Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A royal pain?

The royal family in Great Britain is welcoming a new addition, and many around the world are joining them in their celebration.

Huzzah, right?

The joyful sentiment is not shared much by others who shrug and openly ask, "Who cares?" This, in my opinion, is that this is a legitimate question in light of how our modern world consists of various forms of government that involve power being handed down through means other than inheritance.

This skepticism rings especially true in the United States of America, a nation that violently broke away from its 'mother country' and has since taken pride in being a meritocracy. George Washington famously turned down being president for life and set a precedent for a new way of leading on this side of the pond. For those who are not Anglophiles in America, the spectacle of anything royal somehow triggers a gag reflex and cries of open apathy - or even antipathy.

Those who have taken to the streets to proclaim how little they care about the yet-to-be-named baby prince are sincere in their wish that we could focus on more important things. Sure, the arrival of a future king is not necessarily an event of interest to all, but what real 'news' occupied our attention in the previous days and weeks?

To be honest, the news has been a welcome distraction for me in light of racial tension, serial killers and political gridlock here in my country. The degree to which I care is no more than what other news dispatch arrives on my computer, but I do not shy away from showing some interest.

But why am I interested?

Sure, Great Britain is a constitutional monarchy that has whittled down royal power to that of a figurehead who graces national currency, but the British monarch continues to be the head of state. In that vein, royal watchers are no more annoying than those who are fascinated with our very own combination head of government and head of state. Remember when American women attempted to copy the look of Jackie Kennedy or those who stormed department stores to buy the same attire as Michelle Obama?

It's not all superficial, however. For all of the leisure and laziness that is perceived in the British royal family, let us not forget that they have a staying power that has withstood the overthrow of other monarchies. In modern times, the British royals survived two world wars, the violent overthrow of other monarchies and managed to keep healthy ties with their Commonwealth. And even as republican movements come and go, the House of Windsor maintains a reservoir of good will that other political institutions would envy.

And the media do play a role in preserving the royals' relevancy. Before the modern media, the royal family indeed lived a very cloistered existence. The public trusted in their monarchs simply through Divine Right. As other nations changed their governments, the royals needed to justify their expense to the public. King George V knew that, in light of radical movements and the overthrow of his cousins, he had to present his family as everyday citizens and to dispel the image of the debauched kings and princes like his father - King Edward VII.

The new media of motion pictures and radio gave King George V a powerful tool for public relations. The human connection of a king's voice and his ceremonial presence combined to cast strong ties within what was a Dominion of Nations. Those ties were tested during the abdication crisis of George's son, Edward VIII. Great Britain moved past the abdication and then buckled down through a war in which their King George VI and family would not abandon them.

As you can see, the history of Britain is infused with the story line of their royals' 'soap opera.' Historians still discuss the drama that pitted George VI against the Duke of Windsor and debate how the Germans may have planned to use the former king as a tool for invasion.

Hollywood even entered the fray of royal watchers with its moving 'The King's Speech.' The tale of overcoming a speech impediment exposed the private battle of a king for the entertainment of millions. The details of his struggle were given added gravity by his responsibility to his nation. A film about a man who stopped stuttering would not have meant as much without the narrative of a man who was to be the voice of his empire.

The rest of the Pandora's Box for the royals came with television. The documentary of a day in the life of Queen Elizabeth II may have been a watershed moment in how Britons viewed their royals and then, of course, there was Princess Diana.

The frenzy of attention increased with every glamorous photo-op that featured Princess Di. The royal wedding generated record ratings on television not because the television networks had nothing else to broadcast in the early morning. Public demand reached a fever pitch for those who daydreamed of a Cinderella-type possibly becoming the queen consort.

The royal soap opera rivaled fiction in the coming decade of Andrew, Fergie, Charles, Camilla, etc. This after all, was the generation of the future king. At least with Queen Elizabeth, she only had a few minor scandals from Princess Margaret. In the 1980s and 1990s, the family was publicly falling apart. It seemed to hit the bottom when Princess Diana was killed in 1997.

I guess that one important aspect of this new royal baby is that it appears to be a redemption of a family that went through divorce and strife out in the open. I am sure that there are days when the Windsors want to retreat into themselves. But, as Princess Diana's death showed us, there is always someone who is standing outside with a camera. Their shame has been public so much, it would at least be fair to broadcast their triumphs as well.

Maybe that is one reason to 'care.'

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Life, Love and Lilies: The Sanctified Self - A Book Review

This is one homework assignment that I take joy from!

After a relaxing Presidents Day weekend of hosting friends from Atlanta, including a post day trip to the Nation's Oldest City, I received a very thoughtful gift.

Brenda Bunch Strickland gave me an autographed copy of her book, "Life, Love and Lilies: The Sanctified Self." Even though the weeks have passed since then, I knew that the time would finally be right for me to read Brenda's thoughts on life, love and lilies.

Thankfully, after a school year of challenges, I sat down in a quiet waterfront park here in Bath, Maine to enlighten myself with Brenda's unique perspective. I managed to breeze through but also to savor her words like the sweet summer air around me and the cooling waves of the river at my feet.

