Tuesday, November 30, 2010

we have achieved kafka-hood

"for [zadie] smith, what makes kafka universal is that he captured quotidian experience. his ability to speak to us all has to do with how well he conveyed the very local alienation of being an assimilated german-speaking jew in prague, who didn't fully 'belong' anywhere, rather than with his evocation of some vague modern existential malaise. making much of kafka's famous image of german-jewish writers sticking 'with their back legs' to judaism and reaching 'no new ground' with their front ones,...smith concludes: 'for there is a sense in which kafka's jewish question ("what have I in common with the jews?") has become everybody's question, jewish alienation is the template for all our doubts...these days we all find our anterior legs flailing before us. we're all insects, all ungeziefer now.'

"never mind that kafka didn't include himself among those german-jewish authors whom he saw as flailing about with their anterior legs...smith's essay is primarily an appreciative review of louis begley's...the tremendous world I have inside my head...begley's work also relies on some dubious generalizations to make a case for its own importance. one notable instance comes in the middle of its chapter on kafka's jewish identity. begley writes that kafka's 'intermittent self-lacerating and provocative pronouncements,' as well as his oft-mentioned 'qualms' about the ability of jews to write effectively in german, 'have been used by scholars to buttress the argument that kafka was himself a jewish anti-semite, a self-hating jew.'

"begley...wants us to see kafka's response to the jewish questions of his day as normal...in commenting on kafka's fantasy of stuffing all jews (himself included) 'into the drawer of the laundry chest' and 'suffocating' them, begley writes that the 'outburst' was probably just a function of the 'fatigue' that stems from living with anti-semitism. such exhaustion might account for a desire to achieve individual release, but kafka is dreaming of genocide, which, obviously, is something else."

--from "misreading kafka" by paul reitter in the fall 2010 edition of the jewish review of books

this question, "what have I in common with the jews?", was asked in not so many words and not about the jews in a discussion I had with some friends from seminary on sunday. they are also uu ministerial students studying for ministry--although both are more interested in chaplaincy--and we were planning the order of service for an advent worship we're leading on thursday.

perhaps it is one of our ways of honoring the jewish tradition we spring out of or perhaps it's just the natural human tendency to kvetch, but when 2 or more uus gather invariably we end up talking about what's wrong with uuism, or more specifically what's wrong with uu congregations. having just come from a service at the congregation where I'm interning, whose minister is a retired english professor and whose intern is still one, and most of whose congregation is made up, like many uu congregations, of lawyers and doctors and teachers and artists and executives and engineers, we naturally fell into the common complaint uus have of the swimming-upstreamness of our tendency to gather in elite enclaves.

one, born and raised in the faith, said it might be very elitist, but she liked that there was a haven to which she could retreat on certain days to have conversations about big ideas and topics that she couldn't have the rest of the week with other people she knows. that resonates with me, as well: most of my intellectual conversations during my workweek exist because of my work as a teacher and by their nature they have to have an outcome, and invariably consist of my explaining a term or idea and requesting feedback on it. they're good conversations, mind you, and I like having them, but it's rare that they evolve on their own or continue for more than a couple minutes without my introducing something new, and because of the constraints of time I have to bring them back to the topic we're studying.

the other, like me born in a trailer but unlike me to parents in the religious mainstream, said that she was at times dismayed to hear people like her dissed. "the people we look down on, the songs we make fun of, those are my people, and it sometimes feels like I am being repudiated; not me personally, but where I come from and my experiences." I appreciate that as well--I am prime religious conservative stock (although my parents never took the more outthere tenets of 7th day adventism at anything other than face value), bred to want more out of life and for my life, who knows the difference between a fiddle and a squawkbox and cognizant of the full dolly parton back catalogue, who knows that you make do with what you have.

the conversation rambled on for a couple hours, and we never got around to diagnosing what the problem was, let alone come up with a solution. it was, in itself, an example of the worst sort of thing uus do when they get together, a curious sort of anti-uuism practiced by, devout (?) uus. but as in kafka's answer to his question what the jews are to him, it's also an example of the strength of uus to straightforwardly confront a problem and talk it to death.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

the apple from the tree

I've spent much of the past couple days visiting family that I'm unlikely to hear from except when I'm here. it's been really good: I saw my dad's younger brother and his family, including his daughter who I remember as a 4 or 5 year old and who's now celebrating her 17th year in the air force; spent time seeing his elder sister who's 90-something and has dementia and who thought I was her dead brother-in-law; ran into my cousin who works for the post office in vegas; we stopped at the longterm care facility my dad's surviving sister-in-law lives at and spent time with her (when she was still alive my mom visited her every other day and my dad drives up to feed her twice a week); and today we picked up my cousin who lives in wellsville and the 3 of us had thanksgiving dinner at a tiny restaurant in genesee, pa.

