Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Faith, Power, and the Role of Women

The candidacy of Hillary Clinton creates by its very nature very predictable arguments about sexism. Over the course of the next several months, voters will be asked to discern what sexism is and where it is found. Certain instances are glaringly obvious, others much less so. Personal experience fuels the debate, but until now, no compelling and unfair Anti-Clinton argument or tactic has been brought forth to the American people.

Though it is true that the United States has never had a woman President, women have taken active roles within large structures of their creation. Clara Barton was motivated enough by her traumatic experience as battlefield nurse during the Civil War to found the American Red Cross. Any number of other examples of women’s leadership can be cited. Desperate times beg for desperate measures, but despite what candidates in 2016 might tell you, we are not in the midst of upheaval anywhere near that profound. Chaos, not necessity is the mother of substantial and effective invention.

Women have dominated religious settings for generations. Conservative faiths which insist that women be subservient to their husbands have nevertheless been enriched by major contributions. Women might be asked to cover their heads, but they are allowed to open their mouths and put pen to paper. As a person of faith, I know some of what a society run by women would look like. Women have made up the majority of religious gatherings for a very long time. As long as I can recall, women much more than men regularly attend and eagerly take leadership roles.

Unsurprisingly, there is significant historical precedent for these mostly selfless gestures. Three faith traditions actively value and have been significantly enriched by the contributions of women. There are probably more than that. Christian Science was founded by Mary Baker Eddy. The teachings of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church were nurtured by the writings and example of Ellen G. White. My own faith, the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers, was skillfully directed and guided at its very beginning by Margaret Fell. All three of these could be characterized as Radical Protestant, since each took a sharp departure in practice and in theology from more established faiths.

Two of these are distinctly American creations which have their beginnings in the 19th Century Great Awakening. Another dates back to revolutionary England of the 1640’s. Quakers, in particular, sought to draw no distinction between the voices of women and the voices of men. Complete equality between the sexes, however, was still a few years away. Men and women were seated together during Worship, but separated by gender when it came time for Business Meeting.

American society would be quite different if the roles were reversed, but I am cautious of going out too far on a limb. What I will say is that politics might be far less directly confrontational if women’s voices spoke loudest. It could potentially be less violent in practice and in policy. This is, of course, no hard and fast rule. Women like former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher have been eager hawks during their tenure. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard recently that Hillary Clinton is too cravenly warlike to be trusted. Peace churches like my own always seem to find themselves as outliers during times of military action, and I expect to be on the outside looking in one more time should she be elected.

It may be too much of a stretch to compare faith groups with politics. Even so, struggles for power and influence within both are prominent and constant. Shut out of active governance, ambition and an altruistic desire to improve conditions for everyone, male or female, led many women to found their own organizations. Several of these exist to the current day, peopled by cause women who have, over time, pushed hard over the years for Prohibition, women’s suffrage, the Equal Rights Amendment, and now, an increased profile of women in positions of power.

It was no accident that these self-identified groups did not divorce their cause from religion. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, as the name would suggest, used the language of Christianity to further its aims. One could argue that these groups came of age in more religious times, and while that is indeed true, few of their contemporaries ever complained that these highly motivated women were violating the separation between church and state. The two were forever intertwined, in their minds. Moral crusades must reflect morality, and organized religion preaches it from every pulpit.

Colossians 3:23 reads,

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

When we go astray from this maxim, we lose.

Moving to the current day, Gloria Steinem’s recent remarks show the desperation of aging boomer women. They want to see a woman in the White House in their lifetime, but, as we know today, that outcome is nowhere near a given. We should always give careful consideration when sexism is invoked, but we should also consider the instances, like this one, where it is transparently self-serving. I agree that it’s past time for a woman to occupy the Oval Office, but the fight now ongoing for the soul of the Democratic party is legitimate and does not come at the expense of sexist cheap shots.

Quakers, by in large, have passionate opinions about politics. I have learned to remove myself from these arguments, especially in an online environment, because they quickly go off the rails and never end up anywhere productive. My hope is that those who share common purpose like me would devote half as much effort towards their personal spirituality that they do in over-analyzing soundbytes. I am a man of God first and a liberal Democrat second. I never forget the proper order.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Quote of the Week

Criticism should not be focused on Nazi Germany alone but extend beyond to include physicians in democratic countries, as well. Physicians outside Germany before the war, in the United States in particular were well aware of the evolving racist thrust of the health care system. They chose to remain silent.- William E. Seidelman

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Saturday Video

Everybody's doing a brand-new dance, now
(Come on baby, do the Loco-motion)
I know you'll get to like it if you give it a chance now
(Come on baby, do the Loco-motion)
My little baby sister can do it with me
It's easier than learning your A-B-C's

So come on, come on, do the Loco-motion with me
You gotta swing your hips, now

Come on, baby
Jump up
Jump back
Well, now, I think you've got the knack
Wow, wow

Now that you can do it, let's make a chain, now
(Come on baby, do the Loco-motion)
A chug-a chug-a motion like a railroad train, now
(Come on baby, do the Loco-motion)
Do it nice and easy, now, don't lose control
A little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul

Come on, come on
Do the Loco-motion with me

Move around the floor in a Loco-motion
(Come on baby, do the Loco-motion)
Do it holding hands if you get the notion
(Come on baby, do the Loco-motion)

There's never been a dance that's so easy to do
It even makes you happy when you're feeling blue
So come on, come on, do the Loco-motion with me

You gotta swing your hips, now
(Come on)
That's right (do the Loco-motion)
You're doing fine!
(Come on, do the Loco-motion)
Come on, babe
(Come on, do the Loco-motion)
Hm-hm-hm, jump up
(Come one)
Jump back (do the Loco-motion)
You're looking good
(Come on, do the Loco-motion)
Hm-hm-hm, jump up
(Come on)
Jump back (do the Loco-motion), yeah yeah yeah

Friday, February 05, 2016

Blogging: Past and Future

Ten years ago I began blogging. It was a new platform for personal expression and I'm grateful for the experience. In the beginning, I was part of a group of fifty or so motivated and creative bloggers. We were a tight-knit bunch who coalesced around a nakedly self-promoting writer who used her Ivy League credentials quite productively. Even with the exposure and ample hits, she rarely made much in the way of revenue. Nor did any of us. We were writing for the love of it, and maybe to even win an modest audience for our troubles.

I've recently learned that blogging still isn't profitable in the conventional sense. Many of us have hoped otherwise, only to eventually abandon our hard work in frustration. A few companies, mostly small potatoes start ups, peddle content in the hopes to win advertising dollars. I was recently employed briefly by one of them, who simply stopped e-mailing me assignments without bothering to tell me why. A more professional entity would at least have had the courtesy to say thanks, but no thanks. Fly-by-night organizations like this one are about the best a person can hope for in today's climate.

Any number of public relations firms have contacted me with the promise of free work. For a time, I pursued these as a means of boosting my profile. The problem, among many, was that they were getting paid for my troubles and I wasn't. I can't count the number of bad self-published books I reviewed over a two year period. Interviewing the writers was sometimes very painful, and there were instances where awkward phone conversations could simply not be used.

Plum assignments were hard to come by, but I appreciate the ones I received. I was given the opportunity to interview former Illinois senator Adlai Stevenson III. In addition, I had the opportunity to examine the writings of a young Kurt Vonnegut. Naturally, none of these assignments even paid me a dime. Breaking through is not a one-step process. One quickly finds that many ceilings have to be broken through on a consistent basis, and the process never really stops.

The signs are not promising. Professionals who have been to journalism school and have specialized training are fighting for paid gigs. If a person can manage to find a single publication that will routinely feature his or her content, he or she considers it a coup. Any number of others are given highly sporadic work, but not a regular column. Be it known that I recognize the challenges and steady headwind that faces me. In an over-saturated environment, who you know is more important than talent.

We may think that the internet is the great leveler, the triumph of democracy. It is, and it isn't. It has eliminated jobs as frequently as it has created them. I've sought to keep alive the first generation of blogging, which takes time to craft an argument and requires full attention. With time, our arguments have been broken into smaller and smaller bits. As we know, Twitter limits a person to 150 characters or less. The trend is towards shorter and shorter attention spans. I try to keep my contributions to the discourse to the point, never laborious to read, and still informative.

I think there is a market still for a carefully constructed stand-alone piece. I wouldn't continue writing if I didn't think this was the case. But be it known that I don't expect much in the way of financial compensation. Most of us will be known by our name, never our face. We will pass unrecognized on the street. We will only be as good as our last column. Along the way, if we're lucky, we'll win a few followers and regular readers.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Quote of the Week

"Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

"But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

"I shot him dead because —
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although

"He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
Off-hand like — just as I —
Was out of work — had sold his traps —
No other reason why.

"Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown."

-Thomas Hardy, "The Man He Killed"

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday Video

If you, if you could return, don't let it burn, don't let it fade.

I'm sure I'm not being rude, but it's just your attitude,
It's tearing me apart, It's ruining everything.

I swore, I swore I would be true, and honey, so did you.
So why were you holding her hand? Is that the way we stand?
Were you lying all the time? Was it just a game to you?

But I'm in so deep. You know I'm such a fool for you.
You got me wrapped around your finger, ah, ha, ha.
Do you have to let it linger? Do you have to, do you have to,
Do you have to let it linger?

Oh, I thought the world of you.
I thought nothing could go wrong,
But I was wrong. I was wrong.

If you, if you could get by, trying not to lie,
Things wouldn't be so confused and I wouldn't feel so used,
But you always really knew, I just wanna be with you.

But I'm in so deep. You know I'm such a fool for you.
You got me wrapped around your finger, ah, ha, ha.
Do you have to let it linger? Do you have to, do you have to,
Do you have to let it linger?

And I'm in so deep. You know I'm such a fool for you.
You got me wrapped around your finger, ah, ha, ha.
Do you have to let it linger? Do you have to, do you have to,
Do you have to let it linger?

You know I'm such a fool for you.
You got me wrapped around your finger, ah, ha, ha.
Do you have to let it linger? Do you have to, do you have to,
Do you have to let it linger?