The Hierarchy of Idiocy

I am going to state the obvious here–but maybe do it in a way that you’ve never thought about before.  What I will do is explain for you in a neat and and tidy way the Hierarchy of Idiocy. We all live in a twilight theater of the absurd–a society of idiocy!  Rules and regulations that make no sense whatsoever enforced by people who wouldn’t recognize clear thinking if it bit them on the nose!  You know, the school principal who sends the preschooler home for making the hand sign for a gun?  So called educated people making decisions that would make our ape forbearers turn their heads in sideways puzzlement. Like Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs, the Hierarchy of Idiocy is shaped like a triangle with the penultimate idiocy at the very top. Here goes.

The Rock Solid Base

The metaphor befitting this level is a rock.  For rock is necessary to support the heavy base of the federal government.  Here we begin to notice that the usual skills of IQ don’t actually work here.  It matters not if you are a republican, democrat or confused–the solid base of idiocy is what holds the entire hierarchy together for the “common good.” Without this, the whole thing might collapse on itself causing an “intellectual spring.” Legislators state that we should run government more like a business–but in the entire history of the republic there has not been one with enough sense to run a business. At this level of idiocy the actually substance of an idea does not really matter.  What does matter is whether or not the opposite side can muster enough votes and hostile media to oppose and/or gridlock the proposed legislation back into the formless void from which it sprang.  Ideas which would have provided world peace and every person a gold brick have been successfully opposed. Next we progress to…

The Bark around the Tree

The next level is idiocy composed of those who run state government. It’s metaphor is tree bark. It’s not very smart but nothing gets in or out. These are the people who think it’s a good idea to let beer crazed college students carry concealed weapons on campus while cutting funding for education–thereby insuring a perfect storm of unmovable teachers meeting an equal and opposite unstoppable force of well armed pupils! These are the protectorates of the citizenry who propose legislation outlawing the wearing of yoga pants in public and the legalization of marijuana  Far out!.

The Soft Squishy Center

As we move closer towards the tip of the Hierarchy we have municipal government which is the soft squishy center of Idiocy, The metaphor here is the Jelly Fish.  There is no real brain here–just people who hang around with stinging tentacles.  You may have heard that you cannot fight city hall.  Actually you can, it’s just that nobody notices with all the other fights going on. The screaming that you hear is the pain of raw flesh being slapped by the tentacles of misplaced permits and workers who give different answers to the same question asked only a few moments apart.

The Apex of Idiocy

We now arrive at the mountain top–the Apexic glory of idiocy.  Actually there isn’t much to see at this level except the large crater caused by those lower on the hierarchy.  Here we find our local HOA-homeowner’s association!  These are the people who cite you for flying a flag on the 4th of July while overlooking the 50 foot yacht on the driveway across the street.  These are the people who ensure that one does not paint gazebos “the wrong color of white” while letting the neighborhood sign fall down in disrepair.

And there my friends you have it--The Hierarchy of Idiocy! Inescapable, ubiquitous  and everywhere about us. There is nothing more ridiculous than the federal government–unless it’s the state government.  And there is nothing more ridiculous than the state government–unless it’s the city government.  And there is nothing more ridiculous than city government–unless it’s your homeowner’s association. You have been warned!

Helen Castillo is My Hero

Okay I’m going to admit something–Project Runway, a show produced by the Lifetime Television Network is one of my guilty pleasures. I’ve been watching it for years.  The formula is rather straightforward.  Every week contestants struggle to create beautiful garments under the stressful conditions of limited time and resources, snarky colleagues, and harsh critiques.  It always stretches the contestant’s talents to the breaking point as they try to use their creativity to create amazing clothes.  This season on Project Runway All-Stars, I took a special liking to Helen Castillo.

Helen is talented, clever, creative and an intuitive contestant who puts everything on the line to meet each challenge. She is assertive, bold in her opinions, self-confident and articulate.  She is focused and a formidable competitor who takes no prisoners! Throughout the season her work ranked consistently high–though there were times when she struggled to maintain her place in the competition (especially the next to last episode where she was required to to participate in a sudden death face-off).   You can watch the show on many levels.  Here are some life lessons I have learned from Helen.

Pressure Creates Diamonds

Helen’s best work came as she faced extreme pressure. Though all of her work was superb, I felt her best pieces–her most creative work–emerged as she faced psychological pressures that would make most of us scream.  None like hardship or difficulties but these can be useful as a means of transformation. Struggle and challenge make us grow.  Were it not for the creative environment, I do not think we would have seen the scope of Helen’s amazing abilities.  That’s a lesson that should not be lost on the rest of us.

