Thursday, December 15, 2016

American exceptionalism is a myth

If you had asked me if I am a believer in American exceptionalism, the notion that we are a shining city on a hill, watched over by a benevolent God who directs our national movements and politics in ever-bettering, ever-improving incremental steps toward a great future in which the United States are a model of Good Government for the Best and the Brightest, I would have stared at you incredulously for a moment, then laughed in your face, and said, "No." Certainly, there is a greatness attached to what we call the American Experiment, that we are a determined exercise in democracy seeking to improve ourselves for the greatest number of people, a constantly shifting target that may have started with wealthy white landowners but has grown to include Somali Muslims, Hmong insurance agents, Sikh shopkeepers and biracial same-sex families. That, I'd argue, is a better term and a better place to situate ourselves.

But I've come to recognize that a lot of what I'm upset by in the Trump victory and its attendant Republican ascendancy--aside from the ever-more-obvious Russian influence in the news that, in the personas of James Comey and multiple voter-demoralizing agents like the "They're both crooks!" insistence, identification requirements and broken voting machines that overwhelmingly affect Democratic areas and depress turnout--is that a know-nothing (and don't want to know nothing), white-supremacy supported, misogynistic, reality show businessman with a string of failures and bankruptcies in his wake should be elected to the highest office in my nation in 2016. This should not have happened. Forget the poll results and popular vote. He should have been laughed off the national political stage the moment he chose to mock a reporter. At a rally. Not in a private moment, but in front of thousands of people and cameras. When a child does such a thing, mocking someone's frailty in public, we reprimand him and tell him to apologize. Like scolding parents, many people demanded that. Such an apology, of course, did not happen. Trump and his supporters will not even admit his mockery.

My country ought to be better than that. Exceptionalism is a myth. But working toward exceptional behavior, the refusal to go backward in race relations, equality, and basic manners and kindness, these are what make a city shine.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Your silence will not protect you

To say I remember Audre Lorde fondly may seem like an odd thing--her messages were intended to generate nearly every kind of feedback except fondness--but in her I had the sensation of a fellow-traveler, a black, lesbian me who could write better and had a better sense of what it was she fought. She wrote in 1977 in "The Transformation of Silence into Languge and Action":
To question or to speak...could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly now [she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and then with liver cancer], without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words.
 I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.

Friday, December 9, 2016

What fascists share

If we would name the coming Trump presidency as a political entity twitching with fascistic life, then it's incumbent on us to take into account the experiences and explanations provided for us by people who actually lived through and grew up in fascistic regimes, like Umberto Eco. I love Eco's novels (or used to, I haven't taken the time to read one in at least a decade) but his primary field was semiotics, the explanation for how words and symbols mean. And it's in that vein that he tried to articulate what fascism is comprised of.

Not everyone can take the time or effort to read Eco, I know, and I am one of those lazy eggheads who can do so. I also flatter myself I can make him understandable. So here is my condensation of Eco from twenty years ago explaining Ur-Fascism, that is, what all fascisms have in common (my emphases):

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition...[P]eople of different religions...started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. This revelation, according to the traditionalist mystique, had remained for a long time concealed under the veil of forgotten languages...As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. Both Fascists and Nazis worshiped technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject it as a negation of traditional spiritual values...The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.4. ...For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. 7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country...Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies... However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. 9. For Ur-Fascism...pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare.10. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians....[who] are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler. 11. In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons—doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism...In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view—one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. 14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak...All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk [or reality] show.

Monday, December 5, 2016

I'll survive Trump

I'm concerned that, for most of us, Trump's reworking of what it means to be a citizen who needs help in these United States will be, at worst, a minor bump, while for many, many silenced others it will be a destruction of the little they have. I'm not concerned about myself: I survived Reagan, and Bush's I and II. I'll survive Trump. But I'm not a single paycheck away from poverty, I'm not dependent on EBT or SNAP or Social Security, I don't need to keep myself healthy through Medicare or Medicaid, I don't rely on the social safety net we've spent decades erecting so that as few people fall through it as possible. Yet, that is. But there are many who do have to live with his witless, uninformed, and ever-changeable decisions, and for whom even a single day of uncertainty can mean the loss of food, healthcare, housing, income, employment. Jesus said it best: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Keep the swastikas up

This story, out of the hub, is indicative of what we can expect in this newer, less tolerent, age: Barely articulate impulsive spritzes of hate. As Samantha Crossland, a probable target along with the rest of her neighborhood, says, "Some people are saying, 'I can’t believe they didn't even get it right'...But this person is so hung up on [a] symbol of hate they had to do it anyway."

