DAY OF PENTECOST – YEAR CoV: “For thESE holy houseS…”

Pentecost rolls around May 31st on the liturgical calendar, the end of May in 2020, 50 days after Easter.  This week, catching up on On Being podcasts, I heard Krista Tippett’s interview with Ocean Vuong that aired on April 30th.  However, the interview itself happened March 8th.   As she noted at the beginning of the program, how the world changed between when she interviewed him (at a festival gathering, no less!) and when the interview aired (at a time when large in-person gatherings are ill-advised).  Timing is everything, it’s said … and something Ocean Vuong said early in the interview caught my ear.  Speaking of his fascination with the story of Noah’s Ark, Vuong said:

“When the apocalypse comes, what will you put in the vessel for the future?”

 

When the apocalypse comes … We use that word (apocalypse!) so often; I do not think it means what most people think it does.  In common vernacular it is has come to refer to some sort of cataclysmic event that completely up-ends, if not totally ends, the world for everyone.  At this point, there’s no way of knowing for certain that the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic will bring the end of the world as we have known it. (Stephen King is on record as saying “No, this is not The Stand.”)  However, if we take the true meaning of the word apocalypse, which is unveiling or revealing, we are indeed in an apocalyptic time.  Underlying assumptions about the way things work (or should work) have been laid bare.  Workers we regularly encounter, whom we frequently dismiss as being of little significance, have proven to be essential workers.  Some of our essential workers are some of the least paid, least protected employees in our communities.  There are glaring gaps in our healthcare system that have put certain groups and populations at more risk of harm in this pandemic than others – more than enough care for those who do not absolutely require it (see the layoffs from hospitals due to cancellation of nonessential procedures), not enough for those who need it (underlying health conditions are high in populations that do not have regular health care).  Business plans have been suddenly upended.  People who never had to ask for help in their lives trying to navigate unemployment, food shelves, and housing assistance.  More community services might be needed, but tax revenues to pay the workers are dropping rapidly.

 

Churches – often regarded as something apart and disconnected from business and daily realities – are also impacted.  Shelter-in-place orders have banned gatherings of over 10 people, especially indoors.  Singing together is strongly discouraged in the wake of an outbreak among choir members in northwest Washington State.  Sanitation concerns discourage baptisms – certainly no basins with water (even blessed, holy water) should be out for people to touch.  Communion practices are rife with exposure concerns.  Many congregations have had to scramble for ways to sustain community and worship services without in-person gatherings … Zoom meetings, Facebook Live streaming, YouTube videos … it’s been a steep learning curve for pastors and for congregants.  It’s also been a mixed bag – some people who haven’t been able to attend in-person now have easier access … but others, who lack computers or internet or smart phones or even push-button phones, are being left out.  Now that shutdown orders are being lifted, shelter-in-place guidelines are being relaxed, some groups are eager to regroup in buildings while others are holding back because SARS-CoV-2 is still very much active and will be among us for the immediate future.  Our relationship to our buildings, as well as to each other, is being revealed in this time.

 

Now that the apocalypse has come, what do we put in the vessel that carries us forward?

 

Sunday school teachers for generations have long taught children the finger play: Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.  But the same finger play could be done with words like: The church is not a building. The church is not a steeple.  The church is the people!  Lutheran pastor, theologian, teacher Kelly Fryer made a splash almost 20 years ago when her doctoral thesis was published as a small book titled Reclaiming the “L” Word.  Among other things, she challenged the conventional operating formula that:

Church = Pastor + Building

The church, she (and others of the missional church movement) argued is the people of God coming together as community to learn, nurture, and support one another in living as followers of Jesus in daily life.  One of the things being revealed in our current situation is what is necessary for faith communities to be the people of God in this time and place … and what is not.

 

What do we put in the vessel that will carry us forward?… And that brings us to Pentecost, the celebration of the birth of the Church, and what it might mean in the current time and situation.

