Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Lamps Are Different but the Light is the Same

I am using the holy month of Ramadan to celebrate interfaith connections. There are many examples of interfaith collaboration if we but take a moment to look.  Twelfth century Spain saw a beautiful collaboration among Christians, Jews and Muslims as has been described in The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews,and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Rosa Menocal.  Richard Rubenstein has also written a delightful book, Aristotle’s Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Dark Ages. Rubenstein’s book captures the thrill and excitement of the rediscovery of Aristotle’s philosophy. He shows how the study of Aristotle revitalized European thought and at the same time gives us a glimpse into the interfaith collaboration that existed for a time in Medieval Europe. Menocal’s book demonstrates how interactions between Jews, Christians and Muslims in places like Toledo, Cordoba, and Seville resulted in a shared culture of art and architecture.

The Most Widely Read Poet in the United States

Poetry is another great medium for listening to voices from many avenues of faith and culture.  Rumi was a Persian poet who lived in the thirteenth century, spending most of his life in what is known today as Turkey (his scholar father moved the family from Persia to avoid Ghengis Khan’s invasion).  Although Rumi (known in Persia as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī) was a Sufi within the Islamic tradition, he is today the most widely read poet in the United States. His poetry is a beautiful example of the ability to transcend one’s own tradition to speak people across many traditions and cultures. One of Rumi’s poems, “One One One” declares a truth that can indeed transcend all vessels of tradition. He proclaims that “The lamps are different, but the light is the same.” Listen to a recitation and commentary of this poem in English and then scroll down to read the words.  May we take this moment to look beyond the barriers of fear and hate that continue to be constructed in our time.

One One One

The lamps are different.
But the Light is the same.
So many garish lamps in the dying brain's lamp shop,
Forget about them.
Concentrate on essence, concentrate on Light.
In lucid bliss, calmly smoking off its own hold fire,
The Light streams toward you from all things,
All people, all possible permutations of good,
evil, thought, passion.
The lamps are different,
But the Light is the same.
One matter, one energy, one Light, one Light-mind,
Endlessly emanating all things.
One turning and burning diamond,
One, one, one.
Ground yourself, strip yourself down,
To blind loving silence.
Stay there, until you see
You are gazing at the Light
With its own ageless eyes.

Mevlana Rumi (1207 - 1273)

Mevlevi Dervishes Perform (Sultanahmet - İstanbul - Turkey)
Credit: Kıvanç Niş
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons:
 “The Mevlevi Order or the Mevleviye are a Sufi order founded by the followers of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi in 1273 in Konya (in Turkey at present). They are also known as the Whirling Dervishes due to their famous practice of whirling as a form of dhikr (remembrance of Allah). Dervish is a common term for an initiate of the Sufi Path.”

Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday Music: Roll Over Beethoven

"Roll Over Beethoven," by Chuck Berry, was a favorite of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison even before they had chosen "The Beatles" as their name, and they continued to play it live right into their American tours of 1964. Their version of "Roll Over Beethoven" was recorded on July 30, 1963 for their second British LP, With The Beatles, and features George Harrison on vocals and guitar. It was February, 1964 before they came on to the music scene in the U.S. with their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. In this televised version, Jimmy Nicol is sitting in for Ringo on the drums (Ringo was sick that night).

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Mowing Time

       Mowing time alerts
            the intrepid mockingbird;
            his prey now exposed.
                                              ~ CK


Photo: Northern Mockingbird (public domain)
Credit: U.S. Fish & WIldlife Service

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Meeting Our Neighbors During Ramadan

Justin Whitaker writes a blog called American Buddhist Perspective. He has been writing about his encounter with the Muslim community during this holy month of Ramadan.  In  one of his posts last week he talked about participating in the fast which Muslims practice from dawn until dusk during Ramadan. He shares some of what he has learned and talks about why he is participating with the Muslim community. Here is an excerpt of his post:

“Why am I doing this? My first response is that as an educator I feel a certain responsibility to understand different cultures and religions as well as I can. In my studies of Buddhism I have reached out to and practiced with Buddhist groups around me when I could and spent time in predominantly Buddhist countries. Personal experience in the classroom is an invaluable tool. For over a year now I have been teaching World Religions and some of my students have made nearly literal 180° shifts in their perceptions of Islam through the course of a semester. We start every term talking about prejudices (or “preunderstandings”) around religion and the problem of America’s ignorance about religion in general. After chapters on Sikhism, Shinto, and Zoroastrianism, the students are usually pretty wide-eyed in their realization that they didn’t know as much as they had thought when they came into the class (I feel the same way every time I teach them). But these are students who have grown up in an age of the US being at war in Iraq and Afghanistan – many have served in the military and are now back trying to build a civilian life. Prejudices don’t disappear over night, but I know that whatever personal experience and fresh perspective I can bring – getting the students beyond the textbook and the daily news – will help.

There is also the issue of fresh waves of Buddhist-Muslim violence occurring in South and Southeast Asia that I have touched on and will certainly write more on later.”  (Read the entire essay here)

When I first began to attend iftar at a local mosque a few 
years ago, it was in part due to my interest in other faith practices but in large part it was with the understanding that our global community is such a reality in our daily lives these days.  People from different cultures live in much closer proximity now than in the past. Since our cultures and religions are part of the social fabric, we all need to have a better understanding of one another.  For years our local Muslim community has extended hospitality to the community at large by offering a time to visit and to learn more about their customs.  As stated in their letter of invitation:

As you are likely aware, there are many political hotspots in the Muslim world and Muslims are increasingly seen as adversaries of the West. It is not our intention to make you agree or disagree with our belief system, but simply to share with you the authentic teachings of Islam and to illustrate the true face of the more than one billion peace-loving Muslims in the world. With the events unfolding in the world each day, we believe it to be very important that the members of the Muslim community and the American public at large get to know each other better. It is only through visitation and sincere dialogue with Muslims that non-Muslims can gain a genuine understanding of the nature and specific teachings of the Islamic faith. What better way to learn about a group of people than to talk and mingle with them?

Many groups – ranging from high school and university students to churches to businesses to civic groups to government organizations – have come to our past years’ Ramadan iftar dinners. Through these visits, benefits have accrued both to us as well as to our visitors-turned-friends. Most, if not all, of our guests have left with a better understanding of our faith.

My hope is that those interested in peace and wholeness will take every opportunity to practice not just tolerance of the other, but rather a genuine appreciation of the faiths and cultural practices of others in the community. Ramadan, which this year is extending from July 9 to August 7, is one such opportunity to become better acquainted with our Muslim Neighbors.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Monday Music: Alex De Grassi

Here's another talented guitarist from the Windham Hill artists. Alex De Grassi demonstrates amazing innovation and virtuosity in his guitar work. "Western" is one of the tracks on his 1984 album, Southern Exposure (Windham Hill Records). Truly exquisite music to the ear. If you listen to this, I guarantee you will want to hear it again. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Emergence

Making her way up
     from the old earth-bound body,
     she sings in new heights.



Photo: Cicada "Just after emergence"
Credit: Giles San Martin
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Faith of One's Own

Reid Chapel, Samford University
I find that it is important to be a part of a faith community, but it is also important to have a faith that you can buy in to – one that makes sense within your world view and the life that you live. It is vital to have a faith of one's own.

In yesterday’s post I talked about dealing with problem passages in the Old Testament. I mentioned that when I was a student at Samford University I had a double major: English Literature and Religion & Philosophy. I also mentioned that some of us had some difficulty with scholarship which conflicted with our notions of faith. There was one professor, Dr. Karen Joines, who was particularly controversial. His specialty areas were Hebrew, Old Testament studies, and archeology.  He was seen by many as a liberal apostate who should be removed from our Baptist institution. It was my English studies that helped me to have a different view, and a much greater appreciation of our liberal professor.

