Why I’m Afraid of the Impact from the New Stars Wars Movie

James S Russell

Alex Clark, my 12-year-old lunch buddy friend and I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He said, “It was good, but it seemed like they used a lot of clips from old Star Wars movies. That’s what my brother said, and he was right.”

Their comments matched my surprise the movie didn’t include modern technology. In the first scene the new spherical droid, BB-8, hustled back from a roll in the forest to warn about an attack instead of using a voice-activated mobile phone.

The evil enemy, called First Order, had a massive air base without moving walkways. Surveillance cameras didn’t direct clone troopers to heroes walking in hallways or climbing walls in plain view.

Those are quibbles. The arc of the story is resistance fighters imbued by a good force and supported by the New Republic using violence to overthrow the violent evil First Order. I cheered on the resistance fighters just as I did in the first movie in 1977.

The trouble is I’ve lost faith in our foreign policy of supporting resistance fighters since the U.S. and our allies lost the Vietnam War in 1975. Encouragingly, the united Vietnam is thriving and welcoming U.S. tourists.

Coincidently, since 1977 NATO and allied forces have stubbornly supported resistance fighters to topple dark side regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, among others. Allies declared military victories and drew down military forces. But do we see peace? Am I the only one appalled by the tragic lives of people living in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq?

Are we going to be bombarded by Star Wars sequels until fighters ultimately triumph? Will there be a sequel of the rebuilding? Will our nation increase support for violent resistance fighters in dozens of existing despotically ruled nations?

Throughout this movie the heroes believe recruiting Jedi Luke Skywalker and delivering his customized lightsaber weapon is their only hope of reigniting the unifying power of the force. When they piece together the cryptic map to Skywalker’s hiding place, I saw a luminescent cross in the middle of the path. Was the message implying our heroes had to trample over the cross to deliver it, or that it was the Christian way to empower the force?

Was I mistaken about the cross? I didn’t find references to it in Internet blogs. But I saw it, the symbol of Jesus’ non-violence.  Non-violence was the force Gandhi used to win freedom from England in contrast to the U.S. Continental Army’s defeat of the British army. Nelson Mandela used nonviolence to overthrow apartheid in South Africa. Nonviolence works.

Alex listened to me raise these questions. He said resistance fighters and people on both sides of wars always believe they’re the good guys. He warned me that when people have a fun experience, they shouldn’t use logic on it.  It’ll take away the fun.

When I read him a draft of this article, he admitted he’d seen me enjoying the tense fight scenes. The more I thought about his sardonic answer, the more disappointed I was about my enjoyment of the movie.

The new Star Wars excited me, but I’m afraid it glorifies violence to achieve peace. That approach isn’t working for our nation.  Am I alone with this feeling? Is my fear unreasonable?



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Oh Happy Day! A New New Years Resolution

Oh Happy Day! My New Resolution for 2016 Has Arrived


New Year’s resolutions must be doable, memorable and satisfying. My last year’s resolution was witness, designed to encourage me to share my faith more openly instead of assuming my good deeds speak for themselves. It felt like a challenge all year instead of a natural sharing, although to be fair to me, (I like to be fair to me), I witnessed more last year. For example, one person asked to explain my resolution. That’s a start.

The last four years’ resolutions were shine, rejoice, smile and balance. They feel more uplifting, instead of a burden like witness felt. Having witness as a duty instead of a joy is a troubling fault line I should monitor. Maybe I need to repeat in the coming year until it’s joyful. Ugh.

My baseline for choosing a resolution is whether it fits by motto:  He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8). I blend that thought every night, when I fall asleep immediately, when I feel the need to rethink and ask for forgiveness from unsettling memories of unsatisfactory behavior during the day,, such as whether I’ve been curt, irritated, insensitive, indifferent, lazy and worse.

One nagging feeling is I’m having is resenting the activities I’m obligated to do out of duty, instead of relishing the choices I’ve volunteered to do out of joy. Expressing that in print helps me articulate what’s been troubling me about the 2015 resolution, I’ll turn that confession over to my spiritual leader through prayer and listen.  In other words, I’m heading back to bed right now to get more sleep.

So what words jumped up to get my attention after my additional sleep? They include: inspire, aspire, act enthusiastic and you’ll be enthusiastic”, charge, march, embrace, laugh, serve.

To be honest, “Leader, lead thyself” were the first words I heard last night almost as soon as I turned the confession over to God.