 

Because Ascension Day, which marks the turn of the Easter season from the Resurrection of Jesus to the coming of the Spirit, falls on a Thursday I was struck by the contrast between what’s envisioned for the Church as the Body of Christ on earth and what’s actually reflected in our faith communities by a regular prayer.  In a classic Lutheran Book of Daily Prayer, the Thursday Morning prayer (in both weeks) focuses on mission, the task of proclaiming the gospel to those outside the faith community.  The prayers focus on “those who labor for us” in God’s kingdom.  Pastors, missionaries, teachers – even referred to as “frontline workers” – are lifted up in prayer.  However, the one offering the prayer is praying on their behalf … which suggests most people offering this prayer do not have any role in actually doing this … which is pretty much how people see things.  Pastors and trained others study the scripture and communicate what they’ve learned to others (who don’t have the skill or knowledge base … or time?) to read and learn for themselves.  The church building is the congregation’s place of schooling where they gather to hear what the pastor has leaned …which will help them be better people in some way (if only to assure them they are already good people).  The people support the work of the pastor (and other frontline workers) with their offerings and also maintain a place to gather for learning and worship.

 

Yet, so little of this fits with what we see of the beginnings of the Church on the Day of Pentecost.  The bulk of the narrative is in the early chapters of the Book of Acts: The disciples want to know if it’s time to (finally!) have the messianic restoration of the Holy Kingdom.  Jesus tells them to stop fussing about times and specifics, advising them simply to wait until they receive power from on high.  Then Jesus ascends to heaven (or otherwise exits the scene).  Angels tell the awe-struck disciples to stop standing around staring and get back to doing what Jesus told them.  So, they start hanging out in the upper room (where they’ve been hanging out for weeks by that point) and the temple, praying, remembering Jesus and his words and actions.  Then ten days later, the Spirit comes to them in the rushing of a wind and flames of fire, and all heaven breaks loose in a chaotic scene of disciples speaking languages they don’t know … and people in the area who do speak those languages being drawn near to hear what is being said.  Whatever was happening, it was not happening in the temple – nor was it all happening inside the upper room.  It was happening out in the streets, in the neighborhood around the disciples’ hang out.

 

The truth of this came home (literally!) to me a couple weeks back when I was leading the Kyrie, a litany, in our congregation’s Zoom worship service.  Sitting in my own home, I read the line “For this holy house …” and realized a number of things.  First, yes, the house that I am in is holy; God is here and blessing this place and all who come under this roof.  Second, looking at other congregants on the screen in their little display boxes, I realized that they, too, were in their homes – houses just as holy and blessed as mine.  And third, that the rest of the line applied just as much in this virtual Zoom setting as within the church building: “and for all who offer here their worship and praise.”  So, I ad-libbed a bit: For these holy houses and all of us who are now gathered to offer worship and praise, let us pray to the Lord …

 

The church has left the building now … and maybe it never really belonged in one.  In the beginning, it was people, not a place.  The upper room was borrowed (rented?) space, not the permanent possession of any one of those gathered in that upper space.  When the Spirit blew through, out they all went … all of them, every single one of them … not just the special twelve … not just the men.  Mary was there, too, along with other women who had been among Jesus’ followers.  Jesus’ brothers were there, too.  And the people who heard and responded swiftly joined in the group as well.

 

Are our church buildings “the vessel that carries us into the future”? Are buildings something we should put in that vessel?  It was a long time before congregations, gathered groups of Jesus-followers (Christians) had buildings – several centuries, in fact, before they could come out of hiding places (like catacombs) and people’s homes (members well-off enough to have one) and have a public building.  And yet, despite no building, the faith spread: believers were supported with teaching, prayers, worship, sacraments … children were nurtured in the faith … new believers were brought into full participation in the community.  The congregation shared food and other goods, provided care to those unable to attend, gathered and scattered to live out the gospel in their everyday lives.

 

Buildings are beautiful things.  There is much to commend them in terms of beauty and design that works to provide a sense of sacred space.  Buildings can be places for vital ministry (like soup kitchens, shelters, food shelves) as well as for important community services (meeting spaces for recovery groups and other community needs).  A lot of good things can and do happen because we have buildings.  Virtual space is not a real substitute for meeting in person … and meeting in person requires sufficient space for the gathering.  But maybe they aren’t central … or “mission critical.”