Sacred Story

In Karen Joines’ classes, it was okay to believe what you wanted to believe, but he wanted you to grapple with the questions of faith and to understand why you believe as you do. He wanted us to understand the deeper meaning of the Resurrection story, asking questions like, “If you could have set up a video camera in front Jesus’ tomb, what do you thing you might see when you played it back?” and “If there were no afterlife in Heaven, would you still live the Christian life?” us to understand the deeper meaning of the Resurrection story, asking questions lik

The single most important lecture I heard during my four years at Samford was his lecture in Archeology class on  mythopoeic thought. That lecture opened up new vistas for me. It affirmed my love of poetry, nature, and spirituality. It brought to me a heightened sense of wonder seldom found in the classroom.

There were other things he said in his classes that have  stayed with me through the years. They were the closest things to rabbinical sayings that I have heard first-hand. He talked  about Jacob, emphasizing that he went limping after his name-changing encounter with the angel. Referring to the book of Daniel, he told us that in our life we will be asked to  bow the knee to Nebuchadnezzar and "if you know what's good  for you, you will bow to Nebuchadnezzar but you better not." (It didn't take me long in the real world to know the truth of that comment, which I came to see as a kind of  “Jewish koan”). On another occasion he told us about Micah, in the book of Judges, who lost his silver idols and declared, "They have taken my gods away, and what am I to do now?"

Perhaps his most controversial chapel lecture was his “Funeral for a Friend,” in which he described, again in quite poetic language, the death of God, or more accurately, the loss of our concept of God as real life unfolds. Dr. Joines challenged the assumptions that we brought from our Sunday School days, but he was showing us what sacred story is about.

Finding the Connection in Literature

While many were livid with what they saw as apostasy, it occurred to me that if Karen Joines spoke the same words over in the English Department, he would be viewed as a defender of the faith. You see, while my colleagues in Religion were having difficulty dealing with doubt and things that might challenge their faith, I was seeing the world of literature deal with much harsher crises.  My studies in the English Department showed me how to honestly deal with the questions and challenges of life. Literary people were not confined by doctrine and did not have to restrict life to theological boxes.

I was reading Shakespeare, who wrote more on the human condition than anyone else in the English language, and who, more importantly dramatized the conflicts and struggles common to us all. I was also watching Huck Finn wrestle with the notions of race and slavery, I saw Atticus Finch strive for justice in the segregated South. Moreover, I came to understand some of the beauties of poetry, which I began to see as our own “open canon of scripture,” to which we continue to add with each passing year.

The result of grappling with questions raised by literary writers was a larger appreciation of life. There was no condemnation for stepping out of the boundaries, no call for the firing of professors. There was just the exhilarating process of examining life, love, joy, sorrow, struggle, and friendship.

So now perhaps you can understand why even though I graduated with a double major in English and Religion, I always call myself an English major. What’s more, I went back to school almost twenty years later to earn degrees in Nursing as part of my vocational re-tooling. I make my living in healthcare, but I continue to call myself and English major. I do carry, however, that gift that Karen Joines gave in my religious studies – that vibrant sense of the poetic, that honesty to face struggle and doubt within the context of faith.  He inspired a freedom to live unbound by outdated notions.

*    *    *

Post script: I have attempted to carry on the idea of sacred story, as Karen Joines demonstrated to us in his classes. I have recast some of the Old Testament stories in a kind of personal midrash in “Tales of Isaac: Part I - The Altar and Part II - The Blessing,”  “Discovering Esau,” A Blanket for an Old Man, and The Mark of Cain. I also tried to follow up on Dr. Joines’ lead in “When Your Gods Are Taken Away.”


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Rationalizing Old Testament Texts of Terror

 or How We Paint Ourselves into a Difficult Corner

(the alternative would be to unbind ourselves from past misconceptions)

From William Blake's Book of Job
When I went to college, Religion was one of my majors (English Lit was my other major – English Lit actually redeemed my education by showing me how to see the importance of the stories we tell). My professors in the Religion Department at Samford University were the hallmark of scholarship and integrity. Some of my classmates were more conservative and were often quite troubled by the scholarship of our instructors. Many of their notions of biblical infallibility and inerrancy were challenged. For my part, I quickly determined that the Christian Fundamentalists who had no problem believing that every word in the Bible was absolutely and unquestionably true had obviously not read much of it. If the texts are actually read, even the most devout will have cause to wonder about why some passages are even included in the Holy Writ.

