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Monday, June 21, 2010

The "Aha!" experience.

I once did therapy sessions and served as program director at the  Odyssey Harbor Ranch campus while I was in grad school studying Rehab Counseling Psychology. Odyssey Harbor was a residential treatment center for children and youth with multiple psychiatric and physical diagnoses.  I was responsible for the Bear's Den, a dorm for kids ages 6 to 10.
PH was one of the more interesting kids I treated. I had started a self-government in the Bears Den where the kids elected a dorm captain every week. It was a popular vote thing and you couldn't be on any kind of restriction to be dorm captain. The kids met on Fridays to determine consequences for some transgressions where that was appropriate. The dorm captain was the dorm's representative with me and he was the guy that got them special activities, privileges or treats. PH wanted to be dorm captain so badly that it hurt.

The kids didn't like him and he knew it. He complained to me in therapy one day, "I don't know why they don't like me," he shook his head in bewilderment. "I done beat up every kid in that dorm and still they won't pick me for dorm captain."

I was beginning to see a little distorted thinking going on. I tried to help him see that beating people up probably wasn't the best way to win a popular election, but the idea was totally outside his cultural paradigm. In PH's world, if you want to be the boss and be respected, you intimidate everyone else. Unfortunately for his popularity, the world we had constructed in the Bear's Den was ruled by law. It was a democracy and the citizens of that little world could exert power over their world with their secret ballot vote.  No matter how small they were, staff would protect their right to vote. No one could effectively control by bullying as PH had discovered.

That week PH was caught in the Bear's Den restroom doing some experimenting he shouldn't have been doing with another boy. Since it was on their turf, the kids voted to restrict both boys to campus for two weeks. I had to invoke a supreme court decision to prevent them from voting to take a more Mohammedan approach to punishment that involved amputation of offending parts. I explained that that according to our constitution, that punishment was not on the list of acceptable consequences. They relented at last (there was a lot of pent up anger at both boys because of their bullying).  They finally chose to issue both boys a one-and-one sentence that allowed for a pardon/parole the second week, but only if the dorm voted unanimously to let them off with 1 week time served. This was a very powerful teaching tool and often worked well, especially with kids who had any cognitive ability whatever. They were pretty fair about it since any one of them might face a jury of his peers at any time.

In two weeks the group was going to a baseball game and PH wanted desperately to go. He was an angel for that first week. He was helpful to the younger boys, respectful to staff and amazingly well-behaved. He told me in therapy that he was "trying real hard" to be good so the other boys would vote to give him that second week pardon. Fortunately for PH, the Bears Den boys had pretty short memories.

He came to me in therapy the next week almost giddy with excitement and it wasn't just over the upcoming baseball outing. The kids had not only voted him a pardon for the second week of his punishment so he could go to the game, but in the same session they also voted him Dorm Captain. The other boy had been awful that week and wound up serving the second week of his punishment and missing the ball game.

PH told me the whole story and then cocked his head as though a new thought had struck him. "You know," he said with the air of someone imparting a great truth, "If you are nice to people they like you!"

Following that revelation, PH's behavior improved so dramatically that he went home for good just 4 months later.

It was the most profound success I ever had doing cognitive behavioral therapy. 
Romans 8:28 promises that all things work together for good to them that love God.  I wonder if that's also true for those whom God loves, which is basically everybody.
I suspect that's true. No matter how we finally choose in the great "As for me and my house, we shall follow...."  decision, I think God gives us every opportunity to have that great "Aha" moment in our lives. I think everyone comes to it and either embraces the light or chooses the dark. George Lucas was on the right track with the cave scene in Star Wars. We face the dark and light throughout our lives, but in one moment of startling clarity, we all see two paths stretching before us.  There is a narrow, less well-trodden path uphill toward the light and a wide, easy glittering road sloping down toward a place deliberately kept obscured beyond broad twists and bends by those who keep the path well greased.
And at that moment we choose.
And at that moment we are forever changed. 
As Robert Frost so eloquently put it, "I chose the road less traveled and that has made all the difference."
Tom King

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Back to the City

All I need now is a gym membership and season tickets to the community theater!

