Independence Day

We all experience different levels of freedom in our lives. Obligations and commitments constrain most of us. Economic problems hold others back. Education and opportunity are not equal. We are not equally free.

It would do us well to remember that the Declaration of Independence was not an assertion of the individual’s right to freedom, but of the collective’s right. After describing the offenses of the king, it is declared:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

The Declaration does not declare independence for the individual. Instead it enumerates the individual’s endowed rights as including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is our right to pursue happiness within the constraints imposed by the collective will, determined by our social institutions. Those institutions include government, cultural norms, religious expectations, and others.

Liberty, one of the listed unalienable rights, is not independence. Though we may be largely free from the authority of others, we still depend on them. On July 3, 2009 I submitted my letter of resignation to my employer. I still think of that as my personal independence day. But while I am free of work obligations, I am no more independent now than I was before resigning.

We are not independent as individuals, nor can we be. Even the most alone of us are connected to the whole in myriad ways. I believe we are best when we recognize that connection. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it this way:

Strangely enough I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way the world is made; I didn’t make it that way, but it’s like that. And John Donne recorded it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’ And then he goes on toward the end to say: ‘Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’ Only by discovering this are we able to master the breadth of life.

We are interdependent by design. Kelly Witchen writes about “shameless reliance” for the site onbeing.org. She describes the V-formations of flying birds and says, “We must learn what the birds already know: Admitting you can’t do it alone, and leaning on those around you is not a weakness — it’s restoration.”

Even the last sentence of the Declaration of Independence affirms this mutual reliance:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

When we recognize our dependence, as well as that of those around us, it may be easier to both ask for help and extend a hand. If we could celebrate our need for others rather than see it as weakness, we might treat them with a higher level of empathy and civility.

This Independence Day, commemorate the independence of these United States from the control of a monarch. Likewise recognize the dependence each of us has on the other, for food, health, and safety, for work and play, for support and defense. No one stands alone, and for that we should celebrate.

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Venus and Jupiter | Tuesday Is Show Time

Originally posted on JAR Blog:

I hope you have been blessed with some clear sky conditions enough to see Venus and Jupiter in the west soon after sunset. During the recent two weeks, the pair have drawn closer together. Tuesday evening June 30, they will be 1/3˚ apart, closer than the width of a full moon. They will put on an beautiful show for us.

More details about this planetary encounter in earlier posts here and here. I wish you clear skies.

My actual view June 16, 2015. Venus is the brighter one.

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My actual view June 23, 2015. Same zoom as before.

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Simulated view for June 30, 2015.

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Climate Encyclical | Will It Move Us To Act?

Originally posted on JAR Blog:

There was much anticipation about the recent encyclical from Pope Francis on climate change. You can see and read the document at this link. No doubt you have seen and heard the news about it with some analysis of what is contained in it. I offer my impressions of the broad picture described in the 184 page document.

I’ve written a lot about climate change. It is one of the most important challenges faced by mankind. It will force us to deal with issues we already know about and some that we have yet to encounter. It will not go away if we ignore it.

Whether the encyclical is accepted by the world of Catholic leaders and followers will only be known by our actions in the future. There was a flurry of attention for a few days. Like many stories today, the attention has faded. I hope its messages are…

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Noxious Weeds Where Love Should Grow

Some people have weeds growing in their hearts, noxious weeds like hate, anger, resentment, disrespect, greed, and self-righteousness. They have let these invaders flourish too long, crowding out love, humility, respect, and kindness.

Yesterday was one more day that showed us the best and worst of people. The best and worst of family, even. Early yesterday a close family member called Jim and me, excitedly telling us of the Supreme Court ruling on legality of same-sex marriage. In a happy glow we enjoyed Facebook posts of our friends celebrating for much of the day. For me, it was expected that my friends would approve of the ruling or be silent. I have a very short friends list on purpose.

