Friday, December 30, 2016

Quote of the Week

I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe or pretend to believe that all is ordered by chance, I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.- John Adams

Saturday Video

All is quiet on New Year's Day
A world in white gets underway
I want to be with you, be with you night and day
Nothing changes on New Year's Day
On New Year's Day

I will be with you again
I will be with you again

Under a blood red sky
A crowd has gathered, black and white
Arms entwined, the chosen few
The newspapers says, says

Say it's true, it's true
We can break through
Though torn in two
We can be one

I, I will begin again
I, I will begin again

Oh, maybe the time is right
Oh, maybe tonight

I will be with you again
I will be with you again

And so we are told this is the Golden Age
And gold is the reason for the wars we wage
Though I want to be with you, be with you night and day
Nothing changes on New Year's Day
On New Year's Day
On New Year's Day

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Saturday Video

Somebody shut the door
I know where temptation lies
Inside of you heart
You can talk during this

I know where the evil lies
Inside of your heart
Well get out of here

If you're gonna try to make it right
You're surely gonna end up wrong
Wrong wrong wrong wrong

That's the only chord I know
I know where the mirror's edge
Is inside of your heart

It's no even within five feet
Well if you're gonna make it right
You're surely gonna end up wrong
You don't look like Martha and the Vandellas
I'm just gonna start it all over again

Somebody get her out of here
Electricity comes from other planets
(It's not that a bad solo. Four times is pretty together)
(You can stay here)

I know where temptation lies
Inside of your heart
Yes he's ready

I know where the evil lies
Inside of your heart
Is he ready

Well if you're gonna make it right
You're surely gonna end up wrong

Oh the hole mess start again
Well New York buildings are very height
And not all offensive
Lock the door

Gonna carry on at infinite light, my dear
The Pope in the silver castle
Was that awful.
Hey, that's fine. That's it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Melancholy Christmas

I’ve I’ve decided I’ll talk a break from politics a while to share a personal story. For a time I resisted writing about it because the pain was too fresh. Now, three months later, I’m finally able to talk about it in some detail. I write as much to share this story with you as to make sense of my own thoughts.

My wife’s mother died in October from an extremely aggressive form of stomach cancer. The family barely had time to say goodbye. Though her first symptoms presented themselves in January of this year, she was not formally diagnosed until August. The first stroke that left her unable to speak and largely inhibited occurred barely thirty days later. A mere month later following that she was gone, not before lingering in a comatose state for two weeks in hospice care before finally expiring. I was not present for that portion, my wife feeling it better that blood family only be present. At any rate, there would have been a limit to my ability to help, complete with that sinking, helpless feeling of waiting, day in and day out, for someone to eventually expire.

In some ways, the process of death was mercifully brief, but a more protracted period of illness would have allowed her mother the ability to make amends and say a final goodbye. As it turns out, she never heard the chance. Much is left unresolved, no doubt many grievances and final remarks forever unsaid. One of the double-edged benefits of an extended period of dying is the ability to make peace for all time, and that was a courtesy never granted my father-in-law, sister-in-law, and wife. My wife was not as close to her mother as she was to her father and I’m sure mother and daughter would have benefited for some heartfelt confession time, but this was not how fate played out, for better or for worse.

This Christmas will be difficult, as any first Christmas without a loved one. As an in-law, I am present for moral support, but there’s a limit to my effectiveness as counselor. My wife has turned inwards as a way of coping, inwardly detaching herself in ways that I find perplexing and sometimes alienating. I implore her to vocalize her suffering and the thought process that goes into it. Sometimes my verbal prompting provides results. Sometimes she retreats again into her head, which I find maddening, though I am not unsympathetic to the reasons why she has adopted such a system of grieving.

As she was not my mother, it still has not quite set in that she will not be present for the traditional unwrapping of presents on Christmas morning. In fact, I find it hard to believe that she is not still alive. I half expect her to be perched in her familiar alcove just outside the kitchen, welcoming us in from a long journey. Naturally, it is a million times worse for my wife, who was raised by the very person she has now lost and no amount of mental energy and good intentions will ever make me fully understand. I recognize that.

But if there is any redeeming value to Christmas, to the gathering together of family, I want to be part of it. I want to be a good husband, for whatever that means. I’m willing to grant her infinite patience, love, and understanding, even if it’s challenging. I come from a family of talkers and infinite verbosity. She regularly retreats inside her head, especially now, leaving me frustrated at a lack of feedback.

Christmas has multiple meanings, and I want to fit as best I can into what will be a likely sad and melancholy holiday. But surely there is joy in being together. What makes this particular gathering especially unfortunate is that under most circumstances this would be a day of great celebration. Instead it has been a reminder of a person no longer present and the ghosts and remnants of her that remain. I admit I’m not sure how to keep away these truly sad associations, or if that is even feasible.

But I have resolved that I will do the best I can the best way I can. As a family, it has been a tradition to watch together the time-honored film A Christmas Carol, the 1980’s made-for-television version with George C. Scott as Scrooge. I must admit I am reminded of the scene where Scrooge is confronted with the Ghost of Christmas Future, a future where Tiny Tim has passed on, leaving behind only his crutch. It is the metaphorical crutch of my mother-in-law that remains, still present somehow in our memories and in a few trinkets scattered here and there but also very much gone. This is the grief that does not recede easily and no doubt has lasting power.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Quote of the Week

Всяк кули́к своё боло́то хва́лит.
Transliteration: Vsyak kulik svoyo boloto khvalit.
Translation: Every sandpiper praises his own swamp.
Meaning: Everyone praises their own work (or possession), no matter how inferior it is.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Saturday Video

I can't look at the rocket launch
The trophy wives of the astronauts
And I won't listen to their words

'Cause I like

I don't care for walkin' downtown
Crazy autocar gonna mow me down
Look at all the people like cows in a herd

Well, I like

If you're small and on a search
I've got a feeder for you to perch on

I can't stand in line at the store
The mean little people are such a bore
But it's alright if you act like a turd

'Cause I like

If you're small and on a search
I've got a feeder for you to perch on

If you're small and on a search
I've got a feeder for you to perch on
I've got a feeder for you to perch on

If you're small and on a search
I've got a feeder for you to perch on
I've got a feeder for you to perch on

Monday, December 12, 2016

Safeguards, The Electoral College, and Our Role

I have observed some of the frantic, last minute petitions to the Electoral College with a degree of bemusement. One or two courageous electors willing to not cast their votes for Donald Trump may be about the best for which we can hope. Not that I do not share their desire to erase the results of a mistake, but rather that I know we will not be let off quite so easily. The United States has had incompetent and ineffectual Presidents before. One needs only look at the procession of one-term, unsatisfying office holders in power immediately to the Civil War to see that much.

It is another event in history that portends better for us, if we want to truly understand the nature of who we are as Americans and the currents that made us the unique nation we are today. The Electoral College as an institution was designed as a means of protection, but we are seeking to interpret its function through our own eyes and for our own reasons. The truth is more complicated than that.

The Founders were all once British citizens. As such, they were well aware of the consequences of the English Civil War, which had concluded a generation before their birth. The French Revolution which followed its American counterpart is better understood, far more dramatic and radical, which makes for good storytelling. But it is the English Civil War of the misunderstood Seventeenth Century, sometimes called the Puritan Revolution, that is integral to connecting the dots between then and now.