Use  your emotions in your work

Helen taught us that we can use our emotions, whatever they maybe, to produce a transformative and creative work.  In the face-off competition, Helen wept as she cut apart the garments of previous contestants in order to meet the challenge of making something new.  It was clear that she respected her friends and their work. Her tears were based upon a genuine sadness that she was required to destroy their creations. For a moment, I thought she might refuse to go further.  I would have understood that.  I’ve often though of quitting under conditions like these.  But Helen did something amazing. She used her sadness to produce a beautiful work–what Richard Rohr calls a “bright sadness.” The simple black dress with the white cat-eared collar communicated her sense of grieving, loss, and sadness even better than words.  It was a beautiful statement piece–a monument of sorts–that paid homage to those who had passed from the show even as she was required to carry on.  To me, that was one of Helen’s shining moments–perhaps a transforming one as well.  It demonstrated how we should handle grief and disappointment.

Always be true to yourself

Another lesson we can learn from Helen is to always be true to your own sense of self.  Helen trusts that her instincts will see her through. She demonstrates how one honors the self as they couple their unique interpretation of an assignment with personal style, creativity, and training.   I never sensed that Helen compromised on the big things–those that would compromise who she was as a designer–in order to “better” please a judge or mentor. She demonstrates how we can be authentic and autonomous without resorting to rebelliousness. Because of this, Helen Castillo shared her one-of-a-kind gifts with all of us–and that’s an important lesson for us all to learn.

Respect other’s opinions as you remain true to your own sense of direction.

Finally, Helen was gracious  when others expressed  opinions  of her work.   Sometimes those opinions seem rather harsh to me. She did not wither under pressure nor did she respond angrily.  She listened–occasionally stated her view–and took it all in.  What I admired about Helen was her willingness to accept her own creations even if others did not appear to understand her vision.  Though she appreciated compliments–she did not appear to need the approval of others.  She is a strong woman.

Though Helen Castillo did not win the ultimate prize that was measured in dollars and a fashion magazine spread– she demonstrated  that she had already obtained  what Project Runway is really all about–a well-developed sense of personal style and autonomy that can be used to creatively produce beautiful clothes that make all of our lives just a bit better.  The prize would have been nice–but it was not needed to validate her sense of worth or importance as a designer.

Helen, you’ll do just fine–I expect to hear great things from you!

The Magic Sidewalk

Each workday morning I pull into a space on the parking lot behind the building where I work.   As I exit my Honda I’m juggling coffee, a backpack, workout clothes, and my ever-present iPhone. It’s a precarious state where I try to keep the strap of my backpack from sliding off of my shoulder, which is hunched sharply upward. If it doesn’t stay in place, it will fall to the crook in my arm, jerk my limb, and cause the coffee to slosh out of the cup on to my hand and sleeve. I have a 50/50 probability of arriving to my office with a soaked hand if history is any predictor of success.  Somehow equilibrium is achieved by the time I take my first a few steps from the parking lot to the sidewalk that connects to my building.  I call it The Magic Sidewalk.

As you can see from the picture, the sidewalk appears to be a rather nondescript  concrete path, about 40 yards long,  with trees and grass on either side. Objectively, it looks rather desolate in the winter and lovely in the spring and summer. But that’s only an observable view–it’s something more to me. The walk provides a transition from one world to the next.

As I take those first few steps, I automatically stop thinking about home and other things and began to ponder the work ahead. In a few more yards the eastern sun will catch my eyes and distract these thoughts causing me to notice the interplay of light as it shines through the branches of the trees. All thinking is pushed aside as I notice a sense of dimensionality between sun and sky and branches and their relationship to me. My body stops walking on its own and a new awareness takes over. The magic has begun. Wonder begins to stir as my senses take in sun, sky, clouds, trees, birds, sounds, plants, wind, and smells.  The synergy of these things fill me with peace, calmness, timelessness and a sense of the ineffable. I don’t want to leave and I would carry it with me always if I could.

As I transition back to the people, places, things, and problems around me where I work, I hope that these brief moments of transcendence matter. But I suspect it has meaning only to me. These days most folks question the relevance of any subjective experience in the workplace.  And even though I think it’s important, I suppose it’s best I keep it to myself–after all It’s just an old sidewalk, a scattering of Oklahoma trees in the morning sun and nothing more.  And they are right–because that’s all they see.  But the magic sidewalk is hidden in plain sight– and it makes all the difference to me.

