The Muddle Class… May 19, 2012


I do believe I was in the ninth grade–a freshman. At our school the class was called Civics. It was a required course taught to instill  an understanding of how the American form of government functions and also to do a little bit of flag–waving to convince us, as future tax-payers, how fabulous the setup truly is.

It’s called checks and balances. You know it well: the executive branch, headed by the President; the legislative, by Congress, and the judicial, mainly referring to the Supreme Court. I suppose I could talk about our history and say that this particular organization seems to function–but the lethargy, competition and frustration that is produced through the process holds back progress to such an extent that it is often nearly lethal to human causes.

It’s because we believe strongly in this country that we need a middle. We want a middle class, we extol the value of middle-of-the-road music, we love the happy medium (just another name for the compromised middle), and we’ve even established a world called “middle management,” where people who have not yet excelled to executive level can still feel a boost of confidence that they are no longer working on the floor with the serfs.

The problem with the middle is that it creates a jealousy for the top, and too often, a disrespect for what lies beneath. The checks and balances envisioned by our forefathers was constructed in a time when individual thinking was supreme, and being linked to a party or clump of beliefs was secondary. In other words, as long as every person actually thinks for himself and is not responding to the demands of an organization, then debate, challenge and conversation can occur on issues, resulting in some sort of agreement. But if your allegiance is primarily to your cause instead of reasonability, then your particular “flavor of the month” can dig in its heels and halt progress.

I will tell you what the problem is with the legislative branch of our government–you have nearly 535 or so men and women in one building, wishing they could be President–wanting to do the bidding of the President, or deciding to do everything they can to discredit that President. They are jealous of the executive branch and therefore can use their vote to pout.

Let’s move on to the judicial arm of the government. When I was a young man, the politics of a judge appointed to the Supreme Court was quite private, and whether the individual was conservative or liberal was a better-kept secret, with each person who received the honor promising to judge cases on merit instead of political swing. That is gone. The Supreme Court has lost its meaning because it’s just as political as Congress.

So as both political parties try to extol the beauty of honoring and respecting the middle class as the true by-product of America’s governing style, the middle class instead becomes the muddle class–lacking the integrity of being satisfied, but also lacking mercy towards those who have not yet achieved solvency. This is why middle management, in a company, is filled with some of the most nasty, cantankerous pencil=pushers you will ever find. They are discontented that they are not upper management, and also disgusted with those who work beneath them because they once held those jobs and feel that they are menial and meaningless.

If you will allow me to advance a theory, here’s the problem. Right now, in this country, we are trying to develop a philosophy based on the facts provided. Therefore, we are always changing our philosophy just due to circumstances, which can frankly often be temporary. America has developed a “moveable philosophy,” and because of that, all we have to do to become befuddled, frustrated, angry and unwilling to cooperate is to be confronted with a new set of hassles that contradict and challenge our previous conclusions.

Consider this: we just finish with the issue of civil rights for our black citizens, battling, arguing and even shedding blood over the issue, and then, before we can even take a deep breath, here comes the issue of gay rights. Rather than taking what we learned through the civil rights movement during the 1960’s, we act like we’re reinventing the wheel when it comes to civil liberties. We fail to honor a basic philosophy. Bluntly, we do NOT hold it to be self-evident that all men are created equal, as Jefferson insisted. We are continually looking at similar issues and acting like they’re brand new problems.

Let’s bring it into the normal household. If my oldest son has a curfew of eleven o’clock and I discover, that eleven o’clock is too late for him to be out because of the temptations available and I decide to change his curfew to ten-fifteen, it is ridiculous for me to start all over again with an eleven o’clock curfew with my next son. Have I learned anything through the experience with my first-born? Have I developed any concepts, attitudes and notions that are transferable to the next situation?

Therefore it is not an issue of checks and balances nor whether we have a middle class. The problem with our vision is that whenever anything new comes up, we never consider our history while honoring our philosophy, and applying both yardsticks to measure out wisdom to our new situation. So there you have it. History, our philosophy, action–the correct order and it is the way to get things done using the gravitas of our journey.  Instead, we try to develop a new philosophy for everything based upon the facts provided rather than adjusting the facts provided to our well-established, trusted and tested philosophy.

I have very little conflict in my life. It is not because conflict is not available. I deal with hundreds and hundreds of people every week–a built-in formula for stress (or even a coronary). But I don’t look at every person I meet as a new problem or even a new situation. I take these people into my life based upon an established philosophy and allow them to fit into that existing Magna Carta of tried-and-tested behavior. I took a combination of Thomas Jefferson’s “all men are created equal” and the suggestion of Jesus–“do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and I came up with MY core of conduct: “NoOne is better than anyone else.”

So if I were in Washington, D.C., the checks and balances would work for me. I would not feel I was better than the people who elected me, and I wouldn’t be jealous of someone who had achieved a higher office. In my soul, I have accepted the fact that no one is better than anyone else. But absent that fireball of intense understanding inside my soul, I begin to try to adjust everything I do to the information that is right in front of me. In that case, I not only become confused over the statistics and data, but bewildered and angry that nothing seems to be working.

