Writing about what I have been reading and encountering in the media.
WELCOME TO MY BLOG!|
For those of you who have been following, you will see that I moved my reading list into the body of the blog. I will be adding book commentary as new articles instead of listing. New entries will be the first thing you encounter. All book comments have BOOK in the title. The blog is organized chronologically. Please feel free to comment. I especially like challenging comments.
|When I was 20 years old, in 1968, I witnessed a teenage boy beaten with billy-clubs by 4 police officers during a peace rally in Grant Park, Chicago. This is not the sort of thing one easily forgets, so, I’ve thought about it often over the years. At the time, it made national news and the controversy about it was: “He deserved it. He shouldn’t have been messing with the American flag” as opposed to “those pigs!” referring to the Chicago Police. The way I remember it, the young man had lowered the flag to half-mast and had just tied it in place when the officers jumped him. I was not 10 feet away. I felt pretty helpless because I chose not to step in and get beaten myself. Then, I was in awe of the stupidity of the choice the police had made to do that in front of hundreds of people who were already not happy with them. The crowd behaved as I expected. They moved in and started throwing anything loose at the police. Alan Ginsburg was on stage and he worked hard at getting the crowd to settle down. As I recall he did, by getting everyone to say “ommmm.” Some of the details are a little bit fuzzy now, but the experience remains important.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were already assassinated, the Viet Nam War raged on, and the peace movement had blossomed leading to demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention. The night of the incident of the beating, there was a riot, soon called by many in the press “a police riot” because so many of their aggressive acts were unprovoked, or over-reaction to mild provocation.
Over time, after that, there were many demonstrations and I participated whenever I could. Sometimes police would be wearing riot gear. In 1967, police with machine guns lined the tops of buildings in Washington, D.C. There were many confrontations between demonstrators and police and eventually, police killed demonstrators at Jackson State University in Mississippi, and a couple of weeks later, 4 students were shot at Kent State. We in the peace movement mourned with every death. We questioned about the police and their role. We were angered because the Jackson State shootings got much less attention in the press than Kent State and assumed it was because the Kent State Victims were white and the Jackson State victims were black. None of these events slowed my resistance to the war, and, probably, actually increased general intensity of opposition.
Today, we have even more police violence than then, and it is, again, very racist, but not entirely so. We have war that goes on and on and on that we watch on TV, just like Viet Nam. The reporting is not as graphic as then, but the basics are so similar. I don’t feel good that I am not marching, but I’m a lot older, and further from the center of activity, and I feel defeated. I feel like government is much less responsive now than it was then, and I can’t say it was nearly as responsive then as we wanted. My younger self says a lot of unpleasant things about the entire situation, and longs to take meaningful action. My mature self says “you have obligations.” I feel like I’m making excuses. The thing I know that lies behind my lack of action; I don’t want to get shot. Even though these problems with the police are serious, I am much more fearful of the self-righteous, gun toting “patriots” who don’t understand the meaning of freedom of speech. The thing is, the terrorists are winning. The terrorists who carry swastikas, or “confederate flags,” and have been given permission to carry arms openly and frighten everyone who can see. The Congress and State Legislators have given them permission to terrorize their neighbors, little children in Wal Mart, people in churches and at funerals. I don’t understand this. It makes me very sad.
|I almost made it to the Post Office
but when I got there, a sign said
“by act of Congress, the Post Office is discontinued.”
I almost got my grandchild enrolled in school
but when we got there a sign said
“Tuition $5000.00 per year up front,
by act of Congress and your State Legislature.”
I almost got my retirement set up
but when I got to the Social Security Office
a sign said “by act of Congress, Social Security
has been privatized. Call this number: 555-555-5555.
When I called that number, I learned that
I have to wait five more years to retire
to be vested in the retirement system.
I almost made it back home, but when
I went to pull out of the Social Security
Office driveway, a sign said:
“this road is closed by act of the legislature.
In order to travel, you must take the toll road.”
There is no toll road here. So, I’m living in
my car at the Social Security Office.
I walk where I want to go. I am selling
car parts for food. I have been thinking
about who will get my vote for Congress
and the state legislature and I'm less concerned
about who I vote into the Presidency.
|There are many ways to categorize people: short or tall, male, female, Immigrant, citizen etc. The problem with these categories: on the surface, they seem absolute, but not one is absolute. They are based on comparison and contrast. You are only short in the presence of someone taller than you are, but in the presence of people shorter than you, you become tall. This is most true of race. Recently, Ancestry.com has publicized tracing ancestry through genetic testing, and low and behold, at least here in the USA, many people we see as one race are mixed. I have long loved to say “I am a woman, but my father was a man so that makes me half male.”
