Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday Video

Satan's jewel crown I've worn it so long
But God for my soul has reached down
His love set me free
He made me his own
And helped me cast off Satan's jewel crown

If I could be king or a ruler of nations
Wear jewels and diamonds profound
I'd rather know that I had salvation
Then to know my reward was Satan's jewel crown

Satan's jewel crown I've worn it so long
But God for my soul has reached down
His love set me free
He made me his own
And helped me cast off Satan's jewel crown

When I live my life that I've lived so reckless and evil
Drinking and running around
All the things that I do, for the will of the devil
I was giving my soul to Satan's jewel crown

Satan's jewel crown I've worn it so long
But God for my soul has reached down
His love set me free He made me his own
And helped me cast off Satan's jewel crown

Friday, June 26, 2015

Dry Drunk, Part 9

Part 8 of Dry Drunk is posted here. This is Part 9.

A work of fiction.

My illness and legal action knocked me off schedule. I'm glad to get back to the way I was before the fireworks started.

At an earlier time in life, I made the acquaintance of a therapist who changed my life. I laid off the booze for months at a time under her care and never backslid. All I could think about our next appointment, when we would meet again. After a while, I realized I was in love with her. Nothing could ever happen. She was married with three kids of her own.

But we had a close relationship, the closest I have ever let anyone ever get to me. I have a particular fondness for Ashkenazi Jews like her, due to her wise counsel. I don't mention this much because it sounds like a cheap line, dusted off to be used once more. But I'm completely serious. I could tell she liked me too, but not in that way, because all of our sessions would go 10-15 minutes overtime, and she didn't see much need to rush for the next one.

There's this new girl who cozies up to me in a pink zip-up track suit. At first I thought she was just being friendly, but every now and again the genuine article appears. She was a little too nice at all the right moments, and even a fool could pick up on it. And as I looked at her closely, I saw the distinguishing characteristics once again. First she showed me the ins and outs of the ward, then she helped me with a legal document in bad need of revision.

I had to question myself. Was she a carbon copy of my therapist on some kind of psychic level? She certainly looked like her a little, which was spooky. Jet-black hair, yes, but a lighter complexion. Freudian psychoanalysis is built on the idea of transference, the idea that the patience will transfer feelings from someone else in life to the therapist. I think it's a waste of a time, by in large, but there may be something to it

Or at least I'd like to believe it. I may have said this before, but every person one finds here is automatically suspect on one level or another. And yet I've found one with every visit. If I were to be judged by the same logic, I'd be considered an untouchable, too. I would flag the process with caution, but not with warning. Psych wards are the best place to find friends with benefits, but never relationships. One woman I met was too damaged for anything resembling a relationship and had deliberately gained weight so her father would leave her alone. She was a total sweetheart.

I can't internalize the stories. They are too sad and remind me of my own. The coping mechanisms are similar. I'm at the point now where I can hear a man or woman talk and diagnose childhood sexual abuse instantly, same as any therapist. I see their words in mine as we speak during free time. But I can never go there. I can be shocked, but I can't visualize and imagine. The pain is too fresh and it makes me crave a drink.

And what does for me to be here? I told you I was an alcoholic from the start, didn't I? A misfit among misfits? As long as I can distract myself from this sort of thinking, I'm okay. But then once I start looking as everyone as a victim of something or someone, I can't deal anymore.
How long have I been here? I've lost count around 8 or 9, but it is surely farther along than that. I always lose it about now. It isn't a matter of girls or lukewarm juice or individually wrapped graham crackers anymore. I dutifully confront a therapist when the images refuse to go away.

Whatever, buddy, he says.

I spill and I can tell he understands, but no one on the outside every does.

Open your mouth, boy. Open your mouth, boy  

Does he understand that much? I can vocalize what happened, but can he be there and hold my hand? Does he understand the sinister nature of the silence in that room? I have never wanted a drink more than this instant. Everyone has triggers and I've already stumbled across three of them in three separate people. And as I embarrassingly rub the tears across the back of my hand I know can't go here anymore. I'd much rather focus on my romanticized Jewish girl, the one who showed him mercy. Go and do likewise.    

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Confederate Flag Controversy

The last state in the Old Confederacy to display the Confederate Battle Flag is South Carolina. As an Alabama native, I recall when our own dubious flag was finally furled for good and removed from the state capital dome. I seem to recall that this occurred in the early 90's, though it could have been in the late 80's. The act was seen as necessary, a sign of continued progress between whites and blacks.

And while I find everything deplorable about slavery, I am a Southerner through and through. Allegiances are strange things. Sherman's destructive march from Atlanta to the sea, the final nail in the coffin that ended the war, was total war before there was a term to coin it. It was war on civilians, though it could be said that it brought the war to a close sooner.