Is it an isolated incident? Perhaps. That seems to depend on your viewpoint. The Southern Poverty Law Center put out a report a couple weeks ago noting 700+ reported events since election day, a number that only seems to grow larger. Meanwhile, rightwing reports debunking selected incidents make the rounds among conservatives. But even if a majority of events are proved to be more experiences of feeling than fact, that makes the incidents no less heinous. If you aren't the target, you don't get to judge what's hateful.

Some folks are making the effort to sort of retake the public images by repurposing them, probably influenced by Berlin graffiti artists, where they have had to deal with this sort of thing for a half century. I undertstand that impulse. No one wants to see that shit and what it suggests about people in or passing through their community. And I certainly wouldn't want it on my garage door.

But here's my antidote. Leave them up. Leave the swastikas and the "Black Lives Don't Matter" and the "Whites/Colored" and the anti-immigrant stuff up. Leave it all where it is. It's painful and it should be painful, like a raw wound. We should see it every day. Moreover, Trump supporters, for whom their personal desire for "something different" trumped the hate his other supporters signaled, should see it daily and be reminded that this is the America they wanted. This is the America they voted for. This is the price for the America they want.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

They don't all go gently into that good night

Tonight I attended the funeral of a patient I'd barely gotten to know before he told me he didn't need my coming around any longer. He went, in the course of less than a year, from 300+ pounds to the less than 90 pounds at which he died.

What made being there tough wasn't that he had told me I wasn't needed--I rarely take things like that personally--but that his death was so agitated. He fought, I'm told, to the last moments, flailing, swinging, muttering, so that his mother compared him to a very old man held under water. But he was less than 40 and the quiet death, I find, rarely appeals to the young.

I don't know whether to admire him or pity him. Personally, dying peacefully is my dream, as I think it is for many others. Alternatively, given his history, if anyone deserved to be pissed off at the lousy cards he was dealt, it was him, and maybe fighting until every last breath is exhausted is the way some should go. I'm uncertain, ultimately, what to make of it. We spoke of it, his family and I, in a mix of awe and sadness, and perhaps that's the best epitaph someone so young can hope for.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Truth Matters

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York senator and ambassador from my young adulthood to whom I might attribute my love for politics, famously asserted, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts." That quote has had quite a workout this past year, and if anything the recent election seems to have put the lie to it. Everyone, particularly Donald Trump and his supporters, are apparently entitled to their own facts, as if some objective concept called "truth" doesn't matter.

Let's set aside the questions of whether there is something like an Ultimate Truth or Cosmic Truth; those are both too broad and too big for a consideration of this Little Orange Man. But a few days ago I got into an argument with several co-workers, people who work with medicine and health care, for whom there has to be a down-to-the-bones truth that the body operates this way and these substances have this effect on it and cleaning the limbs this way affect it in this way in order for them to do their jobs and expect good results. They absolutely asserted that, bad as Trump "may be," Hillary Clinton was worse because she ignored the telephone call from the American embassy under attack in Libya.

Simply: Untrue. (Yes, I rely on "notoriously liberal" for information and credentialing because we need to have a final authority to which we can appeal, and while the site isn't perfect, and couldn't be, its fact-checkers try their best to both get at the truth and be objective and are free of the lure of advertisers and friends in high political places. Particularly now, when fake news sites are easy and profitable to create.)

It matters what is true, not only in political decisions but in everything. Medicine and biology is replicable and matters. Climate change theory is replicable and matters. Demographics matters. Donald Trump's lies matter, especially now he has won the election. This matters: Plain and simple, truth matters. Assert the truth in the face of lies.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

We Will Not Be Silent

I've waited a week to make this post, partly out of inertia and partly out of a desire to get the message right. I am fiercely partisan, there's no getting around it. I believe strongly in the work of progressives and the liberal impulse. Christianity's most meaningful words for me are "What you do to the least of these you do to me." 