The incompetent King Charles I was deposed and eventually executed, after somehow managing to anger and isolate every segment of English soil. It was a decision not arrived at lightly, and the English monarch was the first to lose his head in such a public fashion, an act that sent shock waves throughout the rest of Europe. The war itself raged for years, until finally reaching a conclusion that includes several confusing turns and counter-turns before its conclusion. The governing body of ordinary citizens known as Parliament took control, but the story doesn’t end there. Parliament could never reach consensus on matters of basic governance, which meant that the strong-willed Oliver Cromwell eventually ruled the island nation as military dictator for a decade.

And yet, after twenty years of experimentation, after being the first nation to rule completely without a King or Queen, Cromwell’s death inspired a renewal of the monarchy in 1680. This truly 360 degree turn did not happen overnight, as human nature, evolution, and basic recognition is usually gradual. On these shores, Prohibition was enacted with great struggle, tolerated uneasily for a decade and a half, and then eventually overturned by a more sober nation.

Precedent exists, but this is to say that nothing worth fighting for begins easily or ends quickly. We may think with our lightning-fast technology and push-button reality that major decisions can be made with a snap of the fingers. Humans are extremely creative and innovative creatures, but our basic evolution as physical beings is far more limited.  

I think that an eventual Trump impeachment, provided enough time, is not unfeasible. He has ample baggage already pulling him down. One only hopes that he doesn’t cause the world significant, highly avoidable problems in the interim. We’re going to need a lot of adults in the room for the duration. Our Chief Executive is not going to be an example to emulate for a good long while. I’m trying my best to adjust, knowing that I will constantly be disappointed and discouraged for the duration.

The Founding Fathers constructed a government to improve upon the systems they had studied, and eliminate the flaws that they had seen elsewhere. They were quite familiar with the massive problems that had been created by a foolish king. Patience with a monarch who claimed divine right to rule had eventually given way to warfare and violence. But they operated from an Enlightenment point of view, one predicated upon supreme optimism, believing that scientific thought and reason could correct human shortcomings. They could not have predicted the pessimism of our age, and the desperation and cruel spite that creates leaders like Donald Trump.

We’ve collectively been trying to make sense of what has happened, but sometimes decisions made off of emotion, not logic, do not stand up to rational analysis. The Founders, if they were alive today, would ask us to apply scientific, measured precision to solve our problems. Every unfortunate situation provides lessons. Each age creates its own challenges and governments derived among men must take into account that it sometimes takes years for a nation to find proper footing and responsible leadership. I hope our sojourn in the woods doesn’t last any longer than it has to.

The United States of America does not have a clear direction of where it is headed, else it would have never entertained this reactionary notion in the first place. In order to be in line with those idealistic souls who put its very framework together, it must embrace a shared goal that renews hope and promises positive gain for everyone. We are currently too indebted to the shadows. Attaining what we need is possible, but it will place requirements on everyone to look beyond fear and loathing. We did not end up here overnight and our problems will not be easily cast asunder.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Quote of the Week

My experiences with science led me to God. They challenge science to prove the existence of God. But must we really light a candle to see the sun?- Wernher von Braun

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saturday Video

A boy is born in hard time Mississippi
Surrounded by four walls that ain't so pretty
His parents give him love and affection
To keep him strong moving in the right direction
Living just enough, just enough for the city

His father works some days for fourteen hours
And you can bet he barely makes a dollar
His mother goes to scrub the floors for many
And you'd best believe she hardly gets a penny
Living just enough, just enough for the city, yeah

His sister's black but she is sho 'nuff pretty
Her skirt is short but Lord her legs are sturdy
To walk to school she's got to get up early
Her clothes are old but never are they dirty
Living just enough, just enough for the city, um hum

Her brother's smart he's got more sense than many
His patience's long but soon he won't have any
To find a job is like a haystack needle
Because where he lives they don't use colored people
Living just enough, just enough for the city

Living just enough
For the city
Living just enough
For the city

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Trump: Not an Ideologue or Crusader

Donald Trump has yet to formally be sworn in, and he is already the source of many wild predictions and some of the most intense speculation in modern times. Based on the very small sample size of information that has been laid before us, how things will inevitably shake out remains to be seen. Being prepared for the worst case scenario might not necessarily be wasted effort, but I don’t know enough yet to even make an educated guess. The fear and anxiety is real enough, but those are two very different things. We know this much. Changes will occur that we strongly disagree with in basic principle, but they might further erode public trust more than bringing us to the brink of economic war with China or a hot war with Russia.

It remains to be seen whether Trump’s government will be an updated version of fascism for the 21st Century. Nazi ideology was extensively precise. I would never call Trump precise for any reason. According to its own perverse logic, Nazism was the very definition of a series of arguments based around purity, racial purity being only one of them. I don’t doubt that the billionaire Chief Executive-to-be is dangerous, but I think he may be more a sleazy new car salesman than an intimidating strongman. No one yet has focused on another potential outcome, if history is any guidebook to the future, the single term of Warren Harding, ninety-six years ago.

Harding’s government was the very definition of pay-for-play cronyism, crooked to the core in a way Hillary Clinton could, in Trumpspeak, never have begun to imagine. Almost overnight, the executive branch of the United States government took on the guise and persona of organized crime. The Mafia is unconcerned with purity arguments, rhetorical justifications, or reversing established precedent. It merely wants money, power, and the ability to propagate itself without outside interference. Corruption in government is not the harbinger of a terrifying new authoritarianism, it is merely old news in a new package.

How very strange that the electorate felt that it was time to drain the swamp and yet installed a leader who may do the very opposite by the time his term comes to an end. Hypocrisy in elected officials, especially those who sell themselves as saviors is another sad tradition in American politics. Back in 1920, a majority of Americans were weary of wars to make the world safe for democracy, nation-building an ocean away, and Utopian world alliances. And put that way, we’re really not that different now than we once were. The impulse to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world popular then was popular before.

I don’t think Donald Trump much cares to reverse Roe v. Wade or to recriminalize marijuana. Some of his cabinet appointees may take formal stances like these, but Trump is, to reiterate, not an ideologue. It is the opportunistic streak in many of those who have benefited from their loyalty and patronage that concern me most. They backed a long-shot candidate in the hopes of riding coattails to greater power and influence. Their primary allegiance is to themselves and to pad their own pockets. Bribery, influence-peddling, and graft on a grand scale will become enabled at the end of next month. No one is left to watch the store and without substantial oversight, liberties can and will be taken.

During the campaign, an argument advanced to elect Trump was that he was already too rich and too powerful to be paid off or unduly swayed. Though being President will hurt him in the pocketbook, Trump now has the world’s largest bully pulpit, which allows him the ability to exercise his strongest attribute, an inability to stop talking, Tweeting, or communicating something to someone else. Nixon’s downfall was initiated by underlings but proved his undoing by his personal efforts to cover up the crime. Trump’s problem is a little different. He is too undisciplined to keep subordinates from taking off with the store or settling old scores. True fascism requires lockstep devotion and supreme coordination. I really don’t see evidence of that here. The Donald is, to put it mildly, a mess.

It’s easier for progressive-minded people to voice their dissent by utilizing old methods, particularly by means of the umbrella term colloquially referred to as social justice. We can march on Washington for women’s rights and against global warming, but what control do we have over political favoritism and greased palms? Not that the issues lauded by many people aren’t important, but they accentuate how far removed we are from the mechanicians of K Street lobbyists and the halls of power. My purity movement or single-issue organization can oppose yours. I can reduce it to a bumper sticker slogan but short-circuiting the process from the outset is a different matter altogether. Activists find themselves playing defense more than they would like.

