Family


Momma Knows Best.

Intellectually, it is far easier to get your head around what a pox mankind is for our Mother Earth. Emotionally it is quite another thing. Since we walked out of Africa (we are all Africans) approximately 125,000 years ago, Modern Man has rapaciously consumed the environment, never really pausing to consider our impact upon the planet.

By the 1970s, however, it became clear to the most casual observer that human activity (population growth, agricultural practices and industrialization) was quite literally destroying Earth’s rich diversity of life.

Everyday we are inundated with countless “canary in the coal mine” examples of the specific impact we humans have on the land, water and air that sustains us. Our oceans are warming and increasingly acidic. Our topsoils are washing/blowing away or relentlessly sprayed with polluting herbicides and fertilizers. Our atmosphere is increasingly filled with carbon dioxide. Animal, plant and marine species are becoming extinct at an ever-accelerating pace.

We are fishing our oceans clean of edible species. Our fellow humans are “harvesting” perhaps this moment the last elephants and rhinoceros of Africa. 25 million Brazilians now live in the South American rainforest with more humans on the way. In the next few decades all of Earth’s coral reefs will have succumbed to warming waters and acidification. The fresh water Himalayan glaciers that today quench Asia’s insatiable thirst are inexorably melting away.

All of this we are well aware. All of this is caused by human activity, by human population levels unhealthy and unsustainable for our planet’s ecosystem. And there is virtually nothing we can do about it. Even if we stumbled upon “cold fusion” tomorrow, discovered how to cleanly desalinate ocean water and developed innovative new food sources not requiring yet more untilled acreage or scarce freshwater, mankind is heading to a day of—let’s speak euphemistically—to a day of, uh, adjustment. The bill is coming due.

It’s ironic to me that the one nation on earth that should be at the forefront of building a sustainable population and economy is the United States. But now we are hearing increased rumblings that America is heading for population problems. Our birthrates are “plunging” and we could soon become an “empire” in decline if we don’t increase our national population (look at Japan we are constantly admonished). We are told that if our population is not expanding, that our economy will not flourish. Who’ll support the aging Boomers for gawd’s sake?

Our economic model is predicated on growth. Growth today, growth tomorrow, growth forever. It is a growth based on an ever-increasing population (to be consumers — to buy Pampers, toasters and vacations). Not only in America but worldwide.

There is no economic alternative (sustainable & green) being offered that is not predicated on an ever-increasing world population. More people – more growth – more consumption. To argue otherwise and you are painted as un-American, a collectivist and anti-human. To challenge why America “needs” to be at 500 million people, well, we’re talking jobs. And, that I totally get. It is hard to embrace “sustainability” with so many babies crying for more.

Yes, let’s avoid today’s financial “melt down.” But unless we, as a species (nations), imagine and create a sustainable future, what we now experience as a “cliff” will be remembered as a distraction.

Either we humans wisely reduce our population or Mother will do it for us. Mom will cull the herd, our economies be damned.

If This Is As You Are.

He sends flies to wounds He should heal.
Terrence Mallick

It’s the premise I cannot buy. Language is a human construct. At some point in our development as a species, a distant ancestor took that gush of lung air and articulated a feeling, a thought, an expression. A warning perhaps. A rush of expressed pain. A rudimentary sentiment of emotion. Who knows the word(s) uttered. Lost in the ether.

My third child skipped single words altogether when he first began to speak. “Had it first,” was what rolled out of his virginal mind and mouth. Does that not express the quintessential essence of humanity? Anyone who ever experienced an older sibling gets the sentiment.

It is through language that we build our world. It constructs our universe. It reveals the unknowable. It forms our fears. And it defines our gods. What a jump of imagination it was when “that” distant evolutionary cousin so long go introduced god into the human equation. How else to explain what was “then” unknowable but to an unknowable super entity, god.

And as our language grew, so to the attributes of our god(s). Powerful beyond description. Omnipotent. Omniscient. Omnipresent. All powerful. All knowing. All present. And that is the premise I cannot buy.

I recently saw a marvelous movie, Terrence Mallick’s “The Tree of Life.” Brad Pitt and Sean Penn star but it is the female lead, Jessica Chastain who rightly commands our attention. She is the mother of three boys and wrestles with life’s accompanying sorrows, constantly imploring/questioning god’s meaning. It is a beautifully filmed movie. Some attribute “religious” overtones to the movie’s meaning but that should not prevent one from embracing its artistic pleasures, its humanity.