I am furious at the outcome of the presidential election. In that, I join a lot of people. I'm among the first to argue that doesn't make us right. There is a reason we don't accept majority rules in our system.

I am furious, but not at a Hillary Clinton loss. I'm not furious at a Republican win. And I'm not furious with Donald Trump. I'm furious that in the Twenty-First Century, Donald Trump ran on a platform of bigotry, misogyny, and anti-immigrant sentiment culminating in a fantasy about a literal wall between two nations (have we learned nothing from East and West Berlin?), and won.

I am furious with the people responsible for this. I am furious with Donald Trump voters and sympathizers.

I am furious that Donald Trump earned enough votes to make him the candidate in the first place. I am furious that what most of us experienced as a vanity campaign, all about him, never about the rest of us, was capable of lying about the career of a veteran politician and winning on that strength. I am furious someone endorsed by numerous white supremacy and anti-Semitic organizations, not a single one of which he disavowed, managed in 2016 to win. I am furious that in contemporary America there are a number of people who have both a genuine and deserved fear of the aftermath of a Donald Trump victory. I am furious that Donald Trump could accuse Latino/as of multiple falsities and yet garnered nearly 30% of their votes. I am furious that many politicians in the Republican Party took the drastic, courageous, and necessary step of publicaly disavowing their candidate and his views, and yet 90% of self-identified Republicans voted for him (and let us not forget the several, like Paul Ryan, Bob Dole, and Ted Cruz, who regaled the public with how poor was the reflection he gave the party, only to cynically pull the lever for him). I am furious that a person who is on record as having little but disdain for women was voted for by nearly half of them. I am furious that for the first time in modern American political history, a candidate threatened to jail his opponent if he won.

Donald Trump may, in time, come to surprise us. Once faced with the enormities of office and the necessity of compromising in order to acheive anything (as he has already learned how, despite his elevation because he is not a career politician, he simply cannot do the simplest things without them), he may become less divisive, less self-satisfied, less inflammatory. He will also then become less liked by his followers, which is always what happens to a president after an election, but seems especially likely in Trump's case. I doubt it, but it is possible.

I don't care. Donald Trump won and he won with the votes of people who, at the very least, did not give a damn how what he said and did could affect their neighbors. That will never, ever sit right with me, and it never should.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

258 candles-6 days

Yes, I know, I won't feed Pedigree to my dogs either. And I know I'm just perpetuating the notion that a commercial maker of substandard kibble really cares about the political atmosphere rather than raking in a few million more shekels from rubes who say, "But look, a dog!" But look, a dog. Political animal though I am, some things are truer than politics. What unites us is more important than what divides us.

Monday, October 31, 2016

258 candles-one week and one day

As we are coming to the end of waiting for our opportunity to decide this election, and for the wild conjecture and nastiness to be, if not over, then perhaps lessened, we should be looking further both inward and outward to others. This is a wonderful memory by an administrator, someone who most of us are inclined to think of as a bloodless bean-counter, about three victims of shooting violence that focuses on who they were in her life. We should all have such an effect on others.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

258 candles-days16-14

 Rabbinic wisdom holds that we were created so God could talk to himself. Another take is that God wanted us to learn compassion so a plethora of us were made. Someone else also said God wanted people to love and care for others so dogs were created. If all that is so this woman squares the circle. "Taking care of dogs is my religion."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

258 candles-days 20-17

This is purely a personal joy. I never identified with goths or with new wave, but I love the music of that period. And this tarot deck is just wonderful. It has been many years since I've regularly shuffled tarot but I am often drawn to the beauty of designed decks. This one is no different. It is gorgeous.

Monday, October 17, 2016

258 candles-day 21

Sometimes you need to see nothing more than the sheer joy someone takes in the work he or she does to be heartened by humanity.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

258 candles-days 30-22

When I was much younger I stayed in an apartment where there were often people sleeping on the couch, on the floor, in chairs. We found one drunk guy curled around the toilet. We weren't always drunk or stoned there, but it helped. We called it "The Home for Wayward Transients."