The most obvious problem passages in the Bible are those Old Testament passages instructing the people of Israel to slaughter every inhabitant of the villages they came upon in their conquest of Canaan. They were instructed to have no mercy, to wipe out every man, woman and child.

Many Interpretations

Roger Olson is a theologian who is a professor of Theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University. If you are interested in theology, I can highly recommend his blog, My Evangelical Arminian Theological Musings. Dr. Olson is a very disciplined scholar with an authentic spiritual background. His topics often cover things of interest to the evangelical community, but he also offers many helpful discussions in theology and Christian history, all very accessible but always grounded in honest scholarship.

This week Dr. Olson did a blog post titled, “Every Known Theistic Approach to Old Testament ‘Texts of Terror’.” In his usual style, he listed all the classical approaches that various Christian scholars have taken to try to explain those Old Testament passages that describe a war god promoting genocidal tactics. He provides us with a helpful and succinct list of theological approaches and points out the problems with each.

Of the various approaches that Olson enumerates, I found myself most closely in line with the progressive revelation interpretation and the liberal interpretation:

Progressive revelation interpretation: “Inspiration” does not mean dictation or that every story in the Bible is to be taken at “face value.” God accommodated revelation to the people’s ability to understand him and people came to understand God’s revelation more clearly over time. As God incarnate, Jesus is the clearest revelation of God’s character and will. At times God’s people misunderstood his command and recorded their own beliefs about God and his commands as revelation from God. God’s revelation of his own character and will becomes clearer throughout Scripture with the later (clearer) parts relativizing the earlier (less clear) parts.
*Problems: Requires a very flexible view of divine inspiration of Scripture (and rejection of inerrancy if not infallibility). Is also subject to accusations of implicit Marcionism.
Liberal interpretation: Portions of the Old Testament (and perhaps also of the New) are culturally conditioned such that they cannot be believed by modern people. The touchstone of biblical interpretation is the modern worldview and modern ethical sensibilities. (In other words, yes, the people of God did slaughter men, women, and children, but God did not command it.)
*Problem: Sets up a temporal and conditioned cultural norm (“modern”) over Scripture itself and possibly even over Jesus himself. Leads to phenomena such as the “Jefferson Bible” (whether literally, physically or not).

As it turns out, of course, there are problems with any interpretation that has been given to these texts. Each problem generally has to do with the fact that a given interpretation either conflicts with our traditional view of God or challenges the authority of scripture.

The Problem is the Text

Mine was one of the many comments in response to Dr. Olson’s post. I stated that the primary “problem” with each interpretation of these texts of terror is that the texts exist. Perhaps none of us would be in danger of challenging the immutability of God or the infallibility of scripture if there were no such texts. As it is, we are faced with the realization that either we ourselves have more compassion and a higher ethic than the God who is portrayed here, or the guys writing things down just got it wrong.

Carl Jung wrote a fascinating book called Answer to Job. His contemporaries in the academic psychological field were embarrassed that Jung wrote such a book. One of the ideas he presents is that when Yahweh appeared to Job in the whirlwind with his “where were you when I formed the earth” speech, that Yahweh himself was startled with the realization that Job in his humanity was superior to him. Yahweh, as Jung “analyzes” it is not sure whether Job saw this, but at that point he realizes that he needs to become incarnate as a human if he is to be complete.

Unbinding Ourselves

Carl Jung writes not as a theologian, but rather brings his own psychological approach to questions of religion. One of the beauties of Carl Jung’s approach to theology and philosophy in Answer to Job is that he is not bound by the staid and dusty confines of the establishment. This is a justifiable approach, especially in dealing with Job. If you have read the book of Job, you may remember that the most unhelpful advice Job received was from his friends who uttered the staid traditional theology of the day.

