Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Prayers and Politics-1/20/09

Somebody once said there are two things you should never talk about with people: politics and religion. If that's true, brace yourselves, because -- with all due respect to that anonymous orator of conversational etiquette -- I'm about to discuss both in one post. This was perhaps the most unique Inauguration Day in the history of America, and the next four years are sure to be some of the most pivotal.
This was a day of firsts.
The first African-American president now calls the White House home.
This is a long-awaited event for many across the country, and it seems fitting that Obama would occupy the Oval Office on the day after the nation celebrated its greatest Civil Rights leader.
Here in Alabama, Obama's election bears extra historical significance.
Marchers once again journeyed across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and schoolchildren watched the inaugural ceremony from various points along Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous Selma-to-Montgomery March.
The state boasts many Civil Rights landmarks -- including the Rosa Parks Museum, complete with a tribute to the bus stop where the seamstress sparked the now-famous Montgomery Bus Boycott and Dexter Avenue Baptist Church -- and today's events were a major step in the King's dream of Civil Rights.
Today was, for some, great progress in the pursuit of equality.
Moreover, unity and pushing forward toward a better life was a goal of Obama's address, and we as American citizens play a vital role in the long-term success of that goal. We must be a unified nation because, in the words of another Illinois senator-turned-president, "a house divided against itself cannot stand."
Though I did not vote for Barack Obama on Election Day, and still do not agree with some -- or most -- of his political views, he is the president, and it is my duty to support him, because that's the way God intended it. Every one of us has a duty to do so, whether we cast our ballot in his favor or not.
That said, I am a journalism major, and I have become acquainted with the media and its sly, sneaky way of getting its agenda across, be it a conservative or liberal outlet.
We call it bias or spin, and, from my point of view, this election had plenty of it- from both sides of the aisle.
The spin that made me, being a staunch conservative, mad as a wet hen lasted until well after Executive One took to the skies carrying the outgoing Chief Executive to Andrews Air Force Base on his way back to Texas.
In my humble opinion, George W. Bush has gotten a bad rap from the media and the American people in general.
I know some of you do not agree with me, but consider the life-altering events of the Bush administration and try to imagine how you would have handled the hand he was dealt.
Bush faced monumental happenings such as September 11, Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and a floundering, unstable economy.
I am in no way suggesting that George Bush is even close to perfect, because only Jesus has that distinction, nor should he be enshrined in the pantheon of great presidents.
I believe as the leader of the free world for the last eight years he should shoulder some of the blame, but not nearly as much as he has been encumbered with.
Katrina and the Iraq war seem to be the hot-button issues Bush detractors site as the downfall of his administration.
Hurricane Katrina was one of the greatest natural disasters the country has ever seen, and its scope of devastation was unparalleled.
While the response was criticized, and in some cases rightfully so, remember that nothing of that magnitude had occurred, at least in modern times.
Bush, as well as the rest of the country, was not prepared for the disaster, but he responded the best he knew how.
Bush was asked in a recent Larry King interview about his legacy, and his handling of those situations.
He said simply, "What's new? When you make big decisions and tough calls, you're going to get criticized."
In the interview, Bush addressed the economy and the war, and also expressed his disappointment in the Washington name-calling, saying one of the lowest points of his time in office was being called a racist after the storm, which, in my opinion was undeserved and highly unnecessary.
A storm of that magnitude was something new to everyone, and despite popular opinion Bush said there were Coast Guard members plucking survivors from flooded rooftops a short time after the weather calmed enough for them to operate.
When King asked him why he thought we were better off as a country now than when he was inaugurated eight years ago, Bush relayed the fact that the American government and people are more understanding and cautious of the dangers of the times and world in which we live.
That is something we I believe we can all agree on.
One of those dangers is the ever-present threat of terrorism.
The effect September 11 had on our nation goes without saying.
That day was one whose likes we as a country had never seen, and I pray will never see again.
President Bush and the rest of our leaders refused to be intimidated, and because of their resolve, and that of thousands of uniformed men and women all over the globe, America has liberated a war-torn country from the grip of a ruthless dictator and stands willing to hand power over to a fledgling democratic society, when the time is right.
We have subdued one of the greatest terrorist organizations in the world, and deprived it of a highly-desired operating area in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Our valiant efforts have also kept terrorists out of our homeland, as there have been no more attacks on America since that fateful day.
Though his approval rating is paltry, and he was certainly not one of the nation's greatest leaders by any stretch of the imagination, I have a feeling history will look more kindly upon the second Bush administration than we now realize, and he just might have done a bit better of a job than we now want to admit.
