SATURDAY 6-PACK: June 16,2018

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful

 

There is something of theme this week: divisions

Anyone else find it amazing that a sense of common ground, shared reality keeps getting harder to find?  People who get their news from FOX are skeptical of reports from other sources like NPR or long respected papers like the New York Times or the Washington Post.  NPR listeners question the veracity of what FOX reports.  The Republican Party was once considered the “country club” party, but now it’s the “country” (meaning rural) party … and the Democratic Party, once viewed as the party of the common people, is now seen as the party of and exclusively for the elites (meaning urbanites, city-folk).  How did this come about? And what might be done to bridge the divide?  This piece points to what just might the real source of all this polarization (hint: It’s the economy – or at least the personal one) … but it also suggests bridging the gap may be even harder than it already seems:

https://www.vox.com/2018/5/24/17368308/income-inequality-poverty-in-america

 

 

There’s been a lot discussion this week about the separation of children from parents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement … why this is being done … what the law requires … what options could be considered.  These two pieces sum up the reasoning (or lack thereof – YMMV) to regard all border crossings (even by those seeking asylum) as criminal, rather than civil, violations and how criminal incarceration of adults means the children cannot stay with them.  But it is very damaging.  Is this really the best approach?

https://www.npr.org/2018/06/15/620230362/a-texas-prosecutor-on-immigrant-family-separations

https://www.npr.org/2018/06/15/620254326/doctors-warn-about-dangers-of-child-separations

 

 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions introduced the Bible into his arguments for his current course of action regarding people from other countries crossing our southern border, apparently as pushback against a number of Christians and faith-based organizations publicly condemning his policies.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders was also quizzed on this subject by a number of reporters (including one from Playboy magazine).  Any marginal Bible scholar can tell you it’s possible to proof-text just about anything if you do it right.  The deeper question is what kind of God do we seek … want … have?  Leonard Pitts, as usual, cuts right to the chase:

http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article213298284.html

 

 

The current occupant of the Oval Office is trying to blame the Democrats for the policies (ie: if they would agree to fully fund the construction of his desired border wall, then he might reconsider the current practice), essentially using children as hostages in a power struggle that has nothing to do with them but is doing tremendous (possible irreparable) harm to them in the process.  (And whatever happened to the promise that not one cent of US money would be spent on this wall project?)  Here’s what is trying to pass for justification of this patently unjust policy:

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/trump-cites-as-a-negotiating-tool-his-policy-of-separating-immigrant-children-from-their-parents/ar-AAyI1lK?li=BBnb7Kz&ocid=iehp

 

 

They know the risks when then come.  They know what’s likely to happen.  If the policy doesn’t drive opponents to acquiesce and fund the wall, it should at least scare would-be refugees from coming here.  Or so the arguments go.  They know; why do they still come?  Because they judge the risks they face traveling to the border and in crossing the border to be less than the risks at home.  And as for the risks at home, well … we have a hand in those, too.  Our culture of gang violence gave rise to MS-13 … and then we deported it to Central America.  Since we helped create this mess, do we not have a part to play in dealing with the damage?

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/2/26/16955936/ms-13-trump-immigrants-crime

 

 

And finally on the subject of divisions, much has been made of the meeting between the current occupant of the Oval Office and North Korea’s “dear leader” … who apparently endeared himself to the occupant.  The meeting has been appropriately described as heavy on optics and light on substance … so much so that the signed agreement is reminiscent of cotton candy – the paper thing it comes on is the most substantial part.  However, the current occupant’s appreciation for dictators is far more disturbing than the agreement is assuring:

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/%e2%80%98dictator-envy%e2%80%99-trump%e2%80%99s-praise-of-kim-jong-un-widens-his-embrace-of-totalitarian-leaders/ar-AAyIko1?li=BBnbcA1&ocid=iehp

 

SATURDAY 6-PACK: April 21, 2018

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful

 

The dominant stories in the week concerned James Comey’s press tour to promote his book … a storyline that culminated in the release of the memos he wrote after encounters with the Current Occupant of the Oval Office … none of which reveal much of anything that wasn’t known beforehand.  The Current Occupant kept an atypical low profile, aside from the usual early morning insult tweeting … not injecting himself into the Starbucks incident or Barbara Bush’s  funeral … content to go golfing with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe … and make a big reveal that current CIA Director Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong-un in North Korea weeks before being named as the next Secretary of State.  (Confirmation of that – as well as for his intended replacement at the CIA – is still very much up in the air.)