If we are to be honest about our lives and about our faith, sometimes we must unbind ourselves from the religious package we have inherited. Tomorrow I will talk about how my life as an English major helped me to loose myself from some of the confines and inadequacies of a faith that was neatly packaged but not quite my own.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday Music: Karaoke at the Gas Pump

One reason I started doing "Monday Music" is that music is important to me. I often use this space to share music that I find meaningful. Another reason is that music is just plain fun! Here is a couple having fun with music they enjoy.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Bird Song

    The call of the wren –
         expanding summertime air;
         weaving ancient time.

                                ~ CK


Photo: Carolina Wren
Credit: Majith Kainikara
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dreaming at Midlife

I had a dream last night. I dreamed that I was moving back to my hometown, and for some reason that meant I had one year left in high school. My first thought was that if that was the case, I then had opportunity to pick take up the trumpet again. I could have one more year in the high school band. I remembered that the old cornet that I owned had a damaged mouthpiece and that I should replace that.  My next thought was, why not replace the whole instrument? The cornet had more resistance and a more constricted sound that a trumpet anyway.  Time to go for the free-flowing and clear notes of the trumpet!

Not a Nightmare

It was odd that this was no nightmare. I have had very unpleasant dreams in the past in which I have found myself back in high school facing an exam for a class I did not like and had thought I was through with it. There was a dread in facing that same ordeal, and I would be greatly relieved to awaken to real life whenever I had such a dream.  This dream, on the other hand, had the flavor of renewal, the promise of music, and an idea of how to redo something in a better way.

I real life, I have no plans or desire to return to my hometown, and I doubt that I will be shopping for a trumpet, but the dream is causing me to stop to consider my life at this point. I believe that our unconscious tells us some important things while we sleep.  Some dreams are small; some are big and dramatic forcing us to take stock of our lives. This was an “in between” kind of dream. No big deal, just a gentle nudging – a friendly suggestion perhaps.

The questions I must ask myself are, Is this a dream about music, or is it about creativity? Is there some reason I need to “sound the trumpet?” Trumpet soundings in literature can mean anything from a message from the king to the coming apocalypse.  In real life, trumpets can serve as a bright note in entertainment. One of my high school band directors used to tell the trumpet section, “You must remember that you are the hosses!” Meaning that trumpets carried the band, using a metaphor of horses that pulled the carriages and wagons.  He wanted us to know that musically we had to be there, we had to get it right, we had to lead the way. If trumpets faltered, the whole musical piece faltered.

Looking Ahead

So here I am this morning thinking of what it means to be reconnecting with some aspect of my high school days in my old hometown. Then I read an article in The New York Times by Oliver Sacks, “The Joys of Old Age (No Kidding),” reflecting upon his upcoming eightieth birthday. I have enjoyed much of Oliver Sacks’ writing ever since I discovered The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat back in 1985. Most recently I read The Mind’s Eye and Musicophillia: Tales of Music and the Brain.  His article in the NYT looks forward to his years ahead:

One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60. I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.
Looking to Today

So I am calling my nocturnal reverie a midlife dream.  I am going to say that I am midway between high school and the joys of the octogenarian life that Oliver Sacks describes (although I am closer to Oliver Sacks than I am to high school). In light of my dream in which I looked back to a joyful aspect of my youth followed by a reading of the joys of old age, I am now in a position to examine my current life. What will I now bring forward from my youth? What will I do with the awareness that I will enter the ranks of the elders, assuming that I live a few more years?

The most important thing is to go with this means for me now. Today.  There is, of course, no going back to the past. Moreover, there is no guarantee for the future. If we listen to our own soul talk that comes to us in our dreams, our meditations, and our daily interactions we can have a better understanding of what to do for today as we guide our soul along an unsure path.