 

There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the classic Orthodox icon of the Ascension.  Most of us moderns (Protestants, especially) would be somewhat surprised (startled? … shocked??) that Mary is front and center in the image.  She’s certainly not named as present in the account of Jesus’ ascension.  But she is there and the central figure because, as Christ once dwelt within her body, Christ will now dwell within the body of believers – gathered together and even individually.  Martin Luther hailed her as the first Christian and an example to us all for much the same reason.

 

What vessel will carry us into our future?  Does it even have to be a physical structure?  If we have the Spirit calling us together and sending us out, breathing in … breathing out, what more do we need?  God’s love is the vessel that carries us into the future, as surely as it has carried people of faith in the past. As Lady Julian was told, as God showed her all that is made as something small and round like a hazelnut and she marveled that it survived at all, “It lasts and will go on lasting forever because God loves it.”  We have the witness of those gone before us – and out own experiences – of the mighty deeds of God, how we have seen and experienced God bringing new life from dead ends.  We have the voice of the Spirit speaking all around us in all kinds of ways – through Scripture, through each other, even through people who might surprise us and the world itself around us.

Now the Lord said, “Church, you better love

     ‘cause it’s a wounded world that needs a healing touch.”

And he gave us a promise and he gave us a job;

     he’ll be with us but the work is up to us …      it’s up to us

~Rich Mullins, Allrightokayuhhuhamen

For the peace of the whole world, for the well-being of the people of God, and the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord … Kyrie Eleison

For these holy houses and all who dwell in them, offering up their worship and praise, let us pray to the Lord … Lord, have mercy

“AND IN THREE DAYS …”: Lent, 3 Sacred Days & Easter in a Time of COVID-19

Back when we entered this season, the congregation of which I’m a part embarked on a series of Mid-Week Reflections on Luther’s Marks of the Church.  One week after Ash Wednesday, March 4th, I spoke about the Mark of Suffering, little guessing what the unfolding month would bring.  By the end of the month, we were no longer congregating for worship as part of the physical distancing and safer at home practices encouraged to support our public health and collective well-being.  The things I said that night, expanded as we face a difficult transition from Lent to Easter, form the basis of this post …

 Here we are, near the end of Lent, at the final chapter of the of the gospel drama that shapes Holy Week and its final Three Days … the time when the sufferings of Jesus are front and center in Christian reflections on the life of Jesus.  Here we are, many of us still in the physical distancing and safer at home efforts aimed at reducing the spread of a new virus, SARS-CoV-2 … a virus that is new to human beings, at any rate.  We may never know how long it lived exclusively in animal populations or which animals served as earlier hosts for the virus.  However it made the jump from lesser animals to humans, the virus is now spreading rapidly in human populations around the world.  None of us has immunity to this; we become immune only by contracting the virus and successfully fighting off the infection.  Some of us may have no indications we were infected at any point.  Some will be very sick and need life-saving drastic interventions in the ICUs of our local hospitals.  Most people will likely be somewhere in between.  But until you have it, you won’t know how this will play out in your own body … and among those you care about and love.

As one wildly popular meme has it: “This is the Lentiest Lent I have ever Lented.”  The season of Lent, with the emphasis on suffering and sacrifice, ends with the celebration of the Easter resurrection.  Although we’re almost to Easter on the liturgical calendar, for the communities around us, the sacrifices for the sake of public health and the suffering – whether it’s someone known to be infected or struggling with a terrible case of COVID-19 or the various sufferings arising from lost income due to sidelined business during this time of shut-down and self-isolation – whatever form it takes, the suffering will continue long after Easter.

At Easter, we speak of themes of resurrection: the end of death … a glorious surprise so big and profound we could never have dreamed it possible … weeping and sorrow changed to dancing and joy.  Yet, the death rate from COVID-19 will continue to run high well after Easter.  People we know and love will be touched by this: loved ones seriously ill with all manner of ailments in the hospital and we are unable to visit … people dying in ICUs or care centers and we are unable to be with them in their final moments … next of kin forced to choose from burial options that do not conform to loved ones’ final wishes or our own preferences … funerals and customs of mourning disrupted by constraints on numbers permitted to attend.  It’s like Maundy Thursday and Good Friday … but then Easter is still an unknown future event, not just two days off.