 

Here are smaller things … and better thoughts from the week that was.  Starbucks started it so, let’s start there.  I’m well aware that for a lot of people, Starbucks is THE coffee shop (maybe because you can have your coffee shop anywhere you happen to be), but I’ll take a non-standardized neighborhood coffee shop over any Starbucks any day … even before last weekend’s bad optics from Philly.  The arrest happened back on the 12th; by the weekend, the customer video had gone viral and it was a national story.  This week’s two-fer consists of the two columns Leonard Pitts wrote in the aftermath – one before the CEO of Starbucks announced the May 29th day for training and then one reflecting on that announcement:

http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article209183114.html

http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article209467289.html

 

Still on the subject of misadventures at Starbucks, here’s an amazing and amusing account of a real-life adventure in privilege.  Not sure white privilege actually exists?  Roll your eyes and bite your tongue whenever the concept is mentioned?  This might just change your perspective …

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whowechoosetobe/2018/04/white-privilege-is-getting-freebies-for-loitering-at-starbucks/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Progressive+Christian&utm_content=43

 

The brief press release came out on Sunday that Barbara Bush was in failing health, so news of her death Tuesday morning came as no surprise.  It has been said of her that she was as authentic as her signature pearls were fake.  As is true for all of us, such authenticity has both its praiseworthy and lamentable qualities.  She definitely had a number of gaffes, poorly phrased statements, and glib comments that should have been given more thought before said aloud.  But there was also much to appreciate and respect in this remarkable woman.  Here’s a three-fer in honor of a first lady and the two presidents related to her — notable for the little observations, like she didn’t “do metaphor” or her willingness to make direct apologies or the rug under everyone’s feet during an interview:

https://www.twincities.com/2018/04/20/tom-rosshirt-thank-you-mrs-bush/

https://www.npr.org/2018/04/18/603476064/legacy-barbara-bushs-approach-to-policy-and-politics

https://www.npr.org/2018/04/18/603475998/former-first-lady-barbara-bush-dies-at-92

 

Lulu Miller, co-founder of the podcast Invisbilia, is coming to Saint Paul on May 4th.  To raise awareness of the program, Minnesota Public Radio aired several episodes of Invisibilia.  This is the one that was aired on Wednesday — a deep dive into the power of predictive factors and the application to one person’s life.  If you like this one, additional episodes aired on Thursday and Friday …

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2018/04/18/invisibilia_the_pattern_problem

 

By now, everyone has heard about the Southwest Airlines flight with the blown engine and the incredible poise of pioneering aviator Tammie Jo Shults.  If you’ve read the articles, heard the reports, but haven’t heard her on the radio with Air Traffic Control, this story has audio clips.  The calmness she displays is breathtaking…

https://www.npr.org/2018/04/19/603861914/what-happened-on-that-southwest-flight

 

Story Corps can always be counted on to deliver a conversation to brighten a day.  This Friday was no exception.  A gentle and realistic reminder of the enduring nature of love and that there is always hope for a better future:

https://www.npr.org/2018/04/20/603903666/we-came-a-long-way-after-prison-a-new-chance-for-a-dad-and-his-daughter

 

SATURDAY 6-PACK: April 7, 2018

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful

 

Item #1================================
Brother Leonard Pitts has written much this week about the remembrances of the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. martin Luther King, Jr. that took place in Memphis this week.  All are good, but this one best bridges from then to now (and you can find the other ones from there):
Item #2===============================
One of the biggest news events of the week is the back-and-forth between the Current Occupant of the Oval Office and leaders in China about tariffs that may (or may not) be coming.  With all the tweets and the tits and tats flying back and forth, it’s hard to keep up with it all.  However, some lessons from the past may be more helpful.  Here’s the three-fer this week.  First up is an NPR interview with Glenn Hubbard, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors under President George W. Bush.  That interview references a piece from the  Washington Post article involving Andrew Card, President Bush’s Chief of Staff when the steel tariffs were tried back in 2002; that article is included here as well.  And then, since I’ve heard several references to  Ben Stein’s rather memorable “lecture” on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, here’s a piece from Marketplace (last August!) , with more insight than the lecture scene provided
Item #3 ===============================
The hit sitcom from the very late 80s/early 90s Roseanne has returned.  The show is no less controversial now than ever it was then.  Now the controversy is about the real-life Roseanne Barr’s support for the Current Occupant of the Oval Office … and how it carries over into her TV alter ego.  Part of the attraction that this show has had from the start is that the character of Roseanne is no one’s ideal anything … which helps make the family’s interactions seem oh-so real.  And in reality, people like Roseanne Connor are quite likely to have voted for the Current Occupant in the last election.  But he should be careful about claiming this as an endorsement.  Kareem Abdul Jabbar (yes, that Kareem) explains why:
Item #4 ================================
Speaking of blasts from the past and history lessons and the question of “When will we ever learn?”, here’s an interview with three key players during the financial meltdown at the start of the Great Recession ten years ago.  They explain what they did, why they did it, what more they would have liked to have done, think should be done … their regrets and what might have been different … and their concerns about the future.  The threesome consists of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke, and Tim Geithner, who started out as President of the New York Fed and then went on to serve as Treasury Secretary under President Barak Obama. Kai Ryssdal interviewed the three of them together and aired segments on Marketplace the last week of March.  Here’s the whole thing.  It’s over an hour long, but the conversation moves and it is well worth the listen:
Item #5 ================================
We’re now two weeks past  the March for Our Lives … and some more actions are being planned to coincide with the 19th Anniversary of the tragedy at Columbine High School in a few weeks.  The student activists are keeping gun safety concerns active in the political environment and other places.  Here’s a long form piece with keen insights into attitudes and experiences concerning guns. From the New York Times Magazine,  Gun Culture is My Culture — And I Fear What It Has Become:
Item #6 ================================
Although mental illness is frequently invoked as a cause for the gun violence , the reality is that the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of than the perpetrators of violence.  What would be more helpful regarding mental illness is to recognize the crisis we have regarding care for the people who suffer from these conditions. All too often, police are serving as paramedics or nurses or physicians assistants (initial points of contacts) with jails and prisons filling in as treatment  centers.  This isn’t the way to do it.  Alisa Roth, author of Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness, explains why in an interview for Marketplace.  (Her comparison imagining if we were to treat heart disease the same way is chilling and provocative!)  The other piece in this two-fer is a local report on an approach that is working much better.

 

The 6-Pack: Christmas Weekend 2017

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful …

 

Yeah, I missed Saturday … and I still haven’t started on the holiday cards (yet).  But here’s a list of pieces that might make you season just a little merrier … or a little brighter … or maybe just more peaceful.

 

First up, the Dominican Sisters of Mary… The sisters sing a couple of seasonal favorites.  There’s also a wonderful discussion about a sense of call.

https://www.npr.org/2017/12/16/570555334/the-dominican-sisters-of-mary-highlights-the-true-beauty-of-christmas-with-new-a

 

I haven’t had a chance to listen to it  — yet!  But after discovering this gem of an annual program when I was in seminary, I’ve made a point to find it each year.  True, Hannukah has passed, but the stories read each year on Hanukah Lights are about identity and community, what it means to belong.  If you’ve never heard one of these, check it out:

https://www.npr.org/2017/12/06/566900064/hanukkah-lights-2017

 