So is it lead? No, because it could be pronounced as the deadening chemical element, lead.  How about transform? Energize? Commit? Charge? Exude? Enjoy? Revel in? Delight in? Thrive? Blossom? Flourish? Prosper? Rise up? Onward? Twinkle?

At that point I began searching for lyrics to inspire me to embrace a resolution for my mood every morning. After searching lyrics popular hymns, children’s hymns and the like, three energized me as I read and sang the lyrics. Memorizing and singing verses could give me the feeling I want every day in every way: Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens, Oh Happy Day by Edwin Hawkins and When the Saints Go Marching In by Louis Armstrong.

The New Year’s resolution that kept running through my head as I sang and read the lyrics, was “rise up.”

That’s it.  Out with witness and in with rise up. I look forward to the morning of New Year’s Day, regardless of what happens to my alma mater Michigan State against Alabama in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s eve.


Posted in Fuzzy Skies Humor, Humor, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

This Year My New Year’s Resolution is Witness. Maybe Peple Will Notice it More Than Last Year’s Shine

WitnessLast year my one-verb resolution was ‘shine.’ After my morning prayers, I’d silently sing, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine…”  I sang it in perfect pitch and rhythm, raising my body with a spirit eager to immerse itself in the vibrant lives and events of the coming day. My little light shone.

This is embarrassing to write, incidentally, because only one person commented on shine. He didn’t say he noticed a difference, just that he remembered it from my email signature.

I just checked http://www.statisticbrain.com: only 8 out of 100 people who make New Year’s resolutions are successful in achieving them. If I didn’t achieve mine, am I in good company?

Admittedly, I don’t follow my spiritual path every morning. Too often I wake up frustrated I couldn’t sleep longer, or rushed because I have more important things to do than rejoice and shine. At times I wonder if I’ve even felt God’s presence shining through me that day.

Needing to feel closer to God reminded me of the hymn that comforted Dad and us in his final days, “Just a closer walk with thee, grant it Jesus, is my plea…”

Once I had my song, I found synonyms for ‘closer’ like ‘abut,’ ‘clinch’ and a noun, ‘deathblow.’ I’d wandered into the wrong word world. What feels challenging is witness. Witnessing for me and witnessing inspiring stories of others.

If witnessing makes me feel closer, I could claim success.

Really, even if no one notices?

Note: The Witness image was created by http://www.bible-basics-layers-of-understanding.com


Posted in Enjoying the Retired Life, Humor | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

A Light Hearted Look at Forgetting to Give Anniversary Cards

Karen and I forgot to give each other the anniversary cards we bought before our 51st anniversary on November 29th. Why did we both forget?

DSC_2960Because we shared a tumultuous life beginning casually at dinner on Nov. 14 when Karen shared the pressure she was feeling as President of the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center’s Board. This is my personal story and does not reveal Museum business.

She said the Museum needed to hire an Interim Director for two-to six months before Director Brenda Abney left on December 9 to serve in a new position in Tempe Arizona.

Each Board member was soliciting people who could serve.

I listened to the qualifications and on impulse said, “I could do that.”

Over the 51 years we’ve been married, she’s responded to my impulsive claims with calming perspectives, such as ignoring them or saying, “What?” or “You’re kidding, right?” I depend on her to temper my irresponsible impulses.

She said, “I think you could.”

Her response stunned me into silence. She wasn’t intimately sharing. She was soliciting.

I’ve steadily improved my retirement skills for 13 years. Why would I abandon retirement?

Because she thought I could help, that’s why. I’ve served on boards, know finance, raised funds and could make myself available immediately.

I emailed my resume to Abney on Nov. 17 and said, “If you and your search team think I could possibly serve effectively as an Interim Director, I’d be willing to discuss it…”

Once I crossed that Rubicon I imagined reading headlines about my new challenge, but quickly imagined being responsible for thousands of artifacts I didn’t know how a Museum acquired, preserved and exhibited. A Museum staff member had stopped me from touching an historical display.

I’d have to suspend and postpone commitments such as writing for the Empire Press which I love to do. Could I give up sleeping late and napping in the afternoons?

Eliminating morning walks with my dog Haley and Karen would cause problems. Karen would have probably overcome pain from her hip to walk Haley more often. Haley would be alone more often. I’d get less exercise.

All of those were bad, but we’d manage if needed.

I decided the Board wouldn’t need me.

Karen was silent as the Sphinx except to say they had a good pool of candidates. One day she made telephone calls for the Board behind closed doors in our bedroom. I’d volunteered and been excused.

The Board’s consultant called me to set up an interview.