A line softly uttered early in the movie goes to the heart of the human predicament, “He sends flies to wounds He should heal.” This is a statement questioning God’s plan.

And it is a fundamental question we should all ask of God. The words attributed to God are “Omnipotent. Omniscient. Omnipresent.” If you are God, you know everything that will ever be, you cannot create a mountain you cannot lift and you are everywhere for all time.

So why, if this is as you are, why would you not ever so slightly tweak the human model? Knowing what you know? If you knew that on December 16, 1967, American pilots would open their bomb bay doors and rain napalm on sleeping Vietnamese peasants and the flesh would melt like butter from the arms of screaming innocence (children) as they ran from their burning huts—why not tweak the model? Why not ever so slightly “change” that which you claim to so love?

Mallick does a good job of finessing this question. Masterfully, actually. Just look at the beauty of the universe. As life consumes us all, in every sorrowful iteration, the universe displays its glory (beauty) in all its infinite iterations. And God, well, he’s a busy chap. A busy beaver. And please don’t take it personally (the sorrow). It’s all of a piece, don’t-cha see.

No, actually I do not see. The words we use to define God give him all the cards. He deals deuces to some and aces to others. A rigged game.

Yet none of us get to sit it out. We either need a new croupier or a new vocabulary.

I opt for words.

Yea, It’s Called Life!

I marvel at all the things that can get-cha? The list is endless. Perhaps, my favorite piece of fiction, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 best captures that quality of life in all its many ironic variations. Something, indeed, will bring each of us, as “they” say, low.

While watching yet another TV commercial for yet another malady that I only vaguely knew existed, let alone is so prevalent as to warrant national advertising buys – think: there has to be a sufficient market (created?) for a “medicine” to warrant expensive TV rollouts – on comes a serious chap who looks painfully into the camera and plaintively whines out a “I have this deep radiating pain that . . .”

And I shout at my television, “Yea, it’s called life.”

My father was a tough guy. In every good sense of the word. He boxed Golden Glove contenders while in college because he could take a punch. He once-upon-a-time worked 2,555 days (seven years) without a day off because he was the sole-proprietor of his small enterprise. He fathered four children and saw to our welfare within a loving yet contentious marriage (aren’t they all). He was unabashedly an intellectual elitist. He read voraciously all his life and his elite consisted of any blood relative whose name ended in Jepson.

Christian Frederick changed his mind (albeit reluctantly) when facts/circumstances warranted. He was big in the chest yet much bigger in the brain. He had a lawyer’s training with an anarchist’s perspective (Boy! That’s covering the bases!). He disciplined with the “look.” Please Dad, please, anything but the “look” of disappointment.

In the 18 years I lived in his home, he touched me exactly once in anger or in frustration — he pinched my cheek at age six. I had been with my sisters, frolicking up-to-our-chests in a rain flooded farm pond (hogs and runoff just a fence away). Too funny today to think how utterly disgusting that was! And, of course, he drove by during that delightful summer moment!

I had at least two “lightbulb” moments with Father. A lightbulb moment is when events coalesce (the planets/stars align) with awareness and the string of personal illumination is pulled just as the curtains of your mind open and you inwardly, mentally acknowledge, “Yesss! I so get that. I do.”

My father was a mink rancher when he wasn’t a lawyer and one day, while walking bare foot around the ranch (as if 8 acres was a ranch) I cut my middle toe down to the bone. Bones are, indeed, white! It was a nasty, gaping gash, bloody and painful. Huge scar today. A visit to the ER (stitches) would be de rigueur but that wasn’t happening that day. I swooned. I’m on the ground, wailing, and Father is preparing to clean the wound and wrap-it-up nicely, thank you very much. In between my sobs, sniveling and howls, Father leans over, secures eye contact and asks matter-of-factly, “Do you need an ambulance?”

What he was asking and what I immediately understood was 1.) I wasn’t going to die, it wasn’t the end so, 2.) Shut the front door! Quit sniveling. Man-up, boy. Of course, I did not require an ambulance. And by implication, understood years later, we’re all dying, so quit whining.

He wasn’t being harsh or insensitive, he was suggesting that I accurately assess my situation and respond accordingly.

Yea, it’s called life.

To Lost Innocence
And Found Pleasures

Most weekdays I can sit in my backyard and hear only the chirpings of birds. Rumble from a distant road serves as a reminder that regardless one’s momentary reverie another world does exist . . . and that it will inevitably encroach. Some afternoons a neighbor’s children, two delightful little girls are unleashed from their home with uncontrollable glee, giggling and howling with life and unadulterated joy.

