Monday, May 31, 2010

Epistle of Gathering

Editor's Note,

This Epistle is mine alone and does not speak for the rest of the gathering. It was taken into account by the Epistle Committee, but not approved.


The Author.


And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice--the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don't think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function.

We have experienced an intensity of energy, enthusiasm, and passion that many of us rarely experience in our own monthly meeting. Worship has been unusually powerful, leaving many in attendance wishing that this same deeply moving experience might be transferred and incorporated into every Sunday’s First Hour in their own monthly meeting. With this renewed spiritual focus has come an strong connection with the Spirit and sense of spiritual community that often seems otherwise elusive. We am humbled by the experience and grateful that we have been in attendance.

In Romans 12, we are taught that the Body of Christ includes many parts. In our gathering, each of these parts at times initially resisted finding a common leaning, yet fortunately they recognized that as fellow Friends even their disagreements could be resolved without protracted conflict. The blessedly few moments of tension were gratefully and graciously pushed aside by a moving experience of deep spiritual connection with each other. Though we all might have wounds, we take care to acknowledge them and seek to heal the divisions both within each other and within ourselves.

A Friend shared that the gathering had been “laboring in love”, recognizing that resolving differences was at times difficult, but that even with that, Friends were still willing to continue to engage in communication with each other, even with whom they might strongly disagree. Some Friends were uncomfortable with Christ-centered or God-centered language. Some Friends were uncomfortable with those who did not willingly incorporate such language into their own spirituality. Yet, all were compelled and motivated to continue the dialogue and in so doing heal the part of Body that was broken. That desire was the salvation of the gathering.

Also present among all in attendance was a strong sense of vulnerability and a willingness to be unguarded and honest. Friends believed this was one of the major strengths of the gathering and all in attendance benefited greatly from this display of trust. Present as well was the willingness of Friends to contribute and participate in worship, which made the gathering even richer. Three different types of worship were held, and with that came a wealth of different experiences. This positive discomfort and tension encouraged and nurtured the presence of the Spirit. Despite this sometimes challenging environment, there was nonetheless a strong sense of unity that characterized the gathering as a whole.

Some Friends mentioned that their initial expectations going in were completely different from that which actually transpired, but participants agreed that the experience was overwhelmingly uplifting. The seeds that have been planted from this gathering have yet to blossom, but we have hope that what we learned and experienced here will bear fruit in our own monthly meetings, and well beyond. We came seeking answers, some of which were realized, and some which we will only be granted in the days, weeks, months, and even years going forward.

In Defense of Kansas/Closing Ceremonies

"Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you."- Matthew 7:7


I pause to note that I honestly have nothing against the state of Kansas. (Does this mea culpa suffice, Micah? ;-) My reservations initially upon arrival were, I think, a defensive response to being back in a red state. As I think more upon it, I reflect that Kansas is an interesting mix of liberal and conservative. Where we grow up influences how we perceive other places we visit. To be back in a place where there is a church on every corner brings back memories of visiting the small towns where both of my parents grew up. Some of them are positive, some are not.

In particular, it reminds me of my Grandmother, who had been raised Charismatic as a minister's daughter. She suffered from a myriad of chronic health conditions, and wandered from church to church, attempting to find someone who could heal her. My father's skepticism of organized religion, transferred to me in part, arrived from seeing one charlatan after another preach a Godly life on Sunday morning and then prove to be incredibly hypocritical when not in the pulpit. Even to the last years of her life, she would give money to every televangelist on air, much to my father's consternation. If I myself had any slight reservations about this entire conference it was a brief moment whereby I was told, once again, that the only way to the Father was through Jesus Christ.

Don't get me wrong. I'm totally down with the Jesus. But I'm not willing to disown my friends and my Friends who do not believe that a belief in Jesus alone is the only way to salvation. This debate caused a bit of a minor stir during Bible study, though I pause to note that the parties involved were not Young Friends, but rather were older adult here to observe. Based on what I deal with at my own home meeting, I have to say I'm tremendously surprised by this. This issue was dealt with, successfully I think, at last night's evening worship. It was the only moment of mild drama in an otherwise convivial and welcoming gathering.

A side note. My camera has an unfortunate habit of draining batteries, and since I have been more or less based here, I haven't had the opportunity to go well out of my way to get more. Still, the trip over and the first day of the gathering has, I think, been sufficiently documented.

I am in no hurry this afternoon to jump back in the car and drive all the way back to DC. The plan is to see if we can manage it all in one go, though that is going to be exhausting. Assuming we can even pull it off, we'll leave around 2 pm local time and arrive sometime in the mid morning tomorrow. Though I don't have a tremendous amount of money to spare, I'd be willing to pay for a cheap motel at some point halfway there.

Belated Quote of the Week

"That old man with the burning eyes actually believes that there can be such a thing as the brotherhood of man. And that's not the funniest part of it. As long as he's around I believe it myself."- Heywood Broun, speaking about Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Update

I don't have a lot of time to blog today, but I thought I'd provide a brief update. The church has wifi, but it's not particularly strong. There is internet service in the dorms, but one must have a cable to access it, and I got there too late to get one.

The conference is packed full of places to go, meaning I have to carve out odd moments between each of them to blog. What I will say is that last night I finally got settled in and slept eight blessed hours. This conference has been very welcoming and supportive, but with so many passionate people, it is frequently intense. I wish that my own meeting in DC was so spiritually satisfying. Not that I mind intensity at all, but after a time it begins to drain me. For example, in evening worship I felt compelled to share a message in song. As I finished, I collapsed into my seat, utterly spent. Some in the gathering were concerned for me, but I was merely just overwhelmed by all that I had heard, seen, and experienced.

I was hoping to provide a much more thorough update from day to day, but I simply haven't had the time. By the end, I promise a much lengthier update. Tomorrow is the last day of the gathering, and we'll meet together until lunch. After lunch we will depart, and I am trying not to think about the length of the drive in front of me. We're going to try to drive all the way without stopping, which is going to be quite challenging.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Greeting from Wichita!

My apologies for not writing sooner. Twenty-one hours in a car spread over two full days and four hours sleep meant that I arrived feeling punch-drunk and sleep deprived. We drove 14 hours the first day and took a break outside St. Louis, whereby I only managed to toss and turn my way to around four hours sleep. Today I got a bit more rest, though in truth I am still not entirely where I need to be. Even before I was diagnosed, I always had to have several hours uninterrupted sleep to fully recharge. Now I know that doing so absolutely essential to my health.

First impression are these: I really thought I had left behind the Bible Belt when I moved from Alabama, but I’d have to say that Kansas is even more conservative than the South. Of course, this shouldn't really surprise me. This is the very same city where abortion doctor George Tiller was gunned down not long ago. I can understand why. While on the journey out here, we passed sign after sign imploring motorists to repent or face eternal damnation. The number of churches and roadside crosses is fairly staggering, I must say, which is really saying something based on my region of origin. Recently the Quaker church here which has served as our home base of sorts has been the victim of vandalism and theft, both to the building itself and to cars parked outside in the lot. Though this sort of behavior has been excused as a product of teenage hooligans, I wonder if there is some correlation between the Tiller killing, because this gathering is clearly much more liberal than the rest of the city and state. After all, Tiller was killed inside his own church.

We’re being housed on the grounds of a Quaker university which goes by the name of Friends University. It is a small private liberal arts college. I’ve been told it features an excellent music, ballet, and oddly, zoo science program, as well as one or two other strengths. This is fairly typical with colleges and universities of this size. The student dorms, which is where we bunk for the night, are very nice, no older than five or six years old. They are set up not unlike a motel, with six beds are housed in one suite. The air conditioning wasn't working in my room last night, meaning everyone else fled for one that did. I relish the opportunity to have more or less my own space, so I stayed in the room to which I was originally assigned.

Even in my reduced state of efficiency, I was still able to write a Feminist critique, which I've posted here before this entry. I've also taken several pictures, which I fully intend to post on my Flickr stream when I get back to DC. They will also be posted here by mid-week. I'll try to post a bit more throughout the day, though I'll be in workshops and small group activities most of my waking hours.