I'm reminded of that place when I read this story about volunteers who collect and repair and display discarded deities. It's a belief in many Asian nations that a business or families prosperity is improved by the presence of shrines and icons to the local gods or to the family's faith. I've made a game for myself of stepping into Asian stores and finding the shrine. (Hint: It's often near the door.) This is no different than the Christian practice of votives; indeed, it's no different than most Christian practices. What's a cross or a crucifix but an icon? But individuals feel drawn to the ceramic and cheap plastic and plaster deities enough to care for them, not out of a religious duty, but because destroying them "goes against the conscience." This is heartening and a sign that there is such a thing as an interior sense of reverence. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

258 candles-days 36-31

In the same way religious liberals decry that all faiths have their share of fundamentalist thinking and actions, so we must celebrate that all faiths also have a deeply progressive strain that often runs counter to that. These Pakistani clerics deserve to be recognized as pioneers.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

258 candles-days 40-37

It's been many years since I've explored that aspect of my sexuality, but I keep track of many things in the gay community, One of them, of course, has been the number of deaths in it, especially the largest recent massacre of Americans by an individual in Orlando, Florida. And while I might be late to the party when it comes to this video, I think it's both an exhilerating way of celebrating men loving one another and a unique way of supporting the families victimized by Omar Mateen. I light two candles, one for the video and the other in memory of the victims.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

258 candles-days 48-41

When I was a kid, I knew two things (well, I knew a lot more, but I knew two things about the New York Post): They had the best selections of comic strips (two full pages!); and they were pretty reactionary in their outlook on the City. Rupert Murdoch's purchase of the paper in the mid-70s solidified that outlook and codified the neo-conservative view.

As I grew up I discovered that a lot of good writers also wrote for the Post: Pete Hamill, Murray Kempton whose work I'd come to admire in The New York Review of Books, and Drew Pearson whose book Washington Merry-Go-Round I found long after his death.

The point is that as a result it comes as a surprise to me that the Post published a feel-good, touchy-feely, "That smile made it all worthwhile" human experience like the following. But it's a good surprise.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

258 candles-day 47

I am floored by the love shown by people in front of the dying, who are helpless, vulnerable, and in some cases unable even to acknowledge they are in the room. Perhaps it's because I do similar work that I think I understand what motivates them. It feels really good when we're thanked, but that doesn't always happen, and at times we are the unknown workers behind the curtain who are simply finishing what someone else started. But somehow that counts for something too. My singing voice is worn and off-key and I can't hear what I sound like at all. But I have sung out some people, usually with my favorite hymn "Spirit of Life," and I have relaxed them with my speaking voice, sometimes reading, sometimes just talking. There's a quality to being human, as one person here says, that makes us givers. And there's a need to being human that wants others with us in our frightened periods. It's located in seeing death, as one woman says, "not as an event, but as a process." Without locating it in a religion, this is God's work, a direct result of that theology that wrestles with how to account for little children dying painfully.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

258 candles-days 57-48

I have been necessarily absent, as I first prepared for my vacation and then drove back to the thick to spend time with my dad. As a result, I'm behind on posting.

But this is an excellent article that makes the pertinent point on a subject whose scab seems never allowed to heal before it's torn off again. In the words of Simone Leigh, "We need to step up the care to.match the stress."

Saturday, September 10, 2016

258 candles-58 days

Is hope possible to find in the interminable pain of intimate loss? As a hospice chaplain, I've been asked some variation on this question many times, and the best answer I have is that for some there can be, while for some there will never be. I have always heard the submerged wail of hope in the creak of Nick Cave's voice. Like Lou Reed, it's that undercurrent that it can be better than this that touches me and keeps me listening. As Pete Seeger taught us, "When friends by shame are undefiled, how can I keep from singing?"

My intro to Nick and the Bad Seeds came, like for many of my generation, through the lens of punk, and in my case their appearance in Wings of Desire. I've rewound and rewatched that scene so often those inches on my VHS tape show grey. (And there is no question in my mind why both Nick and Lou appear in Faraway, So Close, Wim Wenders' sequal.) But, unlike Lou's case, I have never been such a fan that I keep track of his life and what happens in it.