And in those delightful moments before the sibling rivalry inevitably flares, before “had it first” is screamed, before the younger, true to form, howls “Mommeee,” there is such sweetness in the universe. These children in these moments present the sublimity of life. And then, poof, gone. So too the tranquility. Sigh.

Loss. I find those little roadside shrines to the dead a curious thing. Often decked out in cheesey, garish plastic flowers—they are garlands to the dead commemorating the sorrow of life . . . for the living.

It’s as if illegal Hondurans were hired to construct the memorial. Months later, covered in road grime, the fake red and yellow flowers now faded are distorted and distended by Florida’s sun. Sometimes, the grieving leave a stuffed animal, frequently a teddy bear or the like. Inevitably the belly bloats, rips apart and as you whip by at 60 miles an hour, you look back across the ditch and see the stuffing whirling in the wind. This is where Sarah Sue died when Tucker, three sheets to the wind, left the road. This is where Sarah Sue’s mom’s life—inconsolable with grief—ended. Sigh.

I’ve a modest proposal. As important as it is to remember the dead it is critical to commemorate being alive. Particularly where we grew, matured or thrived as a human being. It’s a self-indulgent (and aren’t we humans, after all, so very self-indulgent) little statement, one of those “Kilroy was here” proclamations. A beacon, a remembrance of things past, to the glorious, meaningful or significant.

Say Sarah Sue survived and she and Tucker lived happily ever after. But once upon a time, when in the full splendor of their glorious youth they lost their virginity together in the woods just off 110th Street. Why not a little shrine to that quintessential event, a little memorial to lost innocence and found pleasure? A modest stone etched to say” “SS & T found themselves in pleasure. It was such joy. Spring 2001.”

Suh-weeeet! Or, say that you’re in college and during one incredible lecture the quintessential light bulb clicks on for you changing your life’s direction. It was a EUREKA moment! Life was never the same again. Why not an unpretentious brass plate attached to a nearby wall that simply states: “In this classroom during the fall 1966 term, DJF’s intellectual boundaries were pushed way back. And it was joy.

In garages where PCs were created or kitchens where Veg-O-Matics emerged, place markers acknowledging the event. Even firings! An unassuming plaque on a tree: “In this building in 1983, CRJ was fired for rank insubordination. It was a liberating, life-expanding gift. And joy ultimately followed.”

It is suggested that our biggest challenge as human beings is being in the moment. Do seize the bird’s transcendent song. Embrace the child’s joyful, exuberant laughter. Life’s moments. Times of found pleasures. Acknowledge. Revel. Mark.

And repeat.

By The Busload.

Gloria Steinem made the observation on Bill Maher’s TV show that the Righteous Right love life from the point of conception to birth. I laughed out loud. From the point of conception to birth. Hah! And then it’s every child for herself.

While serving on the Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando board of directors I’d visit the old office on Colonial and there were always several pinched and pious protesters wailing about the sanctity of life and how egregious it is for American women to actually “own” and make decisions about their bodies. Don’t-cha just love how Republicans are all about getting the onerous government out of our lives, off our backs, but somehow when it comes to a woman’s uterus, well, they’d hypocritically set-up a national registry, if allowed, for our daughters to register their uteruses as state-managed property.

At one time there was a bait and switch operation doing business next door to the old Parenthood offices. If you didn’t know the difference, the signage would suggest that you could walk in and get birth control and family planning assistance. Far from it. They’d offer to help the woman if she was contemplating ending her pregnancy through abortion. They offered counseling. Do you know what the woman actually received upon delivery? Did she receive financial support? An educational trust fund for the new child? Decent housing for mother and child? A sustained diet of nutritional food? No, she got a two-week supply of Pampers. That’s it. Is that a hoot or what? “Good luck, Girl. Here’s your Pampers!”

These same self-righteous folk who rant and rave at a woman when she is, arguably, most vulnerable, well, where are they when the wheels fall off a life and a family is thrown into poverty?

Twenty percent of America’s children live in poverty. One in five of our children, America’s children, are living in poverty. The walking wounded. America’s shame.

I hope you watched 60 Minutes Sunday night. It featured homeless children, by the busload, in Seminole County. BY THE BUSLOAD! I am not easily brought to tears but they did well-up as children discussed on camera their lives living in a car or day to day in cheesey motels. The show portrayed beautiful, eloquent children, themselves brought to tears. From hunger. From guilt. From fear. From shame.