If the commercialization of Christmas is getting overwhelming, you might find ideas of alternatives in Krista Tippet’s essay here:

Why I Don’t Do Christmas

 

Or if you’re looking for a more humorous angle on the whole mess, there’s always Crumpet the Elf (aka David Sedaris) telling it like it was with The Santaland Diaries:

https://www.npr.org/2017/12/22/572791717/the-25th-anniversary-of-david-sedaris-reading-santaland-diaries

 

If holiday gatherings have you dreading conflicts with other members of your circle of family or friends or coworkers or whatever, this TED Radio Hour episode has some insights for a very diverse group of speakers:

https://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/558307433?showDate=2017-10-27

 

And finally, if the new year is more your thing, this piece by Sharon Saltzberg has some insights on things we may need to let go of … practices we might develop for more relief in the new year:

We Can’t Survive In a State of Constant Agitation

 

SATURDAY 6-PACK: December 9, 2017

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful …

Well, it is all the news this week … “The Silence Breakers” (aka #MeToo) were revealed as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year with a cover featuring several women from different walks of life who have confronted various forms of bad treatment they received from men.  Leading men in the high profile worlds of entertainment and politics have suffered consequences for a range of sexual behaviors toward female victims (and in some cases, male victims).  Representative John Conyers, who was accused by former staffers of directly propositioning them, went into the hospital for stress and came out to resignation.  Then six women senators started a movement for Al Franken’s resignation because of a series of accusations about inappropriate behavior; they were swiftly joined by other colleagues; this stampede culminated in Franken’s resignation a little more than 24 hours later.  Rep. Trent Franks resigned a day after accusations surfaced from former staffers about being propositioned as possible surrogate mothers.  More accusations are coming in the entertainment world as well as the political one.
 ————————————————————————
The conversations are necessary and will ultimately be helpful.  However, will the high profile examples (such as those featured on the Time Magazine cover) change things for the less famous, the less well-paid … cleaning crews and maid services, wait staff and clerks, others we rarely (if ever) attend to … the women at various levels on the corporate food chain who know that retaliation will follow if they report things that HR policies say should not be happening?
 ———————————————————————–
And of no less importance, if we do not follow any sort of process … if we set any and all forms of misconduct (from minor to criminal) as completely equivalent with one-size fits all consequences or punishments … once this rage-wave passes, what will be left in its wake?  Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post offers some keen insights through some very important questions:
 ==========================================
Speaking of women who stood up – or sat down, in this case — daring to assert their rights simply to be and in so doing set into a motion waves of action that made a difference … Aiming to mark an important anniversary in the civil rights struggle on December 1st, Trump tweeted about Rosa Parks.  This is wrong on so many levels — and Leonard Pitts nails them all:
 If the connection with Colin Kaepernick strikes you as misguided or misplaced, please check out the article of Kap as Sports Illustrated‘s Muhammed Ali Legacy Award recipient in the current Sportsperson of the Year issue.
===========================================
Following up on the themes of race, gender, and class, here’s a long-form heartbreaker: Black women _in the United States!_ are over 250 more times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy (during pregnancy, childbirth, or soon after birth) than white women.  One amazing  woman who was trying to find out why ended up being one of those statistics herself.  Here’s her story:
 ===========================================
Also on the subject of gender, class and expectation, the movie I, Tonya came out this weekend to largely favorable reviews.  I remember my own reactions at the time of the attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan and the obvious involvement of people close to her rival Tonya Harding.  Apparently, unlike a lot of people, I actually liked Tonya as her backstory came to light (growing up poor, driving a pickup truck to the rink, sewing her own costumes … a real young woman, not a fantasy princess).  One of the commentaries written at the time questioned how much blame could really be applied to Tonya who worked as hard as anyone (and harder than some) to follow the rules that would take her to the top … only to find the rules did not apply in her case.  This commentary on the movie makes a similar point and calls into question our enjoyment of knocking people from their pedestals (and how much of that is behind the current bruhaha over the various perpetrators of various forms of sexual impropriety?)
 ============================================
One thing that is NOT in the forefront of the news as it ought to be – given that the House and Senate are working to find some mutually agreeable version of the tax proposals.  The claim keeps being pressed that the corporate tax cuts (along with tax cuts for high incomes)  will do wonders for the economy to the benefit of all – even though no study supports this theory and experiences indicate otherwise.  Here’s a very clear example of what the proposed tax cuts (especially for businesses) are quite likely to do (and no, this will not benefit workers):
 ============================================
NPR’s StoryCorps project consistently airs stirring and memorable stories.  But the one from this Friday was truly exceptional.  As the 5th anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School approaches, this deserves a listen:

 

SATURDAY 6-PACK: December 2, 2017

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful …

First, the news we all should be watching: The Tax Bill.  Now that the Senate has also passed a version, the  next step will be to reconcile the version from the Senate and the version from the Hosue.  There are significant differences and the final form remains to be seen.  But here is a non-technical, understandable, not-too-wonky analysis of the economics around the proposed changes (especially with corporate taxes), the current economic growth rate, GDP and stuff like that.  It’s worth the read to understand why these proposals are a very bad idea:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/11/29/tax-cut-proponents-promise-3-4-percent-growth-this-economic-milestone-shows-thats-nearly-impossible/?utm_term=.788cfe28b344

 

Second, a three-fer: Three different interviewers … three different political leaders.  At different points, each interviewer asks a very direct, difficult question and each politico dodges, spins, or dissembles in one way or another.  Yes, it’s a dance and tracing out the steps furthers understanding:

Kai Ryssdal and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee on Marketplace …

Robert Siegel and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) of the Seante Finance Committee on All Things Considered …

Steve Inskeep and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Morning Edition …

 

Third, although the parallels are not perfect (as noted in this piece from Marketplace), events in Kasnas under the leadership of Gov. Sam Brownback are instructive for the current national-level tax proposals.  Although the Kansas commentator is somewhat suspect (being from Wichita, which is home base of the Koch Brothers, who are the primary architects of this nonsense), even he has to concede things have not gone as planned in the Sunflower State, now known to some as Brownbackistan.  (Check it out on Facebook; it’s also a hashtag on Twitter.)

https://www.marketplace.org/2017/11/30/economy/what-congress-could-learn-kansas

 

Fourth, another financially-related development that isn’t getting enough attnetion: the turn of events at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  First, let’s recall why this was created: abuses by various financial entities that misled consumers and set into motion the chain of events that culminated in the Great Recession of 2008.  Second, note yet another example of a politico attempting execute the artful dodge, tunring the focus from consumers who need protection from predatory actions by big businesses to consumers needing protection from their government.  Who (or what) is really being protected here?

David Grenne and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) on Morning Edition ….

 

Fifth – Sense and Sensibility (Part I) regarding what has been the lead news story most times this week (when other far more important stories should have been front and center).  This concerns the allegations regarding Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), but the points about varying degrees and keeping a sense of perspective can apply to many similar — and dissimilar — stories:

http://ww.startribune.com/let-s-bring-some-rationality-to-discussion-around-al-franken/460871993/

 

Sixth – Sense and Sensibiolity (Part II) on the same themse, but with the lens turned back at all of us and our current cultural setting with a view towards more mature (and quite likely healthier) sexual ethics:

http://www.startribune.com/it-may-well-be-time-for-us-to-rethink-how-we-think-about-sex/461132813/

 

SATURDAY 6-PACK: November 18, 2017

 

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful …

First, this is a holdover from last week that I finally had a chance to listen to.  Kerri Miller had one of her usual insightful conversations with a couple of experts about the role of prescribers (doctors and pharmacists) in the current opioid epidemic.  Not only is this a call for more responsible prescribing and better counseling when the medications are dispensed, there is also genuine push-back against the use of opioid painkillers for chronic pain.  (Actual studies indicate that these medications are not effective for long-term use.)