Firstly, don't let the title fool you. This book is specially created for those who believe that being 'sanctified' is about as rarified as becoming a saint or a martyr. In reality, Brenda shares her thoughts about how we can achieve our potential as spirits in the material world.

For this lifelong journalism student, Brenda skillfully breaks down the who, the what, the when, the where and the why of our very existence. With as much reason as passion, she takes me on a journey into purpose, existence and the road ahead. The usual baggage of sin, fear and guilt are set aside so we can learn to travel light.

And what a trip it is. Brenda understands that it takes universal thinking to understand the universe. She does not limit herself to one path or condescend on other beliefs to make her points. She embraces all that is good and I know that the good returns her gentle hug.

Yes, the bookstores are populated with religion, new thought, new age and all that could keep a thinker occupied for centuries. Yes, we may never grasp the answers to all of life's questions in this lifetime. Brenda, however, has a worldview that make her efforts worthy of recommending to all who want to begin somewhere.

Central to her book, in my opinion, is the Bible verse from the Book of Matthew. We are to behold the lilies of the field as they toil without worry for their sustenance. This has been misread by many to think that we can just sit there and expect good to come our way. In practical terms, Brenda explains that even the most leisurely and lovely among us have work to do as the lilies serve to hold the ground together in the face of erosion. We, too, have our work and we too can lay down our worries to make room for the best that we deserve.

I hope that you consider looking up this great book to read for yourself! To order a copy ($20 plus shipping), call 404-734-8827, email brenstrick@gmail.com, or visit www.brendastrickland.us.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Reunion and retreat. Thanks JD Peeps!

The best thing about my junior high school years is that I am here in Bath, Maine for a week.

Twenty-five years ago, I met a snarky, sweet and pretty girl in my ninth grade art class in Orange Park, Florida.

Not only did we have an art class in common, we shared an English class. We joked about substitute teachers whom we referred to as feminine hygiene products, we passed notes when our peers were discussing 'Alas, Babylon' and we rocked out to the Hoyle Dempsey morning show on the WAPE-FM.

We shared so many laughs in our freshman year. We were not typical freshmen because we were on top of the heap. The junior high school pecking order led directly up to the ninth graders who knew not very much of the coming sophomore slump.

Then, she was gone. I sorely missed my art buddy whose sense of humor made me openly wonder if we were long-long siblings. Just as she opened my eyes and ears to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, she was gone.

This was the heavy price that I paid for being a Navy brat. I knew that whatever bonds that I formed would be torn asunder by Uncle Sam's dictates that my friends' parents would be stationed to any random duty station if to point out that my socialization and friendships took a back seat to our national security.

Tenth grade for me was a letdown without her. She must have made a mark in our town because rumors came and went around our Sunshine State suburb that she was dead. Whatever the truth was about this mysterious friend, I thought fondly of the nearly 180 days that we sat in tiny desks with the kind of dialogue that now permeates the typical teen sitcom that populates American television.

Although she was gone, she was the template for all of my future friendships. When I joined my church youth group, when I started an underground newspaper, when I eventually went away to college. The ones who drew me the closest were the ones who seemed to step right out of Spy Magazine.

Or the Village Voice

Then along came MySpace.

Seeing that I halfway feared that I would have to conjure up a seance to reunite with her, I decided to search her through social networking.

It almost did not happen because I was reluctant to join MySpace. After all, what were the odds of finding people with whom I wanted to connect? Once I got on, I began making connections with folks who were unseen in years.

On a whim, I looked her up. I found her. I sent her a message.

As far from Maine as she was, she and I crossed the span of decades to reconnect. I could hardly wait to make the trip of the East coast to see her again. Thanks to Amtrak's USA Rail Pass, I embarked on a journey to rediscover myself.

Much like I thought that she had left this mortal coil, there was a younger me that I thought had surely been exterminated by adulthood and broken dreams. I saw life as a never ending trail of disillusion and failure as I did not quite measure up to what was expected of me.

The creativity, imagination and zeal that drove the freshman me became liabilities for a middle aged teacher who found himself demanding the kind of conformity and compliance of students that would have surely earned himself the 'douche' tag from a younger me.

But I digress. The train trip that I took was a shot in the dark that I was going to find a Pine State paradise. Unlike most gambles where I leave with a lighter wallet, I found my visit to be a tonic for the soul.

It was not just the salty breeze and the New England charm, it was a long lost sister whose reunion also reunited me with myself. Not only did I drink a lot of Moxie, I found my mojo again. The spirit of a fourteen-year-old boy returned to remind me that there is plenty of fun to be had in life.

As I write this entry, I am thankful for spending time with her and her family. They are the most gracious hosts and their town is a getaway. The ties that we restored have also restored me. That is why I love summering up here. I dedicate this blog entry to M.C. and her wonderful family.

As the next school year begins for this middle school teacher, I already am dreaming of my return to this Down East Shangri-La.