Even a Presidency as unpredictable and unconventional as Donald Trump’s is going to be easy to dissect in some ways. We may be losing sight of the larger picture in our haste to sound the alarm. President Trump might be no different than President Harding, which is bad enough. Harding realized too late that he’d been a stooge the whole time, that his supposed friends had used him from Day One. Trump is not naive and likely has lived enough in the public eye long enough to know that he needs to take care to look over his shoulder, but he may eventually reach the same conclusion. We as Americans can decide whether or not he is a candidate for our pity once that stage is reached. At the end, everyone’s been played.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Why Quakers Revere Silence: An Answer in Part

When I became a Friend, I was naturally curious to know why Quakers chose such an unusual and even initially confusing means of worship. Generations of visitors have been reverently mystified, leaving me to play tour guide to curious newcomers. Spending an hour in centering silence doesn’t happen in other religious traditions. There are moments of silence, of course, but not whole minutes or even whole meetings.

Most of the time, the exchange of information in a religious service is largely one way, with everyone faced forward, necks craning towards the action occurring center stage. I grew up in the programmed tradition, though I sought to break the fourth wall in my own way, participating as an acolyte in my family’s Methodist church. I lit the candles on the altar at the start of worship and dispensed brass collection plates when it came time to pass them. Perhaps then it was easy for me to vocalize my offering in Worship, though by no means was I an experienced speaker or entirely comfortable in the role.

Returning to the topic at hand, I have found a few answers to my query, though I won’t pretend to know the entire story. I have at least been able to trace the roots to later antecedents than the Primitive Christianity revived again that William Penn advanced. The Early Friends resonated strongly with a contemporary movement in Christian philosophy called Quietism, which was deemed heresy by the Roman Catholic Church in 1687. Quakers deliberately spread the teachings of Miguel de Molinos, a Spanish mystic, and the wealthy French widow Madame Guyon.

Miguel de Molinos gets to the jist of Quaker practice and the thought process of the average attender of Meeting for Worship in three short paragraphs. Below I include an excerpt of his The Spiritual Guide, written in 1675. It was an overnight success and a 17th Century bestseller, being translated into six languages and going through twenty editions in five years.

There are three kinds of silence; the first is of words, the second of desires, and the third of thoughts. The first is perfect; the second more perfect; and the third most perfect. The perfection of the soul consists not in speaking nor in thinking a great deal about God but in loving him sufficiently.
In order for a rational creature to understand the secret desire and intention of your heart, it is necessary for you to express it to him in words. But God, who searches the heart, does not need you to profess and assure him of it; nor is he satisfied, as the evangelist says, with love in word and in tongue, but that which is true and active.
What good does it do to tell him with great zeal and fervor that you love him tenderly and perfectly above all things, if at one bitter words of slight injury you fail to resign yourself, not being mortified for the love of him? A manifest proof that your love was a love in tongue and not in deed.
Silence is valued more than any sound or any word formally verbalized. As an idea, it’s a good way to understand that a totally silent Meeting for Worship is not meaningless. Much exists underneath the surface. Some vocal ministry bubbles to the surface and enriches our own experience, but the individual process of discernment keeps us returning to the well.

Quietists were seen as heretical because they relied fully on God’s intended aims for their lives, even to an extreme. Most Christians wished to work their way to salvation and to heaven through good works and right living. Quietists assumed that full devotion might even imply that they themselves couldn’t even enter the Kingdom of Heaven if God didn’t will it. That’s a thought that doesn’t always sit well with me, since I do believe that conducting my life properly comes with the promise of a reward.

I wish we did a better job as Friends of understanding our roots. As I was trained as a historian, I find ample evidence of how poorly we understand the past on a continual basis. Armed with this short article, we might speak to our own personal concerns and the questions of those curious to learn more about us. I conclude with a query or two of my own. What does silence mean to you? How do you envision your role within Meeting for Worship?

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Quote of the Week

One of the most ridiculous aspects of democracy will always remain the fact that it has offered to its mortal enemies the means by which to destroy it.-Joseph Goebbels

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Saturday Video

Look out, Mama,
there's a white boat
comin' up the river

With a big red beacon,
and a flag,
and a man on the rail

I think you'd better call John,
'Cause it don't
look like they're here
to deliver the mail

And it's less than a mile away
I hope they didn't come to stay
It's got numbers on the side
and a gun
And it's makin' big waves.

Daddy's gone,
my brother's out hunting
in the mountains

Big John's been drinking
since the river took Emmy-Lou

So the powers that be
left me here
to do the thinkin'

And I just turned twenty-two
I was wonderin' what to do
And the closer they got,
The more those feelings grew.

Daddy's rifle in my hand
felt reassurin'

He told me,
Red means run, son,
numbers add up to nothin'

But when the first shot
hit the dock I saw it comin'

Raised my rifle to my eye
Never stopped to wonder why.

Then I saw black,
And my face splashed in the sky.

Shelter me from the powder
and the finger
Cover me with the thought
that pulled the trigger

Think of me
as one you'd never figured
Would fade away so young
With so much left undone

Remember me to my love,
I know I'll miss her.

Friday, December 02, 2016

A Resurgence of Hope and Morality in Trump's America

We as Americans are divided along political and ideological lines, surely, but what gets less attention is how divided we are along moral lines. Though I write as a person of faith, we are not yet so divorced from the notion of basic upright precepts that we no longer have any shared definitions of what constitutes acceptable from unacceptable behavior. One hopes we are not yet that cynical, nor that nihilistic, but a recent major election result has cast a pallor over that which constitutes decent and acceptable conduct.

Many of us on the Left have recovered from our shock long enough to unpack and deconstruct a variety of disquieting conclusions. One of them was the truly pathetic notion that a very large swath of Trump's defenders hypocritically supported a candidate brazenly antithetical towards any basic understanding, comprehension, or willingly implementation of Christian values. These voters might take care to be reminded of a passage from the New Testament book of Romans as appropriately tough medicine. Eighty percent of self-identified Evangelicals voted for the President-Elect, but must still come to grips with the base hypocrisy of their decision.

An cursory evaluation of the first few verses of Romans 13 might seem on its face to support the Trump regime, or for that matter any government currently in power of any persuasion.

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you.

I find it difficult to believe that God could have placed Donald Trump in office as a sign of anything more than a painful reminder of how flawed and imperfect creatures we truly are. While I agree that all authority comes from God, how do we define “authority”? And furthermore, when does human authority exceed its earthly limit and push back against the divine will of God? In these days of Islamophobia, prejudice, and Black Lives Matter, can this statement really be said to be 100% true in every context? In my mind, this statement needs much further analysis. Paul of Tarsus, the writer of this Epistle, continues:

The authorities are God's servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God's servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.

Let’s remember that in this time, Christians were still being openly persecuted by the Roman Empire. But to return to the passage in question, are these authorities really sent only for our good? Maybe in a best-case scenario sort of way, assuming their motives were pure, one might assert it, but I remain skeptical. This might have been a slightly overreaching way of ensuring that Christians didn’t find themselves thrown more eagerly into the dens of lions or publicly executed. Paul also claimed that slaves ought to be subservient to their masters, but that is an even thornier matter I will not confront here.

Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do.

But I can’t argue with every statement in this book. Regarding the passage above, you’ll register no complaints from me here. Put this way, taxes should be viewed from a more liberal lens than a conservative one. They are societal and moral obligations that every citizen must participate in to ensure that government functions successfully. Everyone should pay taxes, from the super rich to the middle class, though I do not think tax burdens should fall heavily upon the backs of the poor. Government workers should reap the benefit of taxation, not greedy corporate capitalists.