Not everyone was so fortunate to bask in that happiness on Facebook. Another family member was deeply hurt seeing some comments from a nephew. The nephew is one of those whose heart is weedy, full of poison. That nephew’s weeds, in fact, have acted as the catalyst for several major rifts in the family over the last few years. My relationship with him broke last fall after I privately told him he was treating someone badly, that I thought he was a better person than that. Turns out he isn’t.

There is no means to breed hate and disrespect out of people. It is resistant even to culturing. That nephew has siblings who are loving and accepting, who don’t see it as their role in the world to point out everyone else’s “sins.”

Siblings. Why are some loving while others grow up with hate? Why do some choose to be respectful of the person, even if they disagree with the opinion, while others feel that it’s their right and duty to disagree in the most tactless or deliberately hurtful ways?

Those who are habitually disrespectful seem to take one of two defenses. Either you misinterpreted what they said, or they have the right to say it and if you’re hurt, it’s your fault. Either way, they are blameless in their own eyes. Defending yourself doesn’t teach them, as I found out with the woman who used to be my sister. After I defended myself against years of her disrespect, she shut me out of her life. While that has been a blessing, the amazing thing is that she sent Jim an email urging him to take me to a psychiatrist for my “paranoia disorder.” I guess standing up for myself was seen as paranoia by her. Weeds…

You can’t teach people things they don’t want to know. It doesn’t matter how reasoned your arguments are, or how correct your facts, or how lovingly you present yourself. People who are filled with negativity cling to that, and they are unmoved. The only ones who can pull the weeds and cultivate more love are the same ones whose hearts are weedy.

I’m tired of hate. I am tired of family discord. I am tired of weeds growing where love should grow. I’m tired of the regular upsets created by the toxins of particular family members. To the extent I can, I avoid them, but that doesn’t prevent a spillover effect.

For me, I choose to tend my garden. Where I can, I will cultivate an attitude of love. I choose love.

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Venus and Jupiter | In Broad Daylight

Originally posted on JAR Blog:

Friday June 19 was a special day for me. I’ve been watching Venus and Jupiter in the evenings as they have come closer to each other. They will be at an amazing 1/3˚ apart on June 30. Details of that coming event are in this previous post.

After Sunset at 9:30 pm

Weather and clouds play a big role in getting good views. The past week has been mediocre. I have viewed the pairing on three of the recent five evenings. I am trying to get a series of photographs that I can combine into a sequence to document the days leading up to the close pairing on the 30th. The view Friday evening was perfect. Plus, the new moon was nearby. Bonus points for me.

DSCF0003 Jupiter upper left | Venus center | Moon bottom

Mid-afternoon at 4:30 pm

Friday was a beautiful clear day with low humidity. The…

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Venus and Jupiter | June Sky Show

Originally posted on JAR Blog:

Two of my favorite objects are planets Venus and Jupiter. They are very bright and offer beautiful displays throughout the year. Usually, they are not in the same part of the sky at the same time. During June this year, they are both in the evening sky and will put on a wonderful display. It culminates on June 30 with them less than a moon-width apart, only 1/3˚. I urge you to make a point of going out each clear evening at sunset to watch as their performance takes place night-to-night.

The site Science@NASA released this 3 minute video which shows the highlights expected during the remaining weeks of June.

As a follow-up, I used my planetarium program and screen recording software to step through the dates June 18 – July 4. The view is toward the western sky soon after sunset. I chose 10 pm, but…

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Conversations with Artists

Originally posted on Catbird Quilt Studio:

Last Friday evening Jim and I attended our local annual art fair. From around the Midwest, painters, photographers, jewelers, woodworkers, and other artists came to display and sell their goods. Jim and I always enjoy speaking with the makers at art fairs. We get insight into their process and inspirations. We engage more fully with the art itself. This time was no exception.

A large photo of a lake in the Black Hills drew us into the booth of a talented photographer. After enjoying his photos for several minutes, I turned to the man and asked, Do you find that there is an upper limit for what people are willing to spend at an art fair venue?

He paused for a moment, and with a firm voice said, “No. I don’t find that at all. People who are willing to pay for art are just as willing to pay $3,000 as…

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