Thank you, President Bush, for your eight years of service, leadership and dedication to this nation.
Now, as a new day dawns and we turn our attention to a new administration, we must put our trust not only in the man who became the 44th president of the United States just 12 hours ago, but also in the One whom he is ultimately accountable to.
We must put our trust back in the God who created us and endowed us with the unalienable rights that make us Americans.
We must again trust the fate of this nation to the One who brought her from Valley Forge to today, a day many thought they would never live to see.
It is with great optimism and hope that we begin a new chapter in our country's long and illustrious history, and it is with that same hope that I say God bless President Barack Obama and his family, and God bless the United States of America.
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Lessons from Lit Class- 1/08/09

Last Thursday I awoke to the first day of my last semester of college. Usually the first day of a new semester is a breeze and, since I am taking only one class, I expected this one to be just that.
I was wrong. Usually on the first day of a new semester, I walk into the room, sit down in the last chair on the last row where I resolve to remain for the rest of the course and blatantly stare off into space while the professor rambles through a syllabus that is eerily similar to the other 80 I have received throughout my collegiate career.
Little is learned on the first day of most college classes, and I was perfectly fine sticking to the usual pattern.
Fortunately, my new professor wasn't.
From the moment he walked in the room lugging a mail basket filled to the brim with thick scholarly papers, I knew this first day would be unlike any other.
That was my first clue. The second was the first sentence the professor spoke, one directed at a girl seated toward the front of the room.
"I can't believe you're back," he said in a soft, slightly menacing tone that suddenly filled me with a sense of dread I couldn't explain.
After a little more chitchat, the professor's hand plunged into the mail basket and retrieved some of the documents. I noticed immediately that, although his hand held a sizable amount of papers, it had barely made a dent in the mountainous pile that remained in the basket.
Slowly, he ventured around the room dropping papers in front of students.
He finally arrived at my table and dropped a large pile of stapled papers on it.
It landed with a sickening thud, and I stared at the biggest course syllabus I had ever seen. My unexplainable sense of dread intensified as I flipped through page after page of course needs and grading policies.
Fifteen minutes later, we had painstakingly read through the first two sections of the syllabus-the ones that said there would be absolutely no make-ups for missed quizzes and, come Hell or high water, we were to be planted firmly in a chair in that very room at precisely ten o'clock every Tuesday and Thursday until the semester ended or Jesus returned, whichever occurred first.
The professor then stressed the importance of having and using a dictionary by teaching us what the word asterisk meant, and urged us to flip to the back of our syllabus.
Some time later, when I arrived at the designated page, I noticed the professor had photocopied several poems that I assumed would be read sometime before the course ended.
He later explained the reason for his photocopying stemmed from a longtime disdain for the campus bookstore, which I shared.
The professor stepped to the front of the room and quietly began reading the first stanza of the first poem, Wordsworth's "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey."
I had skimmed the poem before for other classes, soaking in just enough to answer a few questions on the next test before expelling it from my brain to make room for sports statistics and spoilers for my favorite TV shows.
This time was different than the previous ones, however.
The professor explained Wordsworth's prose slowly, line by line and section by section, and I began to realize something I had never bothered to before.
The poem wasn't just about a man sitting in a field and staring at the trees, cliffs and streams that surrounded it, but also how that man viewed the world around him.
Using the oft-skimmed poem, the professor explained how the way we view the world, and the people in it, has become vastly different as time has marched on.
Wordsworth wrote about a place he had visited five years earlier, but was able to vividly recall in his memory because he had taken the time to really look at it the first time he was there.
He didn't do what I would have, and let the scene slip from his mind in favor of something that would turn out to be far less important in the long run.
I went in that room last Thursday expecting nothing but a run-of-the-mill syllabus, but I walked out having learned a valuable lesson.
Looking isn't necessarily seeing, and hearing isn't necessarily listening.
The professor asked how many times we had walked across the quad in the middle of campus.
When we told him we crossed it often, he said, "How many trees and buildings surround it?"
Not one of us could answer his question.
Life is so busy most of the time that we don't bother to stop, relax and smell the roses, as they say.
Last Thursday I learned that I look all the time, but I rarely see anything.
Sadly, this applies to most people we come in contact with, too.
When someone walks by, greets us and asks how we are doing, the usual obligatory response is, "I'm fine, how are you?"
Rarely do we stick around long enough for their response, because we hear, but we're so busy trying to get ahead, we never take the time to listen.
Since that first day of my last semester of college, I have resolved to not only look, but see, and not only hear, but listen.
I never would have guessed I would learn such a lesson on the first day of class, but it happened- and I think I'm better for it.
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