Seminole County Schools now have bus stops at motels and our children line-up for transportation to Casselberry schools. Not a few kids. Lines of children whose mother (or father) has lost her job, her home and is reduced to living out of a motel room, that is, if they are lucky enough to scrape together a few dollars to “move” out of their car. One incredibly mature girl talked matter-of-factly about “living” in a Wal-Mart parking lot (in her family’s car) and cleaning herself in a Wal-Mart bathroom before going to school. This is Seminole County. Not Mexico. Not Somalia. Not rural Alabama. Seminole County, Florida.

To those so concerned with the unborn, have the moral consistency to show equivalent compassion (and action) for “life” after birth. And to Governor Scott and our Republican legislators, your hypocrisy will be front and center as you eviscerate a woman’s fundamental right to choice while gutting state programs for the poor. What gutless cowards. You are Florida’s shame.

Whatta Boob!

I sometimes talk to the television. I know. I fight it. I do. Someone’s prattling on, talking nonsense, gibberish and I’ll unleash a “Shut the fork up.” Any of the simplistic Tea Party morons or Rick Scott (one and the same) can provoke my ire.

How about the local TV promo? The must see Live at Five, unfolding “Motel Mayhem on the Trail” featuring some disheveled, impoverished shopping-cart-pushing, toothless old hag who saw it “all!” Only on Six!

Or, the TV weatherman, so giddy he’s actually drooling over the impending Armageddon of a “Grab the old ladies. Everyone goes!” approaching storm system. Oh, and screw your Super Doppler, X-Mo, Mabuse-Mo, Skydar-Raydar that sees around corners, under water and up skirts. Jeeeeeez.

You know who watches the national news at 6:30 PM? Men with, erec, uh, extension issues, people without teeth, women whose bones, that if caught in a stiff wind, might break and squirming white guys on job interviews who think that surreptitiously eating a piece of plastic will somehow magically diffuse the gas passing from that, never to be mentioned, orifice. “What are your salary expectations?” Toot! Toot! “That much!?!”

And sick people of every imaginable sort. Invariably, some gray-haired, old fogey, just a few years older than myself looks straight at the camera and starts whining about some aspect of his condition. He’ll reluctantly rub his shoulder and arm and start, “I have this deep, radiating pain . . .”

And I’ll calmly observe to no one, “Yea, it’s called life.”

I do not know anyone who does not have a plate load of life (pain) that they are dealing with. If not themselves personally (at this specific moment) then a family member. A long time unemployed nephew, a niece who can’t get pregnant, an alzheimeric father, an alcoholic sibling, disappointing children, a relative upside-down experiencing foreclosure, a worthless son-in-law, a shrewish, emasculating daughter-in-law, a friend with breast cancer, problems at work or school, any number of money-related issues, a failing business, divorce, disenchantment, disease, despair, depression, suicide, the middle-aged man who came out of the closet late and has yet to reconnect with his parents, broke, destitute, isolated and alone. Did I leave anything out?

Did I mention my boob? That’s right my boob. My pectoral. My breast. For the past five months I’ve had a lump in my right breast. It kept expanding until it was half the size of a chicken egg. In my breast! Just like a woman! Initially, I was a bit miffed. A lump in my breast? That’s what “goils” unfortunately get. Then I thought, “Hmmm, much better in my breast than in my, um, favorite “B” parts. If you catch my drift.

I went to the doctor. He wanted to give me a script for a mammogram. A MAMMOGRAM! Must I wear a skirt, too?

I had done my research. Only 1% of breast cancers are in men and my lump hurt. “Most” cancers do not hurt. So I said, “I’ll wait and see.”

Months passed. Folks (who care about me) got in my face. It didn’t go away.

And then I got the news I had been waiting for. My insurance actually pays for such procedures. Hah! No, seriously.

My x-ray technician said nice skirt and the doc proclaimed it was nothing.

Whatta Boob! I am.

“Don’t cry, Chritty.”

Luck is just that. We don’t ask to be born. We don’t come with a pre-consciousness that let’s us preview (let alone approve) the home into which we are, uh, thrust. Nope. We arrive and as luck will have it, you’re passed around as the sparkling, shiny-new little jewel that you are.

I was so lucky. To be passed around and held and I’m sure told, “Don’t cry, Chritty.” I’ve a picture of my sister Sandra holding me on her lap, she’s maybe five and I’m all of a year yet I dwarf her. I was a big, robust, certifiably rosy-cheeked baby and she, just a peanut of a girl but if ever the cat smiles for having just swallowed the canary, well, that is my sister’s pictured delight. She’s told me that I dropped into her life as a gift, as her baby, too. How sweet it is. Life.

We talk. It was she, who, a few years ago introduced me to the idea that “We are the universe talking to itself.” Suh-weeeeet. What a fascinating concept. That out of the vast celestial whirlpool, our sun, once upon a time, firmly grabbed our Mother Earth and their chemistry eventually begat us. Talk about sexy. And we haven’t quit chattering since. Since that first moment when, some long ago ancestor coyly stepped out of the tree to our future—a distant time when we were little more than cat food.

We talk. About all such manner of things. And I asked her last week in passing what she was thankful for. We had been lamenting, as liberals are wont to do, the nation’s collective vapidness, the banality of our national discourse. It is such a loss. But one can only wallow so much in the muck of sorrow.

About 20 years ago I started reading the mythologist, Joseph Campbell. He turned a number of great phrases. One of which goes, “We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” Here’s a corollary. “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.”

We’ve all heard something to the effect, “Have enough focus for the moment that as you are falling from a cliff to your death, a passing flower leaves you muttering, “Beautiful.” That is our condition, folks.

We require the ability to turn from the sorrow in life—from a sister’s death, a divorce, a child’s paralysis, your baby now crippled from an Afghan landmine to an environment polluted with such reckless abandon, with as much indifference as that of our ancestors who willingly disposed of the American Indian. And, what’s that? We are to, “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world?” Un-huh.

But my sister when asked what she was thankful for said, “Everything. I am so glad to be alive now.” I pressed her. “Every morning before I get out of bed I give thanks to the glory and splendor of life. And that I am alive, this moment, to experience it. Every day.”

I’m a Ducky Luck! To have a sister who reminds me that livin’ is acknowledgin’. That to be alive this moment is beautiful. Too.

To my faithful reader, may your life be just that. Beautiful. That is my Thanksgiving toast to you. And, luck.

Tra-la-la-la-la.

Lest we forget. There is always an argument for more. There are many “kinds” of people. One broad category of people deals with wealth. I’m not talking about intelligence or ability, just wealth. I know a number of individuals who are not particularly bright or witty or even kind but they do have wealth. There is an excellent chance that such folks are the beneficiaries of inherited wealth. I applaud inherited wealth. If granddaddy worked smart or was a total scoundrel yet had enough presence of mind (and good legal/financial counsel) to establish a trust (or investments) that today pays the country club fees, etc. for his genetic juice, well, who are we to judge otherwise.

To the degree any of us can, we try to give a leg-up to those in the bloodline who follow. How big a leg-up and for how long (successive generations) depends on a number of factors which are not the focus of today’s essay.

I’ve a family joke that goes, “I’d like to live as well as gramps.” I grew up in Iowa in the 1950s. Few from my town of Sioux City were vacationing in the Virgin Islands in January or going to the slopes for extended ski vacations. I heard of a kid or two who lived that way, who left in junior high for private schools in the East. But they were few, indeed. There were some truly beautiful, architecturally desirable homes in Sioux City, I know, I delivered The Des Moines Register newspaper to them for five years. But, simply put, ostentatious wealth and the display of it was unseemly and not something “we” sensible Iowans ever did.

Yet my grandfather made a bundle of money as a lawyer and was in the financial position of “buying” during the Great Depression. He lived grandly by such standards of the times. He had two “domestics” who handled the children (seven), the house and the cooking. He traveled extensively in the 30s to Florida to big game fish. Alaska, Mexico and Canada, too. To fish. My father drove new cars to college during the Depression. He married the most beautiful woman (empirically) in town and joined his father’s law firm (Jepson, Jepson, Jepson & Jepson). It had to have been a “good” time for him. But by the time 1970 rolled around, he was recently divorced and for all intents and purposes, broke. He spent the next 26 years of his life happily doing his thing and accumulating a little money on the side.

My father always did his thing. Except when he didn’t. He wanted to be a physician but my grandfather insisted he become a lawyer, like all his sons. I know that “chapped” my father. He grew-up (the family baby) with the proverbial “silver spoon.” But that never handicapped his spirit, actually having the benefits of wealth at a certain age can be a wonderfully liberating experience in what it provides. He had the independent soul of an anarchist with the mind and language skills of a lawyer. A dichotomy, yes, but it was a great combo for the 20th century.