An Irish Blessing

Here is a beautiful Irish blessing for your day sung in a sweet clear voice.

Longtime Sun

May the longtime sun shine on you

All love surround you

And the pure light within you

Guide you on your way

(Irish Blessing)


Vacation Memories

This is a scrap from an old journal I wrote about my vacation to New Mexico several years ago.

We visited lovely lands, strewn with majestic mountains, scenic vistas, and covered with powerful skies. We stayed in cozy accommodations filled with comforts that were unique and pleasing to the eye. For a small moment in time, we shared in a land that is rich in history and narratives–filled with ancient and proud people from diverse cultures. Vibrations of spiritual energy were everywhere nourishing our souls–stimulating creativity, promoting wonder, and increasing our appreciation of the Great Creator. But more importantly, it all happened in a context of loving companionship that allowed each day to usher in joyful experiences, adventure, and appreciation. These were days filled with smiles, loving touches, and happy moments of loving and being loved. We made memories that would soon become a welcome part of the story of who we are.

A New Space

This little poem I wrote four years ago still has meaning for me. I have found that most of my anxieties come from resisting “what is” and insisting upon my version of what “should be.” More and more I’m learning that God’s future requires surrender and trust that good lies ahead–even if I cannot clearly see it in this moment.

A New Space

Let go of the past and your future begins.
Anxiety’s cure lies ahead not behind.
Time to clean house and make a new space.
Think twice and you won’t do it.

Anxiety’s cure lies ahead not behind.
Don’t let the past be your tether.
Think twice and you won’t do it.
Close your eyes, take a breath, jump!

Don’t let the past be your tether.
Better an uncertain future than gilded shackles.
Close your eyes, take a breath, jump!
You are more ready than you think.

Better an uncertain future than gilded shackles.
Time to clean house and make a new space.
You are more ready than you think.
Let go of the past and your future begins.

How I chose my family

I was three years old when I adopted a new family for my sister and me.   After giving my birth parents numerous opportunities to do right by us, it was a no brainer of a decision to make. We concluded that they were unable to take care of us and that we should cut our loses and move on. We selected several foster care families to stay with while we searched for more suitable parents.

Staying together would be a hard bargain—perhaps a deal breaker—for some of the prospective families we intended to interview would only want a boy; but, we were counting on my lovable little boy routine to persuade them of our cause.

I located a prospective family that I found suitable and arranged a time for us to meet. I chose a time that was convenient for all of us and met them at my favorite place—the Fair Park Zoo. We met in front of the monkey house.

The man was muscular, tall, and sported wavy black hair. His partner was an attractive woman—about five foot nine who was light featured with dark black hair as well. They seemed nervous yet excited. They were eager to engage us in conversation and were very friendly. I interviewed them in front of ‘Charlie the Chimp’.

I wasn’t necessary for us to say much. Adults don’t expect much of three-year olds. For my part I let them know I was attached to my sister and showed them enough interest to get invited to spend the weekend with them. I indicated to the state social worker that this would fine. They showed us a good time, bought each of us a pair of shoes and took us to church the next day.  Over the weekend I decided to go with my gut feeling and decide that they should be the parents who would take care of us for the next 15 years.  I had a judge make it official and we were good to go.

Now that I had found a suitable family, I would begin teaching them how to properly raise us all.

Being Jesus in the World

The following story from the Stillwater News Press best illustrates what I think it means to be like Jesus in the world about us.  In the end, it’s less about what you believe and more of what  you do.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Thanks to Good Samaritans who aided us at grocery store
Posted: Saturday, January 17, 2015 11:36 pm
Stillwater News Press

To the editor:

On New Year’s Eve this year, I found myself standing in a very long checkout line at local big-box store with my 7-month old son, a cart full of baby food and two government issued checks to pay for the baby food. In May of 2014 my son was born and I became a single mother, and having not graduated from OSU yet, money was tight and I needed all the help I could get.

So when I finally made it to the front of the line, I handed the checks over to the cashier and attempted to leave before my son had an absolute melt down (it was his dinner time and bed time would shortly follow). But of course it’s never that easy when dealing with government assistance and  corporate grocery stores. There was a problem that neither the cashier nor the manager she called over could figure out. While they argued over whether I had picked up the exact items specified on the check, my son and the several people in line behind me, had become restless.