Check Your Whole Way of Going About It

When I first began to frequent Feminist gatherings, I was eager to help and proud to be a newly minted male ally. However, I also had to start at the very beginning, much as everyone else does. My own personal women’s/gender studies 101 class was in large part an organic process of self-reflection, listening, and observation more than an academic exercise. So, in my ignorance, I made statements at times that were not especially feminist and to be sure, I was certainly swiftly corrected by many.

“Check your privilege, check your privilege, check your privilege.” It was like a mantra, and a particularly infuriating one for me at the time. Back then, I didn’t really understand what that statement meant in totality. Whether by intent or design, it felt like an admonishment, which was especially perplexing because I certainly hadn’t intended to be mean or divisive. After all, it takes just as much effort for a well-meaning male to deconstruct Patriarchal inequality within himself as is does for a woman to do so within herself in a different way. That what I say begins from a position of unequal power is important, certainly, and so are the ways I profit from it, but it doesn’t detract from the process I had to undergo to really “get” why what I said was so problematic.

As a fellow feminist Quaker pointed out to me the other day, we might ought to consider that, not forsaking our zeal, when calling out offending viewpoints, we would be sure to add the crucial caveat, “privilege is not your fault.” This should not and does not absolve any person automatically granted a degree of autonomy over another from their complicity in the matter, whether actively or passively, but it might go miles towards eliminating hostility and bruised feelings. I’ve always felt male guilt or white guilt or heterosexual guilt is counterproductive past a certain point. If it encourages people to look inside themselves and reform their conduct, then well and good.

Regarding what our response might be, I will say that no one needs to be babied or placated, but it has been my experience that such attitudes repel male allies and even some women from taking a more active role in the greater movement. Indeed, had I not been so stubbornly compelled to stay with it, no matter what criticism I received, I may very well have been the latest to leave and never return.

It seems to me as though we don’t want to concede even an inch in this area. Acknowledging that discussions of privilege might contain grey areas might not be so comforting, but neither is it comforting to realize how maddeningly inexact is our conception of gender. Furthermore, we certainly reject those who claim we‘re all just a bunch of miserable man-haters, and yet we harshly condemn in our own way those among us who espouse our own particularly forbidden heretical notions. The hard-liners among us draw razor-sharp distinctions, fearful that Patriarchal attitudes will never change if anyone sees the fight as anything more than a struggle between absolute good and absolute, entirely corrupting, shape-shifting evil.

But when we do this, we forget that sympathy isn’t a weakness. Indeed, it is the means by which we share our common humanity and our common imperfections. As a person of faith, I myself try to hate the sin and love the sinner. I recognize this to be a challenging undertaking, but coming from a Feminist standpoint, it might do us well to be less reactive and more understanding. To be sure, there will always be trolls, both in real life and online, who will spew hateful points of view purely to try to make us upset. That they can and will do it so easily should give us all reason to take pause. If we remain reactive then we take the bait, stirring ourselves into a frenzy over and over again. Speaking about myself, anger has never taken me anywhere especially helpful, but I do know that the best way to combat a contentious person is to not respond, nor engage, no matter how much he or she tries to provoke. I find this to be true in Progressive political groups as much as Progressive religious/spiritual gatherings, and the adage “don’t feed the troll” might be the best advice we could ever possibly take to heart.

And just as it is a process of introspection to take our own privilege into account, so too is being self-aware enough to recognize from whence our own reactivity stems. We know that a certain amount of anger drives us and keeps us fighting, but there is a difference between instructive anger and destructive anger. Open hostility, once stoked, has a tendency to spiral out of control into very unhelpful, unhealthy directions. Unprogrammed Quaker worship encourages all Friends gathered to minister, and thus the floor is open to those who feel the leading of the Light. At times, Friends will give messages in active worship which are offensive on all sorts of levels. If I were to rise and speak immediately, in direct response, my messages would not be Spirit-led. They would instead speak from myself and likely arrive from annoyance, disgust, or even rage. If, however, I chose to wait a bit longer in expectant silence, my initial anger will often guide me towards a message that is clearly inspired by the Divine. If I choose to stand and speak, I know that based on cautious, careful discernment what I say will not inflame the situation further.

Being tough, independent, self-reliant, and Feminist does not necessarily require one to shout the loudest, shame the enemy with the best putdown, or constantly correct the misinformed. It may run contrary to how we think of ourselves and our opposition, but I my own hope is that we might get to a point someday where we might seek to enlighten first, not to return fire towards those who call us names or even co-opt our positions and our very name itself for their own ends. I am a believer in free will, and I know that so long as we assume that Patriarchy is a wack-a-mole enemy that will always morph into something different and just as virulent as that which came before it, then we’ll never believe that people might make a conscious decision to reject that ultimately destructive attitude wholesale. People can change, certainly, and I think sometimes we give Patriarchy too much credit. I don’t think it’s nearly as powerful as we think it is. We may project our own fears onto it, believing that our struggle is arduous and close to impossible, but so long as we don’t entertain the possibility that what we seek is within our grasp, then we have already set ourselves up for failure. When I grabbed my sword to fight for Feminism, I did so with the expectation that I might someday set it down for good.

Saturday Video

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Seeking Clarity Before I Depart

In a few minutes, I'll be on my way to the YAF Gathering. We should have been underway already but our ride is a good two hours late. Hence, this is reason why I am frequently averse to last minute road trip plans. They nearly always arrive with unforeseen complications. I'm trying not to complain too much, but if I had known that we wouldn't be underway until 9, I wouldn't have had to rise at 5 this morning and rush to get ready in time to catch a bus that arrived at 6:10 a.m.

Tonight I'll be crashing at the home of a Friend in Missouri, slightly outside of St. Louis. We'll wake up early tomorrow morning and drive into Wichita, since we need to be on site between 3 and 5 p.m. in time to register. I have six days worth of clothes with me, along with all the other amenities, plus bedsheets and towels, since neither will be provided once there. We'll be staying at student dorms in a Quaker university, hence the reason for the spartan accommodations. In many ways, I suppose it's like staying in a hostel.

Assuming I'm not too exhausted and wireless is available, I'll try to update later tonight.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Final Thoughts Before YAF 2010 Gathering

On this, my last full day in DC before I head out to Young Adult Friends Gathering 2010, I am taking to time to run last minute errands, tie up loose ends, and otherwise prepare myself. For this reason, I'll break my unwritten rule and allow the subject of this post to be primarily autobiographical. Once settled in after a long journey, subsequent posts will center around my observations and thoughts regarding the conference, which means more God talk for those receptive to it.

Tomorrow morning I rise at an ungodly hour and begin what will be an exhausting, two day trip by car to get to Topeka, Kansas. Rest assured, I am excited about what lies ahead, though I am not exactly sure what to expect. When a member of another faith group, conferences I attended were almost exclusively comprised of fellow liberals. This gathering will include Quakers from every branch---the very conservative on one end, to the very liberal on the other end. While I am glad that an effort has been made to extend a hand of fellowship and community to those likely to have a completely different worldview than my own, I recognize also that this may present significant challenges. The format of worship, for example, has been carefully designed to strike a compromise between each group. Conflict resolution and building alliances with others is a life skill I know will do me much good to learn, but there's a hopefully understandable part of me who enjoys living in the Progressive, protective bubble I've crafted for myself.

As I've alluded to at other sites, I'm taking part in some very intensive therapy right now. Those of you who read this blog frequently have seen the burnt edges and the residual impact, and many people have recognized that there was something going on. Always an open person, sometimes even to a fault, the process has required me to confront parts of myself, my identity, and my past that even I never felt comfortable vocalizing until now. If I were an album right now, I'd be some combination of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Joni Mitchell's Blue. It is said that when the latter artist previewed the master recordings for a close friend, the friend's advice was "Joni, keep some of this for yourself!" Fortunately for us she chose to ignore that advice and if dispensed to me, I would do the same.