The Civil War destroyed the Southern economy, leaving it poverty-stricken. Arguable, it should have been based more on factories from the beginning, rather than its reliance upon agrarian plantations and an aristocratic planter elite mentality. Railroads were destroyed by invading Yankee armies, warehouses set ablaze, crops seized from the field. Following the war, the states of the former Confederacy were treated like a conquered land by its former adversaries.

It was the synopsis of the noted historian C. Vann Woodward that the South has a unique place in history, as literally having to live as defeated nation. He added further that the United States of America had much to learn from that example. I still believe the ripple effects from that old conflict are in place. And while it is true that Confederate Battle Flags were raised anew to protest integration a hundred years after the conflict, the roots go deeper than that.

Southerners are a proud people who refused to submit to the whims of the conqueror. One sees evidence of this across the globe in every civil war, from Africa to Asia. When we speak about the racism of the Confederate flag, we are not talking rot. Racism has a huge part and to not admit it would be sinful. But there is a kind of defiance present among Southern whites, a refusal to go gently into that good night.

William Faulker, Mississippi native and novelist, said it best and it has been quoted the most.

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.

Despite the evils of the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil, as Lincoln noted in his Second Inaugural, what we see here is a degree of valor and pride from white southerners. It may have always been an unrealistic, romanticized degree of valor and pride we view here, but even today one sees it. It exists, still. Even I once played as a boy with Rebel and Yankee soldier toys, though slaves and plantations were somehow never sold separately (or at all).

Some issues strike you so deep in the heart that they defy strict logic. I will tell you that I find it impossible to express anything other than contempt for the Northern soldier. His bravery and valor were likely the very same as those who opposed them in the field of battle. I care little for his political convictions or his sentiments, but he killed my ancestors, destroyed what economic base the South had by the end of the war, and was not above vandalizing and looting to accomplish his purpose, though I suppose the same is true for both sides and in all wars, which is why I oppose them with such great fervor.

Every Civil War has its trajectory, its epicenter, regardless of where it was fought. We could, for example, be talking about Iraq or Vietnam in this context. And yet they also have their commonalities, too, their bloodshed, and their million cruelties. Those wounds do not close quickly. Indeed, it has been a century and a half after the end of hostilities, and the wounds I and others display have yet to scab over and heal.

General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was one of the South's finest commanders. Despite his numerous personal eccentricities and a religious streak strong enough that some of his own troops thought him Messianic, he had an uncanny sense of always putting his troops in the most advantageous position, and resorting to daring when needed. A battle had raged. The Union had taken over the Virginia town of Fredericksburg, then vacated it after a humiliating defeat.

Stonewall Jackson was outraged. His entire body shook in anger as he looked around him at what had been done to the city itself. He saw the pianos and the works of art and the crystal chandeliers smashed and ruined on the streets. He saw elegant furniture that had been wantonly vandalized and the remains of elegant, leather-bound books that had been burned for kindling. But it was the churches – the churches – that infuriated him most. Houses of God were pocked with bullet holes and charred by cannon shot. This was a crime against God – a despicable blasphemy – and it very nearly made him weep.

Dr. McGuire, who was seldom far from Jackson’s side, shook his head in revulsion. “What can we do about this kind of barbaric behavior?”

Jackson’s voice trembled. “Kill ‘em,” he said. “Kill 'em all."

Atrocities are commonplace during times of war. And no side ever has the moral high ground. The most severe blight on the Confederacy might be the Andersonville prisoner of war camp, where men were starved to death, reduced to skin and bones. But we can go tit for tat here if we wish and still be no further along. The brave men who died, were wounded, and lost limbs in combat should be our primary focus.

I can understand South Carolina's stance. South Carolina has always been a firebrand of revolution. They tried to defy President Andrew Jackson in 1832-33 as a pretext for secession, then were the first state to secede from the Union in 1860. It fought the first battle of The Civil War at Fort Sumpter, a Southern victory. Now it is the latest to defiantly and bitterly cling to a lost cause.

That said, I understand the seductive power of lost causes, even in unexpected places. They are beholden to denial and defiance. And they change with time. What strikes me as especially strange happened during a trip to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, some years back. A person displayed a Confederate Battle Flag from his residence. I was incredulous. "This state didn't even secede! It was a proud free state!"

So clearly the Confederate Battle Flag means more than old fashioned racism. It may be more in line with Tea Partiers, John Birch Society members, and others on the far-right. And it is from this lens that we may truly view the flag, this piece of cloth that means much to many. I do not pretend to think that Southern pride comes with the Stars and Bars attached, but I do know that it has been adopted, or perhaps even co-opted by others who do not live in the Deep South, who have never even set foot in Dixie. 

Can we be satisfied among us to acknowledge the tragedy of 1861-1865? Would it do us good to think of boys who never had a chance to become men? Can we take into account the slaves on plantations who died in the fields of overwork or ran away to seek their freedom, only to lose their lives in the process? In the midst of a grand tragedy with no clear winner or loser, only losers, one might argue that we've missed the point. The Civil War was not America at its best, contrary to some. Instead, it was America at its worst. The Confederate Flag is no symbol of pride. It is a symbol, like all flags, of irony and pain.

