Embrace the Day

Maybe the appeal of live music concerts is rooted in the energy of the audience. Or the novelty of seeing performers display their talents. Or both. Or a combination of those facets, coupled with the merger of sounds of voices and musical instruments. I am speculating here; live music concerts hold very little appeal to me. Large venues and large crowds, especially, do not captivate me. In fact, I find dense crowds and their attendant noise and their intrusive consumption of space unappealing in the extreme. Even attending events in small venues can be distracting and troublesome and anxiety-producing for me. And while I truly enjoy music, I like the comfort and control afforded through technology, distance, relative isolation, and comfortable seating.

The foregoing to the contrary notwithstanding—and because yesterday was the fifth Sunday of the month, in lieu of a traditional worship service—Music on Barcelona was held. The event offers an hour of music in the sanctuary. I was enthralled by Maria Richardson’s performance at the Unitarian Universal Village church yesterday. Seven of the nine jazz-based pieces she sang (accompanied on piano by Clyde Pound) were the music of Melody Gardot, a songwriter and singer of quiet jazz. In a word, Richardson’s performance was superb; in another word, it was outstanding; and in another, it was delightful. I am not much of a fan of vocal jazz, but yesterday’s experience might suggest otherwise. It just has to be the right jazz and the right jazz singer.


Only yesterday, thanks to a photograph posted on a Facebook group called A View from My Window, I learned that Kibera, in Kenya, is Africa’s largest urban slum. This morning, I read another reference to Kibera in an Associated Press (or has its name been officially shortened to AP?) article. The Athi River crosses Kibera, a poverty-stricken neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya. The news I read this morning, in an article of the same name, explored the question of “Is there hope for a dying river in Kenya’s growing capital?”

Compassion is the basis of morality.

~ Arthur Schopenhauer ~

I am deeply concerned about natural waterways the world over. After skimming the article, I am even more intensely concerned about the Athi River. But my exploration this morning drifted away from the river and focused my attention on Kibera. Estimates of the population of Kibera run between a figure of 170,170 (from the 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census) to well over 1 or 2 million. Whatever its size, seeing photographs of the slum and reading about the searing poverty experienced by its residents rends my heart in two. I simply cannot fathom why world governments do not band together in common cause to extract residents of such excruciatingly unlivable places and provide them with at least minimal necessities and comfort. Oh, yes I can. Politics. Stubborn adherence to inhumane concepts of responsibility and blame. The absence of compassion. Constituents who are more interested in minimizing the effects of taxation on their prized luxuries than in exercising compassion for their fellow human beings.

But we, the taxpayers, often express pity for the less fortunate. And we attempt to assuage our guilt about what might be our partial responsibility for their plight by making “significant” donations to good causes. As I think about the concepts of charity and compassion, I suspect many people tend to contribute to such causes only after they have been gently reminded. And only after their own consciences—and concerns about others’ potential judgments in the absence of expressions of overt and significant displays of compassion—shame them into participating in an anemic effort to “solve the problem.” When I said “they,” I should have said “we.” If I were truly committed to putting forth efforts to approach a solution, I would insist on paying more taxes or otherwise committing as much as I possibly could to the cause.

My attitude may be seen as an argument for “all or nothing.” While that is not the case, my statements are too “back and white,” implying there is a “right” proportion of an individual’s wealth that should be dedicated to collective efforts to solve social ills. In fact, there is an enormous grey area along the spectrum of caring. One finds maximum altruism on one end and maximum selfishness on the other end of the spectrum. Somewhere along that spectrum is a sub-spectrum, both ends of which are vague and ill-defined. If humans could collectively strive to place themselves within that sub-spectrum and act accordingly, I suspect most of our social ills could be solved. But I am a pessimist in that regard. A defeatist who sees no realist possibility of ever reaching that state of nirvana.


From almost the first time I read his work, the writings of liberal Christian pastor, blogger, and author, John Pavlovitz impressed me. Even though I did not and do not share his expressed belief in God, I share the definitions of justice and goodwill about which he writes. But over time—three years or more—my esteem for him has declined. The more I read his strident statements about social and political issues, the less I believe in his commitment to liberal causes. Oh, he may well believe in them, but I get the distinct sense he is using his persuasive skills to position himself to be the willing recipient of generosity. Though he may not have reached the heights of “successful” right-wing evangelical ministers, I strongly suspect he writes to an audience who, he believes, will convert their support for his words into money in his pocket.

Why has my opinion changed? I can refer to nothing more than a gut feel. His words seem, to me, increasingly inauthentic. Nowadays, when I read what he writes, I recoil in distaste that approaches disgust. If my suspicions are correct, he is a skilled deceiver and practiced opportunist. But I may be wrong. He may well be as committed to his left-leaning (and sometimes far left) positions as he purports to be. If I can be persuaded to reverse my current perception about him, I will hang my head in shame for condemning him. But, until then, I will avoid reading his blog and his other work, lest my blood pressure get out of control in response.


I have mixed feelings about tipping. On one hand, I believe businesses should pay their employees a living wage; enough that the employee would not have to rely on tips to make ends meet. It irritates me to think that I am expected to overtly express generosity in the form of extra spending, whether or not I am financially able. On the other hand, I think some service workers deserve the extra recognition and financial reward that comes from tipping. But I wonder whether the size of the financial reward sometimes gets out of hand. Lately, the number of news items about extraordinarily large tips has grown enormously. Reading about a waitperson being recognized with a $100 or $1000 tip can be heart-warming. But is it even remotely realistic? And does it inadvertently send a message suggesting, even obliquely, that larger tips should become routine entitlements?

Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men.

~ Confucius ~

Admittedly, I have felt good—even a little giddy—leaving an especially large tip. For example, I have on occasion left a $10 bill in payment for a $3 cup of coffee or a $20 bill for a $7 sandwich. I felt good about surprising the server and, from what I could tell, the server was at least minimally appreciative of an unexpected windfall. I think my sense of the unfairness of tipping may be responsible for my generosity in such cases, though.

Servers who work in high-end establishments, where checks for lunch might exceed $50 per person, might receive $10 to $20 in tips for the meal. Servers at a diner, where the average check is $10, might receive $2 or $3 in tips. I cannot imagine that the better compensated servers are worth the differential. And, in my view, tradespeople who set their own rates of compensation do not merit tips unless they go far “over and above” the expected levels of provision or performance. Yet I do not know whether the respective servers are compensated by their employers in ways that might level their financial positions; perhaps the server who does not receive big tips is paid considerably more than his counterpart in the expensive place. But I doubt it. And the tradespeople might under-price themselves in response to pressure to keep their rates low or risk losing business. I think I can tell if that’s the case, though.

My most significant problem with tipping, though, is the fact that it is so often expected. It is rarely viewed today as a reward for superior service. I favor the European model, in which tipping is relatively rare and, when done, is in recognition for superior service that the tipper values more than the amount she is charged.

Give me a week or a month and I might argue against everything I have written here about tipping. I would like to be certain, but I sometimes see too many perspectives to permit certainty to get its grip on me.


Today’s agenda: get a haircut and see a rheumatologist. And perhaps visit Costco. And fill my gas tank? Hmm. I remember yesterday being told that in yesterday’s blog post I wrote “due point” instead of “dew point.” I know the difference, but apparently I was distracted when I wrote it. I corrected the mistake, but I was embarrassed I had made it. Ach. When I am concerned about such mistakes, I wonder who I am writing this for?

It is nearing 7, so I had better shave and shower in preparation to embrace the day. And off I go.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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