Saturday, October 21, 2017

Saturday Haiku: Sunset on the Beach

red autumn sunset
ocean nibbles the shoreline
reeds sway in the breeze


Image: Sunset on Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
(retrieved from South Carolina Wallpapers)


Friday, October 20, 2017

A Woman for Our Time

Last Wednesday I saw “Catherine of Siena: A Woman for our Time” at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  It was a one-woman play performed by Dominican sister Nancy Murray (who happens to be the sister of actor Bill Murray). The event was a fundraiser for Holy Family Cristo Del Rey Catholic High School in Birmingham’s Ensley neighborhood. For me, it was a good cause and an interesting topic, so I gladly purchased a ticket.

Sister Murray’s portrayal of Catherine of Siena brought the saint to life and let us see how she influenced her world in the 14th century by her insights and actions. During Catherine’s short life of 33 years, she served as a confessor for prisoners, a counselor to civic leaders, and she spoke truth to power to influence the actions of popes and kings. Her life was formed by conversational prayer and a desire to minister to the sick, the needy, and those in prison (as Jesus called us all to do).

The beauty of Sister Murray’s performance was in how she let us see Catherine’s life unfold before us and in showing how her admonitions for living apply to us in our world today. We observed how Catherine came to see that life was to be lived by walking on two legs: love for God and love for neighbor.” From there she came to understand that love for God is love for neighbor – that we are God’s own hands and feet in helping one another.

While there is benefit in studying the lives of the saints, sometimes that process seems stuffy and contrived. Sister Murray’s performance helped us to see a real life truly lived. She inspired us to renew our attention to conversation with God and love for our neighbor.      

You can find out more about Sister Nancy Murray and her one-woman play at


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Respecting Women

Continuing the theme this week, the following was first posted in November of 2014. I share it again today in conjunction with an essay two days ago on the endemic problem of sexual harassment - CK

NYC Pride (photo from the website of Hollaback:
"You Have the Power to End Street Harassment")

My daughter brought to my attention a video that was made by Hollaback to illustrate why women often feel uncomfortable with how they are viewed and treated by men. The video shows 90 seconds worth of the 100 catcalls and verbal harassment that one woman, Shoshana Roberts, encountered in a ten hour walk through different parts of New York City. After going viral, the video began to get criticism. Some said the producers edited the video to make it appear to be a problem among blacks and Hispanics; others criticized the woman for wearing tightly fitting jeans and t-shirt.

Author Steve Santagati, author of The MANual and Code of Honor, in an interview on CNN demonstrated how some men are pushing back against the message of the video and failing to hear what women are saying. His main points were that women should understand that men want to compliment them and that if they don’t like the neighborhood, they should leave. He also obviously thought that women live to be told by men that they are beautiful. In that same CNN discussion, comedienne Amanda Seal made the point that Santagati should be listening to what women are saying about the behaviors they do not like.

A scene from the Hollaback video

Learning to Listen

The point of the video is for us men to understand why so many women feel uneasy with the treatment they get from men on a routine basis. My daughter tells me that it is not a matter of being “offended” by some comments, it is a matter of being fearful for one’s safety. First of all, there is no need for men to be calling out to a woman as she is walking down the street. Second, women fear that responding to such comments could lead to further unwanted sexual advances.

There is a lot that men just do not get. Part of that is due to the fact that men experience the world differently from women. I recall one of the first inklings of realizing that difference in experience when my wife and I first started dating. One weekend, I suggested that we go to one of the parks to spend a leisurely afternoon. The idea of a walk in the park was not a pleasant one for her. I told her that it would be fine and perfectly safe. She tried to explain to me that as a woman, she had to be constantly vigilant in such places because of the possible dangers, and that the park was therefore not a good place to relax. Those dangers would not have entered my mind, and it was only by listening to the perspective of my then girl-friend that I could begin to get an idea of how she was experiencing things.

Stop Blaming the Victim

The criticism of the Hollaback video might also be viewed as the typical response often seen in our society of blaming the victim. Instead of addressing the problem highlighted by the video which is street harassment of women, too many want to focus on the techniques and biases of the filmmaker. Too many want to criticize what Shoshana Roberts was wearing. So many automatically turn to blaming the victim rather than stopping to listen to and address the problem. My daughter brought another video to my attention that was made in India to address the problem of rape. It illustrates how it does not matter what a woman wears, the simple fact that she is a woman in a male dominated misogynous society, makes her in danger of being raped. It also satirically points out the nonsense of blaming the woman in cases of rape. (You can see that video here)