It has been a necessary part of my career to find my similarity to people. Without that identification, it is hard for me to engage in “unconditional positive regard” and maintain “non-judgmental stance.” To “love my neighbor as myself” has required constant vigilance and when I have failed to do this, I have always lived to regret it. This discipline has led me to think about my similarity not only to other people, but to all life. It led me through vegetarianism to the realization that all life depends on killing other life. It led me to understand that my life does not matter more than yours. It led me to admire people like those in the Charleston Church who stood in their humanity, their radical acceptance, loving their neighbor as themselves rather than packing a sidearm and shooting the shooter. The peace and love of their faith led them to keep the doors open generation after generation building a community of peace that sustains itself beyond the boundaries of their lives. I see this as a form of eternal life. I don’t know if this is what Jesus meant. I wasn’t there when he said it. It is, however an observable fact that the decision to love does not permit the opposite.
When I say I love spinach, I mean I am grateful for the flavor and nutrition it provides and I want to sustain its existence so I can eat more. Unfortunately, I can’t grow it here. It just has never grown for me. So, I depend on others to do this for me. This is community, nurture, harvest, re-plant. If I plant a lot, I can grow less of something else. Then I can trade with someone who planted something else. I have engaged in conversation recently about abortion. I have struggled to articulate my understanding. To me, abortion is like thinning plants so there is enough room to grow healthy plants. I do not believe that human life is more sacred than any other life. I think our current ecological crisis is directly related to overpopulation and I deeply believe that we must reduce our reproduction dramatically. I see people around me who believe we are so important every fertilized egg must be protected. If we follow this course, we will crowd ourselves into starvation and our planet will eventually look like Mars. I believe in honoring life. I believe that irresponsible reproduction is the greatest danger the human race faces. It requires discipline and great love to sacrifice reproduction for the greater good, but it is badly needed. Change begins with me. It is not up to me to change you. It is up to me to live by my values. This is one of my highest values.
|I didn’t read yesterday. I attended the Ozark Old Time Music and Heritage Festival in West Plains, MO. Friday, it rained, but yesterday was beautiful, and though it was very hot, it was still bearable, pretty much like every year. I love hearing the old music played by the best musicians and there was plenty of it. There were vendors of a wide variety of crafts, even some crafts from Africa. There were food vendors of all sorts, much like you encounter at a county fair. Among the friendly crowd, I saw old friends I hadn’t seen in years, and friends I only see at traditional music events. All in all, the event was worth braving the heat. I would have left much earlier than I did, but I wanted to hear the headliner, 88 year old Ralph Stanley and his band.
The band, led by his grandson, Nathan Stanley, includes a banjo, guitar, standup base, fiddle, and mandolin played by young men. They came on stage and did their sound check before being introduced. When they started to play, the sound engineer inexplicably changed the settings so we could hear only the bass. As they performed, the leader would ask for changes and get them, but it was still not right. While they played for nearly an hour without Doc Stanley, I walked away in search of someone who could do something about the sound guy. I complained to a couple of people who didn’t have any power to change anything, then returned to my seat. On that little jaunt, I heard people complaining that Ralph Stanley was not on stage. I wanted to say to them “he’s 88 years old. Give him a break,” but didn’t. (Was the heat making me cranky?) Shortly after I seated myself once more, I saw CD Scott coaching the sound guy and the sound improved just as Ralph Stanley himself arrived.
I had heard his name many times over the years, but since I am generally not a big fan of bluegrass music, had not heard him. The large crowd gave him a standing ovation as he was introduced and seated before the microphone. His grandson explained that Doc had fallen a couple of days ago, and even though nothing was broken, he was pretty battered up. Nevertheless, he had insisted that he would not let his fans down and came along to the gig. The grandson further explained that this is Mr. Stanley’s 70th year as a performer. The band played and Doc sang some of his most famous songs. It turns out that they were familiar to me and I had, of course, heard him many times over the years, but not like he sang yesterday. He has lost control of his voice. It is as if it is about to fledge and is teetering on the edge of the nest of his body stretching its wings awkwardly, getting ready to take off without him. It was a sad and wonderful experience to witness this great musician living his life as he always has so close to the end. I am so glad I went. This morning, he and his band are off somewhere on their way to their next gig in his big turquoise bus, and his voice is resting in preparation.
| I received a link on my facebook by a young woman who suffers with depression talking about coping with the stigma. It is beautifully written. It is authentic. I hope it eventually reaches every Facebook page.
The Semi-colon project in a great idea: “a semi-colon is a place in a sentence where you could have used a period and stopped, but you paused and decided to go on.” The author got a semi-colon on her wrist to remind herself to go on when having suicidal thoughts. She also sees it as a way to trigger conversation about mental health that fight the stigma.
The story was placed by a relative who experienced severe mental illness in her family and received wonderful support from NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness), a national support group made up of people who suffer from mental illness and those who care about them. She has been a strong advocate over time, and talks openly against stigma. I am grateful to her and to the young author of the “semi-colon project,” and to NAMI for their efforts. I am thinking about the tattoo; will I do that?
