Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Whisper of a Serpent

On Friday I tuned into the Sean Hannity talk radio show on my way home from work as I usually do because for one I get a kick out of hearing the rhetoric and two I always like to hear what the other side is thinking and saying. I also listen to Mark Levin and occasionally Rush Limbaugh for the same reason. My commute is short, so on Friday I only caught a couple of minutes from Mr. Hannity's show, however, the clip I did catch was a portion of "If I Were The Devil" by long time radio newsman/commentator Paul Harvey. Mr. Harvey created the original of this homily around 1965 as a warning to America about its own decay. I tuned in at the point where Mr. Harvey was saying "I'd begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve." Upon hearing that I thought to myself how that is a perfect analogy to what is going on in our world today. We(the world) is "Eve" and like Eve we are listening to what is being whispered to us by the serpent.Notice it said a whisper and not a shout or a yell.  Don't believe we are listening?  Look at our murder rates. Look at our crime rates. Look at our high school dropout rates. Look at our incarceration rates. Look at our rape and molestation rates. Look at our divorce rate. Look at our teen aged pregnancy rates. Do I need to list more?

The couple of minutes that I heard from that speech prompted me to come home and post on Facebook and Twitter how "The Whisper of a Serpent" would make a great sermon title. I hadn't even heard the entire homily, however, the little part I did hear stuck with me. There is no doubt that just as God is on His job, Satan is on his. As we read the book of Genesis in the Bible we see the consequences of Eve's listening to the serpent's whisper and if we pay close attention we can see that we are headed for similar if not worse repercussions. Take a look at the YouTube video in this post If I Were the Devil and give some critical thought to it. As always, I look forward to your commentary in the comment section of this blog. Follow The Critical Thinker on Twitter at @thinkcritical01.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Sad State of Affairs; But We Must Still Have Hope

On yesterday while visiting my high school Alma mater, I had an interesting experience that prompted me to write this post. I had had a conversation with one of the most musically talented individuals I know and who now serve as the band director for the marching band at my Alma mater. As a result of our conversation, I needed to stop by the school to deliver an instrument that I had in my possession. As I walked into the band room, many memories flooded my mind as I thought back to the countless hours I spent in that very same room when I was a student at the high school and a member of its jazz band. The band director was about to begin a music theory lesson for the band members when I walked in. While the band director was about to interrupt his lesson on my account, I asked him to continue with the lesson because as a musician myself, I would be happy to sit in and listen.
 As I looked around the room, I noticed the lack luster looks as well as body language on the student’s faces as the band director attempted to teach music theory. He drew a staff on the whiteboard; he then proceeded to draw music notes. He explained the lines on the musical staff and even gave the mnemonic of Every Good Boy Does Fine to explain and to help them remember that the music notes that appeared on the lines were E, G, B, D, and F.  He continued explaining how the mnemonic for the spaces on the musical staff was FACE for the notes F, A, C, and E, and all the while he was doing this, the reactions of the students did not change. He would ask a question and then say “Come on, talk to me!” as he was looking for responses to his questions. Some of the students would give a halfhearted response that could hardly be heard as a result of him or her being unsure of his or her ability to render the correct answer after having just heard what was said. As the students reluctantly participated in the lesson, the bandleader shared with them how he understood that they were excited about being able to go out and shake their tails, however he wanted them to be equally as excited about the music theory in the event that if they were performing in a neighboring community and was asked what did you learn about music when you were in the band room, the student would be able to respond in musical language. They would be able to explain what a music staff is. They would be able to explain what a scale is. They would be able to explain what musical key they were playing in. They would be able to explain the difference between a Middle C and a B-flat. He further shared with the students that he knew they knew how to shake their tails and so did the rest of the world, as the ability to shake our [African American] tails is a stereotype that is continuously perpetuated. In fact, many think that shaking our tails, is all that we can do.  I shook my head in agreement, as I know having taught a diversity course some years ago that it is a very well known stereotype that African American youngsters can bounce a ball and shake their tails.  I stood there and observed the interaction between the bandleader and the students and thought back to how different it was in that same room nearly 40 years (36 years to be exact) ago.