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"
The Band

Virgil Kane is the name
And I served on the Danville train
'Till Stoneman's cavalry came
And tore up the tracks again
In the winter of '65

We were hungry, just barely alive
By May the 10th, Richmond had fell
It's a time I remember, oh so well
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing

The night they drove old Dixie down
And the people were singing
They went, "Na, na, la, na, na, la"

Back with my wife in Tennessee
When one day she called to me
"Virgil, quick, come see,
There goes Robert E. Lee!"

Now, I don't mind chopping wood
And I don't care if the money's no good
You take what you need
And you leave the rest

But they should never
Have taken the very best
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing

Like my father before me, I will work the land,
Like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand.
He was just eighteen, proud and brave, but a Yankee laid him in his grave,
I swear by the mud below my feet,
You can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat

Monday, June 22, 2015

Transgender Mom, Cisgender Bullying

In a recent workshop on the Patriarchy at the Quaker resource center Pendle Hill, I met Chloe Schwenke, a woman I had come in contact with a year or so earlier at a queer Quaker conference. At first, I have to say that she fooled me. I believed her to be a cisgender woman, but was in fact a transwoman. That was merely a clueless notion on my part or an extreme compliment, and I hope for the latter.

Her biography is unusual, particularly when we consider stereotypical notions of transwomen. They're supposed to be effete and mincing, and Chloe is most certainly neither. Her femininity is natural and seasoned. Chloe shared story after story during her presentation, where she talked about her interesting upbringing. Chloe's father was an officer in the Marine Corps, and yet she talks about him in reverent terms, as an upstanding man indebted to honor, not a humorless scold or martinet. Much of the time we speak about emotionally abusive or uncomprehending masculine fathers on the subject of transwomen, but not here.

Her talk centered around her work in Middle East. Following transition, she was treated far differently than a man would be. Renting a car first required a man to taxi her around. Driving by herself was impossible and against the rules. When she asked the young man behind the counter point-blank why this policy was in place, he could not answer her. She saw that as a small victory of a sort.

Since then, she has focused much of her attention on raising a fifteen-year-old daughter who has just survived the incessant bullying of middle school. But she still bears those scars, and Chloe is not always entirely sure of the proper way to respond. Thankfully, Chloe's gender identity is not the source of this teasing and taunting, as she is fortunate enough to pass for cisgender. Rather, it is the cruelty of adolescence, the kind many of us experience ourselves regardless of our sexual or gender identity. It is the sort that usually goes unnoticed and not confronted that causes Chloe the most pain.

Too many LGBT related, hate crimes are committed. They need to be prosecuted. We must bring them to light. But the same cruelty that characterized many of our lives has gone unaddressed for much too long. As a man, I might be afraid of being beaten up, but in many ways girls are far more vicious, far more cutting verbally, and more injurious that way.

We've talked about bullying considerably in feminist spaces, but I feel we sometimes ignore the cis side of the coin. I experienced some of it myself as a man, but one of my sisters has never entirely gotten over the teasing she experienced from the in-crowd, the popular girls. Middle school is where bullying spikes, but it should never be allowed to reach that sort of plateau, for any reason.

Referring to her biography,

Chloe is a post-operative transsexual, and until 2007 she lived and worked as Stephen. While she experienced many incidents throughout her life that might have been seen as evidence of her transgender status, it was not until she was well into her middle age years that she began to address her gender identity disorder in a determined, focused manner. With the help of expert counseling, a loving spouse and family, some (but not all) understanding employers, and a deeply supportive Quaker community, Chloe completed her gender transition. Chloe and her second spouse are now divorced but remain very close friends, and share in the raising of their children.

Liberal Friends remain supportive of LGBT individuals, including those who are transgender. Some faith groups do not, but we do. But to say that this process was an easy one would be a severe understatement. During the 1980's, Friends were divided over the progression of same-sex marriage and what were then termed gay rights. Fortunately, since then, within most branches, that issue has been largely resolved.  

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Quote of the Week

Well, this one is kind of a modified quote, but a good one.

Flannery O'Connor is considered one of America's greatest fiction writers and one of the strongest apologists for Roman Catholicism in the twentieth century. Born of the marriage of two of Georgia's oldest Catholic families, O'Connor was a devout believer whose small but impressive body of fiction presents the soul's struggle with what she called the "stinking mad shadow of Jesus."

Saturday Video

When you were young
And your heart was an open book
You used to say live and let live

You know you did
You know you did
You know you did

But if this ever changin' world
In which we live in
Makes you give in and cry

Say live and let die
Live and let die

What does it matter to ya?
When you got a job to do you got to do it well
You got to give the other fella hell

You used to say live and let live
You know you did
You know you did
You know you did

But if this ever changin' world
In which we live in
Makes you give in and cry

Say live and let die
Live and let die

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Busy Week

Posting this week is going to be minimal because of medical procedures. I have an endoscopy and a colonoscopy to detect where my ulcer is located. The procedure will be Wednesday, but I have to essentially clear my colon completely the day before. That will not be pleasant.