When I left the city 10 years ago, I hoped I'd never come back.  People in real cities would laugh that I call a town the size of Tyler a city, but for a country boy like me, it'll do for a city till somebody builds a real one in East Texas. 

I heard an urban planner once lament that East Texas had the carrying capacity to support a real city, but for some reason, one wouldn't grow here. We have the most densely populated rural areas in the entire state.  A little decent urban planning and we could have a serious metropolis and the political power in the state house to get the goodies that Dallas, San Antonio and Houston help themselves to each legislative session (we only let our legislature meet every couple of years for a few months - keeps them and us out of trouble). 

There's a reason we don't have a mighty metropolis in the middle of East Texas.  WE DON'T WANT ONE!
We all moved over here to get away from the cities.  My Dad always said he planned to retire as soon as possible and move to East Texas and get 40 acres, a one-eyed mule and a Georgia stock (some sort of plow). it was his idea of heaven.  My stepmother, a confirmed city girl, shot him dead before he got the chance.

Ever since I worked at summer camp over at Athens in my college years, I've wanted to move to East Texas, for pretty much the same reasons Dad did - the lakes everywhere, the vast forests and farmlands and some of the oddest samples of homo sapiens you'll ever meet. East Texas was my kind of place.
For the past decade, I got to live my dream of living on the lake where the stars are so bright you feel like you could reach out and touch them - the quiet in the evening so thick you could grasp handfuls of it and stuff it in your pocket.

I suppose that's what I miss most. We've moved back to town now (thank you everyone who had a part in this recession) and here in town, you can't see the stars.  Maybe a few stray planets and the moon, but no real stars. It's never really dark here. The noise never stops. Haven't heard a Chuckwill's Widow singing in the night for weeks now.

I lived in "the city" for a year back in 1999-2000. Everything was convenient. You could get to any store in 10 minutes. Restaurants, movies, the theater could all be found just down the street. There is always something to do, but strangely, you never have enough time to do it unless you fight for it.
I can already feel the pressure building; the city pulling at me. "Now that you're close by, you can help.......?"  Everything's convenient, but all this time you save for some reason doesn't leave a lot of time for goofing off. I want to goof off a little. 

The good news is that I think I've found a job. It's close by so if they need me for an emergency, I can run right over and....................

I feel the city's talons closing around my throat.  Is that irrational? I know there's a reason I'm here.  God systematically took away all my options for staying at the lake till I was forced to move back to town. He's done that before and it always works out. He has his reasons, but I do get to complain to Him a little, don't I.
And I don't want to hear lists of advantages of living in town.  I just want to sulk for a while. I'm like Winnie the Pooh, singing my complaining song.  Of course, if I get the new job, maybe I'll be able to buy back my banjo (or get another one).  There is that.

But for now, just leave me alone and let me sulk till I get over it.

Tom King - Tyler, TX (I always thought "Flint, TX" sounded more authentically Texan)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Divide and Conquer: Why Progressives Are Suddenly "Getting Religion"

I do hate to come off like the gloomiest prophet ever, but anyone who really believes that Jesus is coming (as do 44% of Americans including Nancy Pelosi, if you believe her recent speech to the Catholic Community Conference), knows that things will get very bad before that happens. When I was younger, I used to wonder how in the world some of those woes and disasters forecast in prophecy would ever come to pass in an enlightened Unites States.

It's looking to me more and more likely, that our country will soon become a very different place and that we will lose the liberties that we Americans have long cherished.

So, how will it happen?

How will we become the socialist nation the progressives in our current government wish to build, especially when Republicans have an historic lead in the polls? At the risk of giving progressives ideas, I think this is how it can happen - indeed, I think it may already be in the works.

The progressives have a major problem. They don't have enough voters to survive in power after this upcoming election. The problem is how to win more supporters.  The answer?

Get religion!

Nancy Pelosi, at a Catholic Community Conference recently, made an emotional speech in which she claimed she governed according to "the Word". She said that  ‘'The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.’ And that’s the great mystery of our faith. He will come again. He will come again. So, we have to make sure we’re prepared to answer in this life, or otherwise, as to how we have measured up.” In the video, she is obviously uncomfortable saying all this religious stuff in public, but she goes on later in the speech to challenge Catholic bishops and cardinals to preach in favor of the administration's policy on immigration reform.  She said, we can't just send the 12 million illegal immigrants living in this country home or put them in jail. She said we need to make citizens of them.


