30 July 2011

Looking For My Political 'Zen'

Dear Reader.

Once again I am seeing the truth of Oscar Wilde's observation, to wit, "They whom the gods would punish are granted their prayers." For some time I have lamented the lack of interest most people have in civic matters. Oh, they rouse for elections but in general (I muttered smugly to myself) but for the most part they are uninterested in civic questions.

Then came the debt ceiling debacle. People are aroused all right, but mostly (according to NPR at least) in sympathy with the "tea party" notion that compares national fiscal circumstances with a family budget. I believe this is a bad comparison, though understandably attractive. For one, governments can raise or lower their income at will, through taxes, while families can only spend what they can earn. Families in tough straights generally make sure the kids are fed and clothed, but the conservative plan to limit spending would cut back on education and such rather than ask more from the grownups.

I could go on, but the point is that people are engaged but not as I naively hoped. Hence Wilde's insight.

And that makes me crazy. Anyone (intelligent, of course) can see that I am right and they are wrong, that cutting budgets and not raising revenues is not only simplistic but draconian, and that the nation will be the worse for it. Right?

Then I remember two things.

1) I am still a human being, and thus just as likely to be wrong as anyone else. Yes, I believe in my values and principles and therefore think they would work for others, but even if they are I am far from perfect in living them or understanding them. My duty is not to teach others how right or wrong they are but to live more thoroughly by the principles I espouse and let my life teach more than my words.

2) I should not mistake my hopes and dreams for that of the nation or the world. Certainly I hope they overlap, a lot in fact, but no one died and made me the leader of the world. Whatever good I can do is not mine to define. Sure, I can stand up and speak out, and should, but whether others listen or care is up to them. And if they do, it is not due to my excellence and if they do not it is not due to their intransigence.

In other words, I need a more 'zen' attitude, to use a poor term. Buddhism teaches us to live with integrity by freeing ourselves from attachments to the world. Do good because it is good, not because people will approve. Speak and live with integrity for its own sake, not because you are right and want others to follow you.

In this contentious time, when it seems that success goes to those who believe in their own rightness and are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, it is tempting to do just that. But my gut tells me that this is the wrong path. What, though, is the right way? I confess I am not sure.


24 July 2011

A Little Outrage On Your Sundae?

Dear Reader,

This is been a tough week for those who are believe in democracy. Our ‘best and brightest’ stomp about like cheated children, more worried about what they will lose than what we will lose. But the week started out badly when in my local newspaper, the only major daily we have, the following letter appeared. I shorten it only to save time and space. Reacting to the effort of some local politicians to pass an equal access ordinance for LGBT people in a nearby city, J. B. Wright said, in the July 17th edition,

“This immoral and dysfunctional behavior should not be validated by any city official or clergyman, since it only helps preserve this sordid and unnatural sexual conduct by recognizing it as normal. The four council members and clergyman (not yours truly btw, but a colleague I know) wish to preserve and celebrate the essence of this most decadent and perverted lifestyle… by patronizing these misguided deviants. This behavior must be interpreted as abnormal and socially revolting. I am not suggesting that we expel them to a remote island, but neither do we need to excuse and accept this perverted, vulgar lifestyle.”

I would like to direct you to the online version to verify this but when I asked the webmaster for the newspaper where to find it she replied, I was told they do not post letters to the editor.

You need to see this to understand my response, which I sent to the newspaper on Monday, July 18th. Here it is:

“To the Editors,

I am sorely disappointed in you, the editors the GR Press, for ignoring your responsibility to maintain a civil public discourse in the Public Pulse. While wide and passionate differences are both inevitable and tolerable, the letter from J. B. Wright in the July 17the Pulse went beyond stating a point to character assassination and outright bigotry.

I am sure, and fervently hope I am right, that a letter speaking in similar ways of African-Americans or Catholics or Muslims or Jews would not be published (“Immoral, dysfunctional, sordid, unnatural, deviant, decadent” and “perverse” all appeared in Wright’s letter.) That you permit such letters when they speak of LGBT citizens distresses me. Indeed, I sincerely doubt that the other organs of the local press such as radio or television would allow such vitriolic language to be shared in their forums, knowing it would be roundly condemned. Is it only the absence of outrage that allows this?

If so, I call upon my colleague clergy to join me and demand that the GR Press refuse to publish letters that insult, inflame and belittle any fellow citizens. Differences of political opinion that cannot be expressed without character assassination are unacceptable in a free society. If the GR Press will not say so, then I do and ask others to speak up too. The local press in all forms needs to model respect for all our citizens, and that includes demanding that those who speak out through their publications are themselves respectful of others. A free nation and a free press must do this or we lose the mutual respect citizens must for a free society to live.

To J. B. Wright who I surmise founds his antipathy on religious bases, if the entirety of the Bible is authoritative, then Matthew 7 and 18 are as incumbent as Leviticus 18 and Romans 1. When you have mastered the former, then you may be qualified to speak on the latter.

Yours Truly,

W. Frederick Wooden, Senior Minister
Fountain Street Church
Chair, GR Urban League
member, West Michigan ACLU Advisory Board”

The Press declined to publish my letter. Hence this post. I suspect it will take more than one inconsequential pastor to get their attention.

Maybe you would like to try. The email address for the managing editor is: pkeep@grpress.com

14 July 2011

Yes, I Am Avoiding Politics

Dear Reader,

When you have Southern Jewish Republicans channeling Ayn Rand, and cheesecake Minnesota conservatives telling us that gay folk are slaves, how can I not write about it?

