Monday, January 30, 2012

Alabama's Anti-Immigration Law: The Faithful Take Action

Yesterday at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Birmingham's Southside, the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ) gave a presentation called Immigration 101. We heard a host of reasons why Alabama’s Immigration Law is being opposed by many of our state’s citizens. Some myths about immigration were presented and clarified as well as facts about Alabama's extreme anti-immigration law. Two of the myths that were countered were that immigrants don't pay taxes and that they come here to take welfare. In actual fact, last year in Alabama, immigrants paid $132 million in taxes. Furthermore, immigrants are 86% more productive than native-born workers.

We heard about inspiring, and even heroic measures that are being planned by St. Andrew’s parishioners to attempt to bring some sense of justice in the wake of an unjust law. For those of us who grew up with memories of the Jim Crow laws and the KKK, Alabama’s new law is particularly disconcerting. Once again we are seeing how fear and the need for power and control have led to harmful legislation. Alabama has made national headlines for passing the strictest immigration law in the country.  The bill forces attorneys to choose between the law and their own code of ethics regarding attorney/ client privilege. It has already cost the state income by affecting farmers' ability to harvest crops and keeping investors away from Alabama. 

Thousands have already rallied against the law and clergy from many denominations are opposing it. Many faith communities are protesting the unjust law.  If you want a quick view of reasons why this is a bad law, the Center for American Progress has compiled 100 Reasons Why the Alabama Immigration Law is a Disaster, which you can read here.

One reason that it is important for faith communities to take action, and why I was so inspired to hear the discussion at St. Andrew’s Church, is that there seems to be little public interest in taking action. A recent Alabama survey showed public apathy on a wide range of issues. According to the survey done by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, jobs are the number one issue for the state legislature to consider this year, with 32% ranking it as the most important. The number two ranking in the survey was “no opinion” which came in at 22%. Education was at 13% and all other issues were in the single digits, with immigration ranking at 5%.

Today, I want to give a word of praise to the congregants at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and their rector, Father Ed Hunt, for showing interest and being willing to take action for the cause of justice.  There are things all of us can do right now, such as phone or write your state representative and ask them to repeal Alabama’s Immigration law. The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ) has a team ready to share information with your church or community group. Check out their website here


Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Word about Curmudgeons

Someone just told me that today (January 29) is National Curmudgeon Day. In honor of this day, I am posting a poem I wrote years ago, inspired by a true curmudgeon within my circle:

On Crabgrass and Curmudgeons

I don't like it
That there is crabgrass in my yard.
I hate that it creeps across the walkway
No matter how often I clear it away.
Yet I must admit
That except for the crabgrass,
Some parts of the lawn
Would never be green.



Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Blind Willie McTell

"I know no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell"

If you haven’t heard of Blind Willie McTell, you must become acquainted with this man who played a foundational role in the formation and recording of American blues music. An African American musician blind from birth, he performed throughout the South and East and made recordings in the 1920s and 1930s. He had a distinct vocal style and a versatility on the 12-string guitar. His recordings were in the category of what the industry termed “race records” in those days. He was “re-discovered by John Lomax who labored to record for posterity authentic American Music.In 1940, Lomax recorded McTell’s music as well as interviews with the singer for the Archive of Folk Culture of the Library of Congress.

An innovator, McTell blended traits of the earthy Delta blues in the South with the ragtime beat of the Piedmont blues in the East. His work has been covered by many modern musicians, most notably the Allman Brothers and Taj Mahal, both of whom recorded “Statesboro Blues.”   In the 1970s, when Contemporary Christian music was just getting a foothold in the record industry, Honeytree had a hit with McTell’s song, “Ain’t It Grand to be a Christian.”