Wealth. Is a tool. Is an instrument. (It should be a verb.) It provides access, opportunity. It can be liberating (except when it isn’t). Wealth is relative. It is temporary (because human life is temporary). I’ve said it before, the only thing better (for me) than being Christopher Robin Jepson would have been to be Christopher Robin Jepson Rothschild or Christopher Robin Jepson Medici. But then again, if I had been a Rothschild or Medici I would not have been a Jepson and I am “content,” at ease with who I am. I have to be. If we could choose our parents before we were born, well, just imagine that world.

I was blessed at birth! The stars, Jupiter & Mars aligned to give me Chris and Marybelle Jepson for my parents. Thank you.

How much is enough? How much does “one” require to be happy? This is a tricky question? One of the trickiest of all. Particularly in the “type” of world (society) we now inhabit. Human beings, I believe, are “inherently” status driven. Both men and women are, for the sake of this conversation, a bit like the male peacock. We preen and poise for the most fundamental of reasons, to have access to the opposite sex. “Some” psychologists suggest that is what everything (life) is all about. The art, the music, the literature, the building of financial empires, whatever it is, snowboarding like Shawn White, it is all about access to the opposite sex. Being noticed. Be desired.

To the degree wealth achieves or facilitates that function, is a matter of economics. The big-haired women of the stock car Daytona 500 world (as an entire economic subgroup) are, perhaps, “driven” (have been conditioned) to respond to (value) the trappings of flashy cars and speed (Vroom! Vroom!). Whatever. What you drive (to some) determines your “value” to the ladies.

America’s women are similarly “driven” to stand out. Every economic class has its signals, its trappings, it’s hierarchy of exclusivity based on/off wealth.

But at some point in life, wealth, in and of itself, is not about sexual desirability (although that big sexy bulge in your back pocket has been determined to always be in demand), wealth is about what it provides. To you. For others.

But again, how much is enough? The swindler Bernie Madoff wiped out a lot of people or reduced them down to their last million or two in the bank. I’ve seen them crying on television. I get it. They’ve lost a (varying) degree of security, of flexibility. They “vas” robbed. I’d execute the SOB. Seriously. Wouldn’t hesitate. It might have a salubrious affect on deterring similarly like-minded scoundrels.

I know a professional chap in Winter Park whose wealth is perhaps around $10 million. He owns real estate. He does well. He travels. He’s intellectually engaged. He laughs at himself. And, if I were judging this individual (and I am), I’d say he’d be what he is (today) regardless of his $10 million. Or $8 million. And that is key. To me.

Right this moment, as I write this, the leaves are playfully rustling with the squirrels in my sun-dappled backyard and I am listening to an exquisite piece of jazz titled, Ben Webster for Lovers, by the superb saxophonist Ben Webster. Buy it. Order it today. While you are at it, order Waltz for Debby by the Bill Evans Trio. These two albums are ecstasy for the ears, heart and spirit. They are sublime. And are available to anyone—TO ANYONE—regardless their level of wealth.

Artist Paul Signac said of Monet, “He paints as a bird sings.”

Wealth can facilitate many things. But regardless the size of your checking account, wealth is not a requirement in hearing (a) Monet sing to you.

Can I hear a “Tra-la-la-la-la,” the joy of art from each of you? And, trust me, you don’t even have to carry a tune!

Sweet. Life can be.

On Whose Authority?

I’d like to explore this Thanksgiving, 2009 if the individual is ever absolved of the responsibility to think for him or herself. How do we reach a moral or ethical decision? On what exactly do we determine what is appropriate or inappropriate, right or wrong, good and bad? On whose authority should we act?

Shakespeare observed, “Why then ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” There is a part of me that completely agrees with this perspective. Yet, child molestation is not made acceptable by thinking it is permissible. Rape. Intentionally polluting out environment, most wars, stealing an election, violence against the harmless, no amount of thinking will make such acts ethically acceptable. To me.

Obviously killing falls under the “thinking makes it so” category. We kill during war but we call it self-defense or “Manifest Destiny” or “Remember the Alamo” or “My Country Right or Wrong.” We kill to protect ourselves, even our property. We execute killers. We kill time. We kill ideas. We kill creativity. Spontaneity. We even kill ourselves. So there is a great degree of “relativity” on how we apply the Do Not Kill admonition.