Keeping secrets never did me much good. Most of the time they made me worse. By this, of course, I mean destructive secrets. It is for that reason that I quickly get exasperated and judgmental when confronted with people who either can't, don't, or won't be honest with themselves and their problems. I suppose I want to help people, and there is a severe limit to what anyone can do to help a person who keeps silent. The example I turn to now is that of a fellow musician, an acquaintance, who has been going through a Twelve Step program. What prompted said musician to get more actively involved was when I, introducing an original song, shared its true inspiration and meaning.

At face value, the song seems to be about a narrator expressing anger and betrayal at a lover. In reality, I was writing about life with a chronic illness, bipolar disorder. Sometimes it really seems as though my limitations are an actual human being with whom I have a contentious relationship. But this concept, metaphorically speaking, has pretty much been my Modus Opperandi over the course of my life. Some will submerge their thoughts in their art in cryptic fashion, and some will, like me, get right up to the surface and not quite have the courage to poke my head above water. Creatively speaking, there might be a virtue in this sort of set up, but from a health standpoint, it's not the best coping strategy every devised. I know this now.

In any case, I now conclude. My sincere hope is that this gathering will provide me a new perspective badly needed and that I will add a unique voice to the proceedings.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hey Mr. Reporter

In solidarity with Feministing, Feminists, recording artists, activists, and pretty much everyone else who has been taken out of context or otherwise misquoted by the media.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fishing Strategies for the Future

Several of the disciples were there--Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples. "I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

Jesus asked them, "Friends, haven't you caught any fish?" They answered him, "No, we haven't." He told them, "Throw the net on the right hand side of the boat, and you'll catch some." So they threw it out and were unable to haul it in because it was so full of fish.

That disciple whom Jesus kept loving said to Peter, "It's the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his clothes back on, because he was practically naked, and jumped into the sea. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread.

"Bring some of the fish you've just caught," Jesus said. So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.


A fellow Friend writes about whether Quakerism can adapt to the changes of a new age, namely the fact we are far more inclined to uproot and relocate than we were in a previous era. He posits whether we are capable pushing back against prevailing trends in an effort to reverse them, concerned that our complicity in all of this constant back-and-forth isn't just detrimental to the Religious Society of Friends, but also to the stability of the planet and the people who live there. Quakers aren't the only faith group feeling the pinch, knowing they must evolve or die, but in the process not knowing quite how to do it. Trends and statistics only underscore the seriousness of the situation.

Even so, precise location, I find, makes a significant difference. Living in Washington, DC, has provided me significant challenges, particularly concerning my efforts to maintain a strong and active Young Adult Friends group. The culture of the city encourages career-driven peripateticism and having studied the history of the area, I have had to concede that it has been this way for a very long time. Established precedent is difficult to roll back once enacted. To some degree, the situation that faces me is not much dissimilar to that of maintaining a college organization like the Young Democrats, one which is always in a state of flux. As I think back on my time as an undergraduate, I am always amazed at how quickly four years passed.

In this example, every year a new slate of members enters the picture in the fall as incoming Freshman, and every spring outgoing Seniors graduate and head elsewhere. This dynamic is also present in any group with an age requirement, like Young Adult Friends, whereby members routinely age out. Establishing a firm change of command while I can and designating new leaders well before it comes time to formerly pass the baton is what I strive to maintain. Though the YAF clerk and I understandably take the most active role regarding organization and structure, we do seek out members who we hope will take over when we ourselves no longer identify as young adults.

In this city, my contemporaries move here knowing full well that this will not be their final stop on a metaphorical train trip towards a greater occupational goal. At most, they may be here for four years of college, but then it's off to grad school elsewhere, or to a job wherever they can get it. In this day and age, with the job market as unsettled and limited as it is, I find that even Young Adult Friends who would like to stay around have no choice but to opt for relocation. Those who are fortunate enough to get a job in a different city of course take it, but many Young Adults, to say nothing of Young Friends choose to enroll in grad school in the hopes that doing so might make them more marketable to employers. With that decision is also the hope that moving forward towards some greater goal, even if it means living off student loans and ascribing to a life consumed by study and ascetic poverty is better than spinning one's wheels in frustration, going nowhere.

Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, as I did provided me a very different perspective. Most people who moved there from other places intended to stay for a long while, and the natives who stuck around after high school or college around felt much the same way. Those desperate for greener pastures like me left, likely never to return, except perhaps to visit. In smaller cities and small towns, this same compulsion to leap-frog from place to place does not exist in the same proportion. Certain professions insist upon constant relocation. Academia, non-profit work, activism, and politics are all fields that demand one change ZIP codes on a frequent basis. Many Friends, particularly liberal unprogrammed Friends, are employed in these sorts of occupations so it makes sense why they rarely are in the same place for long. The red state/blue state divide also factors into the equation, since a more traditional conception of lifestyle runs contrary to that of the average urban professional.

One of the reasons I have embraced internet activism is because it renders physical location more or less redundant. To be sure, there will always be a need for personal interaction, but since we are increasingly more and more tethered to electronic communication, there's a sort of immediacy present online that is very useful. While one way of life may be ending, another seems to have sprung up in its place. I certainly understand the worries of those who feel we may be incautiously scrapping what existed for centuries and in so doing destroying forever a system that has accomplished an incredible amount of good. At times this fear is my very own, but I also recognize that the internet has been an amazing pallet for creative expression. Speaking in a purely spiritual context, I have seen my views validated and confirmed by people I would otherwise never have met or encountered in person, regardless of whether I was twenty-five at the time or eighty-five.

Do I visualize the cyber-meeting or cyber-church replacing a gathering of people in a physical setting? No, not really. To me, at least, there will always be a role and place for it. But what I do envision is that internet-based community will strengthen the bonds of common cause and unity among fellow believers. I see it as a supremely helpful resource and in many ways analogous to the small group model that has been practiced by many individual faith gatherings for the past several years. Some ideal mix between ground-based and internet-based worship seems to me the most sensible solution. Religious minorities, among which Quakers are merely one example, have developed novel solutions to challenges over the years. In an age well before electronic communication, certain faith groups extended a hand to members and attenders who were unable to attend weekly gatherings. Because of physical limitations or due to the fact that they lived in remote parts of the country where gatherings were miles away, these worshipers opted to receive devotional material in the mail. I think a similar model can be utilized in this circumstance, too, and certainly not simply as an outreach to the disabled, the shut-in, or the isolated.

Micah's post focused particularly on retaining that which we have. I agree with him that doing so is very important. But I find a particular leaning and calling to extend a hand out to those who have never heard of Quakerism beyond a face on a box of oatmeal, or the name of a street. The internet could not be a more effective tool to accomplish this. My own talents lend me to embrace what we have rather than devise a strategy that, to me, is akin to swimming upstream. If we accept that, at least for right now, maintaining lasting membership and attendance in any meeting or church might be unfeasible, then I'd rather find a way to reach outside the existing structure to cast my net on a different side of the boat. In so doing, I might find myself with more fish than I had ever dreamed.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Quote of the Week

"If you admit that to silence your opponent by force is to win an intellectual argument, then you admit the right to silence people by force."- Hans Eysenck

Saturday Video

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I'm Not a Feminist, But It's Okay if I Am to You

Originally Posted on Feministing Community

I am a big fan of the British singer-songwriter Holly Golightly. The other day, while scouring YouTube for interview clips, I came across a brief question and answer session originally aired on German television. In heavily accented English, the interviewer concludes the segment by asking something that, to this audience, will seem all too familiar.

Interviewer: As a woman [performer], do you [take] a Feminist stance?

Golightly: That's quite interesting. I don't think of myself as being a militant feminist in any sense of the word. I think what I've done is the best that I could do, according to my ability, irrespective of sex. The [songs] that have always interested me--women played a very big part in [them] and had a lot to do with production and writing, but [they] were not credited. This was something that was quite difficult for women to do, to really extend into, because it was a man's world. The music industry, per se, was a man's world, and still is, largely.

I think when you talk about Feminism, the fact that I just get up and do it---if people would like to say that I'm a Feminist by virtue of the fact that I do it and have done it independently, then that's good. If it's influenced someone, then that's good.


