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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Nightly News

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Just as the Tom Cruise and Katie Homes divorcing and juggling parenting duties saga was pushing ahead at full steam, news that actress Kristen Stewart cheated on her boyfriend, Twilight costar Robert Pattinson, with a married man and father of two during the filming of Snow White and the Huntsman hit the airwaves like a rocket. My knowledge of who Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson are is limited to the reports of the popularity of the Twilight movie series. Having never seen or read any of the Twilight movies or books, I didn’t particularly feel anything beyond my usual “How sad that another Hollywood couple is facing issues” response to this romantic breakdown. And while I get, but don’t like, that there is a market for this sort of news, where this news was once dedicated to entertainment and gossip productions like Entertainment Tonight and TMZ, today, celebrity couplings and turmoil have inched their way into nightly news broadcasts. Nowadays, it is not peculiar to see stories of rising unemployment, violent attacks, and of political unrest on the nightly news being chased by the latest celebrity debacle.

Reality shows, celebrity Twitter and Facebook statuses, along with the stories of whose breaking up in the celebrity world, have steadily usurped attention away from non- Hollywood stories that are unfolding in the U.S. and abroad. In case anyone has forgotten, many countries in the world are facing devastating economic crisis, more and more people are unable to find work, student loan debt is rising, and healthcare costs keep soaring. These are but a few issues that seem to perpetually fight against the Cruise/Holmes and Stewart/Pattinson like dramas for attention in the media. Let’s face it, individuals making You Tube videos about the rising cost of housing in cities like New York have not garnered anything near what the videos made by distraught Twilight fans have in just the past few days. Yet, this lopsided distribution of attention is not solely the byproduct of what network executives deem is worthy of network time, it is the fruit of what viewers time and again have proven they will consume in large quantities. Society’s insatiable lust to lose itself in the world of celebrity has created an avenue for its reporting on the nightly news. In our celebrity obsessed culture, reports of economic woes and healthcare crisis hardly stand a chance against the vastly unattainable, glossy, and perfectly unrealistic world of celebrity. Only the stories of these airbrushed images of perfection toppling over seem to grip our attention as much as the glitz and glamour that drives our fascination with celebrity. For some, the news that what they’ve esteemed as perfect is in reality human and thus prone to making mistakes is almost too much to bear. But for others, the news that those who seemingly have it all are not as perfect as society paints is motive to celebrate; these individuals find pleasure in discovering that the celebrities they outwardly (or secretly) envy make decisions they believe they would never be foolish enough to make.

Along with offering a way to escape from the stress of daily life, from dreams unrealized and hopes left unfulfilled, concentrating on the failures of those who seemingly have it all provides some with a way to feel good about their lives. Aside from being a wretched way to feel good about one’s life, enjoying the failures and mishaps of others merely reveals how insecure one feels about his or her life. Feeling strong, healthy and secure about ones lot in life typically negates the false feelings of superiority and enjoyment that come from other people’s bad turns. When one is completely content with their life, rather than take pleasure in the demise of others, they are simply grateful for the choices they have made, the opportunities they have been given, and the lives they are leading. I must admit to taking solace in the fact that, in some areas of my life, I have been “smart” enough not to have made the mistakes that some celebrities and non-celebrities alike have made. I know that the pride in my ability to have steered clear of various life choices is nothing more than an attempt to mask the pockets of insecurity I feel regarding some of the other areas of my life. This is not to say that one shouldn’t be grateful that they have had the wherewithal to make good decisions. It is when we become arrogant about the fact that our lives have respectively taken better turns than others that we lose sight of the fact that we too are prone to making bad choices. And what better and more pronounced way than delving into the lives of celebrities can we elect to divert attention away from ourselves and let loose the arrogance we feel over the fact that we have not made bad choices. However, it’s not really about what celebrity is at the receiving end of our criticism and scrutiny, for what this type of reaction ultimately reveals is the condition of our hearts.