I want to talk about that place for a moment. it's called the genesee hometown restaurant and has been there about 3 years, but the woman who owns the place and does the cooking says she has been a restauranteur since she was 6. her name is audrey kio and her place doesn't have a spot on the internet (except this listing) and it's likely that when she dies, which won't be that long since she's in her 90s, the place and her name will disappear, be subsumed by the weight of everyday life of everyday people. the place is staffed mostly by family and they had set up a buffet of turkey and ham and potatoes and salads and pies and such, mostly for her family to come by to eat since she didn't advertise. the food wasn't exceptional but there was plenty of it and the dinner plates were the size of some towns. genesee itself is a little pimple on the raised back of the pa-ny border with a gas station and a post office and a library open 3 days a week. but we were there and in my sweater and black sneaks I was probably the best-dressed. mostly the people there were farmers and hunters in bibs and boots and caps, people who smelled and spend their lives sweating.

audrey sat down and like it was the most natural thing in the world talked to us about her childhood and her upbringing and her family. her husband died some 6 years back and her family is all she has left now (which is true for most people, I guess) and her granddaughter is in jail and her greatgrandchildren want to stay with her but they can't for some reason I never heard. my dad sat there and listened and commisserated. this is what most of our week has been was him sitting on someone's couch or on the edge of a chair and listening to her pour out her life in spurts and fits and I realized this is where I get my sense of ministerial calm. I haven't felt bored and I suspect if he hadn't been a banker my dad would have been a preacher in some postage stamp town. I suppose I'd known that but it was brought more forcefully to me the past few days. my wife made a comment to me earlier today on a different topic that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. I guess not, although I hope I don't end my days in the thick.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"beating the gre 2010"

my wife will not be happy to read this, convinced as she is of the rightness of any attempt to better one's chances--specifically, my chances--at improving scores on tests, but the sad, simple truth is that the unabridged "beating the gre 2010," the online advertisement of which reads like it was cut-and-pasted by a committee for which english was not its native language and the audiobook of which she gave me to listen to while in the thick, is a tremendous waste of time. I know she won't believe me but I really did give it a try. I have listened to its 1st 2 hours--well, all right, I have skimmed through the 1st 2 hours--with the intent of finding anything worth listening to for more than a minute at a time while I was out walking and I must say I was more inclined to listen to the dogs barking in the distance and the nearer whine of chainsaws.

between being condescended to ("we know most of you would rather be at the beach, reading a good novel [?], or playing a video game than studying for the gre"--no, anyone who would rather do those things is doing them; anyone listening to this perky chippity voice regurgitating blase information from various websites devoted to "beating" the exam is presumably doing so because his school has been convinced of the fictions that the gre is an important test and that the better he does on it the better his chances of grad school success, so accord us the respect of listening because we want to) and being given the brushoff that "later on...later on...later on..." the service will tell us something important, there is absolutely nothing important to hear and no new information to be given.

I am not some neophyte bedazzled by the notion of the mysteries of graduate school. I took the gre nearly 30 years ago, having been driven to the testsite in connecticut by my parents because I couldn't sober up enough to leave on time and without having studied for it, and I passed it with a slightly above-average verbal score and a slightly below-average analytical score. a week ago I took a practice swipe at it again and had almost the same scores. in each case I did no figuring for any of the math, simply guessing at answers; if anything, my verbal scores have improved. trying to improve on simply passing is a waste of my time.