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2017/11/08/americas-opioid-crisis-what-health-care-providers

 

Second, for on-going issues from past weeks and months, Luke O’Brien’s long-form piece from the new issue of The Atlantic on “The Making of an American Nazi.”  Warning: this piece does include foul/offensive language.  It also does not shy away from clear indications of serious mental illness in the subject.  Reading it, I was strongly reminded of M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie.  Yes, this is crazy-business … and yet, many people seem to be drawn to it.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/12/the-making-of-an-american-nazi/544119/

 

The House passed a tax alteration plan … the Senate Finance Committee green-lighted a similar, but distinctly different, version.  Is this a good thing?  Here’s two reports from Marketplace to consider:

https://www.marketplace.org/2017/11/17/economy/opposing-views-tax-reform-and-against-jeffrey-sachs-douglas-holtz-eakin

https://www.marketplace.org/2017/11/17/economy/weekly-wrap/trickle-down-economics-based-tax-bill

 

And there’s the latest national chapter in the on-going exposure of sexual harassment and worse by men in positions of power.  Kate Harding offers some good consideration of the larger factors to be considered and why resignation/firing/being disappeared from public sight are unworkable as “one size fits all” solutions.  I wish she had pushed a bit further on a couple of lines of thought in her piece.  First, that there are not isolated individuals; the individuals are symptoms of a pervasive systemic problem.  (Perhaps part of the reason men are so quick to call for the expulsion of the fellow who has become a pariah is to make him a scapegoat for their own offenses?)  But second, I wish she would have given more attention to the varying degrees between harassment (from isolated incidents to a clear pattern) to various levels of physical assault to rape.  It’s a continuum and the responses need to vary accordingly.  However, there are word limits to consider when submitting opinion pieces to newspapers:

http://www.startribune.com/kate-harding-franken-must-stay/458288473/

 

Apparently the chief tweeter can’t stop himself.  He really should … he definitely should not be commenting on things like the Al Franken revelation , as Steve Sack makes perfectly clear:

http://www.startribune.com/sack-cartoon/458283793/

 

But what else is new?  Trump has such a long record of trying to shift blame for others, exaggerate the mistakes of others to seem far worse than his big ones.  You’d think people would be so tired of it by now … at least tired enough to stop falling for it. Leonard Pitts explains why we need to keep the focus where it belongs.

http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article185269983.html

 

SATURDAY 6-PACK: November 5th

 

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful …

The big news story of the week was supposed to be the Tax Bill from the House.  Clearly, it’s only a starting point and campaigns to preserve the deductions and exemptions that are slated to be removed in the proposal. were underway even before Tuesday.  In the swirl of exaggerated claims, both in support of and in opposition to the bill, it’s important to mind the spinning.  Here’s some fairly straight talk courtesy of Marketplace, including a segment in which Kai Ryssdal puts some very pointed questions to Kevin Hassett, Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors.  You can decide if the answers make sense  … or not.
 ==============================================================
But, of course, the tax plan unveiling was eclipsed by the news of the pending indictments from Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 Election … and by the delay in the tax bill unveiling due to lack of agreement among drafters of the bill. Here’s some clarification amid all the chaos:
===============================================================
The news of the indictments (and the Papadopoulos plea) has been a cause for celebration among some liberal factions.  However, even if their great hopes are ultimately realized, this still doesn’t solve the underlying problem.  Leonard Pitts reflects on a column from March 2016 … and points to the real problem underlying all this.  (And follow from this to his more recent piece responding to White House Chief of Staff’s John Kelly’s comments about the Civil War that almost got lost in the twin dramas of the latest steps in the Mueller investigations and the House tax plan):
===============================================================
This week’s two-fer … Because an immigrant was involved, Donald Trump wouldn’t consider passing up a chance to spout off how terrible immigrants are after the truck attack on the bike path in NYC.  (Notice how it was “too soon to discuss gun laws” right after Las Vegas, but less than a day is soon enough to call for changes to immigration programs)  The attacker came into the US through the “Diversity Visa Lottery.”  First up, how the program actually works … then, how better community supports for immigrants might have prevented this – and can going into the future:
================================================================
Children are listening and watching … what are the hearing and learning in our tech-saturated culture?  Here’s a timely reminder to watch your tone an language in their presence – even with Alexa (or other voice-activated assistance programs:
================================================================
Here’s a good example of why saying “All Lives Matter” is not the same as saying “Black Lives Matter.”  This is the first part of a two-part story; the second airs on Sunday.  You can also link to the You, Me, and Them: Experiencing Discrimination in America page on the NPR website for other pieces in this series.  There were also a couple regarding Latinos and discrimination around housing and voting.

