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And Clean the Bowl
What I can't help
Thinkin' is how
The party of
Lincoln is now

Would Honest Abe
Vote to impeach
Or see it more
As overreach?

I'd like to think
He'd look at Trump
And vote to flush
That steamin' lump
Hope
I have been trying for a while, without luck, to write about hope. I’m not sure why it’s been so difficult. Maybe it’s because I am such a believer in this noble human quality, and I’m afraid I might come off as a bit too corny about it.

As human propensities go, I think it’s the best we have to offer…better than love, even. I know that’s a heavy claim to make. Major religions, eminent thinkers, and the Beatles have all told us that love is the answer, and maybe it is. But it is not the most noble and human capacity we have.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against love. But let’s admit that there’s nothing really special about it. Mammals love, birds love. I can’t help but think that reptiles do, too. In fact, I am willing to suggest that any creature that walks, slithers, swims, or oozes on this earth feels something akin to love in its life.

No so with hope. It is ours and ours alone as a species. Along with faith, it’s part of the package deal that comes with our big brain. Our capacity for self-awareness is what makes it work, and without it I don’t think we could survive — at least not happily. It keeps our spirits up, it galvanizes our priorities, it gets us over the mountain. And quite often it focuses us on something beyond our own interests, something greater than ourselves. It dares us to reach for what is beyond our grasp.

I suppose love could do all those things as well, but the difference is that love centers on the love object, whatever it is: “I’ve got to keep going to get the medicine to Grandma,” “I’ve got to set a good example for little Emily,” “My mate wants me to do this.” Those are all worthy incentives, but hope works differently. It does not need a love object to function. Like its cousin faith, it can run on an idea, a value system, or a belief. Maybe porpoises have something like that going for them, and you can’t rule out the possibility of hopeful chimpanzees. But since these creatures don’t have a language, we can’t find out for sure by interviewing them (I don’t know if the subject ever came up with Koko).

I don’t think chimps can have faith, either. Faith is also one of the nicer bells and whistles that comes with our big brain, and like hope, it can be a profound source of strength. The only reason it doesn’t make the top spot among our many character traits is that it has proven to be too corruptible — like human beings themselves. Humans can have faith in all kinds of things, including some demonstrably batshit assertions of fact and some obviously worthless s.o.b.’s. Such misapplications of faith can really screw things up for these folks and for rest of us as well. I will let you fill in the examples of religions, cockamamie notions, and unscrupulous leaders we are talking about here.

Hope is not so easily turned to the dark side. Oh, I suppose you might find yourself “hoping” that something awful happens to an enemy, but that seems to me to be a misuse of the word. Hope connotes a sense of optimism, of an aspiration to a better world. Praying (which we might see as a more activist form of hoping) really ought to stay in that same lane — unless you see your deity as primarily vengeful. If you do, then we’re all in for a rough ride.

If we still doubt that hope is our finest, noblest quality, perhaps we should consider its opposite. That would not be fear, though the two are often paired as alternatives. Instead, think of despair. Compare your feelings about despair to those around some other corrosive opposites: fear, hate, doubt, anger, dishonor. None of those is quite so dark as despair. I would argue, by comparison, that hope goes just a far in the opposite direction.

Perhaps you can see now why I was concerned about getting too corny. Hope is definitely a goody-two-shoes aspect of our nature. But it might be enough, in the end, to save our sorry butts. Here’s hoping.
Don't Tempt Me!
Here’s a conundrum for the faithful: humans have a long history of suffering, much of it by people who are utterly innocent. If we are to believe the Bible, most of this badness is Satan’s doing. So why didn’t God just kill that son of a bitch when he had the chance? In fact, why doesn’t He just kill him now and stop the slaughter?

I get that Satan is supposed to serve as our tempter, enticing us away from our obedience and love for God. Fair enough. Satan is just doing his job. The Almighty needs some way of separating the sheep from the goats so He can tell which farm animal to admit into heaven. (I’m assuming the sheep get in since none of them have horns.)

But let’s not get distracted. Why does there have to be so much human suffering? Is it just to give the genuinely good people an opportunity to prove their worth? Surely there is a less cruel way to sort out the wicked.

Besides, it’s a pretty unfair system. If there were no Satan in the world, then a lot of us would have a shot at never doing anything wrong — because we wouldn’t be tempted to. Left alone, then, we might actually turn out to be nice. If so, we would get to go to heaven. But no, we never get the chance. We get tricked into being bad, and we end up going to hell. Did He really have to insert a supervillain into the mix to ruin our lives and the lives of people around us?