there are legitimate questions about the accuracy of the gre in predicting either success or scholarship potential, and at the very least there is great reason to suspect that pigeonholing students using quantitative measures is ineffective. I refuse to work myself into a lather about taking the exam. my wife is convinced that our doing well on the gre will increase the likelihood of our receiving scholarships for seminary. that may be so. as I see it, doing well may be a good thing and it may make no difference at all (friends report their gre scores having no effect on their scholarship monies). at best I am in no worse place than I am now; taking the practice exam cold after 30 years of having not thought about any of this and guessing shows me passing. doing poorly on the exam will be a button off my shirt.

perhaps most telling: I stopped listening after the perky voice switched a number used in an example from "720" to "702" between the beginning and the end of the sentence. the answer might be the same--that "702 [or 720] is divisible by 9"--or it may not. but if it wasn't important enough for someone at the company to listen to for errors before it was released, it isn't important enough for me either. I echo frank's opinion.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"flying is not a right"

yesterday through mostly my own fault (although I think continental airlines ought to own up to its part by closing its doors earlier than advertised, stranding 3 of us) I missed my connecting flight between cleveland and bradford, and so I sat for 4 hours at the terminal, contemplating. well, in between naps. my own experience in passing through security did not involve either a bodyscan or patdown, so I can't speak to the potential humiliation of either; but what I ended up thinking about was the inefficiency and inconvenience of airplane travel.

it seems that requiring people to go through bottlenecks in order to make their way to gates where they can sit for hours in drafty areas where the only entertainment is fox news on the televisions and christmas songs on the public address system is not either the most relaxing nor the most sanguine of ways to have people relax. I watched many, many people get more and more upset and less inclined to let one another be during my own attempts at keeping my blood pressure low enough to drop off (which honestly isn't very hard; it's the rare place I can't fall asleep). I haven't a clue what the answer might be, I am only convinced that the current solution isn't the right one.

on the other hand, as tsa chief john pistole points out, flying is a privilege and not a right. and it is this truth that makes me wonder if, when it comes to airplane travel, we have been too anxious to make it as pleasant an experience as possible. it's expensive and in some cases almost mandatory for something we want to do: but with very few exceptions, it's not the only option available. more importantly, perhaps we ought not to make it a pleasant experience. while I've always lived my life under the motto that the journey is the goal, I've never believed that the journey had to be comfortable. indeed, I've often lived it as quite the opposite.

perhaps we ought to allow the casual flying experience to die the same deaths as the transcontinental train trip and state-to-state greyhound trip. that is, only the people who most need them use them, and the rest of us simply stay at home (or, god help us, drive, bike, or even walk).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

back into the thick

heading back into the thick for my dad's first holiday after my mom died. since the 80s I've appreciated listening, like millions of other freaks, to arlo every thanksgiving and I suspect this one won't be any different. I grew up not far from stockbridge, massachusetts, and have fond memories of places where cops take foot dog-smellin prints, and while I'm not heading back there I am looking forward to hanging out with my dad for the week, so much so I'm awake at 430 in the morning listening to "alice." see you on the other side of the country.

Friday, November 19, 2010


this is a follow-up written for my class in uu worship to my previous post about my impromptu dia de los muertos ceremony from late october. most people may find it uninteresting but it's a good example of the sort of self-contextualizing reflection you're expected to do in seminary, and as such is a peek into the mindset of a minister-in-training. the difference is that, as a uu, what would be for others a theological reflection becomes in our hands more a behind-the-scenes examination of intent in developing such a service.


Dakota UU Church in Burnsville, one of the two congregations where I’m interning, does not have an order of service. Actually, it does in the sense that it has a single order of service used for every service. The church is small—its membership is in the low 20s—and often relies on visiting speakers to provide nearly every element of a service. Any visiting speaker is automatically accorded authority by virtue of his having been asked to appear. There is a printed pamphlet available on entering although the members have its order memorized. It tells the history of the congregation, the composition of the church board and its current membership, has the congregation’s website URL, and includes a brief outline their worship services follow:

Chalice Lighting
Joys and Concerns
Extinguishing the Chalice

A given Sunday’s speaker can mix up the order, add to it or subtract from it as she wishes. Nothing in the service is written on stone. Even joys and concerns, both the life’s blood and bane of many congregations, is an optional element left to the caprices of today’s speaker. The hymns often depend on what Chuck, the congregation’s most musical member, feels like singing that day and whether he can find a CD with an accompanying instrumental: there is no organ or any other instrument kept in the building (although once a month there is a Saturday night drumming circle).