I have a meeting with the GI surgeon the following day, Thursday, where we will discuss the details of surgery, which is currently scheduled for July 1. Friday I have to give another round of labwork for my GP, as some of the results of the first batch turned out abnormal. They are probably nothing to worry about and may be related to other conditions I already have.

Being away for a week means that there's always tons of things that get backlogged and the same is true here for me. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Organizing and Mobilizing in Today's World

We had spent the whole day, the whole conference, really, attaching vocabulary words in permanent marker to self-adhesive poster boards. If you read them, you'd see complicated terms like "hegemony", "Patriarchy", "coded politics", and the ever-popular "capitalism." They demonstrated a complete command of language and context, and while these words held power, or perhaps demonstrated a lack of power, they had limitations, too.

After nearly a week of talks and discussions, an older black woman in her seventies addressed us last of all. She is one of an ever-decreasing number of African-Americans who remembers life in the segregated South. And her initial remarks were a reminder to those of us who have had the privilege to know what hegemony is, or what heternormative means. In our work and conversation with low-income minorities or the working class, especially, these words are of limited usage. We can know within ourselves what these terms mean, but they mean nothing to the fast food worker, the auto mechanic, or the chicken plant worker.

Quakers are like lots of predominately and historically white faith groups. They place a premium on education and often send their children to small liberal arts schools. The destination their kids take are many times Friends schools, which are scattered primarily along the East Coast, parts of the Midwest, and the West Coast. I should add here that Quakerism is divided along theological lines, much as is the case of Judaism. I'm a liberal Friend, but conservative (not politically conservative) Friends exist, programmed Friends exist, and Evangelical Friends are present as well.

Though a majority of us do not have a Quaker education, our sensibilities, both politically and theologically, line up according to whichever branch of the Religious Society of Friends we favor. During the six-day conference I attended at a Quaker resource center called Pendle Hill, situated slightly outside of Philadelphia, liberals would have felt quite at home, activist liberals even more so. While faith was certainly stressed, Liberal Friends do not seek to convert the unwashed masses. The Evangelical branches do, but what I and others experienced was as far away from an Evangelical gathering as possible.

Having set the exposition, I return to the narrative I began. While it flatters my feminist sensibilities that a man quoted the black writer and activist bell hooks during the discussion period of an activity, bell hooks is nevertheless a minor name to many, albeit well-respected within her field and held in high esteem by devotees, deservedly so. Though I never asked the speaker if she had read a single work of bell hooks, I would not have been surprised if she had not.

As I took into account how she feels now, in these times, I wondered what she thought. More often than not, female participants displayed unashamed underarm hair and voluminous hippie skirts. One gender non-conforming (another vocabulary term!) man dressed in elements of women's clothing and make up. But most men dressed similarly. Some things never change.

Our presenter talked about life in segregated North Carolina, where she was able to spend money at a local department store, but unable to use its restrooms. Though the audience was attentive and inquisitive, as they had been for the whole of the conference, I knew they had no real, tangible understanding of what that must have been like for her or for anyone of her race. I had no idea myself.

If generational memory is indeed limited, films and photographs will have limited application for the current day and going forward. The memory of the Holocaust implores us to "Never Forget", but surely we will forget, eventually. This is the nature of humankind. But despite the fear of losing memory of the sins of the past, I felt a pronounced sense of optimism and a realistic expectation of how long it will take for times to change for the better. One participant hoped that in a century we might reach significant progress, but that we ought to make incremental progress until then.

The conference was based around a particular Quaker Testimony, this one being the Testimony of Equality. Speakers were transgender, people of color, activists of all shapes and sizes, and one presenter was an active participants in Black Lives Matter. He regrettably had to be Skyped into his allotted workshop time because he had been detained in customs due to recent activist work and was not allowed to board his plane. He was not much older than most of the attenders, who ranged from eighteen to thirty-five.

A group of three young activists from Kalamazoo, Michigan, talked about building grassroots social change from the ground up. The three had felt spontaneously compelled to act following the resurgence of racial violence in Ferguson and in other incidents. Accordingly, all three came from different ethnic backgrounds. They shared their theories with all seated before them. The oldest of the three was only 33.

My response is two-part. On one level, I was extremely gratified to see so many people actively engaged and involved with the current discourse. On a second level, some of the strategies I witnessed during workshop provided few real answers. While it makes for an impressive talking point that change begins from the bottom up, I know that answer alone is not sufficient.

The Civil Rights Movement, if this is even a fair comparison, took years of planning and immaculate organization. Though it is not talked about much, many white liberals and white money drove the Movement. Had it not been for Minnesota liberal Hubert Humphrey forcing a Civil Rights plank during the Democratic National Convention in 1948, who knows how long it would have taken? Southern Democrats had been placated for years because of their segregationist stances.