Which is why it was over a year after it happened that I heard about his son's accidental death. And I have only heard now in reading a, rather touching, article about his new album about, not his son's death, but about Nick and his family's grief. It may seem ironic, bitterly so, that a poet of suffering and death should have such an intimate experience of both, but why not? Death comes to us all, and sometimes it happens to our loved ones before it happens for us. When it happens to someone as thoughtful about it as Nick Cave, or to a lesser degree, a hospice chaplain, individuals seen as being, in some ways, celebrants or even friends with death, it doesn't negate our profound grief. Cave's The Skeleton Tree, of which I've only heard the three cuts included here, strikes me as an attempt to convey the odd way optimism struggles to dig itself free after burial in the ashes of grief. As Nick sings gently in the final moments of the album, "It's all right now."

Thursday, September 8, 2016

258 candles-days 159-Whatever

Somehow I've lost track of the days. My election countdown clock tells me there are 60 days left before the election, which seems right. But then that means I ought to be on day 198, and I don't see how that might be. So, while I'll continue to call this project 258 Candles, I won't pretend to count down any longer. Or maybe I'll start counting up. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Meanwhile, I remember stories people told in the 60s and 70s of traveling cross-country with no more than a dollar or two and the clothes on their backs, hitching and relying on the kindnesses of strangers to feed and clothe them. Maybe not all those stories were true, or maybe they shaded some of the less friendly parts, but in the main I think the takeaway, that most people are good and given the chance will willingly help another person, is true. I don't think this story proves that sentiment: at best, it proves that the people this man met at this time were good. But I know when I need help from strangers it's available in some way. And I know that when strangers need help from me, I also provide it in some way. Perhaps the help coming isn't in the form it was asked for--food instead of money--but help is nonetheless provided, openly and without expectation. This is the basis of politics, the way we act in the city. We help one another because, while our homes are thousands of miles apart, we are neighbors.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

258 candles-days 157-158

The days when I had many friends who rode this horse are long behind me. But I remain glad of any help in keeping other people like them alive. To argue, as Maine's governor Paul LaPage does, that providing access to Naloxone provides abusers an out that simply leaves them free to shoot up again is not only, like Alexander Walley says, like arguing "that seatbelts encourage riskier driving," but suggests that some lives are more worth saving than others. Arguing that is not a moral choice but a moral failing. After all, no one would say that alcoholics shouldn't have AA available to them because it only gives them the chance to make their next binge sweeter. No one abuses a drug in order to make her life more exciting, only to make it seem that way. The reality is very, very boring. While a lot of people shooting up want to continue, a lot more don't, and they should be given every chance to eventually make that decision. Every chance. As Jesus said, forgiving another type of abuse, "seventy times seven."

Thursday, August 25, 2016

258 candles-day 156

I belong to a Facebook page devoted to current and past Barnes and Noble booksellers and this afternoon a member from the Anchorage, Alaska, store posted that a woman came in and bought every coloring book in "the vestibule"--the large display near the cash registers--to donate to local schools. It is this sort of selfless action that makes me proud to be human.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

258 candles-days 159-165

It may seem a little difficult, shoehorning this reflection by Brian Feldman into my intent to post positive stories during this stultifyingly divisive election, but bear with me. In noting that it celebrates both the best and the worst of the World Wide Web, Feldman tips into a truth about nearly everything, that no matter what the experience might be, it can be seen both in a positive and negative light (sometimes by the same person nearly simultaneously). While it is obviously a negative for Semisonic, which in this case loses credit, at least for people who fall for this delusion, it is not only a positive for Green Day (or potentially so; as a punk-sympathizer, if I were Billy Joe Armstrong I would be offended at the notion I sang such inoffensive tripe in such a louche way), but for the recognition that this is how history works. It's the way we attribute the writing of the Bible to various individual writers or The Iliad and Odyssey to the fictional blind poet Homer, even the various misattributions of quotes, real and made up, to long-dead speakers. They become the future "truth" for those works. Some future generation might venerate Green Day's seminal crossover hit "Closing Time" as the moment when postpunk and pop were tethered together, forming some future clumped musical form, like the moment in 1973 when DJ Kool Herc spun one of two turntables repeatedly back to the break, initiating the melange that would become hip hop.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

258 candles-days 156-158

Really, I haven't anything to say about this beyond its being what sports, especially team sports, is all about. Admittedly, an Olympic women's 5000 meter heat is not a team sport. Which makes this gesture all the greater. It makes my heart sing.