"So they can vote Democrat" is the unspoken reason for creating 12 million new Americans. Simple Christian charity is the public excuse. Maintenance of power is the real reason.

Unfortunately for the Dems, even if they passed new immigration law today, the progressives couldn't have those new voters on-line in time.  So what's a progressive socialist to do in order to maintain power?  Here's what I think will happen. They will have to give something to a significant voting block that will win them votes.
  • They have the liberal Protestants.
  • They have the trade unionists.
  • They have the environmentalists.
  • They have the anti-Christians, academics and pseudo-intellectuals.
  • They have Hollywood. 
  • They have the progressive/socialist/liberal coalition.

The holdouts?
  • Roman Catholics
  • Conservatives and The Religious Right (The Tea Party coalition)
What can progressives give these two groups that won't alienate the groups they already have?  I think there's an answer.  Both the Catholic Church and the Religious Right have a real problem with the abortion issue, one not likely to be compromised on by either side.  BUT, there is one thing that both the Roman Catholic church and the Religious Right have both been calling for that the progressives could give them. I think Nancy Pelosi's sudden religious fervor is a hint at the left's willingness to reach across the gulf to exploit a perceived weakness in their opponents.

I think the blue laws are coming back. 

For those of you too young to remember the blue laws, back in the nineteenth century, state and local governments passed laws forbidding businesses from operating on Sunday. Though so called blue laws were clearly designed to support Christian sensibilities of the time, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that they do not violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. Although most Sunday closing laws have been repealed in the past 50 years, there are still some laws on the books that ban the sale of alcohol on Sunday with no more justification than to appease the Christian community's sense of propriety. Two groups recently have called for the reinstatement of Sunday laws. Want to guess who?

  • Roman Catholic Leaders - the Pope no less!
  • Elements of the Religious Right - led by the likes of Pat Robertson and other evangelicals.
Pope John Paul II released an encyclical in May 1998 calling on all nations to enact national Sunday Laws. The encyclical, "Dies Domini" was written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI and enjoins Roman Catholics to work toward such laws. The Encyclical further explains that Sunday observance is a mark of the Catholic church's authority to change the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. How better to skirt the abortion issue than to enforce Roman Catholic ideas of the ultimate authority by the church by making Sunday observance the law of the land. 

Evangelicals like Pat Robertson and members of the National Council of Churches have for years been calling for dropping the whole idea of separation of church and state in favor of enacting "Christian" federal laws like Blue Laws, which establish Sunday as a national day of rest. A recent backlash on the Right against the principle of separation of church and state sets the stage for the President and progressive supporters to "reach out" to conservatives.

At the same time, support for blue laws by trade unions, law enforcement groups and workers rights groups, can be appealed to on the grounds that "blue laws serve valid secular purposes, such as providing a uniform day of rest and reducing workloads on police departments, since most blue laws restrict alcohol sales, reducing law-enforcement problems". Supporters say blue laws, though religious in origin, are now justified by secular and economic purposes. Trade unionists and progressives would probably agree.

Not all Evangelicals agree with Robertson's calls for Sunday laws. Dr. James Dobson says such legislation would be " unconstitutional and an offense to millions of Jews and Seventh-Day Adventists in our nation."  Hard conservatives would never move left on an issue as essential to preserving religious liberty in the US as is the ability to purchase ammunition to preserving second amendment rights).  Note that a Sunday closing law would also appeal to anti-Semitic elements on both the left and among racist crackpots who claim to be conservatives, because it prefers the Christian to the 'Jewish' Sabbath.

The offering of Sunday rest legislation at the federal level would delight a solid core of the Religious Right who favor establishment of "Christian principles" in government in the U.S..  It would also appall economic and constitutional conservatives and, I fear, could successfully fracture the loosely organized coalition that exists in the Tea Party movement today.  "Divide and conquer" as the Romans used to say (Divide et impera).

Now, wouldn't that be special?

And boy, do I hope I'm wrong about this! Sort of.....

Tom King - Tyler, TX
(c) 6/1/2010