It’s important to check where our response to people’s (celebrity and non- celebrity) mistakes and foolish decisions is coming from. Is it coming from a place of arrogance? Are we moved to criticize and belittle the mistakes and foolish decisions of others, or do others wrong turns lead us to a place of gratitude and possible compassion for others unfortunate situations? Examination of this type aids in not only curbing our desire to react in a negative and arrogant fashion to others flawed decisions, it may also lead to the development of a greater sense of empathy and compassion for others.


Golden Calf

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On Sunday, July 22, 2012, the statute of coach Joe Paterno that stood near the entrance of the Penn State university football stadium was removed and placed into storage. Rumblings that the university was considering taking down the 7-foot-tall statute of the iconic football coach began circulating shortly before the news of the release of the results of an investigative report detailing the actions of the university in relation to Jerry Sandusky. It had long been anticipated that the investigative report would reveal that Paterno, along with 3 university administrators, purposely planned not to contact the police after learning of an incident of sexual abuse against a 10-year-old boy at a university football camp committed by retired Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Ever since the news was made public regarding the allegations of sexual abuse against Jerry Sandusky, along with the role of Paterno and the university officials in covering up the sex abuse allegations, the Paterno statute has been a point of contention. Ardent supporters of Joe Paterno argued that while it is regrettable that Joe Paterno did not take active steps in reporting the allegation of sexual abuse against Sandusky to the police, this misstep should not serve as a reason to take down the Paterno statute. Those who have fought for the removal of the statute say that the statute’s very presence is an affront to Sandusky’s victims as well as all victims of sexual abuse. Allowing the statute to remain standing, they argue, would be akin to paying homage to the man whose silence opened the door for Sandusky to commit more acts of sexual abuse against boys. As I scanned the comments section of the various websites running this story, it became apparent that what bothered many of the people who left comments was the fact that a statute of Joe Paterno even existed. Most who left comments acknowledged that Penn State, like many other universities, has become wrapped up in idolizing their football programs, defying both the coaches and the players. In Penn State’s case, the deification of its football universe came at the expense of the physical and psychological well-being of boys who, through their collective silence, Paterno and university officials provided the opportunity for Sandusky to abuse.

Idolatry of this kind is nothing new. Since biblical times, stories of the idolatrous nature of man have illustrated how easily mankind can fall prey to the lure of creating a god-like image to worship. One of the most recognized biblical stories of idolatry occur in the Book of Exodus. Believing that they had been abandoned by their guide Moses, the Israelite people demanded that a god be created for them to follow. Using various trinkets and items of  gold, Aaron built a golden calf for the Israelite people to worship. An object they ascribed God- like qualities to and whom they showed gratitude for delivering them from bondage, and whom they now looked towards to lead them into the promise land. And so began their decent into worshipping an inanimate object that they crafted out of their belongings, an object that they not only erroneously thanked for leading them out of captivity, but also believed would go before them in leading them to the promised land. This account, whether one personally believes it actually occurred, I believe is instructive in highlighting one idolatry’s pitfalls, worship of a fallible person and/or object. The Israelite people worshipped an object made of trinkets and gold that was destroyed by fire. Today’s golden calf’s are a bit more nuanced, created out of more than just trinkets and gold. Golden calf’s today can be our cars, money, clothes, fame, certain celebrities, or in the case of Penn State, its football program. No matter the shape or form, like the Israelite’s golden calf, today’s golden calf’s can easily be, and usually are, destroyed.