I believe the interviewer was attempting to allude to her lyrics and stage presence in asking the question, both of which are frequently tough, uncompromising, no-nonsense, and yes, even badass. Regarding Feminist identity, Golightly takes an odd position, making sure first to note that she isn't seen as a "militant" feminist, another example of the stereotype we have tried so hard to change. And yet, she is also not uncomfortable being labeled as a feminist by those who might find her lyrics and music inspiring. I will say that I personally think Golightly is a feminist, even if she herself would rather I form that conclusion for myself.

We've certainly sought to embrace other female musicians who are squeamish about being feminist, but certainly display Feminist stances through their art in any case. One wonders if "feminist by any other name" is the best we can do sometimes. Or, to look at it another way, I think about the number of unsubstantiated historical figures that are embraced as queer in LGBT circles. Many of these people lived such heavily closeted lives that uncovering indisputable proof of their true sexual orientation might always be a topic for debate. Discerning a queer identity, much like discerning a feminist identity, often feels somewhat like interpreting a poem. One can make educated guesses, but only the author knows the complete truth.

Memories passed

now are

in a game of
orienteering for sport
pointing towards directions
we once traversed

a goal to be reached
on a long delayed

imaginary journey
directly due west

Odd twists and
turns towards

But unlike a
fountain of youth

I am in search of a
fountain of peace.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why Washington is Broken (A Resident's Perspective)

(Click to embiggen)

Last night, voters rejected the Washington, DC, establishment, signaling an electorate eager to take out its anger on political insiders of both parties. Channeling dissatisfaction with the nation's capital has long been the meal ticket for candidates espousing a strong populist streak. Such is the nature of this election cycle. Having established that, I thought I might try to add my own perspective as to why Washington runs the way it does. Close to a year spent here has given me ample opportunity to observe many of its idiosyncrasies and quirks. While I have certainly not been privy to the private world of the federal government, I have experienced a multitude of other meetings, gatherings, and functions which have inadvertently or deliberately mirrored that of the seat of power.

Politics on a national level, as evidenced by last night, is frequently a contentious, painful process predicated on constant conflict. Within the political process, this might be seen as a necessary evil, but it simply doesn't stop there. Instead, it seeps into other established entities in the city, often tainting good intentions along the way. The paradox in place is that, the way the system has been set up, unless this consistent friction exists, true change and reform will never come to pass. Still, this setup has been the undoing of many organizations with noble intentions who were utterly unraveled by in-fighting. Sustained fisticuffs have a way of wearing down even the most idealistic of reformers. It's one thing to be a spectator, but something quite different to be a prize fighter.

Especially problematic is the fact that the District itself, as well as the surrounding suburbs are closely tied to the military and to politics, two occupations which require frequent relocation. The transitory nature of the city itself frustrates any sense of continuity. Without a stable core, no one hangs around long enough to really address problematic issues. Indeed, it has taken a full year for me to properly orient myself enough to be able to speak with any sort of authority in writing this to you. That which I discovered for myself was not written down, nor did anyone trouble themselves to explain it to me. Rather, this was something I had to learn through observation and interrogatives.

To return to the subject at hand, since DC is home to so much in-flow, out-flow, sufficient inroads cannot be made in so short a time. As such, an inner core of long-time residents who have set down roots and are there to stay constantly compete against short-time residents. Washingtonians with a degree of seniority are reluctant to extend a hand of friendship or cooperation to newer transplants, primarily because so many are merely serving a tour of duty and will leave very soon. To a very large degree, this entire description might as well describe Congress as a whole. Washington, regardless of station and intent, is for many a way station, or perhaps only a couple years spent in occupational Purgatory.

Every city has its own character. Washington, DC, is a city which takes itself quite seriously. It should be noted that, in all fairness, any large city has a serious tendency to navel-gaze regarding its own idealized conception of self. As for DC, a metropolitan area which regularly attracts its fair share of celebrities, big wigs, and names to be dropped later, possesses a certain inferiority complex regarding the other cities up and down the Northeast corridor. The degree of social climbing and with it a desperation to be seen as significant speaks to the structure of the city itself. The post-war boom transformed what had been a sleepy, Southern town into a major metropolitan area. In some ways, DC has been playing catch-up ever since and does not believe that other cities in the region have ever given it the respect it deserves.

Lamentably, this only fosters testiness, suspicion, and frostiness among many. In many ways, such behavior is a kind of defensive reaction, developed among those who deal with crises and intensity on a regular basis. Washington is a fine place for a drama queen, but not for those who love peace and quiet. At some point, this sort of reflexive expectation becomes self-reinforcing, meaning that people begin to assume that the only way to get anything accomplished is to be as contentious and uncompromising as possible. This isn't exactly the best strategy to undertake in order to build community and mutual trust. Those with shields out and at the ready at all moments take a while to be convinced why they ought to lay them aside for a while.

Regardless of what anyone says, Washington, DC, has always been heavily partisan, has always been a battleground, and has always courted heavy artillery. This doesn't just stop with politics. The city itself bears lasting scars, both literal and metaphorical. Many of these are recent, relatively speaking. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., touched off a series of destructive riots that severely damaged large sections of the District. Even with recent gentrification, many locations have yet to fully recover. With the riots meant an increasing white flight away from the district into Northern Virginia. The Vietnam War meant years of wearying wave-after-wave of protests. The late 80's and early 90's saw the District win the ignoble distinction of murder capital of the country. Any city serving as the focal point of what is still a very affluent and populous country would have borne the burden of collective frustration. That which was true then is true now.

How does one reform Washington? A good question, though men and women much wiser than you or me have never been able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. The most accurate statement of all might be that Washington, DC was always broken. A DC-area Quaker coined a saying back in the 50's to address this very same issue. "Seek not to contest with evil, lest ye be taken by the spirit of contention, rather concern yourself with goodness." Perhaps it depends on your innate temperament. If you fancy yourself a knife-fighter, you'll always find a battle to appeal to your lust of blood. But, if you want to facilitate peace and an end to dysfunction and strife, I think taking the high ground might be a far better option. As I think you can see, politics doesn't just exist in a vacuum. It is so pervasive and influential that it penetrates every group of human beings living in close proximity. If politics could formulate its own specific code of conduct, that would be one thing, but as I have tried to illustrate, it never stops there.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Today's WTF Moment

In deciding what I am to write about from day to day, I read through a variety of news sources. It was much to my dismay to uncover this story, which is so unbelievably offensive that words nearly fail me at the moment. As a native of Birmingham, I can tell you that the high school referenced in the story I've included below is located in a working class, conservative, predominately white, rural, unincorporated community. That an indefensibly stupid act by a schoolteacher would be found here of all places isn't a tremendous surprise to me. The offense itself, however, is so brazen and inexcusable on all kinds of levels. It sends my blood pressure through the roof to contemplate that local residents are willing to treat it like it's no big deal. Yes, it's no big deal to invoke Presidential assassination for the sake of making a point in class.

A Jefferson County, Alabama, teacher picked the wrong example when he used as­sassinating President Bar­ack Obama as a way to teach angles to his geome­try students.

Someone alerted autho­rities and the Corner High School math teacher was questioned by the Secret Service, but was not taken into custody or charged with any crime.

"We did not find a credible threat," said Roy Sex­ton, special agent in charge of Birmingham's Secret Service office. "As far as the Secret Service is concerned, we looked into it, we talked to the gentleman and we have closed our investigation."

Corner High geometry teacher picked the wrong example, President Barack Obama, to use in a lesson on angles. The lesson resulted in a Secret Service investigation. Sexton said he generally doesn't discuss threat cases, but confirmed his of­fice investigated the inci­dent. No federal charges followed the probe.

The teacher was appar­ently teaching his geometry students about parallel lines and angles, officials said. He used the example of where to stand and aim if shooting Obama.

"He was talking about angles and said, 'If you're in this building, you would need to take this angle to shoot the president,'" said Joseph Brown, a senior in the geometry class.

I'm not sure what else there is add to that. The story doesn't provide enough additional information to merit much additional speculation without entering the world of baseless conjecture, but what did transpire is offensive enough.