Photos are all Public Domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: 
Top: U.S. Army Herald Trumpets
Middle: Wynton Marsalis
Bottom: Illustration of the white rabbit in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins

I'd like to encourage everyone to take advantage of this time to get to know your Muslim neighbors. This article is from The Birmingham News:

Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins tonight; Birmingham Islamic Society welcomes visitors
by Greg Garrison

For more than a billion Muslims worldwide and several thousand in Birmingham, tonight marks the start of Ramadan, a time of prayer, daytime fasting and charitable giving.
As Muslims begin the observance of their holy month tonight, with daytime fasting beginning Wednesday, the Birmingham Islamic Society will be welcoming non-Muslims to the Hoover Crescent Islamic Center to learn about Islamic teaching.

"Our outreach program goes throughout the year, but it’s accelerated during Ramadan," said Ashfaq Taufique, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society.

During Ramadan, the Birmingham Islamic Society does a nightly presentation on Islam at its Hoover Crescent Islamic Center on Hackberry Lane, inviting non-Muslim groups from churches, civic groups, schools and synagogues. For example, the Alabama Faith Council is scheduled to visit July 18.  (Read the full article here)

I have taken advantage of this opportunity during past Ramadan holy months and hope to again this year.  To read my past accounts go here and here.

Muslims gather for prayer at the Hoover Crescent Islamic Center.
(File photo by Mark Almond of The Birmingham News)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Lone Ranger

It’s not often that I review a new movie on my blog. Usually when I write about a film it has already been out for a few years – if not decades. I know the reviews have been mixed, but I went to see The Lone Ranger yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it! There was even applause from the theater as the movie credits went up at the end. How often does that happen?  You may have to be boomer who grew up watching the old black and white TV show with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels to appreciate all the campy references the movie gives to the original series.

The first question I had going in was, Are they going to do The William Tell Overture? Surely they’ll do the William Tell Overture. And boy did they ever do the William Tell Overture! There were the most fantastic shoot-em-up chase scenes imaginable with a richly orchestrated score of Rossini’s musical classic.

Although the film tried to make some serious statements about the white man’s treatment of Native Americans, on the spectrum of movie westerns, The Lone Ranger is perhaps closer to Blazing Saddles than it is to Dances with Wolves.  Johnny Depp brought his usual amazing performance as he showed us a new take on Tonto being more of leader (albeit a little crazy) and with the Armie Hammer's Lone Ranger being more of a sidekick or reluctant hero – that was an interesting twist as well.

If you want a serious drama and if you are prone to say, “That would never happen in real life,” then you may not enjoy The Lone Ranger, but if you want plain fun and excitement (I don’t know how many times I laughed out loud or said “Oh no!”) then be sure to see it. Just watch it remembering those “tales of yesteryear” that were about as accurate as Kit Carson’s dime novels but which provided Saturday afternoon entertainment for lots of kids in the 1950s and ‘60’s. 

I should also say that even though this is a Disney film, it is not a children's movie. There are too many dark and violent scenes to classify it as a family film. What about you? Have you seen The Lone Ranger? What did you think about it? Feel free to post comments pro or con.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Monday Music: Danny Kaye on The Muppet Show

"Always be yourself." That's the advice I was given from early on, and it is good advice. Still, I must admit that part of me would like to be Danny Kaye - he was such a talent, full of grace, humor, and class. Since I cannot be Danny Kaye, I'll just enjoy this clip from The Muppet Show where he sings "Inchworm." Though this was late in his career, his voice was still strong and clear and he does a marvelous job with this children's classic from the movie, Hans Christian Anderson. (You can also see the original version of the song here)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Moon Over Water

      Moon over water:
           shining light and calling us
           to a roadless path.

Photo: Super Moon 'walks on water' over Lake Michigan in Rogers Park
Credit: Yuki Schwartz


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Democracy is Coming to the USA

For the Fourth of July holiday, I'm sharing words from Parker Palmer. He posted the Leonard Cohen video along with these words on his Facebook page:

As we celebrate the 4th of July, let's reflect on the fact that democracy is always a work in progress. A true celebration means recommitting ourselves to the work that needs doing if we want democracy to survive and thrive.