 

Is It Just Passing By?

a602b4d26844aaeb999c463a6ac292f5Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me … (Lamentations 1:12)

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?

St-Paul-BikeWe were driving to church for Maundy Thursday services, taking the usual route … talking about usual things. The road we were taking runs along the river bluffs and there is a walking/biking trail along the roadway, between the road and the river area. As usual, people were biking or walking in the evening light, appreciating that recent adjustment known as Daylight Savings Time. Things were proceeding along the usual course.

Then we saw something remarkable: a police car parked on the trail area. The two officers were standing in front of their car, observing two people who were interacting with each other. It might have been two women; one seemed to be combing out the hair of the other. We passed the scene quite quickly (the speed limit there is 45 or 50mph) so it was hard to discern what was happening … and even harder to speculate on what might have happened.

Collecting evidence, perhaps? Likely not. It was an odd place to be combing someone’s hair for stray fibers or other clues. Neither of the police officers were doing the combing.

Was one of the women assisting the other? That seems more likely. Perhaps the one having her hair combed out had fallen or had something catch in it and the other was assisting her. The other might be one who had been walking with her … or a friend who had come to her aid … or a stranger walking past who stopped to help. But why the police, then? Had someone seen the woman after whatever happened that apparently fouled her hair and then called for help? Did the woman call the police for help herself and then a stranger arrived before the officers? Had the woman who was doing the combing called the officers for assistance before involving herself in the situation?

There was no way to reach a clear conclusion as to what was transpiring by the side of the road as we passed along … no clear indicators as to what had happened before we passed.

untitled (4)After the service, we were driving home along the same route, going the other way, about two hours later. By that time, it was dark. Around the same point in the road, we saw a multitude of flashing emergency lights. There were maybe three firetrucks plus a paramedic vehicle or two and a couple of ambulances. In addition, there were nearly a dozen police vehicles. In the pulsing light, many figures could be seen standing and moving around. Yellow tape – crime scene tape? – had been put up and it appeared there was a body bag beside the road or on the path.

Now what had happened? Was it in any way connected to the scene we had observed around that same section of road earlier?

I don’t know. It’s now more than three weeks later and I still don’t know. There was nothing on the newspaper or the radio or the local television news websites by 10pm that night. There was nothing in the newspapers the next day. There was nothing in the local news reports of the local public radio station (headquartered just a couple of miles from the scene). Even the local bi-weekly community paper didn’t mention this incident in the regular summary of police reports and fire calls. All those firetrucks and police vehicles and, apparently, a body bag … and nothing?

Is it nothing to you, all who pass by?

No, this was not “nothing.” Clearly something happened – something significant enough to call forth a large turnout of first responders. And with all those first responders, whatever it was that happened must have been sad and tragic … at least for some people, somewhere. Something did indeed happen. But as to what that something was, no one is saying anything in any sort of a public way.

Driving to and from church that night … and the next, we passed by any number of people doing usual, unremarkable things. While we were inside the sanctuary, participating in the services, any number of people passed by the building … on foot … in their cars … in the buses that rumble by. And there was the occasional emergency vehicle passing by, announcing its passage with the blare of sirens. I suppose for those passing by outside, the same question still applies:

Is it nothing to you, all who pass by?

