Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Maybe Trump WILL make America great ...

A lot of people are worried. Terrified, even. With Trump in the White House, they believe, we're flirting with World War III, a second Great Depression, a tyrannical destruction of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans except white billionaires with shriveled consciences.

Actually, that doesn't sound so far-fetched.

But before succumbing to a full-fledged panic attack, let's take a look at good things that have happened since November 8--things that probably wouldn't have happened without Trump.

1. Quite a few Super Bowl ads promoted compassion, working together, and respecting the dignity of every human being.

2. Organizations that advocate for civil rights are seeing a major increase in donations.

3. Republican pundits are saying complimentary things about the Clintons and Obama.

4. Democratic pundits are saying complimentary things about the Bushes and Reagan.

5. Men everywhere are realizing that hair dye and comb-overs are counterproductive.

6. People of various persuasions are phoning their lawmakers and marching on behalf of important causes.

7. Women are feeling empowered to report sexual assault, and men are realizing how many women have experienced it.

8. White people are starting to listen to what people of color have been trying to tell them for years about the pervasiveness of racism in America.

9. Comfortable people with secure jobs are learning that a large number of Americans desperately need adequately paid work.

10. More people are realizing that both major parties need serious overhauling.

11. More people are paying attention to what the Constitution actually says.

12. Republicans are trying to figure out a way to offer more Americans better healthcare at lower prices (good luck with that!).

13. Americans have become more aware of the need to reform our immigration system so as not to exclude the people who will work with us to keep our country great.

14. People know more than they used to about protecting themselves from narcissists and gaslighting.

15. The importance of the media - and of trained, responsible journalists who strive to tell the truth  - has never been clearer.

16. The corrupting influence of money in government has never been more obvious.

17. Someone invented an app that turns pictures of Trump into kittens.

18. A bright light is shining on our lawmakers, enabling us to see who will stand up for principle and who is willing to sell their soul for presumed votes or for access to power.

19. More people are advocating for reforming our electoral system so that every American can easily and legally vote.

20. Several striking videos have highlighted the importance of treating one's wife with respect.

21. More Americans are paying attention to what's going on in the rest of the world.

22. Millennials now know why voting is important, even if their favorite candidate isn't on the ballot.

23. "Saturday Night Live" is funnier than ever.

24. Americans have taken a sudden interest in European history of the 1930s.

25. Over to you--this list is just a start.

When danger threatens, people often forget their differences and pull together for the common good. Is that happening now? Are conservatives and liberals joining forces to combat selfishness, incompetence, and insanity? If so, then this worst of times could turn into the best of times, and America could once again be a place where people of differing opinions work side by side to craft solutions that benefit everybody.

Together, we can make America great the old-fashioned way--not through corruption, lies, and bullying, but through honesty, humility, respect, responsibility, decency, hospitality, humor, kindness, justice, and the openhanded, welcoming generosity that once defined our nation to the world.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Spiritual sustenance for terrifying times

[Joshua Banbury and  the church choir sing
"Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace"]
A friend asked on Facebook, "How are you going to sustain yourself emotionally and spiritually in the coming months and years?" I never thought of responding, "I'll go to church."

If people who call themselves Christians could bring us Donald Trump and his evil minions, I was inclined to stay home, walk my dog, and read distracting novels.

I admit: I was being grossly unfair. The church I attend is made up largely of the very people most likely to be harmed by Trump's administration: immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people, women, seniors, people whose children are in the military. I should have thought of it as a primary source of emotional and spiritual sustenance, but I was maybe just a little ticked at our pastors for not speaking out more specifically and forcefully about the dangers so many of us are facing and our pervasive fear in the face of those dangers.

Yet for some reason, though I had planned to stay home yesterday morning, I found myself walking through the church doors anyway. I'm glad I did.

Not because of the sermon. It was a perfectly decent sermon for normal times, but the preacher typically made no direct reference to the seriously abnormal events that are washing over us. Well, he did tell us that followers of Jesus are more likely to suffer than to get rich. He got that right.

No, it was the hymns and Scripture readings that brought emotional and spiritual sustenance--and I'm not saying that because my husband is the music director. He and the pastors together chose the hymns well before Trump's hugely disastrous first week in office, and the Scripture readings were chosen years ago by the Consultation on Common Texts. God works in mysterious ways, as the seriously depressed William Cowper noted in 1774, two years before his country went to war.