Bob Dylan wrote and recorded his song, “Blind Willie McTell” during sessions for his Infidels album in 1981, but the song did not appear on that album and was not released until 1991 with the first volume of the Bootleg Series. Some of his colleagues at the time wondered why Dylan did not include the song, which was one of his best, on the Infidels album. For my part, Infidels is one of my favorite albums and I don’t think “Blind Willie McTell” would have fit in with the rest of the content. Even though we had to wait a few years for it, it is probably better that this wonderful tribute was released later when it could stand on its own for the great song that it is in commemoration of the influential blues singer.

While celebrating McTell’s talent, Dylan artfully captures the milieu in which the blues arose with such phrases as, “ghosts of slavery ships” and “Hear the cracking of the whips / Smell that sweet magnolia blooming.” You can hear Dylan’s recording of the song here

It is only right that Bob Dylan pays homage to Blind Willie McTell. Dylan often acknowledges his debt to American folk music, and in his early days he was seen as a being strongly influenced by Woody Guthrie. Listening to Blind Willie McTell, however, especially when he is singing a Delta blues rhythm with those repetitive phrases, one hears a definite source and inspiration to many of Dylan’s most effective songs. Below you can hear Blind Willie McTell singing, Statesboro Blues and see some photos of him from You Tube. For more information about Blind Willie McTell, you can read about him in the New Georgia Encyclopedia here. Scroll on down to see Bob Dylan’s lyrics to "Blind Willie McTell."

Blind Willie McTell
By Bob Dylan

Seen the arrow on the doorpost
Saying, "This land is condemned
All the way from New Orleans
To Jerusalem."
I traveled through East Texas
Where many martyrs fell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, I heard the hoot owl singing
As they were taking down the tents
The stars above the barren trees
Were his only audience
Them charcoal gypsy maidens
Can strut their feathers well
But nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

See them big plantations burning
Hear the cracking of the whips
Smell that sweet magnolia blooming
(And) see the ghosts of slavery ships
I can hear them tribes a-moaning
(I can) hear the undertaker's bell
(Yeah), nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

There's a woman by the river
With some fine young handsome man
He's dressed up like a squire
Bootlegged whiskey in his hand
There's a chain gang on the highway
I can hear them rebels yell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, God is in heaven
And we all want what's his
But power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is
I'm gazing out the window
Of the St. James Hotel
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Spirituality and Healthcare: By Who's Ethic?

I recently heard a very interesting lecture at the hospital where I work presented by Dr. Ryan Nash on "The Temptation of Spiritual Medicine: An Argument for Informed Respect.” He addressed the role of spirituality in medical care from a number of vantage points.  He made it clear that any spiritual care should be based upon the patient’s own values. One should also not expect the patient’s ethic to always be in line with standard medical practice. An example he gave was the efforts by medicine to make care as pain-free as possible. Most would probably agree, but a Buddhist patient who is hospitalized, even with a terminal condition, may not wish sedation and narcotic to numb him, thereby removing him from being able to be present to experience the last stage of life.

Dr. Nash also pointed out that people may live by different ethics and values. In referencing Herve’ Juvin’s book The Coming of the Bodyhe made note of what Juvin calls a post-modern culture which holds a tripartite ethic of “health, safety, and pleasure.” This in contrast to the humanist ethic of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.”  Juvin claims that we humans are not the same as we were 100 years ago, as evidenced by a narcissistic era in which the body is sacrosanct.

Which is the higher ethic for you? I find the rallying cry of "liberty, equality, and fraternity" to be a much nobler cause, but Juvin raises an important question (as does Dr. Nash).  When we look at healthcare today, by and large, people seem to be demanding health and safety, and most of us want to avoid any pain that would rob us of pleasure.

Of course, “liberty, equality, and fraternity” was the ideal for our founding fathers in the forging of a new nation of democracy in America. In a later conversation with Dr. Nash, he pointed out that even then, there was debate over who was to be included in “fraternity,” and that “equality” did not mean “egalitarian” as we usually understand the word today. Still, the ideals of “health, safety, and pleasure” were far from anything on the minds of our ancestors as a new nation was being forged.

It was fascinating food for thought for me. I agree that as healthcare providers, we must take the patient’s values into consideration in any care, medical or spiritual, that is provided. We should also be vigilant that we not assume that the values we hold are necessarily the same ones our patient holds.  


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Notebook (and things worth writing down)

I have a small notebook (5" X 7") which I like to carry with me to lectures and meetings because of its convenient and unobtrusive size. Today I had an appointment to discuss a project so I grabbed my little notebook on the way out the door. I found myself waiting alone in a small waiting area prior to the meeting, so I decided to thumb through the notes I had taken in past meetings and lectures. Here are some highlights:

From Daniel Sulmasy on medical ethics:

Spirituality is not ethics – they are distinct disciplines, though intimately related. They are often conflated in discussions about spirituality. Ethics is not solely based on religion/spirituality. There is the philosophical concept of ethics, and ethics can also be founded upon reason.

In a secular/pluralistic environment, religions can “fit in” when talking about ethics (war and peace, justice, medical ethics). Spiritual concepts of healthcare cannot be supplanted by bioethics. Hospitals are not happy places – relief is often the best one can hope for. Suffering and shadows prevail. Ethics alone makes no sense of suffering.

From Martin Marty on what goes wrong in church:

The huddle – you know an important conversation is taking place, but all you can see are the behinds.

From Wayne Flynt on mega churches:

They are “country clubs for the sanctified;” “Wal-Marts for selling Jesus-lite.”
Many twenty-somethings are leaving church because they are more tolerant and environmentally conscious than their church.

From Bishop John Shelby Spong on God and the church:

How to envision God: (1) as the source of life calling us to live fully, (2) as the source of love calling us to love wastefully, (3) as being – calling us to be our authentic self.

The job of the church is to free human beings so they can be fully human – not to rescue you from your sins, but to empower you to be you.

*     *     *     *     *

Some days it is good to go back to catch up and reflect upon things we once found important enough to write down.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Psalm 23 ~ Bobby McFerrin

Bobby McFerrin does something remarkable with Psalm 23. The music is lovely, but the most significant thing he does here is to use the feminine pronoun in reference to God. It is amazing what this shift does for the effect of the psalm. The first time my wife and I heard it was on a PBS telecast several years ago  I think it was with the Boston Pops concert series. We were both moved to tears as we listened. The song also appears on McFerrin's CD, Medicine Music. Here's a You Tube version, scroll down to read the lyrics. 

The 23rd Psalm
By Bobby McFerrin

The Lord is my Shepard, I have all I need,
She makes me lie down in green meadows,
Beside the still waters, She will lead.

She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs,
She leads me in a path of good things,
And fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk, through a dark & dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me,
She has said She won't forsake me,
I'm in her hand.

She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes,
She anoints my head with oil,
And my cup overflows.

Surely, surely goodness & kindness will follow me,
All the days of my life,
And I will live in her house,
Forever, forever & ever.

Glory be to our Mother, & Daughter,
And to the Holy of Holies,
As it was in the beginning, is now & ever shall be,
World, without end. Amen.

                            *    *    *    *    *

You might be interested in:

A Jungian Appreciation of Mary


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Charlie’s Law ~ a Gift from a Departed Friend

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
                                  ~William Shakespeare, Sonnet 73

I knew that I had to be at the memorial service for Murray Fintel. I cancelled a planned day trip in order to be there.  I had heard he had been sick just a few weeks prior to seeing the announcement in the obituaries. He was a few years older than I, but we were both of the generation that came into adulthood during the 1970s.

As we gathered there at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham last October, we heard friends and family tell about a man who, though he died too young, did not waste a single minute of life. The minister shared beautiful memories that had been written by Murray's wife, Marion, and is daughter, Elaine. He loved nature, and he loved to laugh. He loved hiking and he loved cooking good food. Most of all he loved his family and friends – and they all knew it. He was generous to everyone around him.  

Murray’s brother-in-law, Ed Begley, Jr., was there to share some words of remembrance.  He offered a reading of Charlie’s Law, which I was not familiar with. “You've heard of Murphy’s Law,” Mr. Begley commented, “Well, this is Charlie’s Law. It takes a brighter view of life, and this is what Murray believed.” Charlie’s Law affirms that everything will turn out alright.

That night, I did not sleep well. This funeral had hit too close to home.  It reminded me that there are no guarantees.  Murray’s life stood like a beacon to remind us how precious our time here is. If we are truly living and truly grateful for this existence, we will follow Murray’s lead and not waste a minute of life.

During the memorial service, I was impressed with the reading of Charlie's Law. In the following days, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to find a copy of it. A search of the internet did not produce the text, but I found out that it was from a book by Charles Ware, Murphy’s Law Repealed: everything turns out alright … when you let it. Unfortunately the book is no longer in print, but I was able find it and order it online. Reading through that book was for me a reminder to be open to life, to love those I am blessed to be with, and to relax and trust the Universe. If we let go of our emotional attachment to expected outcomes, we can be open to what life has in store. Here are some of the concepts that Ware presents to elucidate Charlie’s Law (Everything turns out alright when you let it):

§  If you need something, it will come to you
§  When faced with a difficult task, start
§  Just when you think you’ve run out of time, you’re done
§  If at first you do not succeed, relax and you will
§  You are the person you’d like to become
§  Everything you do that comes from love, works
§  When life seems overwhelming, do less
§  If you reach the end of your rope, let go and fly
§  When you choose peace, you get peace
§  Live each day as if it were your first
§  When you let go, you feel joy
So here’s to Murray Fintel:  he lived well; he laughed well; he loved well.  May we all follow his lead to make our love more strong: “to love that well which [we] must leave ere long.”


Monday, January 9, 2012

How the Republicans Could Win by Losing

(Full disclosure statement: this is the essay that my wife did not want me to write. She said, “Don’t tell anybody! Keep this one under your hat!”)

First of all, does anyone think that the Republicans are serious about winning the presidential race this year? The only serious candidate I see is Jon Huntsman, a man who seems to understand government and diplomacy, and he also seems to respect what science and education have to offer. He also cannot seem to get himself heard above the din and cacophony within the Republican Party.  All other players have nothing that appeals to voters for more than a week or two of sound bites on the campaign trail.

This is why I don’t think the Republicans want the White House this time around. Why should they? They have gotten just about everything they wanted under the Obama administration while being able to blame all the ills of the country on the Democrats.  If they play things right, however, they could stand to win big later by losing this year.

If the Republicans continue with their current field of candidates and the disarray within the Party, they will likely lose the 2012 presidential election. They may even lose some seats in congress. However, a loss could play to their advantage for the next election cycle. If Obama is reelected, then the Democrats will not be able to run an incumbent. They will have to find a new presidential candidate, of course. This will create a more level playing field for Republicans and Democrats. But there is an even better possible turns of events. The Tea Partiers may fall out of favor with the Republican Party leaders.

The Tea Party Line

As a Southerner, I can plot out a line from the provincial southern attitude to the Tea Party movement. The Tea Party has Dixiecrat written all over it (I know, it also has the Koch brothers' money all over it, but stay with me on this one). It all began in 1948 when the Southern Democrats decided to launch an alternative presidential ticket. There was only one viable party in the South back then – the Democratic Party. They formed a third party, the Dixiecrats, set on preserving the Southern racially segregated way of life. The official name was The States Rights Democratic Party and they wanted less federal government regulation (sound familiar?). Strom Thurmond from South Carolina was the presidential nominee, with Mississippi governor Fielding Wright as his running mate. Like all third party endeavors before and since, the Dixiecrats failed to win the election, and subsequently went into remission for a season, scattering back into the woodwork of the Democratic Party.

In 1964, the Dixiecrats' ire was raised again with the Civil Rights Act. President Lyndon B, Johnson, a Texan, stated upon signing the civil rights legislation, “We have lost the South for a generation.” He knew the legislation was the right thing to do, but he also understood the political fallout – he probably even underestimated the inherent racism in the South. Nevertheless, the Democratic Party began to lose ground. Richard Nixon quickly used this to his advantage with his “Southern Strategy” which would play upon the dissatisfaction of the segregationist South without overtly stating race as an issue. The South was still firmly Democratic in Party orientation, but held on to the hope of being different from those liberal Democrats in the north and on the east coast. 

Ronald Reagan was the next Republican to welcome disgruntled Democrats. With his election, many in the South and elsewhere proudly proclaimed, “I'm a Reagan Democrat.” And thus the sands beneath the Democratic Party in the South began to shift. Now it was not just okay, it was politically viable to be a Republican in the South. South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond (that Dixiecrat candidate) was one of the first to move from the Democratic to the Republican Party. The dominoes continued to fall. Some would get elected as a Democrat, then change party affiliation while in office, as did Alabama Senator Richard Shelby.

Today, the Republican Party is strong in the south, almost a one party system again, just like in the old days.  That one party continues with the flavor and essence of the Dixiecrats. The difference is that the Dixiecrats are all Republicans now. With the election of Barak Obama, that old Dixiecrat dissatisfaction came to the forefront again and was seen in the Tea Party movement. Just as the Republicans embraced the southern Democrats into their party to increase their power base, they have kow towed to the shouts and demands of the Tea Party extremists.  Even Mitt Romney, who as Massachusetts governor seemed sensible, recently said on the campaign trail “I am the logical Tea Party candidate.”

Back in 1948, the country was wise enough not to go with the Dixiecrats (and admittedly, many Dixiecrats wanted to make a statement rather than win an election).  Today, we have an even more diverse and pluralistic population in the country. I don’t think the country as a whole will be comfortable with the Tea Party in control. With virtually every Republican presidential candidate claiming Tea Party affinity the whole of the Republican Party seems captivated by the Dixiecrat/Tea Party reaction to a just, modern and informed society (with the exception of Jon Huntsman who accepts scientific findings and refrains from knee-jerk reactions to the theory of evolution and global warming).

The End of the Line?

By fielding a gaggle of none-too-viable candidates, and by staking such hopes in Tea Party voters, a stunning loss might wake up the Republican Party. It could bring the whole Tea Party reaction to a head, ready to be cast out with yesterday’s newspaper. It is not that the Tea Party's voice should not be heard, but it should not be the controlling dominant voice to the exclusion of all others (and to the exclusion of all reason).

The Republicans could actually become Republicans again.  Even though I will vote Democratic for the foreseeable future, I would love to see a true Republican stand for office.  Where are the likes of Everett Dirksen, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, Jacob Javits, Gerald Ford, and Nelson Rockefeller? These were sensible people, they were pro-business to be sure, but they knew they had to make accommodations to other views. Even Richard Nixon knew that with Republicans in charge, the water still had to be clean, pollution still had to be reduced, worker’s rights still had to be recognized, and taxes still had to be paid.  They were who they were. They did not claim to be speaking for the people while destroying unions and shipping jobs overseas. They had not heard of the absurd notion that corporations are people. They wanted a strong country and were willing to have some give-and-take for the good of the country.

So all of this is to say to the Republicans, if you lose, don’t be faint of heart, you may well see a great win ahead that could even benefit the country (if you quit your low down ways). And it is to say to the Democrats, if you win, don’t spend too much time gloating or resting on your laurels, you may yet see some real Republicans come to the forefront. 

                                                                                                                               ~ Charles Kinnaird


Friday, January 6, 2012

The Feast of the Epiphany

January 6 marks the Feast of the Epiphany, the liturgical date used to commemorate the Wise Men’s arrival from the East to see the child Jesus, as told in the Gospel of Matthew. It is the date which culminates the twelve days of Christmastide, and is some cultures is the date for traditional gift giving.  