Efforts to reach the teacher for comment Mon­day were unsuccessful.

 Superintendent Phil Hammonds said the teacher remains at work, and there are no plans for termination.

"We are going to have a long conversation with him about what's appropriate," Hammonds said. "It was extremely poor judgment on his part, and a poor choice of words."

Caroline Polk, the parent of a ninth-grader at the school, said she doesn't be­lieve the teacher ought to be fired.

"We all make mistakes, and we should be able to learn from our mistakes," she said. "What he said was just wrong and inappropri­ate. Everyone's got their own opinions, but we have to be aware of our sur­roundings. At this point, it just needs to be handled in a way that it won't be re­peated."

Yes, imagine the outcry if the teacher had alluded to the assassination of George W. Bush. Imagine the right-wing spin machine on Fox News. Perhaps this formerly fine upstanding citizen was a secret Al-Qaeda operative! He deserves to be sent to Gitmo! We all know he was indoctrinating our children with his evil demonic left-wing radical propaganda! Lock him up and throw away the key!

Not a peep out of them this morning. I wonder why.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Troubling the Language

Editor's Note:

I wrote this originally for a Quaker audience, but would like to share this with you as well. I've added a few notes in the text to aid the comprehension of those who are not Friends. I've also expanded the message to include those who are not people of faith.


The Author.

Those who have studied it, even informally, recognize that the Gospel of John is a problematic book on all sorts of levels. The last Gospel written chronologically, many scholars now believe it was, in fact, not written by a direct observer of Jesus' ministry on Earth. It is a difficult book to reconcile with the rest of the Gospels, and I admit I usually steer clear of it for the most part. Certain verses and passages are helpful and some among the most cited in the entire canon, but much about its historical veracity has been called into question over the years as well. And in that spirit, many people are unaware that most modern translations omit certain verses in each of the Gospels that were believed to have been added not in the First Century, but much later, usually by Medieval writers. Yet, since later, not earlier manuscripts formed the King James version, they nonetheless became part of Bible tradition.

One such verse is John 5:4, which rendered in the original King James reads,

For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

From this verse Friends derived the phrase "troubling the water" to mean the process of, if you will, rocking the boat to achieve a positive end, an undertaking set about to bring forth needed reforms and spiritual renewal. Though the immediate emotional response might be uncomfortable, the inevitable end is positive and facilitates growth. Here the disabled residents of Jerusalem lay by a pool named Bethesda. Depending on how one interprets the verse, either an actual Angel disturbed the water, a miracle which cured the very first person to enter the pool, or this was simply a story believed by those in attendance. We all know that truth often depends upon those who believe it, not whether or not it is actually real. We also know that the brain is a very malleable organ, and that it's far easier than one might think to open our minds up to any idea or belief. Moreover, this verse, even with its dubious veracity, was later transformed into something quite helpful, quite sacred, and quite necessary.

One finds reference to it in the old slave spiritual, "Wade in the Water". Since Quakers were absolutely essential to the establishment and maintenance of the Underground Railroad, I'm certain this song bears our hand print somewhere along the line. But Quakers weren't the only people instrumental in opposing slavery and devising means to dismantle it, brick by brick.

Wade in the water (children)
Wade in the water
Wade in the water
God's gonna trouble the water

If you don't believe I've been redeemed
God's gonna trouble the water
I want you to follow him on down to Jordan stream
(I said) My God's gonna trouble the water

You know chilly water is dark and cold
(I know my) God's gonna trouble the water
You know it chills my body but not my soul
(I said my) God's gonna trouble the water

(Come on let's) wade in the water
Wade in the water (children)
Wade in the water
God's gonna trouble the water

Now if you should get there before I do
(I know) God's gonna trouble the water
Tell all my friends that I'm comin' too
(I know) God's gonna trouble the water

Sometimes I'm up, Lord, and sometimes I'm down
(You know my) God's gonna trouble the water
Sometimes I'm level to the ground
God's gonna trouble the water
(I Know) God's gonna trouble the water

Wade in the water (children)
Wade out in the water (children)
God's gonna trouble the water

As with so many of these spirituals, much of the language is coded and not meant to be taken strictly literally. Designed to fly over the heads of suspicious slave owners and overseers, the song talks about the initial adversity of running away, while alluding to the ultimate benefit of securing freedom in the North. Troubling the water, in this instance, took the form of opposing the peculiar institution, a practice which only came to an end after a Civil War. Yet, there are many other instances where activists, regardless of their religious convictions, have troubled the water for the sake of progress.

Because I came from a Christ-centered tradition, I still find it odd that, when so much Friendly terminology has clear Biblical antecedents, many have drifted completely away from the Scriptures. As I read my Bible, I smile as I recognize the roots of some Testimony or some saying of George Fox, our founder. A recent discussion board posting on a Friendly site about the role of language in Quaker circles reminded me again of how conscious early Friends were in shaping unique and specific words, phrases, and overarching postulates---many of which are still in constant usage. There is a whole world of Quaker speak, and those who set it out did so deliberately and exactingly, in accordance with what they believed and to conform to the teachings and leanings of the faith.

Speaking directly to all Progressives, I pose this question. Should we, with a doff of the hat to our pioneers, follow in their footsteps to remake ourselves over, or should we reverently maintain a sense of linguistic continuity, even when it might dangerously tread towards ritual? (Quakers are opposed to ritual, but I find many Progressives are as well) I myself believe that not all tradition is a bad thing, but I do also acknowledge that there comes a time where we must remove the rust and dust that has accumulated with disuse for the sake of survival. As Progressives, what beliefs and which words that summarize these beliefs do we find sacrosanct, and which require periodic revision? Are certain words and phrases themselves so offensive that they must be scrapped altogether? Do we, instead, have a need to preserve language for the sake of grounding us to the past while reverently honoring the hard work of those who came before us? We like to say that in liberal circles we have no purity tests for membership, but often we do.

Perhaps the key then is to tread that middle ground and leave strict purity in any sense alone. Though John 5:4 may not have been written in the First Century A.D., this verse nonetheless influenced Friends to coin a very useful phrase which describes a very specific, very necessary activity. Had it not been passed down over the century, slaves and abolitionists would not have been able to use it to liberate those in bondage. Words mean so much, whether they arrive one by one, or in bunches. Who knows which words or words were so inspirational that they granted the courage to act in their hearers. Had even one or two words been different, then, for all we know, it might have meant the difference between bondage and freedom, oppression and liberation. I think at times we understate the power of language and both its collective and individual impact.

I've always believed that language is a living document and that we have a duty, both as citizens and as a society, in determining meaning. This goes well beyond our status as Friends or Progressives or activists and influences every imaginable identity, role, or decision we make. The words we use to describe ourselves are the same words others use to describe us, and our role in the matter is not a passive one. May we then trouble the language with active, not passive voice.

Quote of the Week

"Even if a unity of faith is not possible, a unity of love is."- Hans Urs von Balthasar

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday Video

The rain is falling, it's after dark
The streets are swimming with the sharks
It's the right night for the wrong company
And there ain't nothing 'round here to look at
Move along, move along

The neon lights on Baltimore
Every shadow's getting famous
In some backyard, in some plastic chair
Hoping these cigarettes will save us
Here we go again, here we go again

You got rings in your ears
And you got kicked around and made up
Looking high, looking low
Where did all the shadow people go?
Where did all the shadow people go?
I wanna know, where the shadow people go

I stole a bike from the Second Mile
Saw a band play in the basement
I crossed the path of a friend of mine
And I know what that look upon her face meant
Something's gone from her eye
Something's gone wrong

You could be a woman or you could be a man
Wear the glove on the other hand
Or you could be twisted or you could be insane
Pushing the envelope against the grain
Just playing along, just playing along

And I got something on my mind
And I got voices on the other line.
Saying hi, saying hello
Where did all the shadow people go?
Where did all the shadow people go?
I wanna know where the shadow people go.
Where the shadow people go (Where did all the shadow people go?)
Where the shadow people go (Where did all the shadow people go?)

Mother Earth

Dedicated to a few people in Washington, DC.

