May 26 2011
“There is much to be said in favor of modern journalism. By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community. By carefully chronicling the current events of contemporary life, it shows us of what very little importance such events really are. By invariably discussing the unnecessary, it makes us understand what things are requisite for culture, and what are not.” -Oscar Wilde
May 23 2011
A couple weeks back I spotted a post on my meeting’s listserve, soliciting personal anecdotes from people of faith who have disabilities. I’ve long been willing to be vocal about having a chronic illness. This is partially to negate the still-potent stigma of bipolar disorder, and partially to ensure that insurance companies cover mental illness as they would any other medical condition needing regular treatment. Within a day, the editor contacted me back, eager to inform me that he liked what I had written and that my story would be published as part of a book he was compiling. When released, it will be called Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability and Inclusion. The book will be published by the Alban Institute.
May 16 2011
It is far too soon to make sweeping pronouncements of any sort, but one of the most persistent issues of next year’s Presidential Election may well be a grand debate on the size of government. Republicans have considered this their meat-and-potatoes issue since 1980, but in many ways, it is far less applicable today. Even so, now that a substantial federal deficit exists, Republican Presidential candidates will be sure to keep bringing up that fact in debates, television ads, flyers, e-mail blasts, Tweets, and solicitations for contributions. If only they knew that the era of Big Government has long been over. Their paranoia about the evils of contagious socialism is a mere specter now. But so far as myths go, this is one of the more persistent, and has gone unchallenged for so many years that it might as well be gospel in the minds of many believers.
May 12 2011
Now that Newt Gingrich has formally tossed his hat into the 2012 ring, the GOP will have to determine for itself how willing it is to forgive a candidate with serious flaws. It remains to be seen whether the former House Speaker’s role as resident bomb thrower and agitator will endear him to more than a specific audience. If he is to be taken seriously, Gingrich will need to radically reinvent himself. One cannot easily make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear. Any effort to cozy up to Evangelical voters is bound to register only as cynical posturing, à la John McCain in 2008. Gingrich is neither a contrite, nor humble person by nature, a quality true to far too many who seek expanded powers. It could be argued that any Presidential campaign is a vain endeavor, but Gingrich has never been the sort of person to disguise his ambitions or the ways in which he has consolidated influence.
May 03 2011
Recently, I’ve started to examine gender dynamics inside my Meeting. As I began I started from the premise that every religious gathering reflects the particulars of the larger world outside it. I’ve contemplated many of these, but I haven’t examined one specific facet of this in much detail until recently. In participation, active membership, and consistent attendance, women significantly outnumber men. In the Young Adult Friend group which I help organize, the most consistently involved members are female. Men often seem reluctant to take the plunge, nervously circling and re-circling the outskirts, hanging back, anxiously sailing around the perifery. Male participation is often minimal and short-lived. There is no in-between here. The few who do come to stay often become fixtures of the group, but they are always in the minority.
Apr 28 2011
In an essay submitted for a college class, a young woman recently wrote about her sexual relationship and resulting pregnancy with her high school band director. Though she changed some of the details and names in her paper, enough autobiography was left intact that statutory rape charges against the man have been filed. Various news agencies, websites, and blogs have pursued different angles when presenting the details of this case. The story found within the link posted above treats the accused like a common criminal, inviting us to view him in the worst possible light, while simultaneously encouraging our sympathy for the victim. If this were a clear-cut case of non-consensual sexual assault, then this approach would be more appropriate and justified. But as we learn more, and confront different perspectives of this multi-layered story, the truth itself begins to drift into grey area territory. Separating facts from bias might as well be our eternal homework assignment.
Apr 26 2011
Now that Birtherism has become the latest cause célèbre in the public consciousness, it has progressed from a half-mad conspiracy theory to a half-baked political platform. Once the sole purview of the reactionary Right, questioning Barack Obama’s American citizenship is now the stock in trade of would-be-politicians and public figures. But now, having embraced this fabrication, they will live or die by it. A long, ignoble history of similar conduct exists, particularly when an outright fallacy is believed by enough people that cynical opportunists seize fast to it to increase their own power. I could cite any number of examples from history, but I’ll focus my attention on two.