Is there a moral code for how we “should” act that is in any way separate or distinct from human beings? The Ten Commandments are a human construct, an understandable attempt at creating order out of a world of chaos. I’ve countless examples of religious doctrine passing for divine wisdom. Why we have to attribute humane behavior to a supernatural spirit has always made me chuckle. Can we not attempt on our own to be “better” without insisting that some nebulous otherworldly spirit is responsible, is pulling our strings? God is watching. And the Boogey-Man is in the closet. What’s the difference?

I’ve said for years that a gift one generation can give to another is to let go of shopworn ideas, of questionable values and odious behaviors that while once acceptable and normal are no longer so.

I have a family example that illustrates this perfectly. My grandfather was a martinet. He instilled fear (love, too) in his sons. He punished with a belt and taught his sons that such violence was acceptable, normal and permissible. He was so fearsome that his brother sent his children over to be disciplined by Gramps. My father started out his family and, as the twig is bent so grows the tree, he thought that hard, physical, emotionally confrontational parenting was how you did it and my brother bore the brunt of just that for the first four years of his life. My brother says today, “Thank gawd for sister Susan, she saved my life! Dad had something else to focus on after she was born.”

Decades later my father welled-up with tears describing how he treated his first child. He changed his behavior. My father let go of how he was raised, of his parenting examples and literally became a much kinder and gentler man (parent) as a result of some personal epiphany he had in the mid-1940s. I was never aggressively touched, not once, by my father. Father let go of the baggage of an earlier generation and we (children) all led better lives as a result. What a gift. Thank you, Father.

My point in this example is that we all make decisions all our lives based on how we were raised, what we learned from our parents, what their values were and how we saw them applied.

Literature, fiction is a fabulous tool of moral persuasion. It’s a gift. By reading a book (play, poem, novel, etc.) we can literally submerge ourselves in another’s life and experience what they experience. Think Charles Dickens, Nabokov, Whitman, Orwell, Voltaire or Julia Alvarez. Fiction offers us the ability to live a variety of “morals,” to try them on for size, to see their applicability from the “safety” of our over-stuffed den chair. Literature has arguably been the most illuminating of life-changing tools. No wonder book burning, book banning, censorship is such a familiar and persistent phenomena.

Reading on your own, thinking for yourself is probably the most revolutionary act we can all freely participate in. At least in America, in the West.

We come to conclusions about “moral” issues based on what we observed as children, what we have learned by living as a adults, what we have gleaned from our efforts at self-education (reading and such) and from what our “trusted” authorities tell us is so. An illustration of a trusted authority follows.

On June 18, 1452, Pope Nicholas V “authorized Alfonso V of Portugal to reduce any Saracens (Muslims) and pagans and any other unbelievers to perpetual slavery.” Slavery was sanctioned in the papal bull Dum Diversas.

This act, according to some historians, started (the imprimatur of) the slave trade of West Africa.

On January 5, 1455, Pope Nicholas V again wrote to the same Alfonso. “It followed up the Dum Diversas extending to the Catholic nation of Europe’s Dominion over discovered lands during ‘The Age of Discovery.’” “It sanctified the seizure of non Christian lands and it encouraged the enslavement of native and non-Christian peoples in Africa and, later, to the New World.”

History is another avenue available when determining one’s moral barometer.

Why would you automatically believe what your church is telling you about the morality of reproductive choice or homosexual rights when that very same institution has been on the wrong side of the dime so many times in history? Why? Why?

From slavery to how the Earth moves through the heavens, Pope after Pope after Pope claimed moral authority and people died, people suffered.

Faith is good, I practice it myself. But faith does not absolve you from not thinking through why and how you live (lead) your life. There are many ways to determine answers as to how one lives morally.

What we learned at momma’s knee, what we learned in “kindergarten,” life’s experiences, life’s possibilities through fiction, and our trusted moral authorities are all factors in making us the moral person we are.

Because the Pope (or any religious authority) issues a dictum prescribing your moral choices does not prevent you as a sentient human from legitimately asking, “Why are you right now condemning homosexuals, for example, when your moral authority has so often wrongly censored so much of humanity, condemning so much of humanity to suffering, humiliation and death? And the morality of that is?

Answer that and then judge, condemn others. This time of Thanksgiving.

Hair.

Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding. Martin Luther

Hair.  One of the things that had me go, “Hmmmm,” about John Edwards was his hair.  If you have not seen the man preening to the tune  “I’m so pretty, I’m so pretty,” on YouTube, do so.  It’s an absolute stitch. You’ll watch it more than once.