The morning of my interview was weird. Karen wouldn’t attend my interview but was interviewing other candidates. She kissed me and said, “Good luck with your interview. I said, “Good luck with your interview.”

The Committee made a recommendation for Board approval on Monday at noon after Thanksgiving. Karen and I left to celebrate an uninterrupted Thanksgiving and our anniversary with our family. Both of us forgot the anniversary cards we had for each other.

Monday morning I walked Haley, finished my Empire Press articles and ate lunch. I was relieved and about ready for my nap.

Gil Sparks called to offer me the position on behalf of the Board. I went to work the next morning. Our neighbor graciously offered to take care of Haley when needed.

I found Karen’s anniversary cards for me on my computer keyboard one week after our anniversary. That reminded me to put hers on her desk.

I won’t be writing Clear Skies for a while, but hope to share some light hearted thoughts in Fuzzy Skies columns for the next few




Posted in Enjoying the Retired Life, Fuzzy Skies Humor | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Ways We Can Help Politicians Cooperate and Improve Lives

  • IMG_5338The world is making startling progress to improve people’s lives. It doesn’t feel like progress when we’re finally free of the fall campaign rhetoric only to undergo immobilizing squabbling between Democrats and Republicans.

    What gives me hope are my experiences in progress getting politicians to cooperate by participating with ONE, an organization campaigning and advocating to end global extreme poverty and preventable diseases by 2030. ONE works from the ground up by providing basic services that increase economic development and save lives. More healthier people with money to spend get educated, develop global economies and cut population growth rates.

    The surprise is ONE advocated for squabbling politicians to cooperate in the Electrify Africa Act that passed the House with bipartisan support last summer. The Senate’s version is the Energize Africa Act (S. 2508) with bipartisan sponsorship by Senators Bob Mendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-TN). If passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama, the Act would provide access to modern electricity that would save lives, boost education, alleviate poverty and accelerate growth. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the development income would save the U.S. budget $135 million every year from 2015-2019.

    Local Rotarians and friends funded an extremely small scale project that provided access to solar powered electricity in nine homes in Africa. In February 2014 on a safari they visited the homes with the solar panels near the Nkoilale School in western Kenya. Safari leader Hillary Kosen of Kosen Safaris in East Wenatchee and the inventor of the solar panels, Dr. Claver Hategekiman from Wenatchee Valley College, visited the homes and villagers six months later.

    The results were better than envisioned. Women were increasing their income by making more jewelry to sell to travelers. They had more time during the day to tend their villages and care for their livestock and children.

    One man improvised solar power connections to recharge cell phones and raise his income to $3-5 per day, well above the level of extreme poverty. People plugged lights over their stock pens to cut the economic loss of 1-2 goats per month.

    Parents plan to install solar panels over a new lunch room at the school to provide a study hall at night for resident students. It would be a stage for evening performances where Maasai men and women could see their children blossom with drama skills.

    Imagine the impact of providing reliable electric power to millions of African homes, hospitals and businesses by passing the Electrify Africa Act through the Senate that will save the U.S. federal government $135 million per year from 2015-2019.

    We can act locally and recommend our politicians cooperate to do the same. Write our Senators to support the Energize Africa Act (S. 2508). Then look for small ways to cooperate so our leadership will return to doing the same for us.

Posted in Community Building, Doing Justice and Having Compassion, travel | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

How a Charity Avoided Toxicity and Stopped an Ebola Outbreak

The book Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton describes how well-intentioned donations devastates causes by creating dependencies without investing in people with skills and attitudes for progress. The book cover said Lupton “has been at the forefront of urban ministry” in Atlanta churches and community development for 40 years.”

I purchased a summary of the book from Amazon by an author called The Growing Leader which gives the guidelines to build sustainable development that avoids toxic charity. They resonated with my experience in community development over 40 years. They also match the characteristics of a polio eradication program called PolioPlus that is expecting to declare Nigeria polio free for one year in December 2014.

PolioPlus began as a Rotary Project that gained momentum when it was co-sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation.

WHO praised Nigeria’s PolioPlus project as one of the keys to success in halting a terrifying threat of Ebola in Nigeria’s two major cities.

PolioPlus followed the guidelines of successful projects described in Toxic Charity.

First, PolioPlus began with a clear goal to eradicate polio from the planet in each nation on the planet.

Second it focused on  unique programs within each community over the long term, in this instance, nation by nation. Nigeria is battling violence from terrorists that overrun its borders, but it dedicated itself to improving health care.