I’ve got a history with this congregation, having been a guest speaker when the congregation was larger, and now that I’m their minister on a once-a-month basis, I’m developing their service beyond the outline into a more experiential, less sermon-centered experience. For my October 31st service I prepared a combination extemporaneous lecture and ceremony-creation for which Bruce, the congregation’s chair, welcomed everyone and introduced me. Then I led an a capella version of McDade’s “Spirit of Life,” a reading from Singing the Living Tradition, my ceremony, an opportunity for reflections, a second singing of “Spirit of Life,” and a benediction. This is my outline:

Performed at Dakota UU, Burnsville, MN
October 31, 2010
• Music (“L’Autunno” by Vivaldi)
• Light herbs
• Introduction to Dia de los Muertos
o Halloween
o All Saint’s Day
o All Soul’s Day
o Samhain
o Yom Kippur
o Thanksgiving
• Introduction to altars
o Rich
o “I have no altars”
• Introduction to altar objects
o My mother
o My animals
o Who I was
• Poem (“My November Guest” by Frost)
• Guided meditation
• Shared smudging / “You are Loved”
• Responses/Sharing

In order of use, the resources were: a smudge stick and a bowl to collect ashes in; copies of Singing the Living Tradition; a CD of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons whose “L’Autunno” was played softly during the ceremony; various referential objects from my home that I placed on the worship table in a makeshift shrine; and the Collected Poems of Robert Frost.
I think one of the sources of tension involved in every service at DUUC is the uncertainty whether a given service will work or not, and I don’t think this willed blindness to a service’s workability is an unwelcome aspect for this congregation: I think the members have become so accustomed to the hit-or-miss-ness of guest speakers that they’re no longer anxious about an individual service. Indeed, I’ve often heard members joke that a successful service is one in which the guest shows up. In the case of my Dia de los Muertos ceremony, I wanted tension to build throughout the service to crest during Shared Smudging (which was exactly like my recent class water-sharing ritual except using ashes) and then allowed to remain level, dipping a little during shared reflections but remaining relatively high, so attendees left the service more invigorated than they’d entered.

The focus began outwardly, beginning with the welcome, and then gradually became more inward as the ceremony progressed, culminating in each congregant concentrating on himself during the guided meditation, accepting another person’s attention when receiving the smudged affirmation, and then refocusing his attention onto his neighbor while passing the bowl and affirmation. I wanted congregants to receive the affirmation as a declaration and to pass it as an invitation.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

johnny thunders died for your sins!

someone, I don't remember who, once said to me, in parody of jeff foxworthy, "if your idea of gospel music is the velvet underground, you might be a punk." well, the answer seems clear...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


"confession is a practice not often found in our churches. unitarian universalists have long rejected the notion of original sin, so the idea of confessing our sins publicly or through the act of prayer seems outdated. for some who grew up in churches where confession was a regular practice, being free of it is a relief. there is generally only one time during our liturgical church year that unitarian universalists will engage with a liturgical act of confession--the jewish high holy days, including yom kippur...it is our belief that it's time for unitarian universalists to reclaim the act of confession. confessing does not make one inherently bad; it simply means acknowledging that we, too, are part of the brokenness of the world and that it is our responsibility to be in right relationship with self, others, and the larger world. being in right relationship means that we make amends when necessary, and we ask for forgiveness or we offer forgiveness when it is asked for. to confess as part of our prayer life is a humbling experience that provides a counterbalance to our often heady insistence on our inherent worth and dignity. confession is a spiritual discipline and should be incorporated into our private and public prayer life."

