Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fear and voting in Jackson County.

It's crunch time: a week and a half until election day.

And what a weird one it's going to be.

Suzanne invited me to a political shin-dig, put on by the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce, at Bella Notte last night. I felt nervous about going - all the big-wigs would be there - but then I remembered I have at least three fellow Rotarians who are running for county commissioner spots (including one running for the spot I thought about). I would definitely have folks to talk about.

When we showed up, it had the air of a convention. There were poles with plastic signs on top, each with a candidates name, and under the pole and sign stood the candidate, shaking hands, wearing buttons, pressing the flesh.

Tons of people there, most buying booze, more snacking on meatballs and cheese with crackers. "Jesus," I thought, "what a metaphor." These pols were getting soused, and it was the least I could do to talk to them while they're at their most vulnerable.

You could tell who were the popular candidates in the room, judging from the crowd surrounding them, and they were all Republicans. Lots of white people, but I smiled when I saw one of my Rotarians say he was voting "yes" on Proposal 2 (the anti-affirmative action one) to the African American lady he was shaking hands with. To say he was embarrassed is an understatement. But he was brave.

The news all over town (and the country) is that the Democrats are going to sweep the House and Senate in an orgy of voter dissatisfaction and scandal, even though they don't have a unifying plan to get the country Back on Track.

Locally, however, there were no such feelings - at least at this event. These folks knew who they were voting for, and it wasn't for anyone with a "D" next to their name. This was Jackson, the birthplace of the Republican party, friend to Ronald Reagan, and example of white-bread America.

The rookies in the process were easy to spot. They stood alone, maybe with their wife, just waiting for someone to come up, shake their hand, and start a superficial conversation. The pros were ready, beer in-hand, working over the crowd like a Naval tattoo parlor on a Saturday night.

Me? I was there for the free grub, for the Rotary support, and to see some of these yahoos up close and personal. Dick DeVos, candidate for governor, showed up for a spell, but I wasn't interested in him. It was his daughter I was on the lookout for. I figured if Dicky-boy wanted my vote, he's set me up on a date with his blonde, gorgeous progeny (who maybe looks a little too much like her dad for comfort - but think of the cathartic glee of dating some Nazi's daughter out of spite).

I've really been in a sour mood, ever since the 2004 election, and I've been waiting to pounce on any politician who's idea of running the country is to idolize the Current Occupant.

But in this room, on this night, the numbers were against me. Except for the poor bastard representing Governor Granholm, and maybe the white farmer from Oregon who benefitted from affirmative action, I was the only one in a "kick the bums out" mood. Everyone else smelled like status quo.

Ah, but what can I do? I'm only one vote.

I just hope there are more people out there who are as angry as I am.

Heaven is a place on earth.

If you believe you're going to heaven, what do you think it will look like?

As a kid, I remember thinking that heaven was on top of the clouds - that a walk down a street in heaven was like walking on a soft bed, and that the buildings and structure of heaven didn't vary much from where the Care Bears lived.

Maybe it's not a place at all. Some Christians believe that heaven is a state of mind, earned when you are truly saved and redeemed by Jesus Christ.

But what if it's none of the above? What if heaven is, as Belinda Carlisle sang, a place on Earth?

If so, we've sure made a fine mess of it.

- - - - -

Have you ever seen that "Footprint" poem - the one where the narrator sees two sets of footprints (feetprints?) on a beach, and then only one, and it's because God was carrying the narrator at the end? Maybe it looked like this:

You see that nice beach scene the poem is placed over? You get a sense for the poem's meaning because the visual - two sets of feet along a sandy waterfront - is so immediate. Anyone who's been on a beach has seen something similar.

I got thinking about the "Footprints" poem because, recently, I've been reading about Christians embracing environmentalism as a way to display their faith in God and to show their commitment to His creation.

If God made the world, and us in his own image, what would he think about us tearing up his place?

There are some Christians who seem to think that environmentalism is some conspiracy job dreamed up by liberals, lefties, and - worse - the French. But there are even die-hards - like my favorite nutjob Pat Robertson - who are starting to come around.