Owning Up to the Problem

In an earlier post, I discussed the many ways that we see men in all strata of society taking advantage of women. I presented it as “a specifically male problem of men mishandling their sexual drives.” Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution, thinks that it is a problem of modern humans living with “miss-matched instincts.” He says that instincts that served our ancient ancestor well in eons past have become destructive in modern society. Poet Robert Bly, who became a leader in the Men’s Movement, believes that what is missing on our society is a proper initiation of young men with older men as wise mentors. In that same blog post, I said that

It is past time to start holding people accountable for sexual abuse. There is no place for excuses such as “boys will be boys,” or “everyone has their sexual needs.” When we look the other way, people get hurt and we also do a disservice to the larger community. Where can we find the answer to this "male problem?" I do not claim to have the complete answer, nor can we expect a simple solution, but we must acknowledge that the problem lies for the most part in the male of the species. We must also admit that men in power are significant contributors to the problem. As a man, it is not a pleasant thing for me to admit that men are causing such problems. It is a discomforting thing, which may be why we are not talking about the problem enough.

In order to make a difference, the first and most important step for us is to listen to the women who are making the case against the harassment that women are facing in our society. Let’s stop shooting the messenger, and no more blaming the victim.  It is time to stop and listen. It is time to let our laws protect women as much as they protect men. It is time to respect women.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sexual Harassment : An Endemic Problem

Cartoon by Joel Pett at the Lexington Herald-Leader

I wrote a version of this essay back in May of 2014 under the title, "The Problem of Being Male." It was right after the cover of Time Magazine highlighted a recurrent problem of male sexual misbehavior. The topic at the time was rape on college campuses. I am repeating the blog post today because of the recent Hollywood scandal involving movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein. He has been accused of decades of sexual harassment, using his position of power to take advantage of numerous women. The problem is sadly endemic to our society. 

We have seen similar news items about sports teams, coaches, movie celebrities, military personnel,  and clergy.  Sometimes it involves taking advantage of women in subordinate roles, sometimes it is child abuse, but all too often it is a specifically male problem of men mishandling their sexual drives. In the case of Harvey Weinstein, it was brought home to me that our continued unwillingness to talk about it is one indication that sexual harassment is an endemic societal problem. One might argue that all the news coverage indicates we are talking more about it – but who is doing the talking?

I had several friends on social media speaking out about the problem last week, but I noticed that they were all women. We men all too often will turn our attention elsewhere, or laugh things off. Sadly, while we remain silent, it is our wives, daughters, sisters and mothers who are being hurt.  As one of my friends put it, 

“He's not hard to recognize, and ALL of us, men and women, know him well. He's been at your parties, he's been at your job, he's very likely your drunk uncle (or your drunk brother, or your father, or your friend's father, or - personal experience - the father of the kids you babysit as a teenager). We're (again, ALL of us) usually trying to be polite in a public gathering, so we don't say anything. Or we're trying not to get fired, so we just try to get away from him. Or we're just trying to ignore whatever he says or gestures while we're walking down the street. My point - he is everywhere, and though he loves to be someone with real power in his world, he can also be just your garden variety neighborhood jerk. The thing with power, though, is that it silences people. So the victims of this behavior don't speak out - or if they do, they're silenced or ridiculed or fired.”

A Deep-Seated Flagrant Inheritance?

Why is there such a seemingly prevalent problem with men’s sex drives? Is it a problem born of nature? When one observes the natural world, one sees that the drive toward life is flagrantly abundant, scattering millions of seeds and eggs throughout the environment so that a fraction of those life forms will make it to maturity, with the rest serving as food and fodder. Life is also incredibly tenacious, with trees clinging to rocky mountaintops, bacteria growing in super-heated lava flows beneath the ocean, and desert tadpole shrimp whose eggs can survive through decades of drought until rains come to the dry landscape. The drive toward life is seemingly relentless and nature seemingly strives to fill every available bit of habitable space with some form of life. We human beings are the inheritors of a drive for life that seems to be as large as the universe and is at least as large as the world itself.

Look around and you will see that we are part of a grand and glorious enterprise, this marvelous thing called life that is occurring within this grand thing called the universe. A problem seems to arise with human consciousness regarding the sexual drive – we are not quite sure how to handle the strong and primal drive of life that is embedded within us. We seem to have a combination of noble, higher aspirations while remaining subject to a flagrant propagation instinct. It is as though the drive for life is too large to rest comfortably within an individual. 