These words alone contain deeper meanings than a cursory view might reveal. Christians have historically taken one of three positions regarding their role in government as expressed by this chapter. All Christians, likewise with most religious people, agree that we are to live at peace with the state as long as the state allows us to live by our religious convictions. That was the reasons why so many faith groups migrated to our country from the very beginning. For hundreds of years, however, there have been at least three interpretations of the form these verses are to take.

1. Some Christians take a fully separatist approach, like the Amish and some Old Order Mennonites. They believe that the state is so corrupt that people of faith should have as little to do with it as possible. The Amish believe that we already live in a fallen world.

Some Protestant denominations often take this stance as well, though not quite to the same degree. They prefer to raise their children and live their lives in a protective bubble of their own creation. Although they think that they should be good citizens as long as they can do so without compromising their beliefs, they firmly assert that they should not work for the government, vote, or serve in the military. One sees evidence of this system of belief within Orthodox Judaism as well.

2. Others believe that God has given the state authority in certain areas and the church authority in others. Christians and believers can be loyal to both and and can work for either. This is the stance most religious Americans take, or even most self-professed moral people adhere to, though they are cautioned in this chapter that they should never confuse the two. In this view, church and state are concerned with two totally different spheres--the spiritual and the physical. Each compliment the other but do not work together. They were never designed to do so and, as the thinking goes, they never will.

3. Still others believe that Christians have a responsibility to make the state better through direct action. In the past, temperance crusaders, abolitionists, and suffragettes all took this stance, using religious and moral justification as motivation for their actions. Many progressive people of faith, Quakers like myself being one notable example, also share this sentiment. They can show evidence of this politically by electing people of high moral principle who also mirror their religious values. They can also do this by seeking to live by example, serving as an influence for good in society. In this view, church and state together ideally work together for the good of all.

It should be stated that none of these stances advocate for full rebellion or a refusal to follow laws, unless moral standards are being clearly and unequivocally violated. And that in and of itself is a matter of interpretation and degree, a debate that will rage first in separate factions before it ever links together due to political expediency and odd bedfellows. What cannot be refuted is that we simply must be responsible, moral citizens. And it is my opinion that the nascent Trump government is neither responsible, nor moral. Though Donald Trump has not yet taken office, I am disturbed by his vast litany of incendiary statements and the quality and caliber of the mostly white men he has appointed to lead his government.

We have an opportunity in front of us to refuse to cave to coercion and political pressure. We even have a right to prevent some rights from being changed to great wrongs. But even if we do not identify as religious, we have one of three approaches to take. We can play duck and cover, cocooning ourselves inside a unreal environment of like-minded individuals. That's one choice. We can compartmentalize secular from the moral/religious and ensure that never the twain shall meet. Or, we can recognize once more that the personal is the political and that we cannot divorce morality and ethics from the process of governance and being governed. While I cannot stress overmuch that we cannot legislate morality ourselves, we cannot afford to have morality either legislated or jackbooted out of American society. The same is true for the American political process.

If you view yourself as a person of faith, a person of deep moral conviction, both, or some combination of the two, please consider my proposal. Every point in human history is unprecedented to some extent, but a few elements of human nature remain fixed and unchanging. What has worked before may yet work again. It is my own personal bias that I wish we would someday return to the Judeo-Christian roots that served us well for hundreds of years, but I also recognize that to some they have been tainted beyond all recognition. Still, if we are not people of faith, may we be still be people of great moral conviction and yes, even love for our fellow man or woman. If we retain this, the words of the prophets will not be proven wrong, and we may even redeem our own human fallibility in the face of great evil. This is our fight to win.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Trump Thanksgiving

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas,
Everybody's looking for something.

Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused.

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

Hold your head up
Keep your head up, movin' on
Hold your head up, movin' on
Keep your head up, movin' on
Hold your head up
Keep your head up, movin' on
Hold your head up, movin' on
Keep your head up, movin' on

Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused.

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Quote of the Week

Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment.- C.S. Lewis

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday Video

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand

I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong
Was I unwise to leave them open for so long?

'Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I've been waiting to awaken from these dreams

People go just where they will
I never noticed them until I got this feeling
That it's later than it seems

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what you see
I hear their cries
Just say if it's too late for me

Doctor, my eyes
Cannot see the sky
Is this the prize
For having learned how not to cry?

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Instructive Nature of Pain

The past election proved to the American people that, as a nation, we are not yet post-racial. But arguably it did show that we may have, confirming years of predictions, finally become a post-Christian, secular society. When cultural conservatives and the Religious Right will take a wild gamble by backing perhaps the least moral presidential candidate ever, the lessons learned go well beyond base hypocrisy and voting out of fear rather than true devotion to a higher law. Human-made notions of race, class, and the always worrisome matter of money were a higher priority to many voters than the primacy of religion.

Now the Democratic Party wanders about in the desert like the Israelites of yore, seeking its true north. The Old Testament is full of tribes and societies who lost their path completely, deviated from belief in God, and pursued false idols instead. Granted our freedom by a loving, not punitive deity, we have as much right to act in ways that are harmful as they are healthy. Beyond superficial notions of winner and loser, one observes no clear direction for this country. Eight years ago, our cups runneth over with expectations. Now we pray for the least destructive course of action to follow.

The Enlightenment provided us an abiding belief in rationalism, that provided enough scrutiny and scientific precision, there was little the human mind could not discover. But by its conclusion it also kindled an extremely influential movement in thought and religious observance known as the Great Awakening. Its first period ran astride several concurrent philosophical and secular revolutions, most famously giving rise to the influential New England sect known as the Puritans, whose legacy we will celebrate in part when the annual Thanksgiving holiday is observed next week. The second Great Awakening of the late 18th and early 19th centuries gave us Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Shakers, Seventh-Day Adventists, and many other professedly Christian denominations.

The context is now set before us. How then should we view the current day? I’ve learned the hard way in discussion with liberals and progressives that forming my arguments from a defensive posture is often the best tact. Using logic and specific, clear-cut examples isn’t merely an effective strategy for the debate team or academic discourse. It changes the dynamics of an argument. Done well, even skeptics have to concede that the opposition has a valid point to make.

Looking backwards into our past no more than fifty or sixty years ago, Americans regularly used biblical allusions in modern day speech. We had a strong cultural familiarity with Scripture, one that has faded a little with the passage of time, but is still strong enough to be revived, much like Lazarus. Apologetics is defined as a branch of theology concerned with the defense or proof of Christianity. I’ve adopted the technique myself to speak to many who fear the worst about the faith, to show that there is great good in belief and much helpful in times of turbulence.

Though I never identified myself as an atheist, I spent many years as an agnostic and most assuredly as a severe critic of Christianity in any form. I suppose in part I am wrestling here with my old self, the way I used to be. The ongoing debate exists foremost within myself and to some extent it always will. Still, I am far from unusual. This perpetual back and forth exists within the heart of everyone who cast a ballot or stated a strong opinion one way or another, if we are to be truly honest with each other. Every few years we are asked whether we need a course correction or should keep steady. Perception is reality. Objective fact can be difficult to discern.

One of the teachings of Jesus is known as the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. A corrupt and deliberately dishonest manager of money was caught red handed in the act. Charges were brought against him. His employer called him to account for his misdoings, intending to fire him on the spot. Realizing he was in a tight spot, the shrewd manager worked out crooked deals with the customers of his boss, carving out for himself a soft place to land. Deep discounts were worked out immediately, reducing payments and debts.

As the story concludes, a few verses of one translation in particular capture the essence of this pertinent parable.

The rich man [employer] had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?

