Let’s Hear It For Technology

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Here I am writing with chalk on blackboard in 1953. Now I am “writing” on a keyboard on a computer about to “publish” my thoughts on a blog which will go out on the internet. There is not a single noun in the preceding sentence which I could have understood in 1953.  Well, maybe “thoughts.” I look very thoughtful here.

I was reminded of how swiftly things have changed when my seven year old grandson was examining a turntable.

“What is this thing? What do you put on it? How does it work? Do you pick up this lever(the arm) and put it down again? Does it go around?”

I tried to explain the whole thing to him. When I was done he remarked, “Boy, that’s some technology!”

 

Our Own Unending Misinformation

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Today it isn’t television that is our biggest supplier of misinformation. For that, we get to turn to Facebook. Apparently 45% of Americans rely on Facebook for their news. In past times, countries had to mount disinformation campaigns to try to control their citizenry. We have saved our government the trouble by running our own.

On any given day you can find photoshopped images presented as facts. Lies presented as facts. Facts painted as lies. Apparently many still believe that President Obama is a foreign born Muslim. Of course if you keep repeating a lie over and over it can get stuck in the brain as a truth.

I wouldn’t ask my plumber to fix my stove. I wouldn’t rely on my car mechanic to take out my appendix. In these spheres we still seem to appreciate knowledge and competency. In the world of genuinely challenging issues such as climate change, world poverty, racial injustice and religious intolerance, many Americans apparently rely on faceless fake news articles which they distribute (for free) to their friends.

George Orwell couldn’t have dreamed up such a scenario.

Au Revoir Leonard

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I wrote about Leonard Cohen a few days ago as I was baking the 36 minute apple pie. I followed him all his musical(and not so musical) life and continue to be moved by his last album.

We all will come to the end of our lives and will have a chance, God willing, to do some deep reflection on how we used our, to quote the poet Mary Oliver, “ one wild and precious life.” Cohen does that in the last album asking for a treaty with God, history and those he has loved.

Some times in history call for contemplation of our individual and collective purposes. I think this is such a time. We can surrender to either despair or jubilation, depending on our political outlook. Neither is ever warranted by the election of any flawed human being to the presidency of one country. Instead we can look to the Beatitudes for our blessings. They provide cold comfort for the entitled, close-minded and smug. But they provide sustenance for those who keep putting one foot in front of the other in the pursuit of peace, justice, elimination of suffering, and hospitality to the stranger.

THE EIGHT BEATITUDES OF JESUS

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

Thinking About Yeats

The Second Comingyeats
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
I am a retired English professor, and I once spent a semester in college reading Yeats for a tutorial. This poem comes from World War I, but the first stanza resonates especially strongly with me today. In the United States at the moment, half of the population appears to be in mourning while the other half is jubilant. Clearly this is no way to coalesce to face the very real problems facing this society.
There is no going back to a mythical “great America,” as I have written previously. The very notion damns a sizeable proportion of our citizenry for whom America was anything but great. It is like a 19th century Confederate longing for the “good old days of slavery,” with our “happy Mammies” and “nigras” who “knew their place.”
The way forward is the only way available. No one knows what it looks like, but it certainly won’t be full of steel mills and “the little woman” at home. May we face reality with hope rather than bitterness and blame. May we find a way to  redirect our “passionate intensity” into rebuilding a nation with “justice and liberty for all.”

Micah 6:8

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“He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”

My grandparents lived through two world wars, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. They survived the Spanish Flu, which nearly claimed my grandfather. They lived through the Great Depression. During that economic crisis, the faculty at the University of Buffalo where my grandfather was a Dean, chose to take an across the board pay cut rather than lay off junior faculty members. They understood ordeal, suffering and sacrifice. Yet they remained loving and hopeful throughout their lives. Their faith gave them a firm foundation on which to stand.

My foundation is God, not the United States. This morning as I deal with a new and troubling national reality, I look to Micah for instruction. It is pretty clear that despair is not from God. I will continue to try to walk out my life justly, kindly and humbly.

As the New England abolitionist Theodore Parker said in 1853: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one. . . . But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”

The Long Struggle to Live

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This sunny photo of me, my dog, the garden and my beloved Aunt Cary obscures the reality that she struggled with what was then called manic-depression, though I didn’t know it. I loved her high energy, her warm love and and kind spirit. By the time I went to college in 1965, Cary was hospitalized in Chicago for a while. There was no treatment for bipolar disorder at the time, and she experienced manic highs and desperate lows. In November of 1969, she jumped off a ledge of a Manhattan hotel room.

This week we learned of the hospitalization of another dear family member, now 39, who has endured the ravages of schizophrenia since she was 18. Medicine contains it somewhat, though the medicine has discouraging side effects. Still, she was suicidal and was again taken into care.

On November 19th our church holds an annual Mass for the families of those who have taken their own lives. We light candles, hear their names read, and weep together for those who lost the struggle to live.

May we be kind to one another. May we recognize the daily struggles around us of people just trying to make it through another challenging day.

Winding Down

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It has been a very long time that we have suffered through the 2016 Presidential election in the United States. I think it has left many many people deeply demoralized and discouraged about the future of the country. Ugliness has abounded, truth seems to be up for debate. Not any particular truth, but the existence of truth itself seems to challenged.

I was this tiny baby born just after the horrific conflict in World War II. I joined the “boom” of infants born then to visibly show faith in the future. Now two of us are grappling for leadership of this country with conflicting views of the future of America.

I cannot seek to “make America great again,” knowing as I do the multitudes who were excluded from that purported Eden. Instead I look to a future that deals with the reality of a massively shifting economic base, globalization and climate change. These things are true. They will not disappear by calling them lies. There is no way to return to some imagined perfect past. May we rise to the challenges ahead and vote with our hopes, not our fantasies.