You may highhand me all the time
Never go my way

But dirt is waiting for you
There's a debt you have to pay

I don't care how great you are
Don't care what you're worth

Cause when it all ends up
You're going to go back to mother earth

You may own a city
Get all the girls

You may have an aeroplane
Flying all around the world

I don't care how great you are
Don't care what you're worth

Cause when it all ends up
You're going to go back to mother earth

You may play the race horses
Even on a track

You may have enough money, baby
To buy anything you like

I don't care how great you are
Don't care what you're worth

Cause when it all ends up
You're going to go back to mother earth

-Holly Golightly

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday's Busy Post

Today I've already spent most of my morning focusing on my performance tonight. I'll be playing a new song for the first time, one with a particularly tricky chord progression. It's proven to be a challenge, and I've also never been particularly satisfied with the lyrics. Even so, people always ask about whether I have new material, and I don't want to let them down.

In a more cynical time in my life, I wrote this poem.

Generic Rock Star

acts like he owns this
overgrown cow town

expects the

that started to fizzle away
ten years ago

male pattern baldness
shaved head
(not fooling anyone)

generic rock star drives
around and around town

stopping by the coffee shop
thrusting autographs into the
hands of the disinterested

we all know him here
he is no stranger

the worst kept secret

the carnal cravings
desire for youth

it scares off many a young man
cruising the street corners
the bars
the parks

unaccustomed to the advances
of those hairy knuckles
and drooping eyelids

we townspeople say

he’s creepy
but predictable

at least he’s a native

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Posted Without Comment

Careful now!

Leaving, Then Cleaving

Originally posted on Feministing Community

A disclaimer up front. What follows is heteronormative, not especially Feminist, not particularly Progressive, and objectionable on all sorts of levels. Rest assured, I know this, too, and large sections of this I disagree with as fervently as I know you do.

Having said that...

Look beyond the literal. Please also forgive the God talk. I never ask anyone to believe as I do, but my own faith is very important to me, and it advances my larger point.

Some Pharisees came and tested [Jesus] by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

Jesus answered them with a question: "What did Moses say in the law about divorce?"

"Well, he permitted it," they replied. "He said a man can give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away."

"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied.

"A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two are united into one.' Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together."

At its face, this is a decree against divorce. But taken in a completely different context, it is a condemnation of the ways that humans have, for their own selfish motives, complicated
what ought to be a simple, but powerful human experience. We have taken our gift of thought and analysis and used it to divide each other. Jewish law at the time stated that if a man could prove adultery, no matter how flimsy the charges, he could dissolve the bands of marriage. This was a man-made addition that contradicted God's design for humanity and wasn't especially respectful of women's rights, either.

How easy it is for us to use our brainpower to get in the way of the most basic of human experiences! Some of the most profound experiences I have ever felt lend themselves to no words, no weighty concepts, no five syllable terms learned in a college classroom. Some times I think that our intellect, our rational selves, our cognitive abilities get in the way of the simple joys that life has to offer.

For example, those of you who have been in love before know the supreme satisfaction and incredible euphoria that it offers. Perhaps only then can we be truly completed. Perhaps then and only then do we set aside our searching and seeking, not just for someone, but for something. And there is also great joy in connecting with others who are our friends, and this same sense of connectivity is in evidence here, also.

My desire and my prayer, for Feminism, romance, and friendship alike is this. Let no one split apart what God has joined together.

Comes A Time

Sorry for the late posting today. I had an appointment earlier this morning with an orthopedist, so that I could finally get my leg checked out. I am very fortunate to have escaped the accident with only a severe knee and ankle sprain. X-rays were taken to rule out bone chips, but each of them came back negative. Much healing has already taken place, and there's a bit more yet to come.

Enjoy the video!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Daria Day

This blog rarely confronts pop culture, except occasionally in passing. Even so, I suppose a little variety isn't such a bad thing. I found today when it was time to write that I was weary of teh serious and would rather focus on other topics. Please do forgive me this once.

The late 90's to early 2000's MTV animated series Daria was finally released yesterday on DVD in totality. I'm not sure a more perfect encapsulation of my adolescence could have ever been created. Born in an era where content on MTV still could be seen as edgy and daring, instantly creating a kind of seductively rebellious authenticity with a younger audience, the series served as a lifeline to lonely, isolated, insecure teens like myself. I myself related so much to many of the characters. Daria and her best friend Jane were a kind of wise-cracking vaudeville act, lampooning the contradictions and hypocrisies of the world around them with their own private repertoire. I also knew many in my own life who reminded me of Jane's ne'er do well brother, Trent, a chronic slacker whose dreams of rock 'n roll stardom are always frustrated by his limited proficiency as a songwriter and guitarist. Sometimes I still encounter the Trents of the world, particularly when it comes time for me to once again take my guitar in hand, sit, and play before an audience.

To return to the past for a little while, let me preface by saying that I don't often like to think much about high school. Those days were largely unhappy ones. I will, however, always think fondly of Daria because it was one of the few bright spots of an otherwise dismal experience. When I was being teased mercilessly or left out of social gatherings because I refused to hide my intellect or my sensitivity, I saw my own darkly comedic defense mechanisms staring back at me in the person of the title character. As I desperately sought the company of other people who were creative and artistic, I often had Jane in mind as the ideal. I honestly saw a little bit of myself in most of the characters--the ones, that is, not completely self-absorbed or obsessed with popularity and conformity at all cost. That I relied on an animated series to serve as a primary sense of solace struck me as a bit odd, even at the time. I know now, based on the testimonials I have encountered from other people, that I was not alone. Not by a long shot.

None of the misfit characters are malicious or cruel. Instead, they are their own worst enemies, particularly in their neuroses and in the ways they discounted and short-changed their own self-worth. The truly vicious characters, rather, are the popular kids, especially Daria's sister Quinn, and her fellow Fashion Club dictator, Sandi. They are self-absorbed on a much baser, more superficial manner, turning their own insecurities towards each other rather than inward. At the time, I thought that this sort of behavior and general set-up was meant to be read as exaggeration, though as I have spoken at length with female friends, I find this to not be far off the mark at all.

Regarding other characters, as I have gotten older, I have gotten to know many of the Helen Morgendorffers (Daria's mother) of the world, both male and female: well-meaning, highly driven, Type A, workaholics married to their jobs. Had Blackberries been in existence in say, 1998, Daria's mother would have carried one, too. The fallacy of this sort of manic lifestyle is revealed during one crucial episode where Daria's mother and father press for a family camping trip. Daria and her sister Quinn are not especially enthused about what what is intended to be a totally rustic respite from the distractions from the world. The camping trip begins auspiciously enough until, however, most of the family, with the exception of Daria, eat wild berries they have found growing in the forest. These cause a trip of another sort altogether. Have no fear--the family is saved from peril because of the hypocrisy of the mother. You see, she has, in flagrant violation of the stated rules, brought along her cell phone, and Daria is able to call for help.

In some ways, the character of Helen could be Feminist. She is the family's primary breadwinner. She holds the job that yields the most power. Unlike her bumbling, fragile, and at times almost impotent husband, she is forceful, bold, and opinionated. Yet, she also reluctantly concedes that she must play the game to an extent, conceding wearily that women are judged based on their physical appearance and sense of youthfulness. My criticisms of the character are the same ones that are implied by the show itself; life is meant to be enjoyed and that nothing is so important that work responsibilities can't wait. Helen is a good mother and capable lawyer, but she is so compelled to be perfect that her occupation frequently intrudes on her personal life.