Modern Fables and Ancient Myths 

African elephant in musth
The fables we tell speak of our uncontrollable urges. For example, the writers of the science fiction series Star Trek developed the Vulcan concept of pon-farr in which the sexual drive periodically completely overcomes the otherwise rational and logical Vulcan psyche. We also see it in nature as when a bull elephant in musth (even the ordinarily docile and domesticated Indian elephant) becomes dangerous, unpredictable and destructive. Michael Dowd, in his book, Thank God for Evolution, says that we modern humans live with miss-matched instincts. He points out that instincts which served our ancestors well in allowing them to survive as a species in eons past can become destructive in our modern society. The problem of how to handle the sexual drive seems to be a particularly male problem.

The initiation rites of primitive tribes observed by anthropologists today might give us a clue that ancient cultures had as much trouble reigning in adolescent drives as modern society does.  Tribal rituals guide adolescent boys into manhood. Those rituals can often be harsh, making sure that young boys entering manhood understand their responsibilities to the tribe as well as the proper use of their sexuality. Today with the numerous problems we hear about regarding sexual predators in society, one wonders if perhaps we need a return to harsh initiation rites to drive it home to men that they have a duty with regard to sexual drives. There is the responsibility to consider the well-being of another. 

In issues of rape, professionals will tell you that it is not just about sex – it is an act of violence.  Robert Bly, the poet who became associated with the Men's Movement back in the 1990s, believes that what is missing on our society is a proper initiation of young men with older men as wise mentors. His best-selling book, Iron John: A Book about Men, elaborates his view of how men can reconnect by regaining the ancient wisdom of earlier times. (You can read a review of the book here. To read an interview with Robert Bly in which he discusses the problem of male violence in society, go here.) 

Indiscretions of Trusted Leaders

It is particularly distressing when we hear about people being abused and young lives shattered by the sexual misconduct of adults, usually men. Most men, one would hope, understand the sexual drive and that one must accommodate that drive to rules that make our society work and also protect the vulnerable. On the other hand, in addition to those rules of expected behavior, there are also industries of pornography, prostitution and human trafficking that appeal to and accommodate the darker side of the male sexual drive. Moreover, we see trusted men in authority taking advantage of women and molesting children. After reeling for several years from accounts of priests abusing children, there has been in the news recently renewed discussion of allegations regarding abusive behavior by actor/comedian Bill Cosby, filmmaker Woody Allen as well as a history of sexual misconduct by respected Mennonite theologian John Yoder.

Too often, we have looked the other way or refused to acknowledge the damage resulting from the sexual misbehavior of men in power. When these incidents become known, then the problems become even more complicated. For example, I now have difficulty even thinking of watching Woody Allen's movie, Annie Hall, which was seen as a classic commentary on our society with both comedic and sociological insight. The Cosby Show was seen as a landmark production in promoting family values, healthy parenting and educating the public on Black history. Now, those worthy efforts on the part of so many is tainted.

In the same way, the U.S. Catholic Bishops' groundbreaking pastoral letters from the 1980s concerning peace and economic justice that were such inspiring prophetic documents cannot escape the taint that those same bishops who were making such profound statements of social justice were also protecting pedophile priests. Likewise, the late John Yoder, whose work did so much to validate a pacifist theology for peace, cannot be viewed the same way in light of evidence of his unwanted sexual advances on women.

Calling them Out

It is past time to start holding people accountable for sexual abuse. There is no place for excuses such as “boys will be boys,” or “everyone has their sexual needs.” When we look the other way, people get hurt and we also do a disservice to the larger community. Where can we find the answer to this "male problem?" I do not claim to have the complete answer, nor can we expect a simple solution, but we must acknowledge that the problem lies for the most part in the male of the species. We must also admit that men in power are significant contributors to the problem. 

As a man, it is not a pleasant thing for me to admit that men are causing such problems. It is a discomforting thing, which may be why we are not talking about the problem enough. I know many men (most men I know, in fact) who conduct themselves decently and appropriately. The fact remains, however, that we have a male problem that needs to be addressed. We can write about it in science fiction tales, but we need to acknowledge it in our midst as well.  Perhaps we men need to speak more loudly to our peers about what behaviors are out of bounds. Perhaps our culture needs healthier ways to guide and "initiate" our young men into the world.  

I have no simple answer to offer here. I welcome any comments from readers about how you see the problem or how you think the problem should be addressed.  How can we better guide our young people and hold adults accountable? We owe it to our children, our society, and our future to find a way to rein in our damaging behaviors.   