Not because I have something to say but because all this stuff makes my brain crazy and writing is how I sort it out. But this week, with fanatics telling us defaulting is better than closing tax loopholes for private jets, nothing makes sense. So forgive me if take some literary Xanax and talk about my garden.

Yes, the lazy gardener is back. We have two really lovely days this week, so the spouse and I went 'a weeding.'

I love weeding. All my destructive urges can be healthily channeled this way. Grabbing things and uprooting them has a strangely satisfying aspect. If you do it just right the whole thing, roots and all, comes up.

Of course, a few hours if weeding is futile when you remember the plants grow 24/7. At best this is an aesthetic conceit, imposing my puny notions of order and beauty very temporarily on a tiny postage stamp hunk of dirt. When faced honestly, gardening is no different than when we played dress-ups. We pretend to be more powerful than we are and the true powers that be let us believe it for a while.

This year my hubris includes some snap peas (one little pod hangs there today, barely an inch long.) The basil is flourishing, in fact we had to snip off the flowers to keep it from going to seed. The parsley did get ahead, with its wee goldenrod like flowers shooting up. But our pumpkin (not my idea, please note) is in bloom. If we only have the blossoms it will be good enough. My asparagus, though will soon need thinning. If I love weeding, I loathe thinning.

Meanwhile along the fence, which gets better sun, the tomatoes are hard at work. Cleome is blooming (spousal favorite) and the mint loves to smell up the place.

Out in front, which is shaded by a magnificent maple (not a sugar maple though) I have stella d'oro (pronounced here in the heartland as 'dee oro.' sigh) that are struggling to bloom. My 4 foot tall diversity pole is the most colorful thing out front.

Remembering that the earth wins helps calm the fervid brain. But the heart still rouses at the cruel consistencies of those in power. Shall I garden more? Blog more? Talk to me, people.

10 July 2011

In Case You Want To Know

Dear Reader,

I managed to get a few things done yesterday. Weeded and watered for about half the morning. Wrote the blog post of course. Finished organizing a Sunday by Sunday worksheet for the coming worship season. Sorted and tossed out a whole lot of old magazines and newspapers. Oh, I also found some worn clothes to get rid of.

All in all, not a bad day.

Today I was less efficient. Summer is when this preacher can go to church, so I went down to a radical Lutheran church, meaning a congregation that sold its building and relocated to our local skid row. They found a mission to the homeless and poor and decided it was better to spend their money on mission than bricks and mortar.

But by the time I walked down I saw pastor Jay meeting folks on the street, telling them the power was out. "So preach on the corner," I said. But he demurred. Being nearly 10 by then, and not wanting to skip both shul and church in one weekend, I headed up to the prominent Presbyterian church which was well populated. Colleague spoke well of prayer, finely formed and well delivered. Trifle envious, but not of his collar and robe in the hot room.

I did drop by my own church as it ended, and chatted with the crowd. Back home I started the next stage in my worship calendar. This will take longer than the first part. I'll describe it sometime. Then I went to make a call on someone in a hospice. What a great concept, hospice. I can see the good they do in the calm they give both resident and family,

Sounding like Samuel Pepys now, who chronicled his life on a daily basis in mid 17th century London. Early 21st century Grand Rapids is not quite as vivid though.

Now another blog post.

Almost forgot something. I am organizing a memorial concert for September 11, something not religious or patriotic but simply human. A wonderful choral director has said yes, which means she and a great choir will be there. Add my own choir, a great contralto, a quality string quartet playing Barber, and today a first class blues artist and this might just happen.

09 July 2011

Sixes and Sevens

Dear Reader,

I don't know where the phrase comes from but I am at 'sixes and sevens.' If memory serves, this means 'betwixt and between,' 'torn between two lovers,' 'dazed and confused,' or some other sort of consternation.

There is nothing wrong, mind you. No urgency is wailing like a siren; no deadline is looming; no danger lurks. I simply mean there are too many things to do and so I am sort of frozen. Do I organize my financial papers, or do I organize my photos on the computer, or should I hang pictures on the wall, or should I plan the coming year's worship, or maybe I should call clean the vacant apartment on the third floor, or read years worth of postponed magazines and purchased books, or study Hebrew, or pull more weeds, or...

So what do I do? Whine about it in a blog. Talk about your cheap cop-out. But this too is a task, welcome compared to others, because I can justify doing this instead of all those.

Being organized and focused has never been easy for me. I can be one or the other, it seems, never both at the same time. My only consolation is that most people seem to struggle as I do. If you are one of those who are both, please keep it to yourself. I already feel inept enough. But if you are like me, give a shout. It's lonesome looking at such a long to-do list.

Right now I think it's time to shower. Another good excuse!

01 July 2011

Be Patient

Dear Reader,

I know it has been a while, but this is part of the discipline of vacations. The whole point is not to work as much if not at all. Like waking and sleeping, there are rhythms and cycles in our lives. Some are daily, some are seasonal. Backing away from work for a while is healthy for everyone.

(This was, as some of you know, one of the reasons for unions a century ago. At the time, factories generally expected 6 days a week for 10 hours a day, all year long. Workers wore out faster of course, but a steady stream of poorer less educated immigrants made worker well being unimportant to the employer.)

I have been thinking about a lot of stuff, though, and writing is one way to try to organize those thoughts. So ironically, not writing is actually making me less relaxed. In fact, I've seen some columns and blogs that I would love to comment on, but even this post is breaking my promise not to work.

So I'll quit.

For now.