In times like this … especially among those of us who have never really known deprivation, accustomed more to self-sufficiency and comfortable ease, able to go about our lives as we wished (more or less), able to do for ourselves, provide for ourselves … times ripe with fear, for ourselves and our loved ones, uncertainty about when this all we be over and if the old normal can ever return and if not, then what? … in these times, we need an Easter that is not just a well-loved, well-told tale but an Easter that is anything but the usual way of things – an Easter that is not what was expected to happen, but what should not have happened and yet, somehow did.  To get to that kind of Easter, we need a truly suffering, painfully crucified, dead, laid in the grave and buried Jesus.  The kind of Jesus alluded to in the fourth and last of the Servant Songs in the Book of Isaiah: The Song of the Suffering Servant.

While all the Servant Songs of Isaiah include some element of suffering and rejection, it is in this fourth song in Chapter 53 that the theme of suffering is strongest.  Like the other Servant Songs, this song was first heard among the exiles of Judah who had returned to their ancestral homeland after captivity in Babylon.  Suffice it to say, what they came home to was not the home they had been encouraged to picture during their lives as exiles.  The idyllic vision of a land of promise had been proven to be ruined mess.  “What are we doing here?” they cried; “what good is there in this devastation?”  The song of the prophet is, in part, God’s response to their cries.  The suffering of this servant people will yet bring forth God’s good purpose.

Early Christian writers took this theme of the servant of God who suffers much in himself in order to bring about a blessing to many and applied it to the story of Jesus.  There is much in this that fits – the rejection, the physical beatings, the perversion of justice, the dying.  These sufferings form key pieces of the story as we trace it each year through the season of Lent:

He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we considered him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted. …

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.

They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. ~ Isaiah 50:3-4, 7-8

Suffering is something we typically resist until there is just no avoiding it.  More than just the obvious fact the pleasant is always the more preferable option to the painful, most of us are culturally conditioned to believe that we should not have to suffer at all.  Perhaps along with the listing of pursuit of happiness among the inalienable rights of humanity in the Declaration of Independence there is also an implicit right to be free from suffering.  We may not have all we need (or want) in order to be happy, but surely we ought to be relatively free from suffering, right?  But yet, as Christians, we are followers of a Jesus who suffered – who did not resist or fight against the suffering but embraced it and fully entered into it (“leaned in,” we might say.)  This the example we have been given … so, in the classic question from the Small Catechism: What does this mean?

In as much as the Church is called out and called together to be the physical Body of Christ on earth, and Christ Jesus suffered in his body while on earth, suffering is a part of being Church, being the people of God.  In so far as the Church is also called to the same task the people called out by God have always been called to do: be a channel of blessing through which God blesses the world.  And passing on the blessing means letting at least some of that blessing go on to others …  and letting go means losing out at least a little (in other words, suffering) … so it follows that the Church is called to suffer in order to do the work God gives it to do.  Furthermore, because the Church is called to live out the ways of the Reign and Realm of God rather than follow the ways of the world, to the extent the ways of the world diverge from the ways of God, the Church and the people who comprise the Church are going to suffer because when you’re not doing the same dance step as everyone else, your toes are going to get stepped on … people are going to push back when you step on theirs … and if you’re not where you’re expected to be in the dance, you may very well get hit by a swinging arm, unintentionally if not deliberately.  You are going to get hit.  You are going to get stepped on.  You are going to get hurt.  That’s just the way of things.

Let me make one thing crystal clear in all of this: God calls no one to suffer simply for the sake of suffering.  Jesus did not suffer and die just to show that suffering is a good or desirable thing.  It isn’t; suffering simply to suffer is never a good thing.  Jesus suffered and died for the sake of radical love that was out to change the world.  As followers of Jesus, as members of the body of Christ, as Church, we are called to that same kind of suffering: suffering out of love in order to bring about positive change.  If you are suffering for anything less than that, if no change is coming about as a result of your suffering, you need to stop that, get out of that, let it go.  The only kind of suffering any Christian is called to do is suffering that produces a positive change, that moves the situation a little closer to what God intends for people and for all of creation.

