now, and after 100 days of President Trump, the debates over his performance are reminiscent of the debates we all used to have about the Vietnam War.  We were all just as polarized, just as sure "our side" was right.  These days, our dismay and frustration about politics is manifested over social media, whereas back then, there were just newspapers and magazines and radio and TV.  Meanwhile, many of us who had never cared much about politics were being confronted by a world in chaos, and we could no longer ignore it.  But in those chaotic times, it was our friendships that kept us centered and helped us make sense of it all.

It feels different now.  Much as I love social media, Twitter and Facebook (or sending a text, for that matter) are no substitute for spending time with people you care about.  We're all so busy, we're all so preoccupied these days.  And while I don't miss the rigidity of the 50s or the social upheaval of the 60s, I miss that time when getting together mattered, and when friendships were conducted in person. I miss the people who helped me get through the difficult times, the ones who believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself.

Truth be told, I also miss the music-- my students no longer understand when I quote lyrics from the British Invasion groups or mention some incident that any child of the 60s would know.  On the other hand, I don't miss my old life, struggling to get taken seriously in a profession where women still were not welcome, feeling like I would never become what I wanted to be.  But every so often, I finding myself thinking of the people who cared, the ones who told me to never give up. I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for them.  I miss my old friends...

Monday, April 17, 2017

And Now, A Word of Scripture

A conservative friend of mine was surprised the other day by something I said to him:  we were talking about the upcoming holidays (Passover for me, Easter for him), and I mentioned in passing that I have a Bible next to my bed, right on my nightstand. Evidently, he had accepted the myth (and it is a myth) that all liberals hate religion and never read the Bible; so he was puzzled to hear that I actually had a copy nearby, and that I even like to read it.

I have two favorite verses, and if you know me, you may have heard me quote one of them (yes, as a former deejay, I often love to quote the lyrics to rock songs; but sometimes, it's nice to quote some Scripture too).  One verse I like comes from the prophet Micah, chapter 6, verse 8.  There are many translations but it basically says "For what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly; to love mercy; and to walk humbly with your God."  For me, that means that what matters most to God are the qualities of justice, mercy and humility.  By doing justly, that means living an ethical life and not wronging others; by loving mercy, that means being willing to forgive and to show compassion, even when someone has wronged us; and walking humbly means not thinking we are so much more pious and righteous than others-- there is a tendency in all of us to judge others, and sometimes it's good to remember that we've all got faults, and nobody's perfect.  Being humble also means remembering there's always someone greater than us, and maybe if we're willing, we can learn something from that person.

My other favorite verse, which is especially useful in times like these, comes from Psalm 118, verse 24:  "This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it."  What this means to me is that whether you are religious or not, every day, try to find something to be grateful for.  Every day,  try to find something to be happy about.  It's not always easy.  But it's a reminder that no matter how miserable your day might be, no matter what went wrong or who gave you a hard time or what unfair thing occurred, you are instructed to find a reason to rejoice, to find something to be glad about.

In my case, I am glad I am still cancer-free, I am glad I am employed, I am glad my husband and I have celebrated our 30th anniversary, and of course, I am glad I am part of the world-wide community of Rush fans... just to name a few things.  If you've ever been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, you may have heard about having an "attitude of gratitude."  With all the things I wish were different in my life, I never forget that there's always someone who has things worse than I do, and there's always something (or someone) worth appreciating.  For example, I appreciate those of you who read my blog, and I hope this little detour into religion hasn't been boring.  There's plenty of time to discuss politics, or sports, or rock and roll.  But there's never enough time to express gratitude-- we all take far too much for granted, it seems to me.

And I know it's hard to rejoice or be glad about a world with so much anger and so many harsh words; and I'm never happy about the tendency to automatically blame people from "the other side" for everything that's wrong in society.  But as I said, we all have our faults, and we all could do with a lesson in humility every now and then, as well as a lesson in not judging others.  I'm as guilty of judging as anyone, and it's a hard habit to break.  But it's not impossible.  In fact, that's why I find reading the Bible a worthwhile pursuit-- it has plenty of practical advice, plus it reminds me of the qualities worth striving for, even when attaining them seems almost impossible.  And yes, there's a verse about that too-- see Deuteronomy 30, chapter 11: "Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too difficult for you, nor is it beyond your reach."  Learning to be less judgmental and more appreciative? God says it can be done; and we are the ones who should do it, humbly, a day at a time.