Penn State’s football program was the stuff athletic dreams are built on. Top notch coaches and top-notch players added up to a steady stream of revenue and press that the university used to its advantage to attract more students and donations. I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that thoughts of revenue, prestige, recruitment, and future donations were motivators in the decision not to immediately report Sandusky to the police. It’s terrible to contemplate that young boys were sacrificed in order to keep the mystique of the Penn State football program alive. But it’s hard not to conclude that in this case the idols of fame, prestige, money and power overshadowed the obligation of Joe Paterno and the university to protect the young boy in question from the predatory inclinations of Jerry Sandusky. While it’s easy for me to say that I wouldn’t have hesitated to report this incident to the police, I’m left analyzing what role idols play in my life. To one degree or another, we all suffer from idol worship. It is important that we not only identify the idols in our life, but that we actively seek to quell the role they play in our lives. Left unchecked, idols can darken every part of our minds and souls, sometimes leading to disastrous and tragic decisions like the one that Paterno and the university officials exercised in not reporting Sandusky to the authorities.

Dark Night

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“Tears at times have all the weight of speech.” Ovid

My heart continually breaks as I hear the stories of the people who were killed in the Colorado theatre. The pain in the voices of the loved ones sharing anecdotes about the people they lost moves me to tears. How could the thrill of an evening out to see a much-anticipated movie turn into an unspeakable tale of horror? Not even in my worst nightmare could I even come close to the sensation of what it must have felt like to be trapped in a theatre with a mad man intent on killing everyone in his path. Some who survived this horrific attack told of how the gunman walk up and down the aisles, shooting wildly, targeting all, but especially those who tried to escape. The sounds of rapid gunfire, people screaming, running, crying, moaning, lifeless bodies falling to the ground, these are the sounds and images that survivors will be haunted with for the rest of their lives. Undoubtedly, some survivors may be overcome with feelings of guilt for having made it out of the theatre alive. Gratitude to have survived this attack will almost surely be tempered with thoughts of “why,” why did they survive while others perished, including a six-year-old child.

Surely in the days and weeks to come we will hear more about the lives that were lost in this tragedy, likewise, there will be a flurry of reports and psychological analysis with respect to the shooter. Questions like “What was the motive behind this attack,” What was his childhood like?” “Were signs that he was planning this attack evident?” “Is he insane?” will flood the airwaves. I’m certain that the family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors of the shooter will be chased down by the media for interviews, the “crown jewel” going to the media outlet that snags an interview with the shooter. Personally, I have no interest in spending my time learning about the individual who callously gunned down 12 people and who is the cause of countless cases of physical and psychological trauma that those caught in the web of this attack will no doubt carry with them for the rest of their lives. My love and concern goes out to the families, friends, and loved ones of those who were killed and harmed by this attack. I pray that in the frenzy to decimate information about the shooter that the individuals who lost their lives, their families, and the survivors are not forgotten. I hope that the diligence of the emergency room doctors, first responders, and police personnel don’t become an afterthought.

By now, you may have noticed that I have not called the shooter by his name. This is intentional. I don’t plan on giving this individual the platform he desired to achieve through this heartless and deranged attack by further pushing his name out into the public. Too often, the names and faces of the victims of these sorts of attacks fade into the background, while the face and the name of their assailant(s) becomes etched into the publics psyche. I hope that this mad man does not become some sort of celebrity, that he is forgotten and locked up in a prison cell for the rest of his days. Of course, no matter what ends up happening, the reality is that lives of those harmed by this attack will never be the same. There will never be a moment when this tragedy didn’t happen, and while their lives needn’t be destroyed by this event, it will nonetheless be difficult and require lots of love and support to shoulder.

The awful and painful truth is that we live in a world where lives can come undone in the blink of an eye. Life is precious, fragile, and not guaranteed beyond the present moment. Honor the life you have been given, and if possible, become a light in the life of those who are struggling to make it through a dark night.