I don’t care if you’re a Republican and I don’t care if you’re a Democrat. But I will tell you this–if the soul of your philosophy is not the precious idealism of “NoOne is better than anyone else,” you will eventually clump and muddle things up by protecting your cause instead of creating a cause to protect those in need. I do not extol any system unless it honors a central truth and holds that truth to be not only self-evident, but well-practiced.

So you can debate about Mitt Romney or Barack Obama all you want to. Our government will be at a stand-still as long as we are trying to find a middle ground that just becomes a muddled mess of confused, conflicting opinions. Sooner or later, both parties–all Americans–and everyone who lives within our borders need to agree on the lessons of our history and hold dear a common philosophy about how to move forward. We can debate how “NoOne is better than anyone else.” We can argue about the best method to treasure that particular gold nugget. But to proceed forward with half of our country believing one thing about humanity and the other half of our country believing another thing about humanity is to produce a muddle class that has no idea which direction to go. Going up seems impossible; going down sounds like hell.

Here is my suggestion–tell me your core philosophy and I can tell you if we’re going to be able to work shoulder-to-shoulder towards the common good. For me, if someone contends that “some people are just better than other people,” I can love that person but I cannot work with him. Because for every reason you can come up with that some individuals are better than others, I can tell you that holding that position is always the first fruits of bigotry.

So how do we get OUT of the muddle class? Somewhere along the line, as Uncle Tom Jefferson told us, we must hold some truths to be self-evident. Otherwise we debate the statistics and twist them in our own direction, instead of using our philosophy to determine how we will address the present possibility. 


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The Power of Poor … November 24, 2011


In Washington, D.C.

Here’s a fact. Chief Running Deer and Pilgrim John Alden are never going to share a turkey together unless they first have partaken of a common poverty.

If the Pilgrims had been highly successful in the New World, they would never even have considered turning to their perceived savage neighbors–the American Indians–for assistance. The difference between red skin and white skin was made null and void by the fear in each one of them of just becoming dead skins.

The Pilgrims were starving. Sickness had set in. The harvest was not plentiful. They had not found the New World to be the vista of possibilities or the land of milk and honey, but rather, a kingdom of mean and hurt. The Native Americans had survived the weather and learned the ways of the soil, and though they themselves were still very impoverished, these industrious people had found a way to survive the climate and still have enough to share with paler brothers. Without poverty, there is no Thanksgiving.

I sometimes become amused when I hear politicians in our country dream of a day when all Americans are rich–or at least securely tucked away in the middle class.  Here’s a clue, my friend.  Rich people don’t develop a sudden tendency towards generosity.  That’s why, when a rich person actually does give a gift, it makes headlines. Wealthy folks are even MORE concerned about maintaining the inventory of their supply house than those who are pulling roots out of the ground and plucking berries off of bushes.

Of course, the introduction of the middle class into any society is the intrusion of a mindset that has everything budgeted down to the tinest farthing, so as to maintain the blessing of perceived security. No, I will tell you on this Thanksgiving Day that there would never have been a Thanksgiving without the power of poor. It is amazing how racial barriers, ethnic fussiness and religious bigotry disappear when there is only one slice of bread and two people to share it. At that point, there is a choice: are you going to kill your neighbor to procure the whole slice, or find a way to be grateful as you munch your half?

The weakness of capitalism is the notion that people will not be happy until they’re financially secure. If we really believe that no one can find contentment without remuneration, we limit the scope of the human heart to share, the human soul to generate ideas, the human mind to make plans and the human body to endure a bit of discomfort in order to achieve sustenance.

Can we really be thankful if there were no chance that we actually were in peril of being without? I just don’t think so. In my lifetime I have had much and I’ve had little, and I will candidly tell you that the times I had little I was more innovative, generous and forthcoming than I ever was when my coffers were full. I tried to be the open soul when I possessed greater wealth, but nothing compares to the power of poor.

As Pilgrim John Alden stood outside his cabin and saw Chief Running Deer walking up the path, his first puritanical instinct was probably to grab his musket and destroy the enemy. And then he noticed that the Chief was carrying corn, had a wild turkey thrown over his back and some sort of flask containing what he hoped was good drink. The instinct to kill was replaced by the desire to survive.

So as you sit down at your Thanksgiving meal today, give yourself a great gift. Envision a climate where you really would be in need–and what would be your choice and direction in handling that lacking? Then look at your table of plenty and realize how magnificently blessed you are–and unworthy of such consideration. For me, I remember one particular Thanksgiving when turkey was served only as hot dogs and desserts were certainly absent altogether, but what we had was a great sense of humor and a hope for a better future. Perhaps a bit of tenderness will enter your heart and you will realize how close we all come, from time to time, to being abandoned.

Racial barriers were eliminated at the first Thanksgiving … because hungering and thirsting drew all the parties closer to true righteousness.


Here comes Christmas! For your listening pleasure, below is Manger Medley, Jonathan’s arrangement of Away in the Manger, which closes with him singing his gorgeous song, Messiah.  Looking forward to the holidays with you!

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