White supporters had at least enough sense to get out of the way and let what were then called Negroes take the lead. Campaigns were planned, marches were put together with surgical precision. Much was immaculately choreographed. That is why it succeeded, though it left behind an enormous amount of unfinished business, the likes of which we are seeing today.

Back then, the clergy led the Movement. A charismatic Baptist preacher espousing the words of Jesus was its nominal leader. It was ministers and religious leaders who were the brains behind the planning and those who put themselves in physical harm during protests with many others. In this far less-religious age, we need the clergy more than ever. We need its leadership and we need its wisdom. Like the Old Testament prophets of the ancient times, it is time for people to turn back to God. Religion gives authenticity to any social movement. We cannot save ourselves from ourselves, despite our stellar intentions.

Now a new generation of well-meaning white people take up a similar mantle. But unlike times past, there is bluster in place of action. When there was once collective action, there are good intentions like Occupy, which at its heyday was little more than a latter-day Hooverville. What strong, compelling leaders do we have today?    

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Quote of the Week

"One of the things that has to be faced is the process of waiting to change the system, how much we have got to do to find out who we are, where we have come from and where we are going."-Ella Baker

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturday Video

For the Canadian Friends I met this past week.

Said you’d found a way to end it peacefully
I remember finding shoes near the lake under a tree
And I’m sittin’ on the shore
I thought I saw your charm float by

It doesn’t matter now
‘Cause all you wanted to do was die, yeah
If only you’d stuck around
I never would have made a sound

But now you’re on the ocean floor
And I’ve opened a brand new door, brand new door

Swimming out to sea
Trying to find something else
While I’m skipping stones
And I’m listening to the shells

And I won’t forget you
If someone else comes along
I found the words you wrote
But I would not dare to quote

My friends, the lines you amend
Like, “What’s so bad about dying anyway”
Swimming out to sea
Trying to find something else

While I’m skipping stones
And I’m listening to the shells
And I won’t forget you
If someone else comes along

You’ll always come to mind
Whenever I hear that song, yeah
The one about photographs
Sung by Ringo Starr

Especially in the chorus part
You always said, “Now don’t you start”
Don’t you start, yeah, yeah
Don’t you start, don’t you start

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Step Up, Step Back

I admit I didn’t hear the phrase “step up, step back” until I was twenty-four years old. It was used in the context of the Anti-Oppression/Anti-Racism training of a group of young people of which I was a member. Put simply, it is a knowledge that men and women ought to have equal weight in group discussions. This is not usually the case. Most of the time, white men speak first and speak most often.

Like many systems of oppression, it is entirely unconscious and not meant to be offensive. But it is a sharp reminder in our society that men and women are socialized very differently. At the time, all those years ago, speaking from the privilege of my race and my gender, I took it at as an affront when I was told to take a step back. But in my defense, neither did I really understand the concept. Like many white men, I saw the behavior as somehow removing my ability to speak my mind and depriving me of my God-given right to be heard.

Eleven years later, I understand better. At the Quaker conference from which I have just returned, a man, much to his credit, stated firmly that men were talking too frequently during a particular workshop and not leaving space for the voices, thoughts, and ideas of women. Also to their own great credit, the men sitting around a circle did not take offense to this remark. In response to a woman's remarks, agreeing with the progression of these events, a series of women deliberately spoke one after another, making the space more equal. Perhaps six or seven women in sequence raised their voices on the pertinent issue we were discussing. Yet if the problem were this easily fixed, it would not take more than one reminder.

White men, myself included, are taught to believe that we ought to be assertive in our own opinions and proud of their soundness. In fact, I am not too proud to say it was one of my remarks that led to the perceived need of the community that other men should be silent for the health of the gathering. My response was not one of anger or as some slight, but I admit I did feel quite embarrassed. I simply hadn't recognized how regularly men had shared before me and did want to give women their own right to be heard.

Even so, the same patterns reinforced themselves over time. During the next workshop, held a mere two hours later, I made a silent count of the gender of those people who shared. Much as before, mostly men, and mostly white men spoke first and more frequently. Yet, this phenomenon is not that simply defined, either. A minority of women have no problem speaking frequently in what can be male-dominated spaces. The question then becomes if other women should emulate their example, and if so, whether these women warriors would nevertheless speak even more in female-only spaces.

The women who shared in the earlier example were clearly uncomfortable somewhat with speaking up. One only had to observe their body language. They spoke because they felt they needed to speak, not that they were empowered to do so. But even more perplexing was an even different activity, later in the proceedings, where the first six people who spoke were women. Clearly step-up, step-back is more complicated than gender parity. A discussion on childbirth and child-rearing, for example, would probably been dominated mostly by women.