Monday, August 15, 2016

258 candles-days 261-264

I had nearly forgotten this local (to the hub) feel-good story about a husband's devotion to his wife's love for sunflowers. But it goes beyond the brevity of what's suggested by that phrase "feel-good" because it also reflects the willingness of the man to share his love with strangers who will never know why someone did it. Ultimately, that's the point of doing things like this, to allow others to contribute their own explanation for why it happened and what it means.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

258 candles-days 158-160

An important element of the American experiment is our dedication to the contributions by immigrants and our celebration of the diversity they bring to the melange of American society. Back in the hub where I used to live, there's been a battle for the opportunity to represent a Minneapolis district in the state legislature. The incumbent, Phyllis Khan, has been in office since 1972. Two challengers, Mohamud Noor and Ilhan Omar, were given little chance at replacing her. However, in the August 8 primary, Ilhan Omar won.

This is significant, not only for Omar and her potential constituents, but for what it means to America. She will not be the first former refugee to become a legislator or the first Muslim, but if she wins she will be the first Somali to serve in a legislative role in American politics, and in a landscape where we ask  whether we have a responsibility to, say, Syrian asylum-seekers or whether the so-called War on Terror is a euphemism for a War on Islam, that is an important voice. This is what makes American culture not only a fascinating experiment but one that's worthwhile as well.

Monday, August 8, 2016

258 candles-days 156-163

I love this commercial. I don't know who might have made it but it encapsulates, in a minute and a half, my belief in change and redemption. It shows a life which, while I'm glad I don't live it, I will gladly describe as being worthwhile in the end.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

258 candles-days 153-155

This morning's church service focused on prayer, and specifically the so-called "Serenity Prayer" of Reinhold Neibuhr. I have never been entirely comfortable with the act of prayer, or should I say the way by which most people pray. I've sermonized before about the contentious relationship Unitarian Universalists have with prayer, and I've even tried my hand at writing them. Sometimes I'm asked to come up with a spontaneous prayer and I'm especially uncomfortable with those, because I try to fulfill what my requester assumes is prayer, while simultaneously staying true to my own concept of God.

If, like me, you believe that what we call God is the reality through which we move, like fish through water, only being aware of it when we're without it, then to suggest God is somehow separate from us and needs to be addressed like any other stranger is absurd. As the medium through which we move and are, God is aware (if not the originator) of everything we say, do, think, conceptualize, swear, spit, shit, hit, breathe, fuck, feel, sweat, hear--any word you care to add there. As a result, what is the point of setting off by time or space or formality a measure of words whose creation, from initial thought to final draft, God has already been a part of? Is it only to sound learned to other people? Well, maybe. Maybe it's like some of us believe, we don't know what we think until we hear ourselves say it.

Nonetheless. I want to try my hand at it again, this time in relation to what this project is meant to be about:

Spirit of Life, I know what I want.
I want love to transform us into the people we imagine ourselves
In our best moments to be. I want
The angels of our better natures to take possession of our tongues,
Our hands, our hearts, to make us in their image. I want
Life to be the best for everyone, male, female, child,
Animal, plant, amoeba, stone and ice. I know
In my heart of hearts that will not happen.

We can't let it happen. It would take too much
(Pick your word:) Pride, freedom, independence, free will
From us. If there is one thing truly human about us,
It's the ability to see what it is we need to do
And resolutely rationalize our not doing it. But,
For one moment, can we see that we are not
What we are in our best moments? Can we
Recognize whatever our best is, we aren't there? Can we
Profess that where we want to be is a long way away
And we have to fight, not one another, but the current
We have clung to, to reach it? Can we
Hope one day to know where it is we want to go?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

258 candles-days 143-150

An important benefit of this Information Age has been the identification of and accessibility to formerly hidden, in the sense that few people knew it was there, narratives. This is especially true of people whose existence in the past embarrasses us in the present. That the White House was built by many types of people, including enslaved blacks, has long been known but denied by euphemism, and that slaves themselves lived in the White House while serving the presidents, their families and staffs, was also glossed over. Through research and books like The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slaves in the White House, by Jesse Holland, we are being afforded the opportunity to enrich our history.