Please join in by learning more, and supporting your friends and relatives who struggle with symptoms of mental illness.
|These folks, the nine Christians studying and praying together in the historic AME Church accepted their killer, and true to their Christian values, took on his pain in the most extreme way. Like Christ, they did not attack him. They offered all they had in love. They did this for a stranger in their midst. They had not locked the door and shut him out. How can we honor this in our lives?
|I thought the horror of racist attacks on African American Churches was long over. It appears to have been a false sense of safety. I realize the problem is complex. What important issue is not complex? Yesterday, I was remembering Fred Rogers teaching us about inclusiveness, about loving behavior. Today, I am overwhelmed by a shooting in an AME Baptist Church in South Carolina. I am so very worried about my country. Will we even be a democratic republic in ten years, or will we have given up to chaos, or anarchy? Why are people arming themselves and their children? They seem very frightened for their personal wellbeing. But fear of people studying the Bible, unarmed, in a church? How do we make sense of this?
If I look at what I learned in my study of sociology, the explanation lies in the rapid social change we currently experience as we move into a global economy. It is happening everywhere: the Middle East, Latin America, the borders of Russia, and South Carolina. Stopping change is not an option. We must learn how to surf the waves, harness the power, and retain our humanity. The lessons are very hard and painful. We mourn, reflect, learn and move on. That is all we can do. We must hold hands and look both ways, then, one step at a time, restore new balance.
|The following quote is circulating on Facebook:
"Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an
active noun like struggle. To love someone is to
strive to accept that person exactly the way he or
she is right here and now."
I wonder what Mr. Rogers would say in response to the public discussion about immigration, and about gay marriage. He would not say it publicly, of course, as he publicly talked to children about themselves and each other. Mr. Rogers was a seminary educated protestant Christian and his show was his ministry. He taught generations of children about love. He demonstrated love. He did not say “love this person but not that one.” He loved animals and quirky characters like King Friday the Thirteenth. On his original show in Pittsburgh, “The Children’s Corner,” he talked to Lydia Lamp, who appeared quite excitable. It is, therefore, no surprise to me that we would become more inclusive as these children become adults. We teach children to share, to help each other, and to be kind to all their classmates. I think Fred Rogers represented the best of American values. We need to remember, learn, and practice what we were taught.
|The People of the Other Village
BY THOMAS LUX B. 1946
This is today’s Audio poem of the day on the Poetry Foundation website. If you go there, you can hear the author read the poem.
This is a response to war, a descriptive piece with images that evoke a personal response one would easily shut down while watching the evening news. It offers a clear picture of the absurdity of war without judgment.
“The people of the other village hate us
and would nail our hats
to our heads for refusing in their presence to remove them
or staple our hands to our foreheads for refusing to salute them
if we did not hurt them first: mail them packages of rats,...”
Listening, at first, I expected it would be a rant about the people of the other village and I was only drawn in by the images. Then, “if we did not hurt them first” shook me like a friend proposing we do a home invasion would, until I realized it was a joke. As the poet goes on, it sounds like a series of practical jokes and my emotions subside a bit. Then, again I am shaken as the things the villagers do to each other escalate, like war escalates. There is no happy ending to war.
As Americans, we look at how we helped Japan and Western Europe recover after the war and feel very good about all of that and pat ourselves on the back. We don’t look at what happened with Russia. We blame Russia. We are taught nothing in school that helps us understand what happened to the ally without whom Hitler may not have been defeated. I did not learn about the alliance with Russia until I was an adult. They sacrificed more than anyone in WWII and I wasn’t even taught that. In both high school and college, in the 1960’s, WWII was not taught where I was.
Even today, when Russia does something in response to our actions, we hear on the news what they did, but our provocation is never mentioned.
I think this poem makes clear just how all of that happens, succinctly and beautifully. I hope you will go to the Poetry Foundation website and read it for yourself.
|When I said separate the sheep from the goats, I meant for milking.
When I said let there be light, I meant wisdom; let there be wisdom.
When I said to Abraham to sacrifice his son to me, I meant for him to let the child discover me on his own.
When I helped the Israelites escape from Egypt, it was to free them from oppression, not to give them land to fight over.
When I said to Adam to name the animals, I meant pay attention, manage wisely, live in harmony. I didn’t mean bring them to extinction.
I gave mankind a brain for thinking, reasoning, learning and problem solving. I meant for people to learn, think, reason and solve problems. I didn’t intend for you to spend a lifetime trying to figure out what I want. I can take care of myself. I don’t need people to be treating me like some kind of dictator or tyrant. Nurture, live in community, love the earth, and develop wisdom.
Take your time. Listen to each other. Work together. Where you are, I will be, always.