On Bill Moyer's recent "On America" series, he ran a story called "Is God Green?" where he finds out what kind of Christian becomes concerned with the environment, and why other Christians think those Christians are nuts. His story takes us to West Virginia, where coal mining companies are actually leveling entire mountains to get at the black gold inside, and how that makes the water undrinkable and the citizens sicker than hell.

What would Jesus do? Would he poison the streams just to earn a buck or two?

- - - - -

There's an entire market of Christian quotes and Bible verses that are printed on majestic scenes. Perhaps you've seen one:

They're on calendars, mugs, greeting cards - you name it. The word of God is paired with a glowing scene of beauty and splendor. And why not? His words are supposed to be uplifting and what says "you're saved" like a mountain-and-stream scene?

But if you're a Christian, and you think helping the environment is for hippies, these two messages don't jive. You wouldn't pair, say, a passage from the Psalms with a Wal*Mart parking lot scene, would you? They don't fit.

So what kind of case can a Christian make for spoiling the very creation that we're supposed to enjoy, raise our kids in, and marvel at the beauty of?

I remember Dr. Renner, in our Environmental Journalism class, saying that - when he went to church in Iowa - his preacher would say that everyone was just passing through "this mudball Earth" on the way to the true home up in heaven.

"Just passing through," Renner would joke.

And if you truly believe that, then maybe using the Earth's resources until they're all dried up makes sense. If this home is only temporary, what's wrong with a few extra parking lots?

Well, for one, Christians don't know how long they'll be hanging around for. Jesus himself said that Christians won't know the hour or the day he'll return. Whenever he feels like coming back, pretty much, like a thief in the night. It could be a million years from now. Who would want to suffer through a polluted, global-warming-raged Earth for that long?

Second, he might not come back at all. That is a possibility for some folks.

Third, what if Earth is really all we have? What if heaven IS a state of mind, one that - once we're dead - disappears like sand in a windstorm?

In that case, get used to scenes like this on your Christian calanders:

And can you imagine getting a greeting card with this on it:

Now that's compassion and mercy for God's creatures.

Sorry, what was that about dominion over all living things?

I made these graphics half in jest, but more to get people to think about the policies they support.

It seems to me that if you truly care about God's creation, and our place in it, then you would be careful when you value the Almighty Dollar over Him. Because that's what it comes down to - using the creation as a means to an end (wealth) is downright sinful.

Luckily there are more and more Christians converting to the side of good stewardship of the Earth.

- - - - -

That first picture I posted, way up at the top, speaks to me more than those initial images I had in my youth of a city in the sky as the rightful place of heaven.

I agree with Erik Reece, who - in his "Jesus Without the Miracles: Thomas Jefferson's Bible and the Gospel of Thomas" (originally printed in the Dec. 2005 Harper's - go here to read it, it's great) - says that a vision of of the Earth as merely a log in the stove of industry is a shameful way to behave:

"As the world all around us sickens and dies from the poi-son discharges of Hamiltonian industry, these twin gospels suggest that it is time we inverted Pascal's famous wager to say not that we should believe in heaven because we have nothing to lose but rather that we should believe first in this world, because in losing it we may lose everything. And if we can somehow live justly, modestly, with generosity and compassion, we have everything to gain."

Reece's idea that pulling heaven out of the sky and placing here on Earth fits nicely with Thomas Jefferson's dream of an agrarian, utopian America - "where farmers intuit the will" of the Creator from the laws of nature.

"Perhaps we won't have to wait for the kingdom of God," Reece writes.

But what will happen to it in the meantime?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hail to the victors

Life continues to be full of surprises.

One of our VPs at work Friday announced she had tickets to the Michigan/Iowa game - and I was one of three employees to win a pair.

It was my first game, which is a shame considering how big of a fan I am. But I finally got my chance.

I took Don, of course, and met up with Jeanna and Stacy from work. The weather folks called for rain, but it turned out to be a perfect afternoon for football.

The game was close up until the second half, when Iowa's defense finally gave way and Michigan's offense got up to full steam. Two rushing touchdowns, a hot dog and chips, and a memorable experience that I'll never forget.