Daria lamentably defined the end of a era. Shortly after the series concluded in 2001, MTV top brass decided there was more money to be made in airing reality TV shows than sticking to a tried-and-true format of music videos. Perhaps it made sense to the bottom line, but the high water mark of that network, then at its zenith, rapidly began to recede. MTV does not hold the same instant sway over the younger set that it once did. I think in many ways a void exists that has yet to be filled, a void which began with the decline of a channel still called Music Television that, quite ironically, infrequently plays music these days. I hope that today's teenagers might find their own Daria. Nothing shores up self-esteem and provides a common basis for understanding quite as effectively. If I had known then how common my experiences were, comparatively speaking, I might have felt more confident stepping out of myself and being able to determine friends from uncomprehending peers. In all of the discussion of how the media fails us, we might learn from the ways it lifts us skyward.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

There is an End

Words disappear
Words once so clear
Only echoes passing through the night

The lines on my face
Your fingers once traced
Fading reflection of what was

Thoughts rearrange
Familiar now strange
All my schemes drifting on the wind

Spring brings the rain
With winter comes pain
Every season has an end

I tried to see through the disguise
But the clouds were there
Blocking out the sun

Thoughts rearrange
Familiar now strange
All my schemes drifting on the wind

Spring brings the rain
With winter comes pain
Every season has an end
There's an end

There's an end
There's an end
There's an end
There's an end

An Open Letter to Progressives

Dear Fellow Progressives,

In reference to Progressive criticism of the latest Supreme Court pick, I thought I'd say a few words.

Until we heal the wounds within ourselves, we will never be able to health the wounds of this world.

Until we stop being reactive, rather than proactive, our agenda will not be advanced.

Until we cease being as unflinchingly unforgiving of ourselves as we are towards our opposition, we will not see substantial growth.

Until we can own our limitations, we will never have peace of mind.

Until we stand united, acknowledging the ways we are similar and not different, no protest, boycott, or movement will hold.

Until we sustain health individually, collective purpose will never be a reality.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Worldly Accomplishment or Spiritual Satisfaction?

Nine months spent in Washington, DC, has provided valuable insight. Beltway insiders and area professions are their own breed. As I've gotten my sea legs, more and more of their world makes sense to me. Once I arrived here that I was immediately given some particularly infuriating advice, namely that other people were just as smart as I was, if not smarter, and that I ought to get used to it. I think he assumed I was just like everyone else---the latest newcomer eager to play the game in a town with more than its share of naked ambition and power plays. Perhaps he was the latest candidate for burnout, having recognized that institutional idealism is often an exercise in minutia. Though my background and my academic career may be relatively humble, I am no stranger to elitism when I see it, and I am just as repulsed by it now as I ever was.

Frustration aside, in certain spaces I have begun to make more and more of a name for myself. The slow process of building connections and gaining trust has borne growth. What has been accomplished up to this point thrills me and brings great joy. It is certainly nice to admire one's handiwork from time to time. To me, the satisfaction of a job well done is one of the best feelings in the world. It caters to my own deepest ambition. Since I became an adult, I knew, innately that I was to someday take on a leadership position, and in so doing come into my own. Achieving my fullest potential is the ultimate goal I hold for myself and I am not completely there yet, of course. Still, what has been granted me up to this point leaves me hungry for more results and motivates me to keep at it.

One concern I will give voice to is that I never used to worry about letting selfish, worldly desires dominate me. When one is completely unknown, the temptations of ego, at least in this context, are minimal. Yet, once one gets a taste of the inner sanctum, it is easy to crave more and more of it. Once doors have begun to open, one fights the impulse to throw them open through force of will alone or to be resentful of those who hold the keys. Being around others similar to myself both in aptitude and drive can be quite a comfort at times and quite a challenge, also. Many of my contemporaries are far better connected than I and with common aims comes competition and the inevitable urge to race to the top. Sometimes I feel as though the secret requirement of my career requires me to engage in a scavenger hunt of sorts, with an ever increasing list of hidden items to locate and then cross off the list. My day-to-day existence, then, is proof that my spiritual life and my earthly life frequently are at loggerheads.

Jesus said,

"Watch out! Don't do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.

When I am Spirit-led, not self-led, there is no limit to the eloquence and beauty of the words I write. Any number of well-received posts that I've recently written bear this out. When, however, I go it alone, the results are not nearly so inspiring. What I write frequently contains awkward wording, typos, and various grammatical mistakes. What the Light provides arrives perfectly formed and has no need for subsequent revision. I need an editor. God does not.

"But when you give to someone in need, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

Taken at face value, this verse can be very confusing. What is meant here is that it is easy to give to others with mixed motives, doing something for someone if it will benefit us in the end. Selflessly giving, Jesus states, should be our own reward. Again, this runs contrary to that which I encounter multiple times a day, where quid pro quo is a way of life. One seeks constantly to pad a resume, to overtake and undercut someone else for one's own sake, to network with the established power brokers, and throughout it all, to let one's ambition blatantly show. This is considered initiative, not the beginnings of losing sight of what truly matters in this world.

"When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."

I never expect to change the culture of the city in which I live, but I do make a conscious effort not to emulate it. Modesty and restraint is a quality often in short supply, particularly in politics. If only politics pertained only to government! There are politics in the smallest of gatherings and groups, and not just in our nation's capital. I see it in my faith group, the activist groups I frequent, and certainly in my workplace. Needless political conduct has been an equally destructive force in musical groups and garden clubs, so one can hardly escape it, though it should be noted that one is under no obligation to play along.

"Don't store up treasures here on earth, where they can erode away or may be stolen. Store them up in heaven where they will never lose their value, and are safe from thieves. If your profits are in heaven, your heart will be there too."

If we build our faith and trust within people, then our life will follow suit. Of course, nothing wrought by human hands or brought to life by human means will ever be perfect or immortal. Expecting otherwise has proven to be the undoing of many who came before us. The first lesson of politics is that nothing ever stays the same and that conditions are subject to change at any time, for any reason. Thieves arrive in many forms and are probably just as smart and just as motivated at what they do as we are. Turnabout is fair play in this world.

As much as I might be compelled to force the issue or pony up at the card table, ultimately my own selfish motives and compulsions are far less important than what God has in store for me. For example, everyone who reads this post will probably get something a little different out of it. It would be foolish for me to overplay my hand and demand that everyone's interpretation must conform to my terms alone. The best art speaks to us individually and gives us the ability to personalize that which we have observed. Disseminating a message successfully requires merely that I speak from within myself and let you form your own conclusions. I trust the guidance of the divine first and foremost and have a rough ambivalence with my own leanings. In a universe where one juggles plates long overfull, learning to let go might be worthwhile to consider. Death does not thoughtfully provide a Styrofoam container allowing us to take leftovers home with us.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The Best Man Won't Hang Out With the Girl Band

Originally posted to Feministing Community

All the boys in the band
know how to get down

fill our Christmas socks

with whiskey drinks
and chocolate bars

When the evening ends we won't

be thinking of you then

Although the best man

won't hang out with the girl band
the girl band.

"You're No Rock and Roll Fun"- Sleater-Kinney


One night a week I perform at an open mic. The person in charge of holding/coordinating the event and I have struck up a friendship over the past several months. She mentioned, quite offhandedly one evening before the event got going, that she'd been seeking to attract more female talent. The task had proved to be far more difficult than she'd even imagined. Speaking in terms of demographics, male musicians outnumber female musicians 2:1 there.

Quite interestingly, however, the few female regulars who show up with any consistency often have more skill than many of the men. There is no in between with women performers--only the most naturally gifted ones bother to stick around. We are glad to have them, but I myself would like to observe female musicians who have raw talent but need the practice and experience to rise to their fullest potential.

Here is an example of what one normally observes from week to week. Female musicians who do perform for the first time ever are usually so self-conscious and nervous in front of a group of people that one feels sorry for them. Their manner of presentation might be best described, as Liz Phair put it, shyly brave, and regardless of their level of talent or proficiency, they can barely raise their voices above a whisper. After having finished, they rush off stage, absolutely mortified at themselves, no doubt ashamed of themselves, and rarely return. I've tried my best to be encouraging, finding a quiet moment between sets to dispense praise and constructive feedback. It is usually received well, and with a nervous smile, but almost all of my efforts are for naught.

I think as Feminists we can form lots of conclusions as to why this might be.

The most obvious of these reveals how women are not encouraged to boldly stand out and advocate for themselves. Still, if there was absolutely no female participation at all, then that would be one thing. But, as I've revealed, there always is a core group of "the girl band" who have the courage and the poise to push past their fears and reservations. If only I and others could find a way to get that kind of complete confidence to rub off on the talented, but skittish female musicians who never really give themselves a chance to blossom as performers.

