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Archive for on social justice

reading log . Inspired by MLK

One of my goals for 2017 is to read at least 25 books. The goal fits into my thinking on three areas of growth I want for myself this year. I’ll share more on that later in the week, but in short, I see this goal of concentrated, intentional reading as a way to expand my thinking and creativity.

I tend to be a binge topic reader. So, while I often have what I deem a “doesn’t require much thought” book in the mix as a way to relax, I also usually have one or two more “serious” reads that fit into whatever binge topic of the moment. For the last two years, it’s been politics and political history — mainly covering a curiosity about the last fifty years. Given the craziness of the current political climate and the uncertainty of the presidency beginning later this week, some of those reads have left a knot in the pit of my stomach. So much about the last few years has seemed a discouraging redux of unrest and social stretching. This year, I wanted to take some of that immersion in history, and tweak it to stretch my own understanding of justice — and injustice. To open my eyes to more marginalized hearts.

So, for the next books on my night stand, I’ve turned to some of the lions in the fight for social justice… a list to prime the pump of my own willingness to speak out, inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this day we celebrate his legacy. 

Strength to Love
by Martin Luther King Jr.

Published in 1963, this collection of sermon notes, bible studies, and convictions about faith and justice served to not only codify the ideals of a movement, but to inspire a new generation of nonviolent activism. Oddly, I’d never heard of it until we visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis a few years ago. The book was in Dr. King’s briefcase in the Lorraine Motel where he was shot in 1968. In her forward to the book, Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, wrote: “If there is one book Martin Luther King Jr. has written that people consistently tell me has changed their lives, it is Strength to Love.” She described it as the best explanation of “his belief in a divine, loving presence that binds all life.” 

Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation
by Clarence B. Jones and Stuart Connelly

Clarence Jones was a speech writer and advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., and his book offers an account of the weeks leading up to the March on Washington and how the “I Have a Dream” speech came to be. I heard about this book during the coverage of the 6oth anniversary of the March a few years ago, in an interview with Mr. Jones. As a “storyteller” often tasked with framing client messages, I am excited to read this account of how that role is applied to social justice.

March Trilogy
by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

I’ve been holding off on reading this trilogy until the final book came out in 2016. The graphic novels tell the personal story of Congressman Lewis, and his iconic involvement in the civil rights movement. Book One offers an account of his growing up years, his meeting of Dr. King, and the beginnings of the Nashville lunch counter sit-in campaign. Book Two covers efforts during the bus boycott, Congressman Lewis’ rise as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, his speech at the March on Washington and the Birmingham church bombing. Book Three, which won a 2016 National Book Award, continues the story including accounts of Freedom Summer, the fight against voter suppression and the march to Selma. The format of the books was inspired by the 1958 comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. We have much to learn from this American hero who is still standing for freedom today. I’ve promised to pass these on to my son when I finish reading them.

Love is Love
Comic Anthology

Love is Love is an anthology of graphic impressions contributed by numerous writers and artists as a response to the Orlando Pulse shooting. The book, organized by Marc Andreyko, benefits the survivors of that terror attack, and shares many of the fears and reactions from the tragic event. Because I have dear friends in the LGBT community, I choose to look carefully at this uncomfortable and raw reaction to unspeakable violence.

So, my journey of seeing inspired by MLK begins. I hope to read with an open mind and an open heart. I hope to share some of my reactions as I make sense of them. And I’m excited to see how these new perspectives will color my own work and voice.

letters to my daughter . 110816

It’s not a perfect democracy. Not a perfect process. And they’re never perfect candidates. But this right — this privilege — is one of the reasons this whole experiment got started… “in order to form a more perfect union.” So, even when our citizenship stretched us. Even when it requires us to step outside what’s easy. Even when it requires us to make a hard choice, we VOTE. We speak our voice freely at the ballot box. Because many in our world don’t have that privilege. And many died to make sure we do.

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More peace. More justice. More listening. More sorrow where we’ve been silent. More seeing, more protecting, more defending. More breaking walls. More building bridges. More repairing breaches. More standing in gaps. More reaching across. More pulling up. And stepping down. More laying aside. More embracing. More understanding. More giving. More human-being. More peace. More peace.

We better get busy. I better get busy. To my generation: WE BETTER GET BUSY. Friends, neighbors, church: We better get busy. We better get busy identifying with that 99.6% of our DNA God duplicated in every one of us. We better get busy righting these wrongs, putting salve on these scars, loving all these shades of the same color. We better get busy making peace.

Because I want Baby Girl’s generation to live long enough to be peacemakers. I want her to know how to make peace because she’s seen it in OUR TIME. I don’t want her to inherit a scourge that we should have healed today. We better get busy.

see . Seeing Ourselves at the National Civil Rights Museum

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It took me a few seconds to realize what she was saying. They were sitting in a school desk and Bug was helping Baby Girl “sound out” a word. Sound by consonant and vowel sound, they put it together… “Nigger.” I think my heart just broke when I heard it spoken out loud by my sweet little girl. “Mommy, what does that mean?” It was the first time the children had heard that word.

We were about mid-way through our visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee last month. The museum is located at the site of the Lorraine Motel, the place where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated on April 4, 1968. We were in a portion of the exhibit called “The Children Shall Lead Them” which chronicled the efforts of children like Ruby Bridges, whose attendance integrated schools in the South. They recognized Ruby’s story from some of their studies at school.

Part of the exhibit included school desks where visitors could sit and look at letters or paperwork from the time. We had gathered around a desk showing the “Little Rock Nine”, the nine students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. My oldest and