There's nothing like pounding your fist in the air during "Hail to the Victors." In high school, Don and I got to play with the U of M marching band. I managed to smuggle a copy of the fight song out of Ann Arbor - so Don and I could learn it back home. That was as close as I've ever come to a true Wolverines experience.

But now I can say I went, and had fun.

And they won, 20-6, and remain the second-placed team in the country.

Hail to the leaders and the best.

[check out photos here]

Sunday, October 15, 2006

I'm never going back to my old school

Ah, Homecoming.

It was always my favorite time of year as an active. Getting all the old guys to come back and visit - especially the ones who seldom kept in touch - for one whole weekend of drinking and football and hijinx...well, it just couldn't be beat.

As the years went on, that pretty much stayed true. Except lately, Keith and I (with help from a few others) had to organize the monster, so the dynamic changed a bit. But still - it's the one time of year where guys come from Arizona and Northern Michigan and God Knows Where Else to celebrate being us. ATOs. Adrian alumni.

This year, though, was different. I was still looking forward to it, but I wasn't nearly as excited as in past years. I'm tired, I'm busy, I'm stressed, and lately I've been feeling a bit burnt out by the whole Adrian College thing.

New chapter, new president, big changes on campus - it's hardly the Adrian I knew from a few years ago. That Adrian only exists in the stories we tell and the memories we share. The campus belongs to someone else now.

But with the arrival of Neff and Gugin and Dan and everyone else, a lot of that hesitation went away. We went to dinner Friday night (twice!), had our big brew-ha-ha about a new (old?) house, and saw a few surprise members return. Things were looking up - especially now that Keith has so graciously taken over the BOT as president.

Saturday was the tent by Cornelius, and then the game, and seeing Andrea and Shanita and tons of long-lost friends from school at the new stadium. There were kids doing jello shots in the endzone. I drank a few beers in the student section. Adrian's football team was winning. This was definitely a new school.

Saturday night we headed to the ATO banquet at the Elks for drinks and dinner and singing and lots of picture taking. A mix of old and new, Docking and actives, Elardo dancing and pledges finding out what it means to be a part of something that doesn't end with graduation. After dinner we found ourselves with little to do - nothing but roaming around campus, watching beer pong, and sitting in the new student center, wondering where the hell Adrian is taking this group of kids. It's the Great Mystery: Will mentioned how the changes are coming so fast the students can barely keep up.

Imagine what it's like to be an alumni, returning after X amount of years...

And so I'm taking a step back, watching from the visitors section - where I've probably belonged for all these years. Knowing me, I'll be back. I can't not participate in the place I love so much, a square mile that has given me so much, and to a school I've given so much of myself.

I'm never going back to my old school, because it no longer exists in a physical place.

It's only in the memories I share with my brothers and my friends. And that's where it will stay, forever and ever.

(to see photos from the weekend, go here)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Where the wild things are

Off the grid, and on to Adrian, for the weekend - Homecoming 2006.

Just arrived on campus, and looking forward to seeing the guys and everyone else again.

First one to meet me at the house: Mr. Dan Hedgcock (aka, Hedgpoop).

Met up with Mr. Karl Epps in Ridge.

Staying at Motel ATO - in my old room, Room 4, the one with the Gore/Lieberman stickers all over the door, an effort to frustrate one of the few Republican brothers we've had.

The day will only get better, of course, once we get Down to Business, ATO-style.

"Wherever you may travel, a brother you will know" our creed says, but you don't really know a brother like you do on your home turf.

This will be the last hurrah - a swan song of sorts - because this is my last year as the board of trustees president. And it comes at a good time, because Adrian is changing, the fraternity is changing, and I suppose I'm changing, too.

Can't wait to see everyone.


Sunday, October 8, 2006

From the gutter to the top

Ah Detroit - you never disappoint me when it comes to adventure.

Had the KMFDM show Friday night at Harpo's - in the swell part of town.

Show was great. They played everything I wanted to hear, and I was sweaty and I jumped around, and Don got drunk, and I met up with an old friend from junior high. Just a great time.

And then we headed home.

About two miles down I-94, Don and I noticed a weird noise coming from the Aerio's back end.

"I think your tire's flat," Don says.