Photo of African bull elephant by Yathin S Krishnappa
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday Music: Sarah Vaughn - (Somewhere) Over the Rainbow

"Over the Rainbow" was written by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Yip Harburg for the movie The Wizard of Oz. As such, Judy Garland got first dibs on singing it. Since then it has been recorded by well over a hundred artists, from Frank Sinatra to Barbara Streisand to Jerry Lee Lewis and all stripes in between. There is perhaps no more sublime interpretation than Sarah Vaughan's rendition in this 1958 live performance in The Netherlands.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Saturday Haiku: October breeze

morning sun
October breezes
quiet rest


Image: "Ridge Church" (1935)
Artist: Andrew Wyeth
(Seen on exhibit at Atlanta's High Museum of Art in April, 2017 as part of their "Cross Country: The Power of Place in American Art" exhibition. Digital image found at Beyond the Canvas)


Friday, October 13, 2017

One Year Ago Today: Bob Dylan Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature

It was one year ago today that the Swedish Academy announced that it had awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan, "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." 

The British have had a particular fascination with Bob Dylan since his 1965 tour in the United Kingdom which was famously captured in the D.A. Pennebaker doccumentary film, Don't Look Back.. 

Here is the report that aired on BBC when the news of Dylan's Noble Prize was released.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Signs of Hope at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

The following essay was first posted as "The Dreamer and the Movement" this past January. At the time, as I stated in the essay, I was in mourning. I found hope at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church when I went to hear the outgoing Attorney General, Loretta Lynch. I was up in the balcony that day. I looked down and spotted Doug Jones and thought, "there is a true civic leader." Of course at the time, I had no idea he would be running for the senate. When I first heard that news, I said to myself, "Finally we have a statesman running for office!" 

While there is hope for sanity and reason in our state, whatever the outcome of our special election, I still take heart from the lesson that was brought home to me last January. That lesson was voiced by Ms. Lynch, "adversity is no cause for despair."

A Reflection on Martin Luther King Day Celebrations in Birmingham, Alabama

They said one to another, “Behold, here cometh the dreamer. Let us slay him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”
                                                                                     Genesis 37:19-20

A Day of Remembrance

I spent last Sunday and Monday attending special events in Birmingham in celebration of Martin Luther King Day. On Monday morning there was the 31st annual Unity Breakfast held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention  Complex where we heard from elder statesmen of the movement and sat with some of the early “foot soldiers,” now gray-haired and some with bodies that were slowed and bowed down.

Photo by Cody Owens, Weld for Birmingham 
At noontime, I walked in the “Traditional March” where hundreds of people gathered at City Hall to march to  Kelly Ingram Park. Back in the early 1960s, Dr. King organized marchers in Kelly Ingram Park to march in protest on City Hall. Now that an African American has held the office of mayor of Birmingham since 1979, the Traditional March is done in reverse, beginning at City Hall and ending at Kelly Ingram Park.

It was a moving experience to place myself at the epicenter of so much civil rights history, surrounded by people who have been involved in the struggle for justice, freedom and equality. The most inspiring moment for me came with Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s speech Sunday afternoon at 16th Street Baptist Church. 

A Big Day at 16th Street Baptist Church

I had arrived an hour early hoping to get a good seat, only to find that most people had the same idea. There was already a line on the steep front steps of the church. As I entered, I was directed along with the crowd to the balcony where the remaining seats were available. After navigating the steep winding stairs (these old buildings we made for the able-bodied!) I took a back seat along the side of the balcony. Later there would be people standing along the back wall.

Inside the church there was a diverse crowd of white, black, even some Asian and Hispanic in attendance. I looked about and spotted Doug Jones below in the main sanctuary. Jones is the attorney who successfully prosecuted two of the suspects in the 16th Street Church bombing some 40 years after the attack in 1963.  There were, of course network TV cameras stationed unobtrusively in the back.

The event at 16th Street Baptist Church was Ms. Lynch’s final speech as Attorney General of the United States.  Set at the historic church, the event unfolded as a traditional church service. The beautiful organ began to sound out chords more lively that might be expected in churches frequented by more staid Caucasian churchgoers. The Black church experience has always been played out on a different level. They have a long tradition of knowing that even when the body is in bondage, the spirit can soar. The choir sang the call to worship and their voices filled the sanctuary as only a black mass choir can.

An opening prayer was shouted out proclaiming that though our destination is Heaven, our task in the meantime is to make a better world.  The opening scripture was a prophetic passage from Micah chapter 6 which declares in verse 8, “He has shown thee, O man what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”  

Four Spirits Sculpture, Kelly Ingram Park
(WBRC photo by Melyndo Sides)
Then there were presentations by dignitaries including Mayor William Bell and congresswoman Terri Sewell. The big excitement for the city was President Obama’s proclamation a few days earlier declaring the civil rights district of Birmingham a National Monument, thus making it part of the National Park Service. The sites of the new national monument include 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, and the A.G. Gaston Motel.