Look, we already have Saint Peter at the pearly gates operating as Divine Bouncer. If you’re really worried about bad people sneaking in, couldn’t we beef up security a bit and establish a TSA checkpoint for evil? There would be grumbling, of course. It’s a real pain to get everything back together once you’ve gone through the naughtiness detector. But isn’t that preferable to billions of dead babies just because God is insecure about how much He’s loved? By a bunch of hairless apes, no less?

Or, if He is really that needy, why not add a written test as part of the screening process? We could make it thousands of questions long and even require a score of 100% to pass muster. Everyone else would go to the other place. That’s a pretty tough standard, but at least it would limit all the needless bloodshed here on Earth.

I don’t know. Maybe God is looking for something more, something so important that it would justify all that suffering by people who might have ended up worshipping him anyway. Maybe. But in the process, He has set a very bad example for his followers. If one of us were to pull a stunt like that, we’d burn in Hell forever and deserve it. How come God isn’t held to the same standard we are?

In fact, I really shouldn’t be calling for God to kill Satan. “Thou shalt not kill,” after all, is pretty much your number one commandment. For Him to kill an archangel, fallen or not, would be the worst possible bad example for the faithful. Even if you believe in capital punishment, even if the Prince of Darkness is the very essence of evil, even if he has really been asking for it — is it right to just kill him? I have to say no. In fairness, God probably shouldn’t even be mean to Satan, not if He wants to run true to His brand. So what are His options? And remember, the kids are watching.

Firing Satan outright seems a bit harsh given his years of service, and a forced retirement would look bad for everyone. So...how about a reinstatement to heaven, with all the attendant privileges? Let bygones be bygones. But absolutely no tempting! That’s the deal, and I think Satan would be happy to take it. After that, if there was any suffering, it would be 100% our responsibility.

Come to think of it, I guess we’re screwed either way, innocent or not. Damn!
No, Thank You!
It seems to be widely accepted these days that Thanksgiving is the absolute best holiday. The feasting, the uncomplicated, non-religious camaraderie, and of course, the thanking are often cited as the reasons for its superiority. Yeah, well maybe.

Such assessments are relative in nature, of course. Every feast is sure to be accompanied by uncomfortable bloating. The camaraderie can be a bit forced. And the thanking…if it’s such a good thing to do, why aren’t we doing it every day? Now, I certainly don’t want to be ungrateful about Thanksgiving, but if it’s the best we’ve got, then our other holidays can’t really be that special. One has only to look at such unnecessary calendar-stops as Father’s Day to see what I’m talking about. As a self-respecting father, I am embarrassed by this afterthought of a celebration. It took almost 60 years after the establishment of Mother’s Day to get around to officially honoring dear ol’ Dad. Pardon me if I don’t dissolve into tears of joy. And don’t get me started about Christmas.

There is one exception in this parade of underwhelmingness. First, it’s a real day off, unlike most “special” days. Even better, it always falls on the same date, giving it a comforting predictability. There is no guilt or emotional investment of any kind associated with it. It is, in fact, the only purely free day on the calendar.

I speak, my friends, of New Year’s Day. Consider: it’s non-sectarian, it’s universal, and it’s surprisingly humane as holidays go. It might well have been called National Hangover Day, but that condition is not a requirement for its enjoyment. Here (it seems to say) is a completely unstructured day for you, citizen. If you want to plod around in your PJs all day, if you don’t want to answer the phone, if you just want to stay in bed and sleep it off — that’s okay. You don’t have to take part in a feast, interact with your fellow humans, or do anything you don’t feel like doing. Your government understands, and even approves. You don’t even have to go out to the mailbox and collect the mail…because there isn’t any.

In short, there are zero expectations for New Year’s Day. Feel free to sit around and contemplate the year just past. But no pressure. Cast your thoughts to the future, perhaps to examine your place in the cosmos, or to make resolutions…it’s all good. Or just be in the moment, whatever moment you like. Go for it…or don’t. Your call. You could even give thanks if you want to — silently, all by yourself, coiled up in a fetal position.

I almost hesitate to heap praise on New Year’s for fear it might attract too much attention. The last thing I want is for this quiet moment in our lives to be ransacked by commercialization or co-opted by God or loaded up with assumptions about what I am supposed to do. So please take this hint, and leave me alone. For one day, anyway.

Thank you.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon