Monday, April 30, 2012

The Norwegians' Peaceful Response

Photo credit: Junge, Heiko/AFP/GettyImages
My friend Jim High shared a video last year of someone he knows personally. She is an American living near Oslo. On that video she shares her observations of the remarkable response from the Norwegians to the terrorist activity of one of their own, Anders Behring Breivik, whose alleged actions resulted in the deaths of 77 people. (The video can be seen below)

“One man set out to spread hate,” she stated, “yet, the overriding response to the horrific tragedy he caused, is love. Love for the families who are torn apart; love for the values of this amazing democracy; love for the free, open, inclusive society we in Norway have chosen. Love, support and kindness springing up from all colors, creeds and political affiliations, from all around the world.”

She then shared words that had been offered by officials in Norway:
  • From the Norwegian Minister of Justice: “We will not allow you to destroy our democracy and our commitment to a better world.”
  • From the Crown Prince of Norway: “We have chosen to respond to cruelty with compassion.”
  • The Mayor of Oslo: “We will punish the killer together, and the punishment will be more openness and more tolerance.”

Currently in Norway, the trial is underway for Breivik. In an article by Balazs Koranyi and Victoria Klesty Breivik that was picked up by Reuters, Breivik is quoted as saying that his victims were   "‘traitors’ who deserved death for embracing left-wing values which, in his view, opened Europe to a slow-motion Muslim invasion.”  The Norwegians’ response continues to be peaceful with as many as 40,000 people gathering in peaceful demonstration by singing “ ‘Children of the Rainbow’ - that extols the type of multicultural society Breivik has said he despised and one that he specifically dismissed during the trial as Marxist propaganda.”

There’s Just One Question

I find this Norwegian response to be remarkable and inspiring. As a southerner who grew up and continues to live in the “Bible Belt” – the epicenter of Evangelical Christianity – I have one piercing question to ask. Why has Norway internalized the message of the gospel of Christ in a way that is a quantum leap ahead of Evangelical Christians in the U.S.? Statistically, about 3% of Norwegians attend church, yet they act as Jesus bid his followers to act. On the other hand, here in the Christian South where there are churches on practically every corner, my fellow citizens are all too quick give shouts of approval to bigotry, war and violence. Where and when did the words of Jesus give way to sectarian and tribalistic cries of nationalism?

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Journey that Began with a Poem

April is National Poetry Month. I've posted a few of my short poems this month, as I do from time to time on my blog. I didn't want to let the month get away without celebrating a poem that I discovered in the sixth grade. It wasn't the first poem I had memorized (in the third grade I memorized "Casey at the Bat" which I mentioned in a previous blog post), but it was the first poem I recall memorizing to say in front of the class. The teacher asked us all to find a poem to recite. I had seen this one in our English textbook and thought it sounded good, and it had the added advantage of being very short.

by Edwin Markham* (1852-1940)

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

At the time, I was impressed by the sentiment of the poem  perhaps it was a new idea for me. As a twelve-year-old, I knew what it was like to be shut out of a group, but I also knew too well what it was like to be in a group that shut someone else out. I certainly did not successfully practice that drawing of a large circle as a school boy in Alabama back in 1967, but the idea was one that would not leave me. I could not shake the importance of including all kinds of people from many backgrounds, even when I was not quite able practice such hospitality. I think it was Markham's poem that planted the seed that would allow me to begin to have what I call "fluid boundaries."

I have long been fascinated by religion and spirituality. In my own pilgrimage I have moved from Southern Baptist to Episcopalian to Unitarian to Roman Catholic. There have also been dalliances with Pentecostals, and an appreciation for Buddhists and Hindus. In my own spiritual path, I have never felt that I was leaving one thing behind to go to another. To me, I was simply enlarging my circle. It is the idea of the larger circle that makes it important for me to listen to the wisdom of Native Americans and to spend some time each year during Ramadan getting to know my Muslim neighbors.  

It is that enlarging of my circle that has also allowed me to have a fascination with other cultures and to have a desire to pursue life-long learning. There is so much to be learned from literature, history, and science. There is so much to be enjoyed from the arts. There is a world to celebrate, and perhaps for me the first timid step came from reading a short poem in the sixth grade. That is why I want to celebrate this month by thinking about the long journey that was launched in the heart and mind of a school boy by the words of a poet.


*Edwin Markham is also famous for his poem "The Man with a Hoe" inspired by the painting of the same name by Jean-Fran├žois Millet. The poem highlighted the social inequities seen in the exploitation of the human laborer. As Markham stated in his own commentary on the poem, "The Hoeman is the symbol of betrayed humanity, the Toiler ground down through ages of oppression, through ages of social injustice. He is the man pushed away from the land by those who fail to use the land, till at last he has become a serf, with no mind in his muscle and no heart in his handiwork. He is the man pushed back and shrunken up by the special privileges conferred upon the Few."

Friday, April 20, 2012

An Old, Old Debate


Under the Double Helix

Though I often liked St. Augustine
I thought Pelagius had it right;
And I put my money on nurture
In the nature/nurture fight.

John Calvin was so fierce
With his predestination blues,
For me it was Arminius
Whose words bespoke good news.

But the question is not settled
As geneticists now show,
It could simply be our DNA
That determines how we grow.

                        Charles Kinnaird


Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Departed Friend

Our friend Dorothy has been laid to rest. For a life that began in crushing poverty and abuse followed by harsh institutionalization from the age of ten until she was forty-five, she had her own unique style. Because she was willing to tell her story, her memorial included some of her own recollections about the struggles she endured. It was a fitting tribute to her life. I'll use this blog space in the coming weeks to tell of some of the conversations I had with Dorothy Burdette.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Visiting the Sick and the Dying

My wife, my daughter and I – along with some other friends – have spent many days sitting with our friend Dorothy at the hospital over the past couple of weeks. She is in the Palliative Care Unit and is in the process of dying. She has lived a good life against incredible odds. I stayed with her for about eight hours yesterday. It is not likely that she will make it through the weekend. This is what my wife said:

“As Dorothy ever so slowly slips away, I am reminded of Mother Theresa who said, "Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work." Dorothy is giving us an opportunity to hold the hand of Jesus as he looks upon us in love.”

Dorothy Burdette
sitting on her front porch
During the past couple of years, I sat with Dorothy Burdette at her apartment and got her to tell her life story as I recorded it on tape. I was able to get her words down in her own book which I presented to her on her 82nd birthday last February. I’ll tell you more about her on this blog sometime in the weeks ahead.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Life's Travels

A Pilgrim's Way

I have a tenuous grasp upon the world.
Reality moves like a flowing stream,
And if I cling too tightly to things
I might be hindered or swept aside.

I have a tenuous claim to the mountain side,
For the Dragon moves like a flowing stream.
I may fight him and be overcome,
Or ride his back from the  heavens to the sea.

I have a tenuous hold upon life,
For God moves like a flowing stream.
I can only do what I know for today
And be ready to travel tomorrow.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Healthcare in the Courts: Checks and Balances or Partisan Gamesmanship?

As you no doubt have heard in the news, the legal challenges to Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act have made it to the Supreme Court, arguments have been made, and now we await a decision. The Los Angeles Times carried a story about Reagan administration lawyers fearing judicial activism in the current Supreme Court. Charles Fried, solicitor general under President Reagan, said that “If the court were to invalidate the healthcare law, It would be more problematic than Bush v. Gore." President Obama has even shown some concern stating that "Ultimately, I am confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress."

So now we wait for the Supreme Court to make its decision on what has come to be known as Obamacare. The question is, will we be witnessing the checks and balances that we heard about in junior high school civics classes, or will it be partisan gamesmanship?

A Case for Single payer Universal Healthcare

During the waning years of the Bush (the younger) administration, I made a prediction that the U.S. would move toward a nationalized healthcare plan and that it would be industry that would push the government to get involved. My reasoning was that in the global economy, it is harder for U.S. companies to compete because they have to include employee healthcare in their production costs, unlike all other industrialized competitors on the global market.  At the time, I think it was estimated that $1,500 of the cost of every new American made automobile went to cover employee health benefits. If the government could free up industry, our companies could do much better in providing quality products in a competitive international market.  Well that just shows how much I know.

Since Barak Obama came into office to promote a more comprehensive healthcare plan, Republicans, the party of big business, have done nothing but block all efforts at healthcare reform.  Years ago my wife came up with an idea that made more sense than any I had heard before. She said that if we allowed all children from birth to age 18 to be covered by Medicare, then we be granting healthcare to the most vulnerable of our population: the children and the elderly.  Adults could be covered by insurance plans just as we are accustomed to doing. In this way, the productive citizens are contributing to their own healthcare plan and the crucial developmental year of infants and children will be covered just as are the elderly.  Of course, that made too much sense to even be contemplated in Washington, D.C.

The truth is, if we had a single payer universal healthcare system, it could be a boon for the economy and a shot in the arm for every entrepreneur.  I personally know of people who would like to launch their own business, but do not want to risk losing healthcare benefits they have in their present job. Indeed, there are many who are working at a job they don’t particularly like just to have insurance coverage.  So not only would big business benefit from not being saddled with healthcare costs, small entrepreneurs would have more freedom to do what the Republicans say this country is all about – start new businesses.

The Individual Mandate

What about that provision in the healthcare reform law that requires an individual mandate – in other words, requiring everyone to buy health insurance? That is the key to making this healthcare act affordable. Currently, everyone gets medical care when they show up at the emergency room regardless of whether or not they have insurance. If they don’t have insurance and are in the ER, they are at one of the most expensive points of healthcare delivery, and that cost is passed on to the hospital and to those of us who have insurance. In the past, both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich (and many other Republicans) have strongly favored the individual mandate. For many Republicans the individual mandate made sense. It was just good business. If everyone has to buy insurance, then that is more money in the pockets of the insurance companies. The Obama administration considered a public option that would be covered by a tax, but they opted for the individual mandate since it was a Republican idea anyway, and they did not see that a public option along with a new tax would pass in congress. So we ended up with a less effective hybrid bill in order to compromise with those who dislike taxes and government healthcare.

What incredible irony that a tax to cover a public option in healthcare would have been constitutional without question (we are already doing it with Medicare).  The individual mandate, that Republican idea, is now being challenged in the courts (by Republicans bent on overturning “Obamacare”) to determine its constitutionality.

By June, we will know the court’s decision.  Will it be a case of Republican activism in the Supreme Court?  Whatever the outcome, it will likely be a 5-4 decision – not a ringing endorsement in the court, however it turns out. It will be another reflection of the political polarization that is coloring so much of our country's actions and non-actions. If the law is upheld, maybe we can go on to improve healthcare accessibility. If it is struck down, I fear that with political gridlock and lack of congressional gumption we may not see any decent healthcare reform.  All of this argument about whether we can make people buy insurance sounds like a good case for bringing on a universal single-payer plan like other civilized countries have.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Agnus Dei

An excellent rendition of Samuel Barber's beautiful  Agnus Dei,
from his 
Adagio for Strings: 

A Brief Word of Thanks

Email to God

Subject: The world

Message: All in all, a remarkable project.
                  Thanks for letting me be a part of it.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Sailing the Wine Dark Sea


While Captain James T. Kirk
Explored the far reaches of space,
Promoting the best of secular humanism
Or rescuing extraterrestrial civilizations
Or saving life on earth
Or flirting with every shapely humanoid,
His wife, Penelope, waited at home
Weaving the shroud by day
Only to unravel it each night,
Waiting in sorrowful hope.

Or was that someone else’s wife?

No, she was also Captain Kirk’s wife.
And she belongs to you and me
Just as much as to Odysseus.

The Enterprise traverses
A velvet black cosmos
That reflects our own wine-dark sea within.
It is in that inner domain that we encounter
One-eyed ogres
And reptilian warriors.
We learn that the eye is not always trustworthy,
And we see how human wit
Can unravel any Empire’s fearful grip.

It is there that we find the earthly beauty
Of a high school sweetheart,
And can see the bleached bones
Of those who followed
The tantalizing songs
Of another realm.

Look as far back into myth as you can,
Gaze as far ahead in imagination as you dare.
There is a corresponding depth within.

Every day
Is a day spent
Somewhere between sailing the oceans of mythical grandeur
And weaving our mortal garment at home.

                                                                           Charles Kinnaird

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Hope is the thing with feathers"

Distant Hope

There are some days
When one is drained.
Curiosity is flat.
Mental strength is strained
And spiritual energy is depleted.

Watching a goldfinch
At the thistle feeder
Outside the kitchen window
Is the only intellectual inquiry I can make
And the only prayer I can offer.
Yet today
It is all I need
To see hope on the wing.

                           Charles Kinnaird

Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul, 
And sings the tune--without the words, 
And never stops at all.

                               – Emily Dickinson

Monday, April 2, 2012

Some Days We See the Fire

                                                                    “Earth’s crammed with heaven,
                                                                     And every common bush afire with God;
                                                                     But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
                                                                     The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
                                                                     And daub their natural faces unaware.”
                                                                                           – Elizabeth Barrett Browning
                                                                                              From Aurora Leigh 

Fire in the Morning

I saw fire this morning
As I looked out at the trees.
Its light shined through every leaf and twig.

Flames leapt from behind the bark
The way lightening crackles in distant skies,
While soft fire glowed around every root.

Liz Barrett and I took off our shoes.

I walked on a teeming sea of life
That churned beneath my feet
As I moved across the field.

There was joyful imbalance
When the back of the beast swayed –
The trees and I noticed it for just a moment.

Then just as quickly,
As with a cleansing breath,
All grew still.

I walked back home
On dew-laden grass
While cicadas sounded
From the limbs above.

                                   Charles Kinnaird

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