Category Archives: Random

Touring Oppression, Obsession and Greed

Americans like to tour other countries. Sometimes we say that they have history all around them, but in America it is hard to find anything that is more than a few hundred years old. So we travel the rest of the world looking for really old stuff, stuff with real history. Of course the things we find are the great structures and works of architecture that have withstood the test of time: the pyramids, palaces, cathedrals, temples, fortresses, and castles.

In general, we don’t have those things in America. We think it is because we are not that old. The truth is age has little to do with it. It is about the structure of society and the concentration of power and wealth. Egypt does not have pyramids because it is old. Egypt has pyramids because it had a social structure that placed all power and wealth in the hands of a very few people. The rest of the country was enslaved and worked to accomplish the wishes of those at the top. It is estimated that tens of thousands of slaves worked to build the pyramids.

No one travels to Russia to see the great accomplishments of the communist system. No, they go to see the churches and palaces built during the time of the czars.

In Rome we see the great temples, forum, coliseum, aqueducts and fountains built by the thousands of slaves captured during the various military conquests. It is estimated that at one time there were ten slaves to every free man in Rome.

In France we see the ridiculously lavish, palaces and art collections of the Kings who taxed the peasants to near starvation.

At the Vatican you can see some great cathedrals and works of art paid for through abusive practices of paying indulgences.

As you travel from place to place the names change but the story is much the same. Wonderful architectural structures and beautiful collections of fine art all acquired because a few people had the power, wealth and control of public resources to lavish on themselves and their own interests. We don’t have those things in America not because we are not that old. We don’t have them because we have placed our focus on the freedom of opportunity for the common man. That is not to say that we don’t have some very wealthy people. We do, and they live some very lavish lifestyles. You can watch “lifestyles of the rich and famous” and see all kinds of wealthy Americans, but there is something radically different. We feel that these people earned their money, or at least we willingly bought their product of service. Somehow we don’t feel like they obtained their wealth through the oppression of others.

So there you have it. We admire these great structures, and art collections of history. We marvel at the great empires of the past that brought them into being. Then we create laws and social structures to guarantee that concentrations of wealth and power like that will never happen again.

It really is hypocritical tourism. We praise the accomplishments of oppressive empires of the past and condemn them in the present.

What kind of monuments will we build in our present day that will become the tourist attractions of the future? Will they be monuments of greed and oppression? Will they be monuments of individual expression, like the Watts Towers, Scotty’s Castle, or Salvation Mountain, that were built in the past, but new building codes will guarantee that type of individual expression never happens again. Maybe we will simply continue to admire the monuments of ancient history because we can no longer build them in the present.

Familiar Faces in Foreign Places

America is very unique in that we truly are a nation of immigrants. People have come from every nation on earth, and they have become Americans. This amazing blend, this bringing together different people to form a nation is truly American. This inviting and accepting of people is one of the factors that has made America great.

People come from all over. The first generation to arrive holds strongly to their roots. They are a generation in transition. They see themselves as coming from somewhere else. The next generation sees themselves differently. They are Americans but they have a strong heritage from another country; often a country that they will never know first-hand. It is only through their parents that they maintain the connection. By the third generation they are undeniable Americans. They still may take some pride in being a hyphenated American; but they are Americans through and through, just like every other hyphenated American.

I was born and raised in America and I am a blend of a few different ethnicities. I have never been able to think of myself as anything other than American. I’m not even hyphenated. As such, I look at other Americans as just simply Americans and have not given a lot of thought to where their families come from. That has changed for me now that I have done some international traveling during the last month.

Before I left for Italy a friend, Nadine, asked what town I was going to. I said “Tortona” and she excitedly said, “My family is from that area.” A strange thing happened. As I met coworkers in the Tortona office, I began to see familiar faces. There was a girl in the office that had some facial features, gestures and way of communicating that reminded me of Cheryl, Nadine’s daughter. A Guy in the office named Simone, looked like Nadine’s son, Dan. The way he would look at me reminded me of Dan. He even had Dan’s grin. In my mind I even used it to try and help me remember names. I would say to myself, ‘Oh, yah, Simone—he is the purchasing guy that looks like Dan Deal.’

There was another thin, energetic, young man named Pietro. He reminded me of a thin, energetic, third generation Italian-American guy I worked with in California, named Nick Carbone. This whole experience of seeing familiar faces in foreign places has been interesting and kind of fun. It has made me aware of the ethnicity of my friends at home, something I had never paid much attention to. Mostly I think it is a way of avoiding being homesick. These people are strangers to me, but in some way there is comfort in seeing the American counterpart in their eyes, and their gestures.

The strangest one happened this morning at breakfast. I am in Mumbai, India right now. I sat down for breakfast at the hotel restaurant. My nephew James came up to take my order. Okay it wasn’t James, it was some Indian waiter that looked like my Mexican-American nephew, James. I smiled as he asked me something that I really didn’t understand. Then he gestured to the side with his head. I went. ‘Oh my gosh! It’s James. I never noticed before but he does that same gesture with his head.

Again it was fun and a bit comforting. I guess I am home sick.

Stirred, not Shaken

Random Thoughts

I had been working around the house all morning and really needed to get outside for a little while. I decided to water the lawn, which, with our current drought in California, is probably some kind of major crime. But the lawn had not been watered in months and I needed to get outside, so I figured I would risk the jail time and water anyway.
As I was walking out the door I remembered coming across a page of prayer requests while cleaning the table. I decided it would be a good idea to water and pray at the same time, so I grabbed the paper and headed outside.
I started in at the top of the page. There was line after line about people in desperate need. Some had recently been diagnosed with cancer. Others were entering the final stages of that dreaded disease. For one person it seemed like everyone in the family had lost their jobs. There were two cases of brain tumors: one in an older person and one in a very young child. I prayed for each one. As I did I became keenly aware of how much people around me are quietly suffering. Of course I had those kinds of questions as to why God doesn’t just heal them all. I know the technical answers but I still feel their pain and know that God does too. I was also grateful that God has spared me and my family from that level of suffering.
Then as often happens when I pray, my mind began to wander. I thought that maybe God didn’t test me like that because I couldn’t handle it. My mind suddenly switched to the James Bond movie Beckie and I have recently watched, and the scene where the bartender fixes him a martini, shaken not stirred. As random thoughts go, I was back to the prayer list, that long list of people going through trials and personal tragedies, things that could shake a person’s faith to the core. But that is not God’s purpose. God puts us through trials to stir our faith not to shake it. Stirred, not shaken.