Going for the Gold

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A few days ago, I took a new class at my gym called “The Decathlon.” The Decathlon is an Olympic summer games inspired workout series based on the training regime of Olympic athlete’s. Each week, the workout routines in the Decathlon series change to mirror the various summer sports played in the Olympics. The Decathlon class I participated in focused on the sport of boxing. Within 5 minutes of the class beginning, I knew that the Decathlon was going to be like no other class I’ve ever taken before. The featured 30 second to one minute drills interspersed throughout the class were challenging enough to cause even the most advanced gym- goer to lose his or her breath on more than one occasion during the class. While I wouldn’t classify myself as an advanced gym- goer, I’d say that I fall somewhere within the intermediate zone, working out 4 to 6 times, alternating between cardio, strength training, yoga, spinning, and here and there, a quick run. I typically do not shy away from tough classes or tough instructors, nor are the exercise DVD’s that I use at home a cake walk. Frequently, I am pushed out of my comfort zone. In other words, I am not an exercise newbie who’d rightly struggle in a class like the Decathlon.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the Decathlon class is the most difficult class I’ve ever taken. The level of difficulty the Decathlon workout delivers was written all over the faces of the students that I glanced at during the class. Just like me, these students struggled to keep up with the intense drills, at times looking as if they were going to beg for mercy. It was precisely these students who approached me after class to see how I was doing and how I liked the class. Despite the fact that some of these individuals looked like they were going to cry during the class, without fail, every individual that spoke to me expressed how much they loved the challenge of the Decathlon and were very vocal about their commitment to see the series through until the end. The enthusiasm of these students reminded me of the enthusiasm of some of the participants in shows like the Biggest Loser, and, my newly discovered mint, Extreme Makeover- Weight Loss Edition. The indomitable drive to meet every challenge head on, tapping into an ever- increasing spring of inner strength, is what is modeled week after week to viewers of these respective weight- loss shows. This drive is what emanated through the individuals I spoke to after class. I was impressed that the focus of these students wasn’t so much on the physical benefits of the class as it was on their determination to go the distance with the series. Of paramount interest to these students is the opportunity to get pushed outside the limits of what their minds have conditioned their bodies to believe is possible physically.

Throughout the Decathlon class, students are encouraged by the instructor to leave limiting thoughts about what they can or cannot do outside of their exercise space. Of course, the instructor tells students to listen to their bodies so as to avoid injury and provides modifications for some of the exercises; nevertheless, the instructor is cognizant of the fact that some students are not working at their true capacity. Ultimately, it is the faith that we can push our bodies past any preconceived notion of what we think it’s capable of achieving which fortifies us through particularly challenging physical tasks in and outside of the gym. This mind/body connection is critical to the Olympians the Decathlon workout series is based on and what I believe is the underlying fuel for this class. All of the state of the art workout equipment and world-class trainers on the planet is of little use to an athlete who doesn’t believe they can rise to meet, then push past, the demands of their sport. The same holds true for non- Olympians. Access to a gym full of exercise equipment and certified personal trainers and instructors is extremely useful in achieving ones fitness goals, it is what has, and continues to, transform my body. But it’s the mental endurance and continuing belief that my body can achieve feats that I’d once thought impossible what carries me through every workout. It’s not about perfectly meeting these fitness challenges the first, second, or tenth time out of the gate. It’s about strengthening ones ability to keep pushing past ones self.

How will you push past yourself this week? Please feel free to share in the comments section.

Sorry, I can’t take your phone call right now…

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What takes us away from being present in our lives is not a matter of which smartphone application is on our phone, it is a heart issue.If you ever cross my path, chances are my iPhone will be somewhere close by. For me, my iPhone is far more than a device I use to make and receive phone calls and texts, the iPhone has become my lifeline to the world, keeping me up to date with the latest local, national, and international news. Social media applications on my iPhone such as Facebook keep me in touch with friends and family, along with businesses and organizations that I care about and patronize. And oh yes, a favorite celebrity or two occasionally appears on my news feed. At the risk of sounding like an Apple fangirl, the iPhone is one of the most significant purchases I’ve made in my life. But as any iPhone, Android phone, or Blackberry phone owner will tell you, the blessings of a smartphone can quickly turn, negatively impacting interactions with friends, family, and ones immediate surroundings.