This desire of mine doesn't just stop at music. It could very well go for regular readers to this very site who never submit Community posts or who seldom leave comments. Nor does it have to stop at female-centric spaces, either. There are any number of areas and places in the greater world where the contributions of women would be in good company. If we want to encourage gender equality and female participation, we must first speak to that immediate impulse within each woman which automatically causes her to doubt the quality of her contributions. And in so doing, it would be in good keeping to reinforce the notion that no one is ever perfect the first time we do anything. The dual forces of experience and persistence are amazing teachers. If you don't believe me, consult the women in your life who you admire the most--the ones who have accomplished great things--- and ask them yourself.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's Day Comic Strips

These are from the website and archives of my favorite DC-area cartoonist and friend. The strip is called "Reply All". Readers may need to click on each individual cartoon to enlarge.

and a non-Mother's Day related strip that is one of my favorites.

Quote of the Week

"The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If they are not there, science cannot create them. If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry".- Rachel Carson

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Friday, May 07, 2010

A Cautious Analysis between US and UK Elections

One must be careful when invoking comparative politics. If politics is indeed local, nothing could be a greater challenge than making sweeping generalities between different countries without understanding the full context. Having said this, I have followed the recent UK General Election campaign with much attention and interest over the course of the past few weeks. Those who follow politics to any degree often look for emerging trends which might promise some early clue to predict the future. Much of what enraged and inspired Britons to turn out in relatively large numbers (provided they were able to vote at all), are the very same issues driving an anti-incumbent maelstrom, the results of which on our shores we will not fully understand until early November.

The aforementioned 2010 General Election in the UK might serve as something close to harbinger of things to come. Here, as there, a still smoldering economic crisis and demoralizing amount of government debt formed the backdrop, threatening to overshadow every other issue. David Cameron's Conservative Party picked up several seats from Gordon Brown's Labour Party, but still failed to reach the requisite number of Members of Parliament needed to secure a majority. This is telling in all sorts of ways. Those who voted Tory seem to have done more out of disgust with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Labour more than any admiration for the Conservatives. Third parties, including the centrist to center-left Liberal Democrats, failed to make substantial gains and fared worse at the ballot box than most had expected. A Hung Parliament, also known as a coalition or minority government seems to be the outcome.

Unlike here in the United States, a Parliamentary majority and right to rule is not reached a simple majority. Achieving power without the need to form coalitions with other parties means having reached a certain threshold of representation, in this case 326 seats. In this regard, I'm reminded a bit of the delegate situation in the Democratic Presidential Primary in 2008. There, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were fighting to reach a certain number of both pledged and super delegates that would add up to 2,118. Had neither candidate gotten to that magic number by the end of the primary season, then both campaigns would have had no choice than to cut a deal with each other, one probably more along the lines of a nightmare than a meeting of the minds. To make another comparison, the nearly disastrous health care debate made us painfully aware that it takes 60 Senators of one Party or persuasion to prevent a filibuster by a minority party. At one time, it required 67 Senators to cut off debate and begin a vote.

Returning to our elections a little less than six months away, the best comparison to yesterday's General I can make is this--imagine if our legislative branch was unicameral, not bicameral. Visualize if there were no separate House and Senate, just one combined body that set policy and passed laws. To an extent, this is oversimplifying a little since the UK does have a House of Lords as well as a House of Commons, but the Lords has served a largely advisory role since 1949 and has no real power. Imagine if, in a few months, we would be voting first and foremost that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi could keep their jobs as Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the House. We are doing this already to some extent, of course, but in this analogy, contemplate if either of them were President. A referendum on Democratic Party leadership, based on current trends and polls would be much more of a Republican advantage.

Yet, just like in the UK, many will soon cast their ballots in November based not on any strong preference for the GOP, but rather out of strong disgust for the Democratic Party. We have never produced a strong third party alternative more than a few brief times in our history, and the Tea Party candidates running with this explicit purpose might take note that even in a system which favors multiple parties, the largest two usually draw most representation and votes anyway. I've long been a supporter of a Parliamentary method, but I have to concede, having observed this past election that two rival parties usually end up sucking up almost all of the oxygen in the room.

Though the UK turnout this time around was 65%, much lower than initially expected, it is quite routine for General Elections to draw 70%-80%. This statistic is often cited by activists of other countries as well as for those who seek to keep voters motivated and eager to vote. Still, form dictates participation, and a usually five-year build up to a single important election is often more successful in getting out the vote than a series of smaller, regional primaries and caucuses that slowly build up to a major election. The 2008 Presidential Election drew only 57% turnout after all the ballots were tabulated, even when voter interest and motivation was at unusually high levels. The last time turnout reached 80% in the United States was in 1876 and the last time it exceeded 70% was in 1900. By contrast, in Mid-Congressional cycles, turnout in U.S. elections has hovered somewhere around 37%. The last time an off-cycle election reached close to 50% was in 1966. Our individualism and simultaneous desire to cling to regional identity first, rather than group solidarity shows plainly in just how we have structured our electoral system.

Imagine also if we didn't have an intricate, protracted system of primaries in every state. UK General Elections last approximately one full month before ballot boxes are open for business, whereas our Presidential elections seem to begin a good two years beforehand, if not sooner. Assuming our way of governance resembled that of the United Kingdom, we would vote, roughly every four to five years, to determine who both our elected leaders would be and what Party would claim majority status. Parliament is prevented by law from sitting more than five years without a vote being called. This is much more in line with the election of Senators, who serve six year terms, then the short two-year terms of House Representatives, but we also take care to stagger federal elections and terms so that the entire Senate does not run for office at the same time. The greatest difference, of course, is that the Prime Minister is not elected directly like our President, and rarely is the PM a member of a party not in primary control of the legislative branch.

Hung Parliaments are very rare, but they do happen from time to time. The behind-the-scenes wrangling now going on might well foreshadow what would happen if, God forbid, the Republicans were able to win back the House. I thought once that the Senate might be vulnerable for GOP takeover, but I have backed off on that fear. Still, even a reduced majority in the House which now seems all but inevitable is going to require concessions and deal-cutting between the White House and the GOP. When health care reform and cap-and-trade passed by the narrowest of margins, even with healthy majorities, this further underscores that, regardless of how the vote turns out, President Obama and the agenda of the Democratic Party will be forced to incorporate Conservative ideas and strategies to get crucial legislation passed. We're still in crystal ball status right now, but if ever there was a powerful incentive to keep strong Democratic majorities, one would think musing upon what a watered down and compromised agenda would be enough.

We can learn from the recent UK vote in all sorts of ways. Here is what the Guardian's Simon Jenkins wrote this morning about the immediate fallout from the election.

The British electorate has spoken but has choked on its words. Labour's glad confident morning of 1997 has clearly ended in defeat under Gordon Brown. David Cameron has rescued his Tory party from 18 years of decay but not convincingly, and not enough to give him a secure parliamentary majority.

The third party that promised so much, the Liberal Democrats, has failed to make a breakthrough, and yet it must decide which party to support in office – and with a poor mandate for so important a decision. The first-past-the-post electoral system has met its Waterloo. Britain has not been given emphatic government just when that was most required. It has been given the parliamentary mess most feared by opponents of electoral reform – or the negotiating base most desired by its advocates. British politics now departs the hustings and enters the old smoke-filled rooms of Westminster.

Our own smoke-filled room beckons ever closer. Though Democrats seem to have divided themselves to no good end, they likely will be forced to increasingly share power with Republicans, regardless of how the ultimate tally reads. American voters will go to the polls believing either that divided power fosters greater gain for all, or whether single-party rule is the best strategy. It also speaks to our belief in the existing checks and balances incorporated into law or whether an additional layer needs to be in place to ensure proper government. My immediate fear is of gridlock rather than an incentive to work together for the common good. Unlike the UK, we can't simply dissolve Congress if shared governance fails to gel. What we vote for in November will we be stuck with for two full years at minimum.