Unfortunately, Christmas – as celebrated in the United States – begins with commercial bombardment at least by Thanksgiving (in some cases as early as Halloween!) with radio stations giving entire programming to Christmas jingles and advertisers promoting what you really need to buy this season. It all comes to a crashing halt by dinner on Christmas Day for many, and completely vanishes on December 26.

My friend Loren Peters is a recent graduate from The Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin Texas. He has been reminding his friends on Facebook that there are twelve days of Christmas celebration by posting a brief sentence on his status each day about regarding each day of Christmas. It is a refreshing reminder of what is now foreign to so many: that Chrismas does not end on Christmas Day.  It BEGINS on December 25 and goes on for 12 days until Epiphany on January 6. 

After all, isn't EPIPHANY what we hope will actually happen to us every once in a while? That there will be a moment when we find ourselves within proximity and realization of the Ground of All Being right before our eyes! It could happen anytime; we can use this day to remind us to be aware of it when that moment comes.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Make Commerce, Not War

That clown car carrying the Republican presidential candidates is down one more since the Iowa Caucus ended with Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul essentially sharing the top 75% of the votes.  Hearing the brief clips from the candidates' stump speeches, I found myself agreeing with Ron Paul in terms of foreign policy more than any of the others.  It is his anti-war stance that I like. He sees the whole of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as unnecessary. I agree. I was opposed to those war endeavors from the beginning. Rick Santorum, on the other hand, seems to think that the President of the United States should be Emperor of the World and bomb whoever wants to get in the way of us and our “freedom.”

Ron Paul would prefer business ties over war mongering. My anti-war stance comes from a different philosophical base, being more in line with the Quakers' historical stand against war.  Paul’s libertarian view does not make adequate provision for the preservation of human rights, in my opinion, but at the same time, not-war is always better than war. As Benjamin Franklin said, “There was never a good war or a bad peace.” So I’ll take not-war any day, however you can get there.

War takes its toll on society. We have been engaged in full-scale armed conflict for over ten years now.  We have tried to shield ourselves from its effects by relying upon our lean volunteer professional armed forces and not forcing the public to make any visible sacrifice or life-style change. Instead, we have let a new “fighting class” bear the brunt. This fighting class includes many from lower socio-economic levels whose best opportunity is to join the military. It is those men and women and their families who know the pressures of war after numerous re-deployments, deaths and permanent injuries both mental and physical. Our congressmen and senators and the public, by and large, have avoided the obvious scars of war, shifting them to the shadows of our paid warrior class.

But the truth is, we all bear the ill effects of war, whether it is obvious or not. We have already been too long in a war that has cost more than we can pay in material and monetary means and has done nothing to lessen the threat of terrorism.  It is time to turn down the war machine.  If we can’t “make love, not war,” as some said back in the 1960s, we can at least start to spend our time, money and efforts on projects at home: rebuilding roads, bridges, schools, and parks; paying attention to our children; working to increase the common good.  It is time to find a common purpose other than war. My hope is that the time of tearing down will come to an end and the time of building up will come to ascendency. 


Monday, January 2, 2012

Top Ten Posts of 2011

During the past year, I’ve posted essays ranging from robins in springtime to Occupy Wall Street. There has been the mix of spiritual, political, and the poetic that I try to keep in the blog. During the week leading up to Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday, I posted a number of items relating to Dylan and his career. There were many visits to this site that month and many of those continue to get visits, particularly the post about The Seven Ages of Bob Dylan” and “Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.” Since those were not essays that I wrote, but rather references to other works, I am not including those in my “Top Ten” list.

Most View Posts for 2011:

Following close behind for “honorable mention” were A Jungian Appreciation of Mary and The Magic of JohnColtrane.  Both of these got off to a slow start, but I am pleased that they have gained momentum with time.

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