Around the time we started into Lent, there was the commemoration of the fifty-fifth anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” events in Selma, Alabama, the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  This march was instigated after a previous march in the area to protest an act of injustice had led to the killing of one of the protesters.  Those who marched on that subsequent Sunday in Selma knew there could be trouble.  They’d been warned not to do this; they’d been told not only would there be no protection for the marchers, law enforcement had been authorized to do whatever was necessary to stop the march.  But they went anyway, knowing what would happen.

And they suffered for it.  When talking about that day, now Representative John Lewis freely admits he thought he would die.  He was beaten so badly he very well might have.  Seventeen people were admitted to hospitals; fifty more were treated for injuries and released.  This could have been just more suffering for the sake of suffering, accomplishing nothing, changing nothing.  But news crews were there.  When the films of the violence were shown on the televisions in living rooms around the country, when the photos of beaten, injured protestors were displayed on the front pages of papers unfolded at breakfast tables, people were understandably shocked.  Lots of people saw a need for things to change … and you know the rest of the story, eventually change happened.  The suffering had a redemptive purpose; it made the people and the world around them different, better … not perfect, but better than it had been.  This is what suffering for the sake of God’s radical love that is out to change the world looks like.

In this time and this place, for many of us, the suffering we are called to is that of releasing privileges – learning to tolerate inconvenience, making do with less, waiting our turn instead of grabbing first place and top spots as though these perks are rightfully due to us.  It is madness to suppose an economy built of excessive over-consumption, acquiring more and more stuff with near-term obsolescence built in by design is sustainable in any way, shape, or form.  These complex systems cannot be reordered in a day and they will not be reordered without pain and sacrifice on the parts of those who are benefitting from the current situation.  It is insane to suppose that next-day delivery of anything to anywhere can be done free of cost.  You might not pay for it with your money, but the people involved in getting it to you and the environment are paying the price.  It is lunacy to make calories cheap and nutrition expensive and make the health care to offset the damage of cheap empty calories inaccessible to those who suffer because they cannot afford what would keep them healthy.  And it is becoming increasingly obvious a very few among us have been hoarding money and resources the way far more have taken to hoarding toilet paper lately.  If those of us who are benefiting from the current systems continue to assert the privileges of our place in society … if we don’t sit down and shut up and let the suffering ones have a place and say the truth of their experiences, especially when it hurts like hell to hear it, our world will continue to move farther from God’s dream of a world in which all life is flourishing.

That is what we’re called to as Church, as the called-out people of God who are blessed in order that through us, God will bless and heal the world.  It does mean that sometimes we are going to be out of step with the world around us … and we will suffer as a result.  Right now, everyone is suffering.  Many of us Christians are suffering because we cannot be together with others in our congregation, cannot worship in the familiar comfort of our sanctuaries, joining our voices with those of congregants dear to us, even gather with our extended families to celebrate any festive occasion.  These sufferings are hardly unique; everyone around us is suffering much the same … and some even worse.

When will end?  When will change come?  When will it really feel like we’re out of the tomb and the shadow of death and the Easter resurrection can be felt again?  I don’t know, but it won’t happen April 12th.  This year we will be waiting much longer than three days to have much of what we associate with Easter joy, some sense that the world has been put back to rights … if it ever gets put back to rights.  What will be is as much a question as when it will happen because, whatever “normal” emerges, it will be different from what we knew before.

Those first followers of Jesus didn’t exactly know that a resurrection was coming or for certain when it might be.  Yes, in the Gospels, Jesus does try to tell them what’s going to happen, that it will be three days.  But there are also plenty of indications the followers weren’t really hearing him, didn’t understand what he meant.  Likewise, when the resurrection time for this era comes, it might not take the form we expect … and we might have to wait longer than we think.

But in the meantime, we do have a part to play in helping to shape the world that emerges so that is moves a little bit closer to God’s dream of how it can be: all are welcomed, all are cared for, there is life and healing and comfort and plenty for all.  In order to do that, we have to engage with and enter into the suffering of these times.  We got this!  Christian people have done so before in times of communal suffering, through plagues and other disasters and societal dis-ease.  We can, too – because Jesus Christ died and rose again.

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:
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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.