One woman had already switched lines – something I very much wanted to do as my embarrassment mounted and I anxiously tried to soothe my baby before he lost it and I would be seen not only as a broke mother, but one who couldn’t  even keep her child calm.

And then a voice behind me asked “how much is all this?” Great. Now they are going to start chastising me for not being able to afford the few dollars it takes to feed my child. But  when I looked up, the woman in line behind me was talking to the store manager not to me. He tried to explain to her that the state wouldn’t reimburse them if everything wasn’t correct, to which she replied, “That wasn’t my question. I asked what the total was.” It dawned on me than while I saw the way she was blocking me from the podium with the credit card machine, and her own credit card held ready in her hand, what she intended to do.

I hurriedly mumbled how she didn’t need to pay for it, that everything was fine, when her husband, whose agitation I thought to be for me holding up the line said irritably, “you shouldn’t have to go through this. This is ridiculous, we want to help.”

At this point all words failed me as I tried to keep the tears from falling down my face by placing my shaking hands on my son’s, They paid for all of my groceries. My pride wanted to continue to argue with them, but I was so overcome by their gesture all I could manage was a watery thank you and a hug in which I tried to  show the amount of gratitude I felt for them.

Still trying to keep it together, I got all the way to the door before the wife called “Ma’am you forgot something!” I looked down at the item she shoved into my hands and she said “have a happy New Year,” and without another word jogged back to pay for her own groceries. It was a $100  bill. At this point I could only manage to say “Oh my gosh, no!” But she never turned around again. She kept her back firmly to me, and being painfully stubborn myself, I knew what that meant – it’s yours, I won’t take it back. I dissolved into hysterics.

By the time I got my son in his car seat and cried for several minutes before I could even drive, I realized I hadn’t even asked their name! They had their own daughter in their basket, who I am sure like most parents they spent too  much money buying Christmas presents for. And yet they still gave to a complete stranger, they still took a moment to change my life.

If you are reading this, I encourage you to tell this story to your friends, family and neighbors. To hang this up in your office, or school. Not only do I hope that family will read this and understand all the gratitude I couldn’t express that night, but also to prove that kindness and self-sacrifice are not dead or only Internet urban legends, but that they live here in Stillwater, and these little miracles happen because of the wonderful people here.

The Least of These Brothers

It was a wet and cold Oklahoma day. It had been raining the day before and the temperatures were in the 30s. The 40-year-old man stood holding a sign at the intersection of Memorial Road and May Avenue. He had been there for the past three hours asking for money. His clothes were damp and dirty. They did not keep out the winter chill.

He had no home, very little education, no place to stay, no job, and no prospects. Some would say he had made poor choices and they would probably be right. That added to his shame and misery. He was out of options—bottomed out—with very little money and no credit cards to his name. Without money, there would be no place to eat or rest for the night.

The cars would come off the freeway and stop at the red light. He would try to establish eye contact with as many drivers as possible hoping that someone might give him a little money—maybe he could obtain enough for a private room in some rundown motel across town. Most people turned their heads away and refused to look at him. Some would stare at him with a menacing look. But there were always a few that handed him a dollar or two.

It was just after noon. The large churches on Penn and May Avenues were adjourning and cars were beginning to back-up for several blocks now. Inside the late-model cars he saw families that were warm and out of the cold. Most looked as though they didn’t have a care in the world. He wondered, “What do all these people do?” “How can they afford those nice cars and clothes?” Where do they live?” “I wonder what it’s like to be them?”

As before, most turned their heads and drove on by. There were those that noticed him and had something to say about his plight. Though he couldn’t hear them, some said:

“Wow it’s really cold out there today! You got to feel sorry for that guy standing on the corner!” Others would remark,
“You know what, I’d love to help that guy—but he would just probably go and buy some booze and get drunk. You can’t be too careful nowadays.”

Others remarked that the man was pulling a scam,

“Think of all the cars that give him money—I’ll be he makes more than all of us!”

Still others went by and stated their amazement that an able and healthy bodied man couldn’t find work like everybody else.

“The Bible couldn’t be plainer—If a man won’t work neither let him eat!”

To most cars, he was invisible. The cars went by while the passengers talked with one another about church, where they would eat and what they would bring to the super bowl party in a few hours. They passed by the man and never saw a thing.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:34-40 New International Version (NIV)