Monday, July 18, 2016

258 candles-days 137-142

At the risk of inappropriate partisanship, the sort this project is meant to reflect against, I want to celebrate this project. Since the early 90s, Spencer Tunick has focused on large-scale nude photos, explaining "individuals en masse, without their clothing, grouped together, metamorphose into a new shape. The bodies extend into and upon the landscape like a substance." It's in this light that he's gathered one hundred women in a field adjacent to the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland before the start of today's Republican National Convention as part of his project, "Everything She Says Means Everything." What Tunick does by massing dozens and sometimes hundreds of naked bodies in juxtaposition to landscapes and architecture is to decentralize the nude body into a feature rather than a focus. It's possible to differentiate between bodies in a Tunick photo, to tell this one is male, this one is tattooed, this one pregnant, this one old, but it takes time and effort. The effect is like looking at photographs of large herds of deer or stones on a beach. The subject loses its specificity and thus, in the case of nude humans, our usual reasons for looking at them. In this instance, Tunick says his impetus for locating the shoot at the RNC "is for my daughters, for their future, for them not to grow up in a society with hate, for them to grow up in a world with less violence toward women and more opportunities for them."

Monday, July 11, 2016

258 candles-day 136

It's the sort of picture that becomes iconic, although whether it becomes as much so as the ones it's being compared with, like Tank Man in Tienanmen Square or Walter Gadsden at Birmingham, is up to history. Nonetheless, it's a powerful image, so much so I don't think anyone needs to explain it. Johnathon Bachman, the photographer, reported, "It wasn’t very violent. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t resist, and the police didn’t drag her off." There are reports that the woman, who was arrested Saturday and released Sunday evening, is named Iesha Evans, and that she's a nurse and mother, although I stress that even that simple information, so soon after the event, is uncertain. What is certain is this: That the photo evokes both what we are fighting against and exactly the way and the manner in which we need to do it.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

258 candles-days 133-135

Focus on this image. It is incredibly powerful in its simplicity and its complexity, in its identity as what writer Maria Guido correctly calls, "what it looks like to protect each other." In the midst of chaos and personal fear, a group comes together to keep the most defenseless among them safe. This is who we are at our best.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

258 candles-day 132

The morning after yet another black man has been killed in an otherwise routine traffic stop--this one back in the hub where I used to spend my days, a situation that has become almost as ubiquitous as mass shootings--I seek out something to make me feel better about people. These bright spots can be found and celebrated. Today I celebrate Tim Wong and his butterfly reclamation. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

258 candles-day 130

I've been wracking my brain trying to think of what I can say that will mean anything to anyone about the current dismal, distressing state of politics in this country. And I've come to realize this: There isn't anything I can say. But there is something I can do.

My solution, based on the Chinese proverb that it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, is to provide daily candles in the form of links to other people's solutions, simple or complex responses to problems that they see. But as a single candle will hardly provide enough illumination to blot out the darkness that is the pettiness and meanness that characterizes this election cycle, I will light 258 candles, one each day between now and election day. In this way, I will do my part to remind each of us we are better than the baseness of the bases.

Today: An effort both to produce housing and reuse waste. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

258 candles-days 127-29

On this, the day after Elie Wiesel's death, this is an important quote to meditate on. Because while he wrote it concerning fascism and the death of Jews and others in Germany, it can also be justly said by those of us who believe that the arguments for apologies to be made on behalf of white people to others--notably black and brown people, red people, even other white people in some instances--are correct and that the apologies must be made. (Even those of us, like me, who believe that reparations are also necessary.) Because it is not that the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of slave owners, or drafters of Indian reservations or hangers of "No Mexicans" or "No Jews" or any number of other signs against someone else, are guilty of the transgressions of our parents. In all, there were relatively few of them (for instance, in the 1860 census of the 31M people in the US, only 394,000, a little over 1%, were slaveholders); however, that small number, due to public agreement with their values, had an incredible influence over laws and behavior. As a result, we are the beneficiaries of their values, just as if they had left us money or land. Because we benefit from their behavior, we are responsible for correcting the inequities of their behavior, just as we would be if they owed taxes on that money or land. We were not tax scofflaws or slave owners, but we received the gains, and we have to make their errors right.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

258 candles-day 126

I've been wracking my brain trying to think of what I can say that will mean anything to anyone about the current dismal, distressing state of politics in this country. And I've come to realize this: There isn't anything I can say. But there is something I can do.