But wait--before I'm sucked back into the Slough of Despond, let me share some of yesterday's poetry with you, in case you too are feeling short on sustenance.

Here are three verses from the first hymn, "Rise Up, O Saints of God" (imagine singing this lustily with congregation and organ):

Speak out, O saints of God! Despair engulfs earth's frame;
As heirs of God's baptismal grace, the word of hope proclaim.

Rise up, O saints of God! The kingdom's path embrace;
Redress sin's cruel consequence; give justice larger place.

Give heed, O saints of God! Creation cries in pain;
Stretch forth your hand of healing now; with love the weak sustain.

This is the summation of the first Scripture reading, Micah 6:1-8:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you 
but to do justice, 
and to love kindness, 
and to walk humbly with your God?

Psalm 15 is especially striking when read responsively:

Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? 
who may abide upon your holy hill?
Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, 
who speaks the truth from his heart.
There is no guile upon his tongue; he does no evil to his friend; 
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.
In his sight the wicked is rejected, 
but he honors those who fear the Lord.
He has sworn to do no wrong 
and does not take back his word.
He does not give his money in hope of gain, 
nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things 
shall never be overthrown.

The second Scripture reading, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, warns against boasting because "God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong." 

The Gospel reading, Matthew 5:1-12, is Jesus's list of those who are blessed in God's kingdom: the poor, mourners, the meek, those who hunger for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for speaking truth to power.

Joshua Banbury, pictured above, movingly sang the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, which includes these words:

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy...

As the service ended, we all stood up and sang "God of Grace and God of Glory" (to the tune usually used for "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah"). Here are two verses. Sing it as you read, and hear the church singing with you:

Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn thy Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
free our hearts to faith and praise:
grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

Save us from weak resignation
to the evils we deplore;
let the gift of thy salvation
be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving thee whom we adore,
serving thee whom we adore.

Christianity will have a hard time recovering from self-proclaimed Bible-believing Christians who played a major role in bringing us the horrors now unfolding in Washington DC and around the world. Churches that take Scripture seriously, however--if they do not give in to "weak resignation"--may be among our best sources of emotional and spiritual sustenance in the coming months and years.

Rise up, O saints of God! The kingdom's path embrace;
Redress sin's cruel consequence; give justice larger place.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Looking for light: Christmas 2016

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God...
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
The Gospel according to John, chapter 1

Take those words literally, spiritually, metaphorically, mythically, mystically, poetically, or however you can. At the end of 2016, we all need reminders that the universe is ultimately good, creative, loving, alive; that though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice. We need to hear that light overcomes darkness.

There is so much darkness.

For most of 2016 the world has felt like Narnia before Aslan showed up: always winter, never Christmas. Even Christmas alarms us as the world perches on the edge of chaos. We read W.B.Yeats's "The Second Coming" and wonder:
...[W]hat rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

And then an angel slashes through the darkness, shouting: "Don't be afraid!"

And the shepherds, who have been diving for cover, suddenly notice that the sheep are laughing at them, and so they sheepishly crawl out from behind the rocks and begin singing "Everything's gonna be all right."  And they all live happily ever after ...
... except for those Bethlehem babies that Herod murdered, of course; and Jesus's family, who were so afraid of the new king that they hid from him in Egypt; and Jesus himself, who was executed by a Roman puppet too timid to stand up to the mob; and most of Jesus's best friends, who within a few years were dead, and not of natural causes...
There has always been so much darkness.

In noontime darkness two thousand years ago, the dying Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" In this dark year, 2016, the dying Leonard Cohen cried out,
We kill the flame

And yet there has always been a glimmer of light in the darkness.

The world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around.... 
But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.
Martin Luther King Jr., "I've Been to the Mountaintop," 1968

On the year's darkest days, we light candles for Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa. Their light is faint. It flickers. It is imperfect. But still, we light them.

As we head into a possibly calamitous new year, I think of Cohen's "Anthem":
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

If 2017 turns out to be even darker than 2016, I hope I can hang onto the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins in "God's Grandeur":
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The light shines in the darkness, 
and the darkness has not overcome it.