Hair. Just before Christmas last year, I cut my hair.  I went to my regular barber. It had been 26 months since I last saw him. I hadn’t had a “trim” in 26 months.  My barber’s shop is in a downtown Orlando garage. His charges for a haircut have gone from $5 to $7 since 1995.  He gives a first rate haircut.

Long on hair, short on brains.  French Proverb.

Hair.  I’ve been meaning to write about hair for a couple of months.  I didn’t cut my hair for 26 months.  I kept it cued-up all the time once it reached ponytail length.  At least once a week, I braided it.   It was a genuinely fun thing to do. To grow my hair long.   And then I cut it off.

Hair.  My father cut my hair all the way through high school. He cut my hair for 15 years until August of 1967.   In all that time, my father knew one haircut. Off.  Dad cut my hair off. It was a genuinely good thing having my father cut my hair.  It turned out to be a fine ritual for us.  It didn’t always seem that way, though, at the time.

In the basement, under a “bulb” in front of my father’s green darkroom door, in a matter of minutes he’d buzz my hair off. He would constantly rub his hand over my head to feel how smooth he’d gotten it. He’d tell me how nicely shaped was my head.  My father had big, powerful hands and he always smelled good.  Regardless of how poorly we were treating one another, well, it kept us in touch.

Gray hair is a sign of age, not of wisdom. Greek Proverb

Hair.  Folks would ask, “Why’d you grow your hair out?”  Or, something like that. And I’d say, “Because I could.”  “Oh, no reason.”  “Just to proooove a point.”  “Cuz I wanted to.”  A few months stretches into a year, or so  and I’m humming Tina Turner’s, “You think you’re slick but you can stand a little greasing.”  And then I get the idea to have my sister do a portrait, a 21st century Van Dyck.  And then my hair was gone.

Hair.  The most interesting thing occurred.  I never would have imagined it. Never in a million years. Local people who saw me with some regularity watched my ponytail grow. At a year, it’s long.  At 26 months it’s longer yet.  And then it’s gone.  And what did a surprising number of women say to me, “Oh, how much better you look.”  Uh, uh, uh.  Gee, thanks.

The hair is the richest ornament of women. Martin Luther

Hair. I found it odd because the implication is so startling in its insult.  Men have dueled over less.  “Hrumpf!  I look so much better than what?”  Ha!  Too much!  I once asked a woman when she was due?  She said she wasn’t pregnant. Somewhat indignantly.  That is about as close as I can get to an equivalent sort of internal response.

I’ve been informed that women are just more “expressive” that way (how you are looking) with one another. Well, excuuuuuuuuse me. I’d like to say here that men communicate a whole hell of a lot better but we don’t.  Seriously, men have dueled over less.

Hair.  Hair was an issue this presidential campaign.  A good man, John Edwards, has been found wanting because he was caught preening in front of a mirror like an ingénue.  So what?  It doesn’t mean as president he couldn’t order someone killed.  It wasn’t the preening to me. That’s just human silliness. It was the $400 haircut.  Please don’t run for president getting $400 coiffures.  If you are a guy.

Hair. Ask most women. Hair has through the decades been an issue, a saga, an ordeal of highs and horrible lows.   I’ve been on a 90-mile car ride (a trail of tears) with a weeping woman. It was tragic!  SHOCKING!  All over a bad haircut.  Bad cut. Bad color. Bad hair days. Bad hair months.  Years?   So I guess, I get it, you see someone come out of bad hair years well, by gawd, I’m telling him, “ How much better he looks.”

Guys would say, “I bet you don’t sweat as much down your neck now.”

As I read the earlier Martin Luther quote on a woman’s hair I punched in the name Martin Luther to confirm my suspicions and sure enough it is the very same Martin Luther, religious founder.

Luther is one of the vilest anti-Semites in history, possibly the worst. There are millions of Lutherans.  Do we ask Lutherans to renounce their founder, their church because he was a despicable anti-Semite?  Then why would anyone denounce Barack Obama because his minister forcefully slams the nation, oftentimes in anger, over how America has historically treated its black citizens?  Uh, uh, uh?

Hair.  Religion.  Ask two different people which is significantly more important and you’re apt to get two different opinions.  I agree.

Hairball. 175 campaign days to the election. We’re all going to feel like we’ve swallowed a giant hairball by election day. Luther said,  “Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding.”  And the modern equivalent is, “Winning must trample under foot all reason, sense and understanding.”  Sigh.  And.

Hair. A timeless human diversion.  An extension.  A farce. A tragedy. A delight.

Reach Jepson at: Jepson@MEDIAmerica.us

04.24.08

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