As I continued standing there observing the music theory lesson, a security guard knocked on the door and said he needed to speak with the band director. As the band director stopped his lesson to speak with the security guard, he asked me to say a few words to the students as a former band member and now a school principal. As I began speaking with the students, I noticed the same tired looking unenthusiastic body language and facial expressions they were giving the band director were now being given to me. In spite of this I went on to explain to them how in this very same room the passion that we students had for what was at that time the number one marching band in the state of New Jersey. I explained to them how this very same band who practiced in this very same room, gave halftime performances for the New Jersey Nets professional basketball team and New York Giants football teams at the Meadowlands. I further went on to explain that when that band was named the Marching 100, that we truly had 100 to 200 members in the band and that it was not 25 people being called the Marching 100. I went on to share with the students how we would be in that same room at 6:00 a.m. in the morning practicing with another practice to be held immediately after school. You could see the mumbling and grumbling and their facial expressions of how they couldn't believe that someone would actually be up at six o'clock in the morning and attending band practice. 

As I spoke I shared with them about the pride we took in just being able to be a part of either the jazz band, marching band, concert choir, jazz ensemble, boys glee, or girls glee. I even shared with them how there were boys who quit the football team to become  members of the marching band, as most people in the audience did not attend the football games to see the football team, but to see the marching band in action during halftime. I could see for some of the students the light bulb going on; however, for far too many, they were just sitting there and receiving the talk as either blah blah blah, or the sounds made by Charlie Brown's teacher. It really was a sad state of affairs; however, as the title suggests, we must still have hope.

I used the word “but” in the title of this post intentionally because the word “but” is used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned, so I  titled the post indicating that it was a sad state of affairs, however to negate that sad state of affairs, we must have hope. We must have hope that these children will indeed one day get it. We must have hope that what we are seeing is not what or who they are going to be. We must have hope that one day they will come back to that band director and say thank you for teaching us music theory. We must have hope that the lessons and discipline learned in being a part of something such as a marching band will one day give the students the transferable skills needed to succeed. 

As I concluded my remarks to the band members sitting there, I encouraged them to strive to be the best. There were former band members in that room as well who could attest to the fact that 36 years ago in that same band room, nothing but the best musicians in the state was produced and that these children could be that if not more. Yes as I spoke to them, the thought kept crossing my mind that we are indeed in a sad state of affairs but we must still have hope. I came home after that conversation with the students and pulled out my old jazz band and concert choir jackets and thought of how proud we were to not only wear the jackets, but to have earned a spot in what was at that time the best high school musical program in the state. Not just any old body could be in the band or choir doing things just any old kind of way. There was discipline and practice that was involved in being a part of this band which ultimately lead to us being recognized as the best. I am truly thankful that I came along during the time that I did. I would not trade my childhood and teenage years for these children’s years for all of the tea in China. In 2012, there is no reason for our children/students not to be the best.......... Yes, as I conclude, it does seem like a sad state of affairs, but in the end we must still have hope. Something to critically think about. I welcome your thoughts in the comment section of this blog. Feel free to follow The Critical Thinker on Twitter @thinkcritical01.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Too Many of Us Have Become Mental and Spiritual Garbage Trucks

It has been a little while since I posted to The Critical Thinker, however in light of this Kate Middleton mess I could not help but to write a post. Critical thinkers it has taken me a while to put this post together because I really could not decide what approach to take because there were so many different angles and approaches swirling in my head. So many things came to mind such as the notions of being star struck with celebrities, the ridiculousness of most (if not all) “reality” TV shows, how we continuously feed into and give power to the “paparazzi” by purchasing the magazines and newspapers who publish their intrusive photos to why are we so interested in bad news and what goes on in other people’s lives? All of the concepts swirled for a few days.