When we discuss step up, stand-back we need to take the topic itself into account. Systems of oppression and discussion about this topic and those like it bound to be mostly dominated by men. Men are socialized to care passionately about issues like these, beginning at young ages, yes, but also during their education. I’m not saying there is no need for female contribution in these heady debates, but what must change first is the willingness of women to emulate their own idols, should they even have these idols, who can speak with the boys and undo their own programming to be seen and not heard.

Even when respectful space is granted to women, they must take the next step up of their own initiative. And without additional feedback, it is difficult to know why women do not talk in certain group discussions. Do they feel they have nothing worthwhile to say? Do they feel that, even on a subconscious level, no one would want to hear them? Perhaps they see topics like these as the domain of men and wish to register no strong complaints. It could be all of these, and neither.

What I will say is that I saw enough strongly-opinionated women present there to make me appreciative of their presence. One of the many ironies of this conference is that they led many of the activities. And another irony of this conference is that most participants were women. I’d say probably 65% of those registered were women and the remaining 35% were men. And yet, even with this high a female participation rate, there were still issues with a male minority sometimes dominating group talks.

This shows us the power of oppressive systems, including that of the oft-decried Patriarchy. Such topics were discussed in great detail. Highly educated liberals, highly educated participants had a command of terminology in many fields, gender studies being only one. This included men, which impressed me. The question remaining for us is to know how beyond theory to establish gender equity. One school would have us encourage women to fight in the trenches with the men, in the hopes that eventually some of that crusading spirit might rub off on a few of them. Another school would have us raise our children very differently, to place a priority on being outspoken and with no fear of censure or that women’s voices somehow matter less.

Yet, if we are to be true with each other, step up and step back has some flaws. It engages women who are rightfully indignant for a time, in an instant, but not forever. I’ve chosen not to speak about its impact upon men because the same basic issues are present here, too. It requires men to monitor the gender balance upon a room and make a judgment call. But if we do not impress upon men the need for someone to take this role, to call out other men, then little to nothing will change.

This conference was almost exclusively loving and compassionate. I witnessed few, if any incidents of drama or raised voices. Everyone knew their terminology and had read Howard Zinn. It is not for the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers that I worry. It is, instead, as T.S. Eliot put it, a thousand tedious arguments of insidious intent leading us to an overwhelming question. It is the fear and resentment of whites who believe they are losing something in giving up their majority or any number of perceived privileges in which they think they are losing their power. It is spaces like these which are neither calm, nor rational, and certainly do not self-govern well when they are necessary.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Quote of the Week

  • My heart is warm with friends I make,
       And better friends I'll not be knowing,
    Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
       No matter where it's going.
    • "Travel", st. 3, Second April, 1921- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Saturday Video

Because I can't seem to locate the lyrics, I'll share a bit about the content. Jale is about as obscure a band as one can find. An all-girl alternative Canadian pop group from Halifax, Nova Scotia, they released two albums in the early to mid 90's and then were never seen or heard from again.

In addition to being practically unknown in their homeland, they were even more unknown in the United States. That said, they are products of the melodic pop of their era, kind of like a Canadian Belly, without Tanya Donnelly's disturbing lyrics. I would have never come across this album had I not lived in indie record stores at the time. Being that both of their albums were released on Sub Pop, it lent their music immediate cred among the underground. Sadly, good reviews do not always lend themselves to sales, and Jale's time in the sun was regrettably minimal.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

It's Been Real

As promised, it is conference time for me. I am taking an approximately week long break from blogging, e-mail, texting profusely, and otherwise perusing the internets.

I will return on Thursday, June 11, hopefully feeling calmer and happier. I will make sure to at least put the Saturday Video and Quote of the Week on autopost, because it takes me all of five minutes to do either.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

God Is Calling His People Home

I have a history of ministers in my bloodline, but not as extensively as, say, Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a fourth-generation preacher. My great-great-great-grandfather John Jackson Camp was a Methodist minister. My great-grandfather J.C. Smallwood was a Pentecostal minister. One of my religious mentors has consistently asked me to consider seminary, to follow in their footsteps, but I do not feel myself ready to enter the ministry yet. It is an often lonely existence, requiring frequent moving, constant uprooting and replanting, the need at times to intervene between warring members, and the crucial need to establish airtight boundaries to keep a congregation from sucking you dry. I'm not sure I can do that, yet.

Recent dialogue within my soon-to-be former Meeting has underscored the need, once again, for God. I know the whole of my audience may not be especially religious, but within the nexus of these words are the same conflicts that rip relationships of all kinds apart. It has led me recently to leave and start again, like a pilgrim, somewhere else. As Quakers say, sometimes Way can open unexpectedly, proof to us that God intercedes directly in our lives if we are receptive to his timing and not our own. I would give some variation of the same advice to anyone else who solicited it.

What might be more meaningful to a non-religious audience is an anecdote I will share with you. Though I am speaking of houses of worship, I might well be speaking to any group of people that must guard against outright rebellion and schism. It is a story that has been on my heart and mind today. This anecdote begins over thirty years ago. My father grew up Pentecostal and was certainly never going to raise his kids that way. My mother had been raised Methodist, and he found that faith more to his liking.