Here's some great music to start the celebration—Leonard Cohen's classic "Democracy", with its ironic but hopeful refrain, "Democracy is coming to the U.S.A."

I think America's Founders would have loved that line. It's in the same spirit as the opening words of the Constitution: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union..."

The Founders got us off to a very imperfect start when they excluded everyone but white, male, landed gentry from "We the People." But they had the genius to create a form of government that gives us chance after chance to perfect ourselves by righting our wrongs.

Today, a "more perfect Union" includes embracing diversity; removing barriers to voting; making sure that the 16 million American kids who live in poverty have enough to eat; reducing the income gap and the power of big money to dominate our politics; etc. Yes, those are big jobs, but that's what it means to keep democracy coming to the U.S.A.

So on this 4th of July, let's talk with each other about doing whatever we can to fulfill the hopes in this song:

Sail on, sail on
Oh mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
past the Reefs of Greed
through the Squalls of Hate.
Sail on, sail on

Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.!

P.S. "There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover's quarrel with their country..." —WIlliam Sloane Coffin, Jr.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

More About the Voting Rights Act and the N Word

Since my blog post, Paula Deen and the Supreme Court, I have been scanning news sources for other comments about the issues I highlighted. One item I was shocked to read in social media on the very day of the Supreme Court ruling was boasting that the Republicans won and that now Blacks are free to vote however they choose, "You jes have to get a voter ID, it will only cost $10.00 and you have three and a half years to get it" was one of the things the Facebook post said.

That brought to mind phrases I heard as a child during the Civil Rights Movement. I heard the grown-ups say, "Those people don't need to be marching and causing trouble just to vote -- all they have to do is pay their poll tax." Of course, that was an easy thing for white folks to say because for them it was just a simple poll tax. They should have also understood that for blacks the poll tax was just one hurdle in a process designed to exclude minorities from voting. In my state it was a process that was put into place by Alabama's Constitution which was written in 1901 to ensure white supremacy.  

I am posting here some of the articles I found particulalry helpful or enlightening.

Some comments about the Supreme Court Decision on Shelby County, Alabama V. Holder concerning the Voting Rights Act

~ From “Gutting the Voting Rights Act” by Bill Blum:

The Shelby County majority opinion is breathtaking, not only for the scope of its judicial activism—Congress had reauthorized the Voting Rights Act for an additional 25 years in 2006, with the Senate expressing its endorsement by a vote of 98 to 0—but for its distortion both of the country’s racist past and its racist present.

~ From  “A Radical Act of Judicial Activism” by Gerry Hebert:

In its Shelby County ruling, the Court not only cast aside decades of legal precedents, but it also usurped Congress’s role of enforcing those Amendments “by appropriate legislation.” The Court’s decision in the Shelby County case overrode Congress’ decision that the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act were still needed in the covered jurisdictions, substituting its decision for the considered views of Congress that voting discrimination remains particularly acute in the covered areas. Decisions like Shelby County do great harm to the Court as an institution and the traditional respect for the Bench.

~ From “The Return of Jim Crow,” By Ari Berman

The states of the Old Confederacy will return to the pre-1965 playbook, passing new voting restrictions that can only be challenged, after years of lengthy litigation, in often-hostile Southern courts, with the burden of proof on those subject to discrimination rather than those doing the discriminating. Conservatives will be emboldened to challenge the other parts of the Voting Rights Act, like Section 2, that apply nationwide. Our democracy will become more unequal, with the most powerful interests manipulating the electoral rules to preserve their own power.

Robert Reich has an excellent blog post in which he shows how the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder is the latest of many court decisions that have favored the Republican Party at the expense of the people. In “The Republicans of the Supreme Court” he states:

The modern GOP is based on an unlikely coalition of wealthy business executives, small business owners, and struggling whites. Its durability depends on the latter two categories believing that the economic stresses they've experienced for decades have a lot to do with the government taking their money and giving it to the poor, who are disproportionately black and Latino.