I even gave some serious thought in terms of what this post would be titled and because most of what I've described above in my opinion is mental and spiritual trash, I came up with the title Too Many of Us Have Become Mental and Spiritual Garbage Trucks. Now I'm sure for many of you critical thinkers reading this, the thought of being compared with a garbage truck is not a flattering thought, however, upon doing the research for this post I came across a YouTube video that is actually titled Types of “Garbage Truck” and in that video it shows various types of garbage trucks such as the Automatic Side Loader (ASL), Container Delivery (CD) and Front Loader (FL).  After viewing this clip, it dawned on me that too many of us have allowed ourselves to become mental garbage trucks. In my opinion, being star struck with celebrities, reality TV shows and the power given to the paparazzi by us fall into the category of mental garbage.  Trash is always placed into something whether it is a can, a truck, or a dump; trash is always put into something hence the simile of us being mental garbage trucks.  Why does a magazine publisher feel the need to publish photos of Kate Middleton’s breasts? Why do we care? Why are we even caught up with breasts to begin with? Yet, every day we load mental trash like this into our minds, bodies, and spirits like our sanitation workers load trash into a garbage truck. If we would stop supporting the magazines and newspapers that purchase pictures from the paparazzi, the paparazzi would cease to exist. The same holds true for the constant bombardment of bad/negative news in newspapers and on television; good/positive news would be reported if that is what we as a world truly wanted reported. Noted author Marianne Williamson says “Today's newspaper is just a reflection of yesterday's thoughts.” In other words we keep getting what we are getting because that is what we collectively think about…. bad news.  Blogger Joel Gascoigne in a recent post titled The Power of Ignoring Mainstream News hits upon this same point when he states:  

“Around 2 years ago I stopped reading and watching mainstream news. I don’t read a single newspaper, offline or online, and I don’t watch any TV at all. I recently mentioned this on Twitter and Facebook and it created a lot of discussion, so I wanted to expand on my thoughts and experiences. When I first started ignoring news, I felt that I was simply making an excuse, that if I had more time I should read the news. Today, however, it is a very deliberate choice and I feel consistently happier every single day due to ignoring the mainstream news. It just so happens that the last 2 years have also been the most enjoyable and productive of my entire life, and have contained some of my greatest achievements.”

Why are we constantly looking for something negative to read about, hear about, or say about someone else? It is beyond me why we are so determined to focus on what is going wrong in someone else's life compared with being focused on what is happening in our own lives. Maybe that's the problem. Too many of us feel the need to have someone else's life be crappier than ours in order to make us feel good about ourselves. First we fawn all over them [celebrities], “Oh I can’t believe he/she shook my hand,” “ he/she gave me an autograph,”  “ he/she took a picture with me,” or “I’ll never wash this hand again,”  and then we look to read all of the dirt (trash) about them that we can find. Newsflash!! Celebrities are human beings just like the rest of us, and yes, Kate Middleton has breasts just like any other woman and in the European countries women sunbathe topless. When is the madness going to end? Speaking of madness; this whole notion of “reality" TV (which I also consider garbage) mystifies me. Is there anyone on the planet who does not have enough reality of their own?  Yet, the website Reality TV World lists over one thousand reality TV shows in alphabetical order on its site Again, I guess we have to escape our own reality and be lost in someone else's. Ridiculous. 

There is an old saying “Garbage In – Garbage Out.” In other words what you put in is what you get out. Could that be the reason that we are constantly besieged by all of the negative things that we are constantly besieged with during our newscasts and in our newspapers? Could all of the negativity be a result or manifestation of us allowing too much garbage into our minds, bodies and spirits thereby causing this same garbage to come back out? Think about the garbage we take in on a collective basis and how much garbage that must be going out on that same collective basis. Maybe author Marianne Williamson is onto to something when she said “Today’s newspaper is just a reflection of yesterday’s thoughts.” Something to critically think about……..  As always, I welcome your response in the commentary section of this blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter @thinkcritical01.