Well shit. So we pull off on Gratiot, my tire obviously flat, and head to this run-down gas station.

In the ghetto.

We get out of the car, and Don heads in to buy some fix-a-flat (at this noisy homeless lady's suggestion), but I saw the back of the tire leaking the stuff. So that was useless.

Don and I grab the jack out of the back, only to notice that it's missing the jacking bar. Things keep getting better.

So I troll the parking lot, asking for anyone with a jack, and I get ignored in the lot, in the store, everywhere. White boy, ghetto - you'd think I'd get all kinds of attention. But I stop this giant black Escalade, with one guy getting out to pump his gas, and I ask them for a jack.

"What, you broke down?"

No, I'm taking a survey.

The guy makes me pay $5 for his gas before he'll help me, but I figure it's worth it. We jack the car up (our conversation going from Detroit winning that night to how black people get misrepresented), change the tire, and finally head home - lots of hand-shakes and "thank yous" all around.

And besides Don making me stop along the highway to pee, we made it home alive.

Good show, bad drive home, and when we DID get home - I found someone had actually slashed my tires.

A nice big, square hole in the back of my tire. That's what I get for going to enjoy a rock show.

Late night, lots of wisdom.

So how was YOUR weekend?

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Denial ain't a river in America

It sure is, and it's only going to get easier.

I read an article in Wired this month, "The Thin Pill," that documents how drug companies - and some doctors - have established a "disease" called "metabolic syndrome." What is metabolic syndrome?

Well, put simply, it means you're fat.

Obesity, high blood pressure, high blood glucose levels. These are the hallmarks of metabolic syndrome. Or what we used to call being overweight.

But by labeling the "syndrome" a disease, the article explained, it makes it easier for drug companies to treat the symptoms with a drug.

A new thin pill. It's on its way.

The idea is to take a condition that may be conquered with a lifestyle change (namely, diet and more exercise) and to recondition it as something that can only be cured by medication. The profits to be reaped are extraordinary, of course, because more and more Americans suffer from this supposed syndrome.

What boggles my mind is that more and more of these "syndromes" keep popping up, and - lo and behold - drug companies are there to provide the only recourse.

ADD, anyone?

So the new recipe for business success in America is:

1. Find a problem
2. Invent a disease
3. Market a drug to cure the disease

Voila! Instant millions.

Sadly, what's happening is drug companies are giving Americans a reason to deny responsibility for their own actions and behavior. Ritalin is the cure for being a six year old, we're told, but maybe kids should be allowed to be crazy and annoying and full of piss and vinegar.

And if Americans can simply take a pill to lose weight, is there any reason to get off the couch, turn off the TV, and go outside to walk your dog? It seems too easy.

It's turning into a denial syndrome, where we can deny the fact that our lifestyle is affecting our health, for good or ill.

What confuses me is how a society seemingly obsessed with sports and athletes and "Just Do It" can find any excuse not to get up and move. If we're so enamored with the fit, physical human form, why don't we do more to make our body-machine into a well-oiled fitness example?

Why leave all the work to athletes?

I think because it's easier to deny we have a problem, take a pill, and sit back and not change anything. That's the lazy route.

Maybe I'm off base here. Maybe finding enjoyment in going outside for a walk, tasting the fall air, and preventing an oncoming coronary is the kind of thing reserved for lunatics. I see what happened with my grandma and her small stroke, however, and I know that it can be avoided.

Not everything can be prevented: I could get creamed on the highway going 85 mph.

Wait. Make that "I probably will get creamed..."

But why leave it to chance?

Or, even better, why leave it to some pill that features side effects worse than the "syndrome" it's treating?

The same idea applies to fossil fuels: as long as gas prices are down, no one cares that our entire economic system is built on the shaky (and profit-rich) foundation of big oil that poisons us as we speak.

Or terrorism. Leave it to the government to keep us safe, so we can continue to live our lifestyle uninterrupted. Torture, start wars, do whatever - as long as I can listen to my iPod in peace. Nevermind they can't seem to do anything right these days.

I read about all this somewhere, sometime. "Brave New...something something."

Who's up for a Soma tablet?