The ease with which smartphones transport us to a virtual social sphere is mind-numbing. In seconds, smartphones can connect us to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where every click of the refresh button reveals statuses, tweets, and pictures documenting everything from what one ate for lunch to the birth of a child. The dizzying speed with which these sites share content can leave even the most mild-mannered of social media connoisseurs feeling like they have to play catch-up. The resulting mad dash to keep up with the social media Joneses transforms everyday mundane trips to the coffee-house into craftily choreographed Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram moments. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see the luminescent light of a smartphone shine in a dark movie theatre, as well as the flicker of a camera phone flash strategically aimed at a plate of food at a restaurant.

In a Wall Street Journal article titled, “When Facebook, Twitter and Instagram Crash the Party,” writer Katherine Rosman chronicles the varying ways the proclivity to post onto these sites has dwarfed our ability to interact in a non- techie way at events ( Bevy Smith, host for various consumer brands and celebrities, told Rosman that she often has to coolly tell guests she sees reaching for phones at her events “Hey, Babe, that’s not allowed at Bevy’s table.” Soon to be married couple, Jacqui Stewart and Andrew Turner, told Rosman that they plan om banning the use of smartphones at their wedding by requesting via their wedding website for people to “Be Nice, Turn Off That Device… We want you to be able to really enjoy our wedding day, feeling truly present and in the moment with us.” Isn’t the illusion of sharing such intimate moments on a virtual plane what is typically most appealing to users of these social media sites, along with candid shots of everyday activities like outings to Starbucks? The line between what is considered private and public is incessantly being blurred by smartphones. Breaking up with significant others through Facebook statuses (not in person), tweets about delicate medical conditions, and Instagram photos of individuals in compromising positions are becoming more and more difficult for people to unanimously define as either personal or public, especially when these statuses, tweets, and photos reveal the senders location.

I admit to taking pictures of food at restaurants, Starbucks coffee cups, and recently, pictures of my MacBook Air. More often than I’d like to admit, my eyes are set on discovering”Instagrammable” pictures I can upload and share. I suppose this would seem a little less creepy and pathetic if I were a professional photographer or celebrity, but I am neither. At times, I welcome the shame that comes from individuals staring at me taking a picture of a food truck sign, it doesn’t deter me from taking the picture, but it does make me stop to think why I am taking the picture. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t get a kick out of the reactions some of my pictures have stirred. Yes, it’s fun to capture quirky and crazy things on the streets of New York, it’s equally as fun to share in the joy and laughter that it provokes in other people. All of this joy and laughter does not disguise the danger that exists for me to fall over into the realm of the ego, where narcissism and one- upmanship reside. It’s here where the drive to share ones experiences is tied to an insatiable need to always be the center of attention versus authentically sharing ones life with others. In this corner of life, our ego’s twisted focus shifts our attention away from the precious interpersonal interactions we could be experiencing sans our smartphones, to a frenzied race to constantly update our statuses, tweet, and increase the volume of filtered photos we upload.

Prior to submitting your next Facebook status, tweet, or Instagram photo, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Who or what am I serving through the addition of this status update, tweet and/or Instagram picture?

2. What sort of attention am I seeking via this post?

3. What sort of impression is this post giving off about me? Is it a true impression?

In and of themselves, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites are fun and invaluable applications one can use to maintain, rekindle, and strengthen relationships with friends and family, along with providing a platform upon which corporations, organizations, and artists can build an audience. How we choose to use or abuse these social media platforms rest entirely on us.What distracts us from fully showing up in our lives is not a matter of which social media applications we frequent on our smartphones, it is a heart issue.

Scarlet “A”

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Judging by the current volume of media coverage centered around the disintegration of several high-profile marriages, it appears that the public has developed quite an insatiable appetite to consume as much information surrounding these divorce court bound unions as possible. Throw in the speculation of an extra-marital affair or two, and you can all but guarantee a steady audience ready to feast on every salacious morsel served up by unidentified “close” friends of the couple. The paparazzi laden supermarket tabloid covers add a visual context to all of the reports of public squabbles, possible affairs, and arguments over marital property and child custody. With the exception of a few notable couples (insert Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston here), typically, once the ink on the divorce decree has dried up, the race to document the next break-up is already in full-swing.