LCR North faceWhat do people see as they pass by our church building … any church building? As Holy Week began on Palm Sunday, if people had passed by with a view of the north side of our building at just the right time, they might have seen a line of people moving across the open side of the courtyard. At the beginning of the line, they would have seen people in various robes, a type of clothing rarely seen outside of church doors. But after the choir passed, it would have been normal looking people in normal styles of clothing. Everyone was carrying a long, pale palm frond. Did anyone who chanced to see it wonder, “Now what’s up with that?”

Later in the week, what would those passing by on the streets outside have noticed? That the sanctuary, normally dark on a Thursday or Friday night was lit up? That there were a number of cars in the normally empty parking lot? Might they have wondered why people were there on those weeknights?

If they could have glimpsed inside as they passed, what would they see? Things that surely would seem strange to outsiders passing by looking in: People washing one another’s feet … taking off shoes and socks, walking around barefoot in a semi-public space … kneeling before each other to splash water on the feet and dry them with a towel. People taking bites of bread and sips of wine, urged to do so “in remembrance of me” … and who might that “me” be who is remembered in this way? Votive 1People sitting before a prominent cross in dim light … light that becomes dimmer and dimmer as candles are extinguished … or later lighting small candles near the cross, bowing or perhaps even kneeling in reverence before the piece of wood. What’s up with any of this … with all of it?

And for those few churches that keep the vigil on Holy Saturday evening – what would the people passing by that evening see? A fire burning outside in a fire pit or a grill, but no one sitting around enjoying the display of flame or even cooking anything on the grill, despite the presence of people signaled by the cars in the parking lot. At the right moment, they might see a line of people following a large candle … some perhaps in odd robes again … but most others in regular clothes. The lights in the sanctuary grow brighter as the evening goes on. Activity out of the ordinary in a church on a Saturday night – could it be a wedding? What else would be going on?

Is it nothing to you, all who pass by?

And honestly, based on general attendance trends, the numbers of people who come to the Holy Week services – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the daunting hours-long event of Saturday’s vigil – are markedly less than the typical church attendance of Palm Sunday … which itself is maybe half of what the numbers at Easter will be … is it as nothing to many of us who claim membership in a church body, many of us who identify as Christian? This is the central story of our faith, yet relatively few of us stop to attend to it.

Easter Display 1Many years ago, singing in the choir in a sanctuary where the choir sat facing the congregation each Sunday, I remember looking at the assembly on an Easter morning, seeing many unfamiliar faces, people whose names I did not know … and I thought, “What’s it like to be you, to live week after week, month by month, for a whole year away from this place, from these rhythms, from this story that we tell here? How does that work for you?” I wondered because I actually have no idea what life would be like that way.

Perhaps it comes to this, as John Irving’s same-named narrator puts it in the novel A Prayer for Owen Meany: I find that Holy Week is draining; no matter how many times I have lived through his crucifixion, my anxiety about his resurrection is undiminished – I am terrified that this year it won’t happen; that, that year, it didn’t. Anyone can be sentimental about the Nativity; any fool can feel like a Christian at Christmas. But Easter is the main event; if you don’t believe in the resurrection, you’re not a believer.

Lilies 2Easter is the main event. That plenty of people turn out and swell the attendance (for whatever their reasons) attests to that. Resurrection is a hope-filled, wondrous, beautiful concept; it points to an open future in which anything might be possible – any manner of fresh starts and new beginnings. But there’s no resurrection unless there’s first been a death. Holy Week is the journey into that death that makes the good news of Easter’s resurrection – and all other resurrections – possible.

Palm 2To pause for Holy Week, to tend especially to the three days that precede Easter – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday – is to enter into, to sit with the story of Jesus in his journey from death to life. This is the story that gives meaning and purpose, identity and direction to those who call themselves Christians, followers of this Jesus called the Christ, the Crucified and Risen One.

But it is so inconvenient to spend hours at church … during a week … when life is so very hectic and busy … and we already know the story anyway … so does it really matter?

Is it nothing to you, all who pass by?

Is it?