Is it too much to hope?

Monday, December 5, 2016

How does your net worth compare to Donald Trump's?

Here's a fascinating video using the Morgan State University football field to compare the age of the earth - approximately 4.5 billion years - to the length of time humans have been on the planet.

You could use the same visuals to compare Trump's net worth  - approximately $4.5 billion, according to some estimates (and much more according to Trump) - to other Americans' net worth.

Trump's net worth, using the $4.5 billion figure, is the entire football field.

Approximately 99% of individual Americans' net worth ($8 million or less) is within the last 7.5 inches of the football field.

Approximately 50% of individual Americans' net worth ($82 thousand or less) is within the last 1/12 of an inch of the football field--the width of a matchstick.

Approximately 20% of individual Americans' net worth ($4314 or less) is within the last 100 micrometers of the football field--the width of a human hair.

Odd that so many voters didn't see Trump as part of the elite.

Check here for U.S. wealth amounts by percentile.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Powerful Men: when philandering becomes misogyny

[Pablo Picasso, The Harem, 1906]
In its March 13, 1998, issue, Commonweal magazine published an article I wrote just as Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky began dominating the news. As far as I know, it received only one comment. Someone thought my language was crude.

I am reposting that article the day after the Washington Post released a video in which "Donald Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women . . . , saying that 'when you’re a star, they let you do it.'” This happened in 2005, 8 months after Trump married his third wife, Melania, and 6 months before their son, Barron, was born.

More than 18 years have passed since I wrote the Commonweal article, and some things have changed--though not nearly enough.

If I were writing a similar article today, I would continue to encourage women--no matter their political beliefs--to speak out about Men Behaving Badly. Fortunately, women in 2016 are a good deal more vocal about sexual harassment and abuse than they were in the 1990s, though some are still trying hard to excuse the inexcusable.

I would definitely say more about how men--no matter their political beliefs--should speak out whenever a man demeans women. Fortunately, a number of prominent Republican men have finally denounced Trump's vulgarity--though unfortunately, few have named his behavior assault and adultery, which it certainly is, and it took most of them way too long to say anything at all.

Here's what I wrote in 1998 [lightly edited]. I am deeply sorry that it needs to be read again.
"Of course, this isn't about sex. It's about possible obstruction of justice." "Clinton's sex life is his own business. What matters is whether he's doing what we elected him to do." "If his wife can live with him, why should we care?"

Gosh, we're all so grown-up. Sex may have been all we thought about in the late sixties, but we're far beyond that now. If it weren't for those questions of perjury and the electoral mandate, we would certainly not be watching all those prurient commentators, now would we?

Well, I for one find sex fascinating, and having been grounded by the flu just when Monica hit the airwaves, I relentlessly watched the alleged scandal unfold. I confess I've been startled to hear countless fastidious people denying any interest in Clinton's sex life (though at parties, after a drink or two, they begin calling him the Unabanger, and worse). This is not because I'm a Clinton-basher. I voted for him twice, and I hope he is eventually found to be pure as the driven snow. But I am really watching because I am amazed at [some] women's willingness to overlook men's perfidy.

The subtext of l'affaire Clinton is that old law of nature: the most powerful male can have all the females he wants. In the West he is unlikely to have a state-supported harem, but he is allowed to keep a wife, a mistress, and any number of sexual servants at his disposal. Who allows him to do this? We all do--especially when we say that allegations of sexual misconduct are relatively unimportant, as long as the alleged perpetrator tells the truth about them.

If the top baboon can have all the females he wants, it's clear where he's sitting. His bright pink rump is planted firmly on the glass ceiling. Look up, women: you can't miss it. If you're young and nubile, he may beckon to you. Take a breathtaking ride up the elevator past that glass barrier, right into the inner sanctum of power. Make him feel good and be rewarded with small gifts and better jobs. Afterward, as you fly past your plainer colleagues on your way to the basement, console yourself: at least you have seen the view from the top baboon's penthouse, while they--with all their integrity and hard work and brains--will never get past the barrier.

Well, one of them might. For there is also a top female: the wife. She may be powerful in her own right. She certainly shares her husband's glory. She bears his children, speaks for him when he cannot be present, counsels him at will. And she can live above the glass ceiling for life--as long as she does not mind the eager young things getting off and on the elevator[, and as long as she is never replaced by a newer model].