Conquered peoples, or at least defeated peoples have a way of perpetuating and substituting legends and myths when the truth is too painful to admit. The Dolchstoßlegende, or stab-in-the-back legend insisted that the German army lost World War I due to the betrayal of its own citizens, not opposing armies. Fact and scholarship prove that this was a colossal lie, but the proud German people, who believed themselves nearly invincible in the field of battle did not willingly accept the reality. And before someone calls Godwin’s Law, I will say no more on this subject.
Most appropriate for the 150th anniversary of the conflict, I note that I myself grew up something of a believer in the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. The kind of complete destruction brought on by four years of destructive war could only be softened away by romanticism and a deliberate disregard of the facts. Denial is a powerful force in the minds of men and women, and when it becomes collectively embraced, it is powerful still. Those who are natives of the Southern states refuse to let the conflict go, while those in more Northern localities often cannot understand why such an emphasis is placed upon an epoch they associate more with history books. History is written by the victors, but the defeated never forget. So it doesn’t surprise me a bit that the epicenter of Birtherism is the South.
Apr 24 2011
On this Easter Sunday, I reflect that among the followers of Jesus were sex workers. In the Gospel of Matthew, an particularly telling exchange takes place between Chief Priests and Elders who have questioned Jesus’ very authority. In response, he tells a parable, which concludes, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Though much has changed between now and then, this statement still has the power to shock and offend.
Apr 21 2011
Around the same time that the health care reform act was being hotly debated, several months back, I wrote extensively about my own experiences. I’ve struggled with chronic illness the whole of my life, and so not having health insurance was not exactly any bargaining chip for me. The no-insurance option shouldn’t have to be anyone’s experience, yet this is still true for many I know. Many people my age (thirty) and younger who have had to endure extended periods of unemployment due to the economy must depend on benevolent parents, should they be young enough, or instead beg for whatever available government coverage can be achieved. At worst, they must make do with no coverage, hoping and praying that they don’t get seriously sick. My sister is a prime example of the risk you take when you don’t have health insurance. An injury, followed in rapid succession by an illness, required extensive care, depleting what little savings she had and leaving her in debt. She always worked somewhere, but only managed to find jobs in the service industry, low-wage endeavors that did not provide insurance to employees.
Apr 13 2011
An occasion marked perfunctorily, but rarely beyond it by much of the media, yesterday was Equal Pay Day. The day was so named to underscore how far into the calendar year it takes women to equal their male colleagues regarding income, which is well over four months. Even when mentioned at all, few networks felt it necessary to spell out precisely how this inequality manifests itself, nor wished to show the persistent adversity faced by women who challenge established ways. That would have required in-depth analysis and a panel of talking heads, which may have shed some light on the topic, though not necessarily. Accordingly, it is a bit of an understatement to reduce the challenges that face women by referring to one, singular glass ceiling. In reality, there are many glass ceilings. Some of them are higher than others, and each of them has to be shattered in different ways. Every industry has its own standards and historical gender makeup, and so strategies to equalize income between men and women will need to reflect this.
Apr 08 2011
Last night, in memory of a Friend who died suddenly, shockingly earlier in the week, we held a Memorial Service in his memory among those who knew him best. (Quakers do not use the word “funeral”) One Friend in attendance noted that, in addition to the worship, there is a certain group therapy aspect present. I agree. Yet, I think this is quite understandable and necessary. It’s a part of the grieving process. Each of us manages coming to terms with tragedy in different ways, but there is also something very human present that augments the purely religious aspect of the event.
Apr 05 2011
A recent article in The New York Times about Quaker schools has ginned up no small controversy within the Religious Society of Friends. The association between individual Quaker meetings and churches and affiliated schools has long been contentious. And it has been contentious in meetings and churches across the country. This issue is especially commonplace on the East Coast, which is historically where most Quakers settled and lived. The Times article correctly notes that these schools have often become bastions of higher income, not of Quaker teaching. Quaker principles often include self-sufficiency, making do, and keeping matters simple.