Back in 2007, murmurings of an extra-marital affair were beginning to plague the campaign of Presidential hopeful John Edwards. Vehement denials of the affair and of fathering a child through this relationship ceased in early 2010 when John Edwards admitted to having had an affair and a child with Rielle Hunter. Elizabeth Edwards diagnosis of breast cancer, the release of her memoir, and her subsequent death kept a flicker of her husband’s affair and child with Rielle Hunter in the spotlight, but for the most part, the media (and most in the general public) had moved onto the next marital tragedy. Even John Edwards trial for allegedly violating campaign contribution laws did not amass the attention on his affair that  it had when the story first broke. Legal pundits were more focused on reporting on the daily in’s and outs of the trial, along with predicting whether John Edwards would be convicted on any of the charges filed against him, than on his affair and child with Rielle Hunter. Enter Rielle Hunter….

In what she has declared in several TV interviews as her attempt to “set the record straight” for the general public and her daughter, Rielle Hunter weaves a tale of a wicked and delusional wife whose husband was left with little alternative but to seek love and respect in the arms of other women. “Venomous,” and “witch” are just two of the adjectives Rielle Hunter uses to further her tale of the horrible wife she’s convinced Elizabeth Edwards was to John Edwards . When pressed by the women of the View to react to the belief that using such inflammatory language against the woman whose husband she had an affair and child with, a woman who died a while back of breast cancer, shows poor taste, Rielle Hunter said that she was merely exposing the truth of who Elizabeth Edwards truly was, as reported to her by others, primarily John Edwards. Rielle Hunter contends that the portrayal of Elizabeth Edwards the Saint and John Edwards the demon is inaccurate and should be dispelled, her book being the mechanism through which this “inaccuracy” will be put to rest.

While it would be easy for me to rail on the absurdity that is Rielle Hunter, I won’t. Rielle Hunter is not unique. Nothing Rielle Hunter has stated thus far, including how she is not to blame for the break-up of a marriage that she claims was broken prior to her arrival, is out of the norm when dodging responsibility. The power to choose whether or not to enter into a relationship with a married man is something Rielle Hunter always possessed. Instead of walking away from the advances of a man with a wife and children, time and again, Rielle Hunter placed herself in situations where she would be in inappropriate settings alone with John Edwards, culminating in a relationship where she decided to have unprotected sex with John Edwards. Sure, there are individuals to whom we may feel a strong attraction, and yes, the power of this attraction may lead us to believe that we have no choice but to cross certain lines in the name of love. Although her actions demonstrated otherwise, at the time Rielle Hunter met John Edwards she was not an impulsive child who didn’t have the wherewithal and ability to distance herself from him. Assuaging her conscience with the thought that the Edwards marriage was broken before she entered into the affair may provide Rielle Hunter with some level of comfort, however, this should not, does not, minimize her culpability. Could the Edwards marriage have been deeply fractured prior to Rielle Hunter affair with John Edwards, yes. Could Elizabeth Edwards have been every bit the fire-breathing dragon Rielle Hunter posits her as in her book, yes. So what. While it can certainly provide the ideal fodder for an extra-marital affair, a struggling marriage and/or terrible spouse is not carte blanche to justify entering into such a relationship.

Rielle Hunter’s desire to be looked upon as a mother, not a mistress, cannot exist within the bubble she has constructed. It is doubtful that Rielle Hunter will ever move past the label of mistress, especially when she is unwilling to take responsibility and apologize for her actions. Until Rielle Hunter steps back and takes an honest look at the role she played in desecrating a marriage and family, any hope of living an authentic life is lost, as any semblance of leaving an authentic record for her daughter to one day examine.