So when he and my mother had children of their own, they started out raising us in a Methodist church. And in the beginning, everything was fine. But after a year or so, the cracks and flaws began to show through and Dad had no patience for church politics.

So we went to a different Methodist church across town. And in the beginning, everything was fine. But after a year or so, the cracks and flaws began to show through and Dad had no patience for church politics.

So we went to another church, this one a liberal Presbyterian one. And in the beginning, everything was fine. But after a year or so, the cracks and flaws began to show through and Dad had no patience for church politics.

So we went to what was essentially a Baptist church, though it called itself officially non-denominational. And in the beginning, everything was fine. But after a year or so, the cracks and flaws began to show through and Dad had no patience for church politics.

Do you see a pattern before you?

I see these declarations made all the time, especially in internet forums. Someone gets huffy and indignant about someone else not seeing the Gospel truth according to them. Then they huff and puff and threaten to leave. Eventually, if this spiral of unresolved indignation continues, some of them do. Some people have been known to use the mere threat of departure as leverage to win a demand or concession.

Leaving prematurely decreases the effectiveness of any Meeting or gathering. I sound like a hypocrite saying this, but the situations for my own exit are very different, and not proper for this post. My days as a young adult are growing short. As defined by the Religious Society of Friends, Young Adults range from 18-35. Under that standard, I have nearly aged out. I leave Friday for my final experience as a Young Adult Friend, with no small amount of mixed feelings. Now I need to decide what I will do with the next phase of my life.

How many of us aspire to someday be the elder statesman, the one pointed to by all with reverence? Conversely, how many of us want to know the new among us, the teenagers grasping for the first time with new ideas, to observe and instruct as mentors as they grow into adulthood? How can we build from the ground up, being instructive to others who would benefit from our experiences? Though I am nowhere near old in years, I have been around long enough to know that through repetition and trial, a person learns a few things worthwhile here and there.

How many of us know that there will be no perfect system, nor philosophy, nor leaders, and always room for improvement? How many of us will not leave when the cracks and the flaws show through? And when name calling and violence should once again rear its ugly head, as it always does eventually, how many of us can distinguish between a truly abusive group or person from those that are simply a reflection of an incompatible philosophy not in tune with our own?

It's easy to make assumptions and easier still to ignore our God-given insight. If we believe, God has not abandoned us. He is for there for us in the presence of the Holy Spirit, whenever we need him. In 1 Corinthians 13, it is written thus: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." As flawed beings, even with our intellect, what we think and say and reason is incomplete and will never be known fully. Instead, we peer through puzzling reflections on a mirror wondering what they mean.

Our world is darkness unless we see the Light. My entire ministry has been to direct people back to God. As I said, I am the descendant of ministers. Their legacy courses through me with every fiber of my being. I say again. It is time to go back to God. Regardless of what past societal ill we are discussing or what unrest breaks out tomorrow, unless the clergy becomes involved, significant change never will, either. I recognize that the Religious Left has a sometimes strained relationship with many political liberals, and more than I would like to admit, these criticisms have some validity.

I have worked judiciously in both camps, having studied the Civil Rights Movement extensively in my reading, like the good Quaker that I am. As that union between clergy and the secular has fractured, so has much else. We have much to teach each other, as long as we take care to play translator on occasion and resist the tendency to think anyone needs converting. What we witnessed in Baltimore had no Martin Luther King pleading for order, nor any Bobby Kennedy pleading for order upon the assassination of Martin Luther King. In many ways, it took place like the L.A. riots of nearly twenty-five years ago. No charismatic politician or preacher got in front of an issue.

If ever was proof for the need for religion, both the results of riots and the circumstances that start them shows the need plainly. But what are required more than anything else are the need for new religious leaders, and, frankly, new leaders in general. We on the Religious Left need a new leader, a man or woman who might draw his or her own cover of Time. The headline, as I envision it, would read either Man of God or Woman of God. 

When you think of home, what images and thoughts come to mind? Is it summertime in your childhood? Is it a loved one who always makes you feel safe and secure, no matter what? Is it the grandmother who read you stories on her lap? Is it a trip in adulthood to some space that felt sacred to you, somehow? Home takes many forms. 

Though I respect my brothers and sisters who are not religious, which, I should probably add, include members of my own family, nothing would make me happier to see more of you present in a house of worship. Nothing would warm my heart more if you took your talents, skills, energy, and ambition, and harnessed them to a living tradition that is thousands of years old, especially when one considers that our country is not even 250 yet. 

Use the options given to you. God is calling his people home and, whether you believe in this statement literally or not, he has a space for you there, too. Make homes for others, friends. God doesn't care about your racial makeup or your sexual orientation. The very hairs on our heads, as it is written, are numbered. Think of how much God cares for you if he knows the existence of a single hair that you yourself may shed painlessly and never be the wiser.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Utah Pictures

Sorry for the late posting today. Enjoy!