When the time came to pass the offering plate (the pastor, Rev. Arthur Price, Jr. said, After all, this is a Baptist Church) the choir sang, If it had not been for the Lord on my side, where would I be? Where would I be? It was very moving to me just hearing that song sung in that place, especially in the context of a Martin Luther King Day celebration. After the choir had sung, the organ continued to play out the melody while some in the congregation began to joyfully sing the chorus. I could tell that it was a favorite among the congregation.

The Attorney General Speaks

Loretta Lynch at 16th St. Baptist Church (AP photo by Byrn Anderson)

When Attorney General Loretta Lynch stepped up to the pulpit, she was greeted warmly and her remarks were delivered warmly.  She held the audience's attention throughout and gave what I found to be the most important and inspiring speech given anywhere that weekend

Her message was one of hope grounded in the reality of the present day and founded upon the lessons of history. Ms. Lynch began her address acknowledging that 16th Street Baptist Church has not only borne witness to the progress of freedom in our history, it has also borne the costs of that progress.” There was the tragedy of the 1963 church bombing which took the lives of four little girls, yet the horrific news of that bombing awakened a nation and led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Ms. Lynch recounted the many areas of progress that the country has witnessed in the advancement of freedom and equality for so many. At the same time she noted that we continue to see acts of violence against people because of their race or religion and that the current administration has worked hard to prosecute hate crimes. Moreover, even with the Voting Rights Act, we have seen setbacks as with the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v Holder. In spite of that ruling, Ms Lynch told of how the Justice Department continues the fight in challenging state discriminatory laws in federal court.

Not a Cause for Despair

Ms. Lynch recounted many positive signs she has seen across the country of people organizing for good in spite of (and in response to) the waves of intolerance and injustice that continue to exist.  The lesson we draw from Dr. Martin Luther King, she said, is that adversity is not a cause for despair, it is a call to action.   

The Attorney General recounted the heights of the March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington where Dr. King delivered his I Have a Dream speech, then pointed out that just three weeks later he came to Birmingham to give a very different speech to the people suffering grief and loss in the aftermath of the church bombing. That dream must have seemed much more fragile, she noted, than it did three weeks earlier at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Ms. Lynch reminded us, however, of Dr. King's words to the grief-stricken people that day: “We must not despair; we must not become bitter.” 

Plaque at Lorraine Hotel
(Photo by Michael Tersleff)
Lynch then told about the memorial at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, the site where Martin Luther King was assassinated. A marble plaque has been placed there bearing the inscription from Genesis 37:19-20: They said one to another, behold, here cometh the dreamer. Let us slay him and see what becomes of his dreams” The dream, of course, has continued, though she pointed out that today there is anxiety and fear that the dream may be lost.

She went on to say that it has never been easy, nor was it ever foreordained that we would have the gains that we see today. We are Americans and we have always pushed forward...the cause of justice is greater than any one of us. 

Where Dreams are Made

Knowing the unease and trepidation that so many are feeling as the swearing in of a new president approaches, Ms. Lynch closed her speech with words of further encouragement:

And if it comes to pass that we do enter a period of darkness, let us remember – that is when dreams are best made.  So let us see – what shall become of Dr. King’s dream?  The Lord has already wrought a miracle by bringing us this far, and “I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me.”

What shall become of his dream?  We shall pick it up and carry it forward.  We will not shirk, we will not falter, we will not fail.

What shall become of his dream?  We shall take this newest monument and make it a testament not just to what happened before but to what we do today.

What shall become of his dream?  We will make it ours, and we will extend it as a bridge to all those who stand on the outside of democracy looking in. 

And when our time comes, we shall pass the dream on to those who are already raising their hand and to those yet to come.  So that the arc of the moral universe continues straight and true – continues towards justice.
She spoke the words that I so needed to hear. When the service closed, there were tears in my eyes. As I made my way out with the many who had gathered there, it was a weighty moment. In spite of the uncertainty ahead, there was a sense of hope. As I stood on the front steps of the church watching the crowd disperse, and older black lady came up to me and asked if I would take her picture in front of the church. She handed me her smart phone and I was glad to get her picture standing on the front steps. As I handed her phone camera back to her, I commented that this service was just what I needed. I have been in mourning,” I told her.

“We are all in mourning, she replied, “but we're gonna make it.   

*   *   *

(To read Attorney General Lynch's entire speech, go here)

16th Street Baptist Church
(Wikipedia photo)

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