The real reason small business owners and struggling whites haven't done better is the same most of the rest of America hasn't done better: Although the output of Americans has continued to rise, almost all the gains have gone to the very top.

In The Atlantic Monthly, political writer Molly Ball has a more optimistic view in her article, “No, the Voting Rights Act Is Not Dead” She reflects upon the most recent re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006 and says that we don’t have to assume that our gridlocked congress  cannot do the same thing today:

These guys worked together in a bipartisan way only seven years ago. We need to remind people that there are legislators from both parties who care deeply about protecting the right to vote." For civil-rights advocates, the worst outcome would be to give up the fight for a new Voting Rights Act before it's even begun.

And about Paula Deen…

In my blog post, I was writing as a Southerner reflecting upon the “N” word uproar. I read two other responses from Southerners, both African American.

In “Confession of a black journalist: Like Paula Deen, I've used the n-word” by Anthony Cook in The Huntsville Times. Mr. Cook states:

As a black man, this writing is my attempt to point out the fake outrage and the hypocrisy of those of us who claim we are somehow damaged by this particular person, Paula Deen, admitting that she used the n-word years ago. If the word is offensive and harmful, why are we not offended and harmed when African-American rappers and comedians use it? Why are we not offended and harmed when neighbors and relatives use it? Why do we not consider that we offend and harm others when we use it?

… I also began to see the hypocrisy of expecting white people to adhere to a standard that I was not upholding myself. Using it culturally is no excuse. That's the same reason Paula Deen used it – because it was culturally accepted at the time among her family and colleagues.

Probably the most eloquent response I have read comes from culinary historian and chef, Michael W. Twitty. In his blog post, An Open Letter to Paula Deen he writes,

To be part of the national surprise towards you saying the word “nigger” in the past (I am a cultural and culinary historian and so therefore I am using the word within context…) is at best naïve and at worst, an attempt to hide the pervasiveness of racism, specifically anti-Black racism in certain currents of American culture—not just Southern.  Take for example the completely un-Christian and inhuman rage at Cheerios for their simple and very American ad showing a beautiful biracial girl talking to her white mother and pouring cereal on the chest of her Black father.  That Cheerio’s had to shut down the comments section says that the idea of inter-human relationships outside of one’s color bracket is for many hiding behind a computer screen—a sign of the apocalypse.  So just like those old spaghetti sauce ads, yes, America, racism—“it’s in there” even when we were prefer it not be.

When you said, “of course,” I wasn’t flabbergasted, I was rather, relieved…In fact we Black Southerners have an underground saying, “better the Southern white man than the Northern one, because at least you know where he stands…” but Paula I knew what you meant, and I knew where you were coming from.  I’m not defending that or saying its right—because it’s that word—and the same racist venom that drove my grandparents into the Great Migration almost 70 years ago. I am not in agreement with esteemed journalist Bob Herbert who said “brothers shouldn’t use it either..” I think women have a right to the word “b….” gay men have a right to the word “queer” or “f…” and it’s up to people with oppressive histories to decide when and where the use of certain pejorative terms is appropriate.  Power in language is not a one way street.  Obviously I am not encouraging you to use the word further, but I am not going to hide behind ideals when the realities of our struggles with identity as a nation are clear.  No sound bite can begin to peel back the layers of this issue.

I highly recommend that you read Mr. Twitty’s entire essay which is posted on his blog, Africulinaria. Since I like both food and eloquent writing, I began following his blog when I read it. You can see the entire post here.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Monday Music: Sailing

I have a friend who is an avid sailor. He lives in Chicago and enjoys taking his sailboat out onto Lake Michigan. Though he loves the water, he is the one who told me the joke which I later found online, though I do not know it origins:

 "Sailing - The fine art of getting wet and becoming ill, while going nowhere slowly at great expense (equivalent to standing in a cold shower, fully clothed, throwing up, and tearing up $100 bills, while a bunch of other people watch you)."

Not quite as romantic a notion as Christopher Cross's hit that came out in 1980.

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