Monday, May 18, 2015

Mount Saint Helens: A natural (and spiritual) laboratory

Me at the rim of the crater on Mount Saint Helens, May 9, 2015. Spirit Lake is below; a partially shrouded Mount Rainier
hovers in the far distance.
A little over a week ago, I climbed to the summit of Mount Saint Helens for the first time. (Once before, I was turned back by bad weather about halfway up.) Today marks the 35th anniversary of its catastrophic eruption back in 1980.

I'm not sure exactly why, but I've been fascinated by this mountain ever since living in the Pacific Northwest. I'm obviously no scientist, but local history always captivates me. So does the inexplicable but awesome force of nature, both its destructive and restorative qualities. As I've indicated more than once before, I think there's a powerful and instructive spiritual message to be learned simply by paying attention to the rhythms of the created order.

Mount Saint Helens was once known as the "Mount Fuji of North America" for its near-perfect conical shape. Directly to the north of the glacial mountain was Spirit Lake, a crystal-blue body of water surrounded by old-growth forests, camps, cabins, and lodges. It's a place I would have loved to have visited in the 1960s or 1970s, before the era of Internet, cell phones, or social media, and before this region was defined by names like Amazon, Starbucks, and Microsoft. A time when most folks in the Northwest still drank cans of Rainier and Olympia beer — long before the craft beer movement came of age.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Republicans desperate to take away Americans' health insurance

Look at this chart, courtesy of Gallup, which illustrates just how precipitously the uninsured rate has declined among Americans since the latter half of 2013.

Then, imagine how much lower it could be still if the Republican Party and its plutocratic backers didn't remain steadfastly committed to sabotaging and dismantling the law that makes the trend possible.

According to the news release from Gallup: "The uninsured rate has dropped sharply since the most significant change to the U.S. healthcare system in the Affordable Care Act — the provision requiring most Americans to carry health insurance — took effect at the beginning of 2014. An improving economy and a falling unemployment rate may also have accelerated the steep drop in the percentage of uninsured over the past year. However, the uninsured rate is significantly lower than it was in early 2008, before the depths of the economic recession, suggesting that the recent decline is due to more than just an improving economy."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Musings from Scotland's Isle of Iona

The early morning sunlight illuminates the east walls of Iona Abbey against a backdrop of clouds and blue sky to the west.
A year ago at this exact moment, my dad and I were on a pilgrimage with my school to Iona, a small island off the west coast of Scotland, part of the Hebrides archipelago. Widely regarded as a sacred setting for the Celtic tradition of Christianity, people flock here from all over the world to embrace Iona's status as a "thin space," where, in the words of theologian George MacLeod, "only tissue paper separates the material from the spiritual."

In short, on this windswept, starkly beautiful, isolated island on the edge of the wild North Atlantic, people seek the intersection of the worldly and the divine. If you ever visit the place, you'll understand why.

The pilgrimage was led by one of my professors, Dr. Roy Barsness, and John Philip Newell, a leading authority on Celtic Christianity and a man of profound wisdom and depth whose soft, contemplative voice inspires his audiences to listen closely.

Undoubtedly because of this, I took notes voraciously when he spoke during our times together, either during our day-long trek around the island or our gatherings at the St. Columba Hotel, where we stayed as a group. Here's some of what I wrote — ideas courtesy of Newell himself, of course.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Nepal earthquake: A harbinger of disaster much closer to home?

Mount Baker, a dormant stratovolcano in the North Cascades, just east of Bellingham, Washington. Mount Baker
started rumbling in the mid-1970s, causing fears of an imminent eruption that ultimately never happened. Just a
few years later, however, Mount Saint Helens did just that — with catastrophic force.
What happened in Nepal last weekend is devastating and tragic, and the death toll continues to climb as I write this. Part of the reason for the terrible human toll is that Nepal is a very poor country. The infrastructure there — not to mention the building codes — aren't prepared to cope with a disaster of this magnitude.

In spite of this, a recent opinion piece on CNN argues that "we all saw this coming."

Of course we did. Hindsight's always 20/20, isn't it?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

California is not the only place drying up. The Northwest is, too.


All you have to do is look at the map above to disabuse yourself of the Koch-fueled notion that "it's cold/snowy here today, so global warming must not be real."

California has been making the news a lot lately for climate-related reasons, and rightfully so. Drought has ravaged the nation's most populous state, and the outlook is grim, particularly when you consider that more people live there than the entire massive country of Canada.

This week, William Shatner proposed one of the more inane solutions I've heard in response to the emergency: Build a pipeline from Seattle to California to transport the abundance of water from the Pacific Northwest to places that are in crisis in the Golden State. After all, Seattle has plenty of water, right?

For now, yes. But if Shatner thinks that things are just rosy up here, he hasn't been paying much attention.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Jon Stewart: A very tough act to follow

Screenshot: thedailyshow.com
I'll be honest: I'm fairly depressed about Jon Stewart's upcoming departure from The Daily Show.

This is a guy who continually holds people and powers accountable — a job the mainstream media generally refuses to perform — and he does it in a way that successfully engages viewers who would most likely otherwise be apathetic.

Often it's the media themselves who are rightfully the target of Stewart's witty, stinging critique. Other times, it's insufferable characters like Dick Cheney. (Seriously, if you haven't watched that latest clip, stop what you're doing and watch it now.) He spares neither Republicans nor Democrats, and his ability to call out hypocrisy and duplicity is impeccable.

In an age when so-called "news outlets" prioritize sensationalism over real journalism and ratings over an informed public, Jon Stewart's departure will invariably leave a gaping hole. America desperately needs a public figure like him who not only blows the whistle on bullshit, but does it in a way that's both entertaining and enlightening. One of the reasons this country is in such lousy shape right now, I submit, is that we're dominated by a corporate media that fosters cynicism, ignorance, and indifference.

Jon Stewart has managed to be a lone-standing antidote to those trends, using humor and sarcasm to make his audience aware and involved with the pressing issues of our day.

Frankly, I know very little about Trevor Noah, Stewart's recently-named successor, but I will say this much: He has some very big shoes to fill. The Daily Show is much more than just comedy.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Searching for God knows what

Where I'll be interning next fall.
This latest spring term of my master's program in counseling psychology has easily been the most challenging one yet, both emotionally and in terms of workload. It finally drew to a close last week; now, mercifully, I have the rest of the month off and plan to do absolutely nothing related to school.

For the past four months, I've felt like this particular Onion article has described me perfectly.

It's not just the academic demands, which alone have been more than rigorous. On top of that, my class is on the cusp of getting our first real-life clinical experience — a professional internship that starts in the fall.

The thing is, we aren't simply assigned to internship sites by the school. That would be way too easy. Instead, we're given a list of sites that meet the requirements for completion of the program, and then we're thrown to the wolves — or at least that's how it has felt for me. It's up to the students to find an internship and register it with the school.

My experience of interviewing for internships was not a pleasant one. It was the first time in my life I interviewed for a role for which I feel genuinely unqualified; and unlike past interview experiences, there was absolutely no way for me to bullshit in these or act as though I know what the hell I'm doing. In the first place, I don't, and in the second place, I was being interviewed by clinicians whose job is to notice things about a person.

It's very tough to hide under those circumstances. It's also very humbling. It's a reminder of just how far I have to go, even after I graduate. Having a degree won't make me a good therapist. Only time and experience will.