Utah Pictures

Monday, June 01, 2015

Legal Adventures and Emma Sulkowicz

My father believes that we no longer live in a man's world. In his eyes, a politically correct worldview in which women dominate and are always given the benefit of the doubt has taken control. One of the currently sexy terms in the feminism of my generation is impressing upon men that it is their responsibility not to rape, not a woman's need to protect herself. In the 1990's, the focus was on sexual harassment, especially in the workplace. It began in haste with the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings.

This is my major problem with the justice system. Placing women in the victim role for any reason makes an assumption that they are weak, must be protected from themselves, and often have no autonomy of their own. And the issue with the victim role is that other people, often men, who dominate the fields, get to make judgment calls like these on a regular basis. Laws and statutes are drawn up this way, and many of them were designed by the system to protect women. But even with good intentions, the results are not always foolproof because they were mostly drafted and passed into law by men.

I don't see Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz, she who carried the bed upon which she was raped, as a victim. Victim is an odd word in our vocabulary. It can mean so many different things. You could say that someone targeted for being LGBT was a victim, and we bow our head in sadness for yet another sad example of homophobic behavior. But if you've ever been forced to report and prosecute a charge yourself, victim takes a very different meaning. You don't necessarily get the ability to define what you mean by victim. Police officers and legal experts make that call.

And while they may be a necessary aspect of the criminal justice system as currently designed, calling a woman a victim in that context is not particularly empowering. It might win sympathy from a jury, a police officer, or a witness, but being a victim comes on their terms, not the person who committed the offense. Victimhood sometimes means sit down and shut up.

I have never experienced, save one incident, a severely traumatic offense. But that was in my childhood. In my adulthood, I had to take an ex-girlfriend to court to obtain an order of protection, to prosecute harassment communications of frequent angry phone calls, and to let her know that hacking into my e-mail account was never acceptable conduct. It took an entire day to fill out all the forms, pay all the fines, and speak to the responsible parties.

If I had no court system on my behalf, I would have much preferred speaking to her face to face. I remember that I was called first. As I stood at the podium, my hands shaking with fear, I could barely get the words out. I'd even taken a tranquilizer to see if it would cut down on my anxiety. And even then, the judge did not rule in my favor. Even with the bitterness, even with the annoyance, even with a bit of fear, I wonder if Emma Sulkowicz would feel justified in speaking directly to her attacker. The criminal charges against him have been dropped, but a Title IX charge is in the works.

Not to sound pessimistic, because I want the result of this action to turn out for Ms. Sulkowicz, I have been in enough courtrooms over the years and observed enough proceedings to have my eyes opened. If I am wrong in saying this, I will be gladly wrong, but I am afraid that this action will not turn out favorably. When I was considering suing my employer, I was going up against an extremely wealthy, old money enclave of my hometown. The lawyer I consulted told me that I didn't really have a case, but I bluffed to the police officer assigned to my case that I was intending to sue anyway. He then tried to have me arrested on four separate occasions.

This is to say that the criminal justice system is mean, tough, and rarely fair. To let them know that they meant business, two plain-clothed cops met me at my doctor's office. They were trying to intimidate me but I shook their hands in passing just as firmly as they did mine. My ex-girlfriend was close personal friends with a lawyer routinely interviewed on CNN, meaning I didn't stand a chance without any representation of my own. So I swallowed my pride and realized that sometimes you just can't fight City Hall.

I'm not saying this to discourage Emma Sulkozicz and those who will continue to be wronged and file charges. What I am saying is that our judicial system is fatally flawed. It's not fair for women in some ways and it's not fair for men in some ways. A woman who is physically abused by a man will be believed more than a man who is physically abused by a woman. In my case, a woman who left harassing phone calls and then hacked into my e-mail might have been more easily believed than an account of physical violence.

Major cases like Ms. Sulkozicz are the most difficult of all. The stakes are huge and so are the rewards. Everyone knows it. And because everyone knows it, the stress level of everyone actively participating is incredible. I don't think it's possible to understate the tension that results from the hugest of huge cases. But even if one doesn't turn out as hoped, others may succeed. Taking the long view may be the best approach any of us can take when we're trying to make significant changes, especially to institutes of higher learning like Columbia University that charge $26,000 per semester, assuming if you can even get admitted. That's big bucks.

My experience with the court system was small ball. I was challenging a city where the mean income is $100,000, the wealthiest in the state, and one of the ten wealthiest in the entire country. This is why I got the shakedown from the cops, because every lawyer with two nickels to rub together was chomping at the bit to finally take the city down. Say what you will about honor and justice, but they're only words to me now.

I want Emma Sulkozicz to be persistent, but to understand the odds she faces. Perhaps she does already and if she doesn't, whomever serving as her legal counsel does. And for those of us cheering her on from the gallery, let's be realistic at initial outcomes. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easily or at the first try.