Third, it focused on assets in the community. Nigeria had a stable government, a strong health department, a medical research university, doctors and nurses. It had Rotary Clubs committed to the goal. The nation had ongoing relationships with world health organizations. Those assets were strengthened and harnessed to serve the polio eradication goal.

Fourth, PolioPlus focused on the front burner issues concerning the people. WHO reports polio was not the front burner issue in Nigeria. Malaria, diarrhea, and diseases like tuberculosis were killing millions of people. Six-hundred-fifty thousand people suffered from Guinea-worm disease, a painful, sometimes fatal disease spread by unsanitary water.

Fifth, charitable donations were used to invest for the long term, not meet emergencies. The Ministry of Health created treatment facilities and staffed them with doctors and nurses to treat the rampant diseases crippling the people. WHO and CDC strengthened medical facilities with equipment and training for doctors, nurses and citizen volunteers. Rotary donated vaccines and volunteers. Rotary International magazine The Rotarian said patients flocked to the centers for primary treatment. After primary treatment patients were informed about the polio and given the vaccine.

The Medical New Today website article How Nigeria Prevented an Ebola Outbreak reported on investments in advanced GPS technology that enabled neighborhood by neighborhood mapping of polio cases. The Nigerians and WHO adapted the technology for the Ebola threat to trace and link 894 people who’d come in contact with two Ebola patients. They monitored each contact daily, isolated them when symptoms appeared and cleared them when they’d had no symptoms after 21 days.

Sixth, PolioPlus focused on leadership development to build capacity. A volunteer, Tunji Funjo, is chair of the Nigeria polio eradication program. The President of Nigeria and Minister of Health supported the polio and Ebola campaigns. They inspired neighborhood volunteers with local dialects. They used social media and well-known video and TV stars. The PolioPlus communication networks quickly transmitted the campaign against Ebola.

Seventh, PolioPlus focused on a deliberate pace that allowed people to accept the project. People trusted the centers that had treated them for disease. When the centers began explaining symptoms of Ebola, how it spreads and how people were being tracked, hysteria was avoided.

Nigeria’s story should reinforce the guidelines for volunteers working with communities and serve as an inspiration for volunteers and assistance programs for people wanting to think globally as well as act locally.

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The Self-Importance of My Dog

Haley and Us Wednesday 120512 009My dog Haley prances as if she’s important. That doesn’t seem possible for 14 pounds of brown and white beagle-terrier mix with white-booted paws and ear tips that bob along as she prances precisely erect to elevate her truncated view.

She has grand views from the banks of the irrigation canal above the first and ninth fairways of the country club. When she spots movement she charges silently and surprisingly swiftly to clear quail from shrubs and squirrels up trees. Every spot cleared is rechecked the next day. She makes our walk more fun. That’s important for my healing heart

She dozes most of the afternoon on the back of our downstairs couch. One day at 4:00 pm I decided she needed exercise and a greater sense of responsibility. I insisted she accompany me out the back door and up the rocky path to get the mail. She seemed perplexed as she looked from me and back to the quiet neighborhood. When we returned I praised her for helping me and she rushed upstairs to tell Karen what she’d learned.

Every afternoon at four pm she responds. She escorts me to the mailbox and sniffs the air like a canine secret service agent. A few days ago I realized she convinced me no one was hiding in the bushes in the gloaming of the fall day. There never has been, but she’ll tell me if there is any threat as I grow more frail over the next decade. My original spoof of an important task made her more important to me.

She creates self-importance she doesn’t deserve. I called her to help me deposit an envelope one night. We walked beside the house waiting for our movement-sensing light to turn on. Just before it lit up, Haley unexpectedly woofed at it. It obediently turned on. I’m convinced she believes she’s learned to turn it on for our  protection.

She’s undeniably important for my bad knee from a sports injury. It stays flexible and pain-free if I get down on the floor and do bicycle kicks every morning. Haley joins me any time my face is lower than hers. She rolls over on her back so I can rub her belly with one hand while kicking. Afterward I nuzzle her with sincere thank-yous. When we’re done she bolts upstairs to tell Karen I’ve done my exercises.

The truth is she often motivates me to do them. When it’s time she puts her paws on my chair urging us to get to work even though I explain to her I have other things I must do, and honestly prefer to do. Her wagging tail and brown eyes remind me it’s fun for her and good for me, so I roll out of my chair onto the floor. While my friends get knee surgeries I don’t feel a need for one.

She’s a wonder.  The importance of our relationship to each other is a greater wonder.

She deserves to prance with importance.

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