My solution, based on the Chinese proverb that it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, is to provide daily candles in the form of links to other people's solutions, simple or complex responses to problems that they see. But as a single candle will hardly provide enough illumination to blot out the darkness that is the pettiness and meanness that characterizes this election cycle, I will light 258 candles, one each day between now and election day. In this way, I will do my part to remind each of us we are better than the baseness of the bases.

Today: I might have chosen a few other examples--the West African Muslims and Christians who protected each other's congregations on holy days, the spontaneous response by airline passengers to a grandmother's grief, or even my own denomination's Standing on the Side of Love--but this is a good beginning. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

258 candles-days 122-125

I've been wracking my brain trying to think of what I can say that will mean anything to anyone about the current dismal, distressing state of politics in this country. And I've come to realize this: There isn't anything I can say. But there is something I can do.

My solution, based on the Chinese proverb that it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, is to provide daily candles in the form of links to other people's solutions, simple or complex responses to problems that they see. But as a single candle will hardly provide enough illumination to blot out the darkness that is the pettiness and meanness that characterizes this election cycle, I will light 258 candles, one each day between now and election day. In this way, I will do my part to remind each of us we are better than the baseness of the bases.

Today: I've often advocated for the inclusion of former prisoners in most businesses. It helps both their self-esteem and their fight against reoffending. Despite the misperception that might be suggested by its terminology, felon-friendly employment is a worthy cause that we need more and more.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

258 candles-day 121

When I was younger I saw a movie on the noon TV broadcast in Boston, where I was living, that's stayed with me all these years. It was called The Next Voice You Hear and starred James Whitmore and Nancy Davis (soon to be Reagan). It wasn't a particularly good movie, just one of those you'd probably call "quiet" and "unassuming." Despite its plot, that one evening God starts speaking on the radio, it didn't have a really big message.

Anyway, this is what I thought of today when someone drew my attention to a video by Rabbi David Aaron, Hearing the Voice of God. The 1950 Next Voice didn't have or couldn't use the language that Aaron has but the message, at least as I remember it, is similar: God doesn't speak to us but speaks through us. This is, I think, as profound a message as anything can be, and needs to be remembered as we slog through the rest of this election.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

258 candles-day 120

Agree or disagree with their rationale for doing it, but there is no denying that these Congresspeople and Senators (all of them Democrats) are doing something both historic and meaningful. They are, in effect, putting their political futures on the line by taking a radically old-school method--the sit-in--and bringing it literally to the House floor. This is why we elect the people we elect: the hope they will find in themselves the way to make our wishes, in this case the well-documented desire of most Americans (including, famously, a majority of gun owners), known and acted on. Whether or not these laws come to pass will depend on actions like these.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

258 candles-days 113-119

I've been wracking my brain trying to think of what I can say that will mean anything to anyone about the current dismal, distressing state of politics in this country. And I've come to realize this: There isn't anything I can say. But there is something I can do.

My solution, based on the Chinese proverb that it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, is to provide daily candles in the form of links to other people's solutions, simple or complex responses to problems that they see. But as a single candle will hardly provide enough illumination to blot out the darkness that is the pettiness and meanness that characterizes this election cycle, I will light 258 candles, one each day between now and election day. In this way, I will do my part to remind each of us we are better than the baseness of the bases.

Today: As KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions used to say, "You Must Learn."

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

258 candles-day 112

I've been wracking my brain trying to think of what I can say that will mean anything to anyone about the current dismal, distressing state of politics in this country. And I've come to realize this: There isn't anything I can say. But there is something I can do.

My solution, based on the Chinese proverb that it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, is to provide daily candles in the form of links to other people's solutions, simple or complex responses to problems that they see. But as a single candle will hardly provide enough illumination to blot out the darkness that is the pettiness and meanness that characterizes this election cycle, I will light 258 candles, one each day between now and election day. In this way, I will do my part to remind each of us we are better than the baseness of the bases.

Today: I'm not much of a Harry Potter fan. I read the first novel, enjoyed it, but never read any of the others. I've seen most of the movies here and there, or at least big parts of them. I consider them contemporary classics, although unlike Twain's definition, they are usually read. But I am a J.K. Rowling fan. Her story has been an inspiration to me, and her purposeful near-total giveaway of much of her Potter-money is what I'd call genuine spirituality. I'm not likely to pick up another of her books, but I am likely to keep her life in sight.