Friday, April 1, 2011

March 2011: March Madness!

March Madness in the U.S. refers to the annual playoffs among college basketball teams which eventually, after much speculation in advance involving nationwide gambling, a national champion is crowned. An even greater level of insanity can clearly be seen in the competitions relating to the Cricket World Cup -- with India emerging victorious over its neighbors Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Better, at least, that civic (and even national) pride be displayed with respect to sports teams than on the battlefield. Sadly, the latter continues to bring sorrow to the families of soldiers in this world. Blood spilled through traditional warfare. when objective analysis clearly suggests more nonviolent options could have been utilized, is often the source of public outrage – as reflected in the featured photograph this month taken in Portland, Oregon, on March 19th to commemorate the U.S. attack on Iraq eight years ago which, by quite conservative estimates, has resulted in over 1 million Iraqis dead.

As over 2,000 rallied in Portland to commemorate the years of war in Iraq, these protesters were concerned as well with ongoing U.S. support of military operations in Afganistan, Palestine, and (starting this same day) in Libya. Protesters pictured here understand not only about how the willingness to kill creates obvious casualties – but how devoting resources to produce death denies resources which protect life, especially for the poor and most vulnerable members of society. If we were to cut our military spending in the U.S. alone by even 20% this year, budget cuts to programs 46 of our states would become quite unnecessary and calls for continued restrictions upon the exercise of civil liberties would almost certainly cease.

So it is that our March Madness this year has had us mesmerized by news coverage of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant disasters that have hit Japan as well as other apparently unrelated events that are, in fact related. How much more generous the U.S. have thus far been to the suffering people of Japan if we had fired fewer cruise missiles at Kadafi forces in Libya? (The answer is up to $1 billion during these last two weeks alone…) That $1 billion could also have gone far to close the budget gap in our state of Wisconsin where the governor has not only proposed cuts in workers benefits but has signed into law restrictions upon their future right to even negotiate issues regarding them! This has resulted in thousands protesting in the streets of Wisconsin for 3 weeks in scenes reminiscent of Eqypt in January – demanding regime change in the United States!

A few years from now these comments of mine may superficially seems irrelevant and outdated. Japan will rebuild. Khadafy will fade as a footnote in history. The governor of Wisconsin will likely be recalled or otherwise voted out of office. Ironically, both our generosity and our brutality may share the same fate as we proceed to address new issues in much the same ways. All will mostly be forgotten. Yet even though human memories are often short-lived, the Law of Karma has no such shortcoming: It simply IS. Our actions, both as individuals and as groups, can be counted upon to reap consequences which ripple into the future for better or for worse. Collectively, whether we care to admit it or not, we will reap what we sow….

The month of March witnessed both the stressful end of Winter Term for courses at Portland Community College and the fresh start of new classes for Spring Term. The seasons are reflected in my workplace! Even as we all are impacted by the tilt of the Earth and its rotation around the sun, the law of karma on a small scale impacts us in exam evaluations (for students) and performance evaluations (for faculty) -- all of which have consequences not entirely foreseeable. Rather than watch a basketball gamed one Sunday afternoon, for example, I went to my office to provide a last chance for one student to take a final exam she had missed due to attending a funeral the previous week: My very small sacrifice allowed her to pass the class (by her own performance effort), keep her financial aid, and continue on her career path. Was this action praiseworthy? – I think not. It was my duty. Some might even see it as being a little crazy, but for me it was not even a choice. Aware of what was clearly the right thing to do, had I not done it, I could not have enjoyed the basketball game and might not have even slept well that night.

By far the most pleasant choice made by my wife and I in March could also be seen as somewhat insane. During the week between the end of Winter classes and the beginning of Spring classes, we decided to go see a friend of ours in California. Larry is a Franciscan Priest now serving as Guardian (guy in charge!) of a 200 year old church and retreat complex at San Miguel (St. Michael) Mission. With the help of our daughter, Sonrisa (who we dropped off in San Francisco along the way), we drove 14 hours in one day to San Miguel, stayed 3 nights, and then repeated the 14 hour ordeal home to Portland. As it turned out, the drive time was mostly quite relaxing and provided opportunity for conversation and listening to music! The three nights at the Mission were without TV, computers, or even a functioning electrical outlet -- but complete with frequent religious observances, meals with the friars, and renewed appreciation for the value of personal relationships.

It may be well to remember that the inspiration for Father Larry and other Franciscans is Francis from the city of Assisi (where my wife and I visited last June). That 12th Century Italian saint accepted the Divine Madness which prompts us to show self-sacrificing compassion to others and great love for all of God`s creation. His life of voluntary poverty would certainly be seen as madness by most people today (though not by people like Gandhi or Mother Teresa of Calcutta). A military soldier prior to receiving his visions, Francis remained a soldier of sorts, once walking unarmed into the camp of a Muslim army preparing to battle Christian Crusaders! His nonviolent behavior and his willingness to die for the faith given to him by God both gained the respect of those who would be his enemies and allowed him to leave in peace following his sharing with them. Unwilling to kill others, Francis was willing to give his life on their behalf. Madness? Perhaps a very wonderful madness!

In what may sometimes seem to be an insane world, maybe the question is not whether madness should be ours, but what kind of madness we need to accept and embrace! Some hardships, like Japan`s earthquake and aftermath, can be best weathered with the assistance of others. Other madness, as come in the wake of war, may be better addressed by global indignation relating to its causes and public protesting against the simplistic military means we too often use to change regimes rather than really address root causes of conflict. Blaming workers defending the rights of organized labor for local budget deficits is remarkably superficial. Being called to sacrifice our personal comforts and return in haste to India, as Father Larry was, to perform the last blessing for a loved one can be a great service. I have no doubt that Mother Theresa is eternally grateful for Larry`s sacrifice and blessing.

Have you done anything recently that might be considered crazy by others who you respect? Hopefully! Whether large or small such action, if born of good intentions involving minimal violence to others, can be your contribution towards building a better world. Let us never underestimate the power of kindness – even if it may be described by others as madness. Blessings be unto you.