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.