Now we have elected a shrewd manager of our own, a man who could not correctly name and identify a book of the New Testament. In fairness, Howard Dean whiffed on this matter, too. Twelve years ago, the former Vermont governor was asked to identify his favorite book of the New Testament. The answer provided was Job, which is, of course, located in the Old Testament. At least he came close.

Both of these examples prove that religious identification and proficiency with theology is no longer a strict litmus test for major candidates. The election of Trump shows that ideological persuasion speaks more loudly than almost anything else. Religious or not religious at all, millions of us voted for self-interest first and foremost. In theory, Christianity is a religion that encourages us to think beyond ourselves and our own narrow concerns.

Judaeo-Christian values would have us believe that adversity and pain are necessary means of humility, guarding against hubris. The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes teaches that loss and injustice are inevitable.

What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again. I also noticed that under the sun there is evil in the courtroom. Yes, even the courts of law are corrupt! I said to myself, "In due season God will judge everyone, both good and bad, for all their deeds. I also thought about the human condition--how God proves to people that they are like animals.”

We will die as a civilization when we stop believing that change is possible. Even those who voted against their own interests yet again wanted to believe that their lives could improve. A desperately frustrated electorate chose a radical candidate, a move that was as audacious as it was reckless. But neither should it surprise us. In centuries prior to the current day, before the advent of democratic elections, many backed bad kings and emperors to the bitter end.

Any study of history shows that a confluence of events, some intentional, many not, shape the success or failure of any regime. This shouldn’t mean that we ought to be passive observers of what events will unfold in front of us, but it does mean that we, collectively as Americans, have far less control over the future than we may even recognize.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Quote of the Week

"The more unpopular an opinion is, the more necessary is it that the holder should be somewhat punctilious in his observance of conventionalities generally, and that, if possible, he should get the reputation of being well-to-do in the world."- Samuel Butler

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Saturday Video

To pretend no one can find
The fallacies of morning rose
Forbidden fruit, hidden eyes
Curtises that I despise in me

Take a ride, take a shot now
'Cause nobody loves me
It's true
Not like you do

Covered by the blind belief
That fantasies of sinful screens
Bear the facts, assume the dye
End the vows no need to lie, enjoy

Take a ride, take a shot now
'Cause nobody loves me
It's true
Not like you do

Who am I, what and why
'Cause all I have left
Is my memories of yesterday

Oh these sour times
'Cause nobody loves me
It's true
Not like you do

After time the bitter taste
Of innocence decent or race
Scattered seeds, buried lives
Mysteries of our disguise revolve

Circumstance will decide
Nobody loves me
It's true
Not like you do

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Class Envy and Trump's Role in What Comes Next

Part of the American Dream, at least starting at the beginning of the last century, is predicated upon the hope that each of us might attain a four-year college degree. Three quarters of a century ago, college was standard procedure only for those with elite financial means. Both of my mother’s parents, small-town Southerners raised lower-middle class, were told from a very young age that they too might matriculate someday.  They anticipated college with the eagerness of small children on Christmas morning, alongside the resulting climb up the class ladder and greater income they were sure would follow. It was the most profound collective disappointment of their lives that the Great Depression wiped out every penny of their college fund.

My grandfather had a habit of asking me, as a young boy, whether or not certain Presidents had achieved a college degree. I was interested in history and political science, even then. Often I guessed right. Sometimes I guessed wrongly.

Lying on his deathbed, his body ravaged by cancer, my grandfather asked me one final time. Did Harry Truman go to college? I wagered a tentative guess. Yes, I said, pensively. No, he replied, sadly. He did not.

The 2016 race has been dissected in a million different ways by now. We’ll be talking about compelling and entirely plausible reasons why it ended the way it did for at least the next two years. In my rough estimation, frustrated working class people handed this election to Donald Trump. But he has a tall order on his plate, a now empty lunch-pail of American voters, much like the former factory worker clamoring for happier days where, said entirely without irony, America can be great again.

Can President-Elect Trump really put the genie back in the bottle? For decades pundits and news reports informed us that we were quickly moving from an industrial-based economy to the service/information economy that becomes more and more of a force with every passing day. I am unconvinced in the success of Trump’s approach to this extremely complex problem, but do not enjoy seeing people in pain and anger. I am eager for something different, but I’m genuinely afraid of what “something different” is really going to look like for the next four years.

We’ve never really drawn up a sharp distinction in the United States about precisely how our jobs and career paths should be structured. Should we adopt a strict system of tracking similar to the UK? In their approach, early in life, every British citizen is directed towards either a university education or a career in trade. Systems of examinations are used to make individual determinations.

The approach has its detractors, those who feel that it locks in people unfairly. They argue that some individuals are late bloomers, who might change their minds and wish to reverse course. Furthermore, those who disagree adamantly believe that everyone ought to have full freedom of how they choose to make their living. These are valid points, but they lead to a much greater issue we have skirted over for decades.

Does every American need a college degree? A PBS report from two years ago claims that 40% of every citizen in the United States has received at least a bachelor’s. And yet, one would think that having reached this benchmark to success, it would be far easier to attain stable, lasting employment. Even these so-called elites find themselves routinely disenchanted and demoralized, realizing that the expensive degree they hold in their hands means far less than they ever dreamed. And it goes without saying that they are often stuck with thousands of dollars in student loan debt that they will often carry with them into middle age and even beyond. Society says we all ought to have a degree, as do well-meaning parents and high school guidance counselors, but is it finally time to question that assumption and others like it?

But we must also consider, somewhat more heavily, the non-college, working class, often rural-dwellers who effectively flipped this election. What were their motivations? Racism has proven to be alive in well in this campaign, yes, but I would make a case that a more profound impact drove Trump turnout: class envy. American identity is contradictory, as I suppose is true for every country. One is supposed to receive higher education to raise oneself up in station, a step up the ladder. It’s drilled into us from a very young age. Then we begin to recognize that there are social distinctions in life. With time, we learn that we fit into one of them and don’t fit into others.

As I began, a college education and upward mobility is a basic tenet of the American dream, but it often sets a standard that cannot be lived up to no matter how hard a person works and saves. Or, for that matter, borrows. It’s difficult to overemphasize the amount of jealousy and resentment that led many to reject Hillary Clinton wholesale this cycle. This election wasn’t rigged. It is possible for anyone to be President, but to be President, you have to bill yourself as part soothing salve for grievous wrong while ginning up natural prejudices based on economic inequality and simple tribalism. This has been the strategy of both parties over the years.    

If Donald Trump somehow succeeds in returning manufacturing jobs to this country, we will need to reverse course as a nation. It will be not just acceptable, but necessary to work a blue-collar job where having a college degree might be necessary, or might be utterly superfluous. The automobile plant that returns to the United States, in this hypothetical scenario, probably needs four months to train its employees for work specific only to its organization, not four years spent elsewhere learning how to binge drink.

My father’s parents were career textile mill workers. They had, at best, an eighth grade education between the two of them. Dad wanted more for himself, and due to his own hard work, he raised myself and my two sisters in a pretty typical middle-class suburb. Returning to his working class roots was never an option he ever entertained. One summer in the middle of college he worked at the mill, found it totally distasteful to every ounce of his being, and resolved to never return. He got out, and though he experienced some guilt about the people he left behind, he found life much better away from having next to nothing.

I’m not sure that sort of upward trajectory in American society exists anymore. How do we inform Americans that it’s okay to not be highly educated? Being highly educated is as much mindset as it fact. How do we encourage citizens to live in small towns without access to excellent medical care, unable to pick from a multitude of choices to best spend their money, among many other metrics, and be generally okay with what to many would be a step back, not a step forward? I recall a song popular one hundred years ago during World War I. "How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree?)