I'm not entirely clear how I feel about this declaration. on the one hand I can agree with the authors that refiguring how something is done is revitalizing, but on the other I am fervently against the notion that we are necessarily in need of confession (it being good for the soul and all that). and my reasoning isn't caught up in being anti-dogmatic or dropping the trappings of a religious trouseau that no longer fits. my ambivalence comes from a sense that admitting guilt, while good for one's humility, does nothing to correct errors or mistakes or trespasses, and in fact admitting it more than once simply inures one from feeling obligated to do anything about them.

the topic requires more thought.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"transformative worship should be understood as the primary common spiritual practice of unitarian universalists, and as a critical engine that can drive unitarian universalist growth. this cannot happen unless this common spiritual practice also starts to affect the ways that unitarian universalists lead their lives outside of church...although it is true that unitarian universalists don't share a common theology of the divine, we share a passion for apprehending the holy and celebrating the mystery in which we live. this is what we must invoke when we gather for our common worship each week: the recognition and creation of holy time and space, where we can encounter the spirit of life, that invisible fountain which bubbles up within our lives and in the world around us, quenching our thirst for beauty and meaning."

--from worship the works: theory and practice for unitarian universalists, by wayne arneson and kathleen rolenz

"[fringe dorwalk] was moved to attempt explanation. 'it's...it's like sort of secret,' she said. 'or like the shrines. sort of like me too.' struggling to understand the nature of the swale, she had come up with amorphous concepts of taboo and sacred things...she shrugged. what she meant was, special. what she meant was, holy, but she didn't even have that word. what had occured to her was that perhaps the reason she was here alone and not with other people was that she was different. destined for something extraordinary. the idea had come from nowhere, sneaking into her mind bit by bit, like a little warm breeze, thawing her chilly heart...she wasn't sure she really believed the idea, even though it was comforting. comforting ideas didn't always--or even very often--work out, either, so she hadn't dwelt on it much. still, she didn't disbelieve it, not yet."

--from sideshow by sheri s. tepper

"all that we own, at least for the short time we have it, is our life."

--from "only justice can stop a curse" by alice walker

Friday, November 12, 2010

hope is a life preserver

this fascinates me, as does this. in each instance, what does hope do? it floats!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

my world city, my manhattan

tony judt was a hell of a writer and even dead he remains a talent worth wrangling. this is an essay about new york published in the times yesterday. it takes me back to the time when that place was a force on the landscape, a world unto its own. and in this, it also brings me forward to recognize what is happening today, on a less grand scale, even out in the hinterland:

"Today I drop my cleaning off with Joseph the tailor and we exchange Yiddishisms and reminiscences (his) of Jewish Russia. Two blocks south I lunch at a place whose Florentine owner disdains credit cards and prepares the best Tuscan food in New York. In a hurry, I can opt instead for a falafel from the Israelis on the next block; I might do even better with the sizzling lamb from the Arab at the corner.

"Fifty yards away are my barbers: Giuseppe, Franco and Salvatore, all from Sicily — their “English” echoing Chico Marx. They have been in Greenwich Village forever but never really settled: how should they? They shout at one another all day in Sicilian dialect, drowning out their main source of entertainment and information: a 24-hour Italian-language radio station. On my way home, I enjoy a mille-feuille from a surly Breton p√Ętissier who has put his daughter through the London School of Economics, one exquisite √©clair at a time.

"All this within two square blocks of my apartment — and I am neglecting the Sikh newsstand, the Hungarian bakery and the Greek diner (actually Albanian but we pretend otherwise). Three streets east and I have Little Hapsburgia: Ukrainian restaurant, Uniate church, Polish grocery and, of course, the long-established Jewish deli serving Eastern European staples under kosher labels. All that is missing is a Viennese cafe — for this, symptomatically, you must go uptown to the wealthy quarters of the city."

true, I have no dry cleaning and I haven't been in need of a barber for years, but all the rest is a panegyric to what surrounds me, to greater or lesser extent, even on the rim. there is the 24 hour truckstop down the road that serves indian dishes to the people speaking hindi and bengali on their weekly pilgrimage between chicago and minneapolis. there is the hispanic aisle in the local grocery where I can buy extra-sugarpacked coca cola directly from mexico--or I could if they weren't all snapped up on arrival by the vacqueros just coming off their shifts at the dairy farm. if I get a little dyspeptic I can be treated by any of the pakistani and iranian and chinese doctors at the local hospital; there is even a specialist from iceland if I'm willing to wait around for the once a week he comes by. if I get a little homesick I can go to the little mogadishu or little saigon areas of minneapolis, a mere hour's drive away, to listen to the cadence of lilting somali or amharic or the singsong of hmong. and of course with my dsl connection I can get immediate access to anything I want in any language or from any perspective I choose.