According to one school of thought, men will behave if their wives play a prescribed role to perfection, whether the role be domesticity and maternity or professionalism and assertiveness. If men do not behave, it is because their women have somehow failed. Perhaps this idea works with lesser baboons (though it seems hardly fair to blame one person for another's misbehavior), but the top baboon does not generally subscribe to it. Their wives' dazzling beauty did not keep the husbands of Jacqueline Kennedy or Diana, Princess of Wales, from finding extracurricular interests. Brilliance did not protect Eleanor Roosevelt from the other woman; gentle reticence was no safeguard for Mamie Eisenhower; political astuteness was insufficient for Lady Bird Johnson. Did all these women simply make poor choices? Coretta Scott King and Kasturbai Gandhi married saints, but both had to endure the elevator that kept delivering fresh women (Gandhi, who presumably was not after power, also claimed not to be after sex: he wanted naked young women in his bed so he could strengthen his character by saying no).

Back in 1964, the year [before] Hillary Rodham graduated from high school and a year after publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, Jack Jones was crooning to nervous housewives: "Hey, little girl, comb your hair, fix your make-up...." You'd better look good when your husband walks in the door, advised Hit Number 14, "Wives and Lovers," because "day after day, there are girls at the office, and men will always be men." Is that really what it means to be a man--to be unable to resist attractive women? And are the only possible female responses either to "Stand By Your Man," if you're directly involved, or to argue that adults can do whatever they like sexually, so long as they're otherwise fulfilling their job descriptions?

I'll agree with the prevailing wisdom on one point: the current scandal is not about sex. But it's not about perjury either. It's about power. With enough power, we apparently still believe, a man can have all the women he wants. Some will throw themselves at him; others will be more subtle. Very few will turn him down, and virtually nobody will kiss and tell. And through it all, the wife smiles graciously and makes excuses.

This scandal is also about self-respect. Women--whether single or married, professionals or homemakers--are not tokens of winning, like poker chips, and we demean ourselves when we speak of adultery, sexual compulsiveness, and harassment as peccadilloes. I don't know how, when, or if women are going to get past the glass ceiling. It is more likely to happen in our lifetime, however, if we have the courage to say that philandering is misogyny. It's time to stop making excuses for men who see women as prizes in the power game--playmates, not players.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Maryland: The Clueless Driver State

We hadn't driven in Baltimore for more than a few minutes before we noticed that there was something seriously weird about the drivers. They weren't aggressive or angry. They seemed to float along in their own little bubbles, completely unaware of other drivers, traffic signs, or lane designations.

We were commenting on this when we drove onto a bridge and saw a sign that explained it all:

All right, then.

I wasn't shocked when I read that of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, GMAC ranked Maryland third worst on knowledge of traffic laws. 

Nor was I amazed to discover than of 200 U.S. cities and conurbations, Allstate ranked Maryland third worst on the per capita accident rate.

Now I understand why, when we moved to Baltimore from a Chicago suburb a couple of years ago, our car insurance doubled.

It's not that Maryland drivers are lethal: 37 states have a higher traffic fatality rate, and only 13 states have a lower one. They just don't seem to care about little things, like whether or not there's already a car in the lane they'd like to be in.

Pretty much every time we drive anywhere, we see at least one moving or non-moving violation. Today, for example, I parked in a lot reserved for compact cars. (I drive a Chevy Spark [144.7" x 62.9"], which is 15" shorter than a Honda Civic.)

At the entrance to the lot, a sign said "For compact cars only." Each parking space said COMPACT in yellow paint.

I parked next to the white Lexus LX470 (192.5" x 76.4") and left. When I returned, the red Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (189.8"x 76.5") had taken the white SUV's place.

Well, at least they weren't RVs. I sighed and left the parking lot, slowing down to avoid hitting a compact car that blew through the stop sign.

Monday, August 22, 2016

And explaining doesn't seem to help...

Some Republicans in Congress.

Headline in the Washington Post, last year:

Half of American whites see no racism around them

Headline in the Washington Post, today:

Sexism is over, according to most men


Let's look at the 114th Congress, shall we? (Wonks: you can check out the stats here.)