Trump’s America is going to either thrive or fail dismally based on a concept that is very foreign to American ears. It is called class solidarity. Class solidarity by its very definition is antithetical to the American Dream. It asks for single-minded devotion and a sense of common purpose, one not constantly distracted by demands of self-interest alone, the possibility of making greater income for oneself. The United States has had pockets of this sort of thinking when unions were much stronger. I am not sure we can kill off this desire for greater individual social mobility and turn millions of Americans into happy warriors.

This election has proven that almost anything is possible. But unless Trump can deliver on the promises he has made, now validated by somewhat less half the electorate, his tenure will be a complete waste of four years. Americans do need unity, but it needs to be communal unity, not an expedient unity for the short term, always hungering for the next rung up the proverbial ladder. When fathers and mothers aspire for their offspring to work alongside them at Trump Steel and Rail Corporation™, not the promise of a rise in class status, then these lofty promises might conceivably work. But I’m not holding my breath.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Quote of the Week

The end will show the whole truth.-William the Silent

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Saturday Video

Pack the bag, I'm goin' away
It's over, goin' home
Thank your people, but it's too much to stay
It's done now, I'm goin' home

Now I feel like I'm one
Now I feel like I'm due
Spent my time in some fun
And for that, I thank you

It's over, it's over, it's over, I'm goin' home
It's over, it's over, and for that I thank you

Monday, October 31, 2016

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Quote of the Week

You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you do not trust enough.-Frank Crane

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Moral Imperative: Rescuing the Stuck

It may be instructive at this late stage of the Presidential Election to look at the long view, to spy where we are now from where we started out. All four of my grandparents were proud New Deal FDR Democrats from their early life until when they passed away. Collectively, they formed a great coalition that lasted for a generation. Working class people like they themselves believed that the Democratic Party had been the only one to look out for the needs of poor Americans. Though some would claim that what they thought was merely clever spin and persuasive rhetoric, they were not alone in that sentiment. For decades, most Southerners voted a straight-ticket Democrat ballot. Alabama was a one-party state for thirty to forty years, a place where Republican opposition was nominal, limited to a few outlier counties in the north of the state, and the result of the Republican Primary was inconsequential.

The Solid South has remained generally one color or the other since 1932, though it is has flipped party affiliation over the past few decades. From deepest blue to darkest red, most of what we collectively call the Deep South might be audaciously termed “The Stuck South.” But before I go too far, there are stuck voters everywhere, be they in Appalachia West Virginia coal country or the rust belt of Ohio. President Obama got in trouble a few years ago, labeling voters like these as bitter, clinging to their guns and religion. The remark did not offend me, as I knew precisely what he meant, but the anger is real and this bloc comprises Donald Trump’s base.

Being stuck takes many forms. It’s not only the powerlessness of feeling disenfranchised and abandoned. It can just as easily refer to outrageously corrupt politicians and the lobbyists that nip at their heels. And it can especially refer to the venerated documents by which governments are instituted among men, as Thomas Jefferson famously wrote. Alabama’s state constitution currently contains more amendments than that of the Soviet Union. Due to an obscene oversight that has never been properly corrected, every ballot amendment must be voted on by the entire state on Election Day. Alabama contains sixty-seven separate counties, and many proposed additions pertain only to one specific part of the state.

Proving that cognitive dissonance is alive and well, Alabama’s whole system of government is evidence of needless waste, corruption, and complication. The same state politicians who have criticized Washington, DC, for a career need to remove the beam from their own eye before they remove the speck from their brother’s and sister’s. The era of big government is very much alive in well in the state of Alabama. Though many would challenge me on the facts and particulars, I’m sure it exists much the same way in Mississippi or Arkansas.

This past week I was in Atlanta. If Georgia is truly to be a swing state this election, its largest metropolitan area will color it blue. The city too busy making money to hate has introduced true diversity to a region of the country that resisted it for as long as it could. But if one peers closely enough, one can find easy evidence of those who are indeed stuck. Being stuck is a question of degree and where we focus our attention. A former textile mill or steel mill town might find its local economy decimated, its citizens demoralized. A city like Atlanta draws in enough tourists to provide additional income options like driving Uber or Lyft. Limited as this option is, it nevertheless exists and is simply not found in smaller towns and rural areas.

I am fond of quoting Gertrude Stein on subjects such as these. Regular readers should please pardon the repetition. “Money is always there”, she said, “but the pockets change; it is not in the same pockets after a change, and that is all there is to say about money.” Should we be truly stuck, we know that there are no available funds in our own pockets and bank accounts. To deny that millions of Americans out there are suffering should never be a talking point for either campaign. Rather, it is a sad commentary no economic system yet devised keeps people from slipping between the cracks. Conservatives and liberals disagree vociferously on issues like these, but boom and bust, famine and feast are polar extremes that cannot be avoided.

We vote in a matter of days. Every ballot we cast is based squarely on self-interest, and as much as we like to paint the past in a rosy, nostalgic way, it has always been this way. I am set to push buttons on a screen in a week or so for the candidate who, in my opinion, can get as many Americans unstuck from situations beyond their control. That way, they won’t have cling to anything to compensate for very real fears and insecurities.

Quoting the below passage of the New Testament has become hackneyed and cliched in religious circles, but I enclose it once more to make a point. It is included late in the Jesus story, towards the end of the Gospel of Matthew in a passage often collectively referred to “The Sheep and the Goats.” Explaining its larger theological point is unnecessary here, as the words themselves speak volumes.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?

A verse or two later, Scripture continues.

"And he will answer, 'I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.'

I am casting my ballot based on what candidate might best bring this imperative to the most who need help. But I’m not naive, either. We never know what any politician will do until he or she takes office. Over time, I have grown as cynical and skeptical as many of you have. If we place party allegiance first, it might be possible to create a brand new coalition. But my ultimate loyalty lies elsewhere. If we are Christians, we might dare to call that coalition the Kingdom of God. Still, those of us who are believers know that any system devised by humankind is imperfect and, even if successfully created, is bound to chip away with time. We have some grand old company in that regard.

One of my personal heroes, the historian C. Vann Woodward, concludes his masterful essay “The Burden of Southern History” like this.

America has had cynical disparagement of her ideals from foreign, unfriendly, or hostile critics. But she desperately needs criticism from historians of her own who can penetrate the legend without destroying the ideal, who can dispel the illusion of pretended virtue without denying the genuine virtues. Such historians must have learned that virtue has never been defined by national or regional boundaries, and that morality and rectitude are not the monopolies of factions or parties.
They must reveal the fallacy of a diplomacy based on moral bigotry, as well as the fallacy of one that relies on economic coercion through the fancied indispensability of favored products. Their studies would show the futility of erecting intellectual barricades against unpopular ideas, of employing censorship and repression against social criticism, and of imposing the ideas of the conqueror upon defeated peoples by force of arms.
Such historians would teach that economic systems, whatever their age, their respectability, or their apparent stability, are transitory and that any nation which elects to stand or fall upon one ephemeral institution has already determined its fate. The history they write would also constitute a warning that an overwhelming conviction in the righteousness of a cause is no guarantee of its ultimate triumph, and that the policy which takes into account the possibility of defeat is more realistic than one that assumes the inevitability of victory.
May it be so.

Saturday Video

A heart that's full up like a landfill
A job that slowly kills you
Bruises that won't heal

You look so tired, unhappy
Bring down the government
They don't, they don't speak for us

I'll take a quiet life
A handshake of carbon monoxide

With no alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
Silent, silent

This is my final fit
My final bellyache

With no alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises, please

Such a pretty house
And such a pretty garden

No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises, please

Monday, October 24, 2016

Birthday Post

Hello Readers,

Today I turned 36. I intended to share lots of pithy, sage commentary for today. Instead I discovered that this hotel charges $15 per day for internet service. I'll eat the cost, but the principle of the thing gets to me. As I tap these words out to you, I'm staring out the window into downtown Atlanta, watching rush hour traffic slowly unclog and the sun beginning to set. I once lived here, ten years ago, and left profoundly dissatisfied. Little did I know I was a mere two years from leaving the South forever and moving to Washington, DC.

I really dislike early flights because I inevitably leave behind something (or more than one critical thing). This morning I left behind two crucial medications. One of them I was able to get filled at a CVS across the street, that is after somehow navigating the connecting tunnels that lead to shops and food courts adjacent to the city's downtown high-rent hotel district. The second medication is a controlled substance I likely will not get filled even tomorrow, and perhaps not at all. It has give me the opportunity to sleep restfully at night and I'm upset to likely be without it for the next five days.

My childhood best friend lives here, but we have been estranged for a decade. We tried living together, an arrangement of convenience which has proven to be the undoing of even the strongest bonds of friendship. He is married now, quite happily, and has a two-year-old child. I extended the olive branch towards him this afternoon by way of text message. He's kept the same cell number for over ten years. He responded, favorably, and if our schedules sync, I'll meet him for lunch either Wednesday or Thursday.

It is difficult to overstate the impact he made upon my life. We were both loners, or at least extremely socially awkward and anxious enough that we had few friends other than each other. In our childhood, we ran pell-mell into creek beds, woods, and the occasional half-finished Eagle scout project. When we were not outside playing games of sport, we fired up the Nintendo. After video game designers started making advanced machines with more than four buttons, I was no longer coordinated enough to participate.

I made the first serious trip without adult chaperones of some sort in his company. We went to New York City, a place that still intimidates me and likely always will. He mastered the subway map, I mastered communication with women from across the world. I felt very adult and worldly, but hadn't even really started to live. We went to concerts together, we smoked cigarettes together, we pushed boundaries as every adolescent does. And now we will meet again.

I used to try to hang on to birthdays as long as I could. Now that a birthday is fading away into the next one to follow, I feel that same sort of desperation. There is no way to freeze time. In four years, I will be 40, an astonishing life accomplishment. If you knew me twenty years ago, you'd be surprised I even lived long enough to make it. No need to retell that story. The best ones to come are yet to follow.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Quote of the Week

To me, clowns aren't funny. In fact, they're kind of scary. I've wondered where this started and I think it goes back to the time I went to the circus, and a clown killed my dad.- Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Saturday Video

Thanks to everyone for everything
you've done but now
It's time to go

You know it's hard
We've had some fun

But now the moment's come
It's time to go

Who could ask for more?
Who could ask for more?

Thanks to everyone for everything
you've done but now
It's time to go

You know it's hard
We've had some fun
But now the moment's come

It's time to go

Who could ask for more?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

When Transgender Became Real for Me

Nearly twenty years ago, I was a freshman in undergrad. As part of my major requirements, I took several history classes. In time, I drew the attention of a woman seated on the opposite end of the classroom. She flirted with me and I responded in kind. Though she ultimately intended to tell me herself, she must have made it quite plain to others that she had a crush on me. It turns out that our professor got to me first. Quite by coincidence, he happened to drive by me while I was seated outside of a Blockbuster Video store (remember those?) and shared the news. I was flattered that she’d thought so highly of me and contacted her by phone, in the pre-text messaging era.

Plans were made to meet, to see if we were compatible. I had high hopes. At the time, barely twenty years old, I was still living at home. My grandparents had been present with us until they passed away, leaving behind a basement apartment that my father had built specially for them. It was a space that I now repurposed as my own.

The date arrived. After a pleasant day of sharing company, I steered the two of us towards our final destination. She was not opposed to a private display of affection. Yet, in the middle of it, she told me emphatically that we needed to stop. Aware that she was very uncomfortable, I did as requested, but felt rejected and confused. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before and I wasn’t sure how to take it. Was there something wrong with me? I reflected for several days how disquieting and jarring the experience had been, but took it mostly in stride.

One might think that this is the end of the story. Strangely, it wasn’t. The affection and fondness we’d initially felt for each other never subsided. Though I expected us to part ways forever, she wanted us to remain friends. That was easily done, except that the sexual attraction between the two of us never dissipated, either. As best as I could reckon, she might have had issues with trust and intimacy. But at any rate, we’d at least tried it and found that it wouldn’t work for us.

A few weeks later, I saw her outside of a big multi-plex theater on yet another date. We exchanged pleasantries and parted ways. She said that she was continuing to seek available men, but never seemed to find one she wanted. A few months later she dropped the bombshell announcement that wasn’t. She finally came out of the closet as a lesbian. Now she was seeking available women.

The news did not shock me, and confirmed neatly why I had been rejected. It wasn’t the first time that I’d seemed like a good compromise measure to a closeted lesbian and I was not devastated. Shortly thereafter, she found a girlfriend, with whom she is, I’m pleased to say, with this very moment. And yet, the attraction between the two of us never really faded into the black. It went beyond a mere platonic familiarity or a fond memory of a different time. I was still attractive in her eyes and she plainly let me know it. This was perplexing in a different way.

A note: before I go any further, be aware that I’ve made a deliberate choice with my use of pronouns. I’ve used the feminine until now because, when I knew him, he identified as female. Front-loading this crucial distinction would have ruined the effect for those of you reading this, assuming you hadn’t already guessed it. From now on, I will use masculine pronouns.

As I said, strong feelings for each other never really expired. Even before he went through transition, the regard we had for each other didn’t disappear in a puff of smoke. They were real. She had always been he. We had always been interested in each other.

Eventually, I received the full story. He told me that he had felt uncomfortable with his own gender identity, which produced the earlier, visible awkwardness. I appreciated the greater context, which inspired me to begin learning about transgender topics, identity, and the politics that surround it. They continue to this very day. I have learned much already, but in many ways I haven’t even scratched the surface.

In the beginning, I’m sad to say that I associated transgender in my own mind as merely a sexual kink. I shrank back from it a little, but knowing someone in my own life went a long way. What made my basic comprehension easier was his own deliberate choice of maximum visibility. He determined from the beginning that he would put his transition on public display, day by day, week by week.

I followed up with him step-by-step as he saved for the money for top surgery. I observed the slow, but inevitable progress of each day by way of YouTube video. I hoped and wished along with him that testosterone would be as effective as possible. I celebrated with him as he developed more masculine features, resembling the way he’d always wanted to look physically. But along with these developments, I also experienced vicariously the angst and pain of informing two transphobic parents. His decision was often a lonely one.

Now I am pleased to say that he is a well-regarded professor and transgender activist. Some months ago, he recorded his first TED talk. Being such a highly visible face is a courageous decision. His honesty has given me and others the ability to understand in concrete, not abstract or academic ways. I’ve seen him grow up in front of my very eyes. When I knew him, he was not nearly as empowered or self-confident. His example has inspired me to stay honest and dare to be vulnerable with the outside world.

And then there’s something else. Like a lot of queer men, my gender seems to fall somewhere between male and female. Though there are times that I feel more female than male, gender reassignment surgery has never felt fitting. Skeptics might call my notion of split or unresolved gender identity into question, but I can only offer myself as proof. Being some distinctive and absolute flavor of LGBT is a notion that has never sit with me well. Being able to check one box or the other would be convenient, even preferred, but to deny who I am would be unfair to myself.

Above all, I’ve learned from him. He has validated my own inward struggles and at times almost paradoxical sense of myself. Even though he’s changed his body, his regard for me has never gone away. The operation he underwent did not remove his fondness for me, nor did it drive a wedge between us. That might be the most profound realization I have uncovered with time. No physical change could ever replace our history together.

Past behavior remains persistent fact, revealing much about how we feel about who we are and what we have become. But, good or bad, we have to live with it and we have to live with ourselves. We may rebel against the environment in which we were raised, or the gender expectations of where we started out, but we have to make our own way. His way is my way. His struggle is, in large part, my struggle, too.

Sometimes the path in front of us has never been cleared. If we are lucky, we can rely upon the roads and byways that others have made before we arrived. At times, we must bushwhack and hack our way through thick underbrush and challenging circumstances. The journey we take is both a public one and a very private one. It requires careful discernment, patience, dexterity, and humility. To be brutally honest, no one’s experience comes easily or without trial and error. Such is life.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Grief Counseling for In-Laws

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.-Isaiah 41:10

The above verse is enclosed more for my partner and her family than myself. My regular readers have recognized I've taken an extended break from writing. This is due to a death in the family. When informed that my partner's mother was close to death, I dropped everything. In a matter of a few hours, I became my best task-oriented self in a short period of time. Mail needed to be held for a week. Transportation plans were scheduled. My obligations were cleared for several days consecutively. Now I have returned home and taken on my regular routine, but nothing is really routine yet. It may never be quite the same again.

In-laws sometimes aren't sure what to do when tragedy strikes. I write this post today to see if I can make sense, theologically or otherwise, of precisely what has transpired. My role in the proceedings has been loosely defined. Our societal institution of marriage or long-term partnership, whichever you prefer, is a kind of artifice. It's a way that we seek to consolidate families who are not related to us by blood or proximity. Even in the best of circumstances, it's a stretch.

But don't get me wrong. My partner's family, for the most part, is fond of me. Being mutually kind and polite was never much effort for either side. We only took one extended trip with each other, about four months ago, but didn't share close quarters for most of the time we were there. I find that having separate space is the key for survival at any family gathering. It doesn't take much spark to begin a raging fire of the kind produced by the inevitable friction of too many people in one room.

Most of the work was my partner's responsibility. As much as I tried to be helpful, there were particular tasks for which I was ill-suited. The fault was never my own. In its place, I have been mostly a passive observer. I admit that sitting by the bedside of a dying person for fourteen days solid would have likely tried and exceeded my patience. I'm not sure how my partner, her father, and her younger sister managed it.

My presumptive mother-in-law lingered in a comatose state far longer than hospice care nurses and doctors ever believed imaginable. I was beginning to worry that she would win a very dubious distinction in the Guinness Book of World Records, attracting the attention of medical science and incredulous doctors. There were several instances where her breathing become labored, ceased for a minute, and then mysteriously resumed. Back to Square One.

I kept asking myself the same question. Why does God, in most circumstances, set the time, date, hour, minute, and second of our lives? We can surely shorten and diminish the quality of our earthly existence, even up to and including suicide, but this situation was very different. My partner's mother died due to a very aggressive form of stomach cancer, which might have had a genetic component, or not. The cause has not yet been determined. In any case, first symptoms were experienced in January of this year, a diagnosis was made in August, and roughly two months later she passed away.

In the fourteen days she clung to life, the only analogy that seemed fitting was that of Jesus' agony on the cross. And yet, the torment and pain described in my first example was neither a sufficient explanation nor an accurate description of this situation. In those times, she was likely unaware of where she was or what she thought. It was the family who watched and waited and waited some more who suffered most. This is how I imagine it must have been for Christ's remaining followers who stood by the cross, to the bitter end, though they could barely lift their heads to observe their savior's imminent demise. Jesus knew where he was going. His followers did not know what fate faced them.

The process didn't conclude within hours, but didn't take weeks, gratefully. Some people die in the hospital, or hang around long enough to be transferred to hospice care. The human imagination, over the centuries, has surmised and postulated that in this time, souls about to transition are actively consulting with God, resolving long-held grievances, and generally working out the final transfer upwards and beyond. If heaven is anything like human-made bureaucracy, I imagine it might take 5-8 business days to process a person's claim. That might explain the delay.

Quakers are often ambivalent about the notion of heaven. I have never relinquished a very Protestant view of the afterlife, which has always persisted from childhood, even though I have never really missed outward sacraments like confirmation, baptism, and communion. Still, there are times where I walk into Meeting and wonder what happened to the draped and reverent colors of the Christian season. I feel the same way when the notion of heaven is conspicuously skirted past in Quaker theology. I take no offense, but I nonetheless feel a loss.

When it comes my time, should I be lucky enough to make it there, it won't bother me if everything is draped in purple. I always liked Advent. Though I don't miss singing hymns, I never felt that Friends had to throw out the baby out with the bathwater in being so austere. I wouldn't mind my entry to heaven being accompanied by a soundtrack, not strict silence, no matter how pious and pure it might be.

Where does a soul go when it is his or her time? Perhaps along the way she took a stop by her working class roots of North Texas, USA, almost Oklahoma. Tornado ally poverty with omnipresent Air Force Base were never enough for her in life. She pursued an academic's life, instead. Two years here, three years there, and then lucky enough to be hired, even lucky enough to make tenure. A skilled communicator, she taught students how to be heard, acknowledged, and taken seriously. She took time to listen and was beloved for her kindly ear.

Along the way, she married. It was a happy one, and produced two children, both daughters. The eldest daughter is where I enter the picture. Beyond that, I have only first-person accounts at my disposal, and I'm left with the feeling of one who has arrived late to the party, or perhaps transferred into a small school district halfway through high school. I was always given space to breathe, but I have a lot of catching up to do, and likely always will.

What can one really ask from a mother-in-law beyond considerate small talk and peaceful coexistence? We were cordial and friendly for slightly over seven years, and now she will no longer be present on holidays and quick trips to DC. My own grief will be less intense. I have enough cognitive distance to complete small tasks the family is too overwhelmed to contemplate. I hope I can be a beacon of strength and stability.

I entitled this post "Grief Counseling for In-Laws." As Lincoln wrote, "it is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work." No death is an end of and to itself. If we keep the memory of the deceased in mind, as well as their positive example, we preserve what is worth keeping. As it is written in First Corinthians: "so, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless." This is especially so in the healing work left to be done. My work will be yours someday, too.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Saturday Video

There's a lot to learn
For wastin' time.
There's a heart that burns
There's an open mind.

Look out for my love,
look out for my love.
Look out for my love,
look out for my love

You own it.
You own it now
You own it.

There's a weight on you
But you can't feel it
Livin' like I do
It's hard for you to see it.

Was I hurt too bad?
Can I show you daylight?
How could I be sad
When I know that you might.

Look out for my love,
look out for my love
Look out for my love,
look out for my love.

Look out for my love
It's in your neighborhood
I know things are gonna change
But I can't say bad or good.

Silver wings of mornin'
Shinin' in the gray day
While the ice is formin'
On a lonely runway.

Hydraulic wipers pumpin'
'Til the window glistens
Somethin' sayin' somethin'
No one seems to listen.

Men with walkie-talkies
Men with flashlights wavin'
Up upon the tower
Time reads daylight savings.

I'm home again to you, babe
You know it makes me wonder
Sittin' in the quiet slipstream
In the thunder.

Look out for my love,
look out for my love.
Look out for my love,
look out for my love.