the rim has now become cosmopolitan in its own right and I don't know if cities are necessary any longer for what they used to provide and judt hearkens back to: an opportunity for different people to rub shoulders with people they wouldn't otherwise encounter. many of our children still grow up in ethnic enclaves but that's becoming less and less the case, and they're experiencing strange people earlier and earlier. it used to be you had to go to college in a big city to meet anyone openly gay or who grew up in africa. now you can befriend them in middle school.

still there will always be a place for new york,"a city more at home in the world than in its home country" as judt notes. could I live in The City again? no. I'm a product of new york in the 70s, of discos and 24-hour bookstores and a chorus line and chock full o nuts and plato's retreat (even if I never went there I always knew I could, it was there and open to me). I'm one of the last people for whom woody allen's joke about dissent and commentary becoming dysentary rings true from experience and not from nostalgia. the new york I belong to started to drop dead when jerry ford told it to.

that's okay. I got my new york right here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"everything you did today was important"

this must be what it is to be a religious leader in the 21st century: to be dog tired. I began my day at 8 with driving from the rim into the hub to lead services and preach a new sermon at the uu fellowship where I'm interning. my wife and mother-in-law were guests there today too. it went very well, I think, and I was told by several people that my sermon was dense with information and left people thinking. my topic was feeling fear and acting anyway and last night I blogged a bit about the takeaway I wanted people to get from it.

after service and an hour or so of schmoozing I left for new richmond, which is also on the rim and is where my wife's family lives. one of my nephews has joined the marines and leaves soon for basic training and we had a party to wish him well. all my wife's siblings were there and their families and many of my nephew's friends and we had a good time trying to forget that he is placing himself in the way of harm soon.

then I left there and drove another 45 minutes east to menomonie where the family of friends was holding another get-together to say goodbye to the child they had adopted for a short while. the birth mother, who had initially given up her rights to him, changed her mind about a year ago and halted the procedure. the judge determined that he benefitted from continuing to see his adoptive family until the case was complete, and the decision came down this month that his birth mother will have sole custody. this was a chance for everyone in that extended family to say goodbye to him, and while it's true he's still a tyke less than 3 years old who doesn't speak, it was, like a memorial, more for the people he leaves behind than for him. one of my friends who had been his grandmother wrote a short ceremony in which we all took part, surrounding him as he played in a circle and while she read a list of things he would do without them--learning to use the potty himself, losing teeth, getting a job--we intoned "we will be with you in spirit." it was very affecting. and while I don't "get" the whole child thing, my friends do, and that is enough for me.
I got home after 7, exhausted and in my jammies in minutes. my wife put it all in perspective, however, by saying, "everything you did today was important. not everyone can say that." and I do feel I've done the right things today. yes, it was a good day.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


william f. buckley famously declared in the premier issue of national review that conservatism
"stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it." no one ever pointed out to mr. buckley or any of his successors that this only works so long as history is a mule plodding along a path. history and progress were that a thousand years ago. but today progress pulses along a thread whose diameter is thinner than a single hair strand. you can stand athwart it all you like, yell as loud as you can, legislate as you will, it is not even aware of you. the desperation of their parlous attempts to "take back the country"--note they never say it's to advance it--is the reaction of conservatives to their own irrelevance. make no mistake, they are dangerous and can hurt us, but they are a dying species. let them realize it on their own. in the meantime, huddle together and keep each other warm. the snows are coming.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

dear mr. president

the chances of your reading this are very slim. but that's okay since, despite it's being addressed to you, it really isn't intended for you but for the many, many people who still believe in what you hope to accomplish.

our party really took, as you called it, a "shellacking" in yesterday's elections and I know a lot of people are saying it's your fault. perhaps, some suggest, if you'd only compromised more or spent a little less money on the stimulus or found a way to end the war or at least to shut down gitmo. but sir, it really isn't your fault. some of those possibilities might have had a little effect, but the plain truth is that the people who saw this election as a referendum on you would not have voted for democrats anyway and were certainly not the people who voted you into office.
your enemies, mr. president--and by that I really do mean they are your enemies, not the opposition and not the party out of power, sir, they are truly dead set against you--do not see you as legitimate in any way. your election, sir, is frankly an embarrassment to them for reasons you and I both know have to do with the color of your father's skin, and like a team of drunken softball players with a sober ump they simply will not accept your authority.

you are only a year younger than I am, mr. president, and so I know you're aware how important and earth-shattering your election was. within our lifetimes, sir, black people sat in the back seats of busses or made to stand, were made to use separate water fountains and restrooms and pools and schools, were not allowed to vote or be employed or live where they wanted to. in our lifetimes, mr. president, black people were lynched.

black people are not being lynched any more, mr. president.

when I say that, sir, I don't mean to suggest that there was anything you or I did that changed that fact. there was nothing our generation did that changed it. and it was not as if the enemies of black people suddenly woke up one day and said, "you know, lynching is wrong and I shouldn't do it any longer."

what changed that fact, sir, is a lot of black people and white people and people of other colors getting together and recognizing that the people who wanted to lynch black people were not simply people with another agenda who could be reasoned with or placated through compromise. they were the enemy, sir, and they were wrong and they had to be told, once and for all, that what they did and said and thought was wrong and if they continued to do it they would pay a penalty. they would not be rewarded for cutting the body down but leaving the rope up. the rope and the tree and the whole idea had to be done away with. the body could stay.

mr. president, I believe you are right about hope, that it is an audacious thing. I don't have a good answer for you why the democrats took the losses they did yesterday and why our enemies did as well as they did, but I'm sure you have a lot of other people who are willing to tell you that. I can tell you that if we must hope, sir, we must have someone to hope in. we voted for you because we were convinced, and many of us still are, that you are that person. there is a time and a place for compromise but while someone is beating on you is neither. in that iconographic image from your campaign poster, hope is not the symbol for you. you are the symbol for hope. stand up for hope, sir.

bobby sneakers

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

hope remains

some of the victors are howling already. it's been a slow, at times painful trudge through the murk of electoral politics this season, and as usual the question is, can liberals face one another tomorrow feeling, as most of us do, like we have a chunk of flesh ripped from our sides?

it's been a mixed bag of results. the house has been lost to democrats and the most powerful woman in american political history is hitting the showers. christine o'donnell was beaten like a red-headed stepchild. rand paul was not. andy cuomo was elected; michelle bachman probably was too. russ feingold was defeated. my friend liz was defeated. so many liberals, defeated; so many self-described tea partiers, victorious.

in the long run of course it means nothing. but like john maynard keynes pointed out, in the long run we're all dead, and that's just as depressing. it's a time I want to crawl into bed and not pop out until the country has caught up with its better angels, which is to say never. but that's not going to effect any sort of change and it's certainly not going to make my life any better. years ago, when john kerry was defeated by george w. bush, I prided myself that, had he won, I wouldn't have said, "well, that's that," and left the heavy lifting for others to do. I remind myself that that's even more the case now. we can feel badly--we fought a hard battle against a sometimes dishonorable foe and won in some places, lost in others, some of the losses more galling because the winners were unwilling to play by accepted rules--and that and $1.50 will get you bad coffee.

if there is a bright spot to much of this it's the realization that tomorrow the cold water of reality will hit many of the tea partiers who've been elected as they will discover that their theories about both fiscal responsibility and low taxes are lovely theories and nothing more. it will be a fine thing to watch john boehner's face as he tries to convince the rest of the house to cut spending without actually cutting anything, or watching eric cantor as he finds that the government really does have a revenue problem, especially after so many years of tax cuts for the wealthiest 5%.

but while those bright spots feel good they aren't worthy of what's best about us, which is the ability to get back outside in the sunshine and continue. we will drag our bloody stumps along behind us because that's what people do, and despite what our enemies say, we are very much human. but the fact remains, bloody stump and all, we need to do. at the risk of sounding a stereotype, I will quote chairman mao: "in times of difficulty we must not lose sight of our achievements, must see the bright future and must pluck up our courage."

in the midst of despair, hope remains. what must we do? keep an eye to our achievements, which are many, watch the horizon for our next opportunity, and stand in the wind. decades ago, my favorite tv show was dr. who, specifically the ones starring peter davison. I was reminded this morning of the farewell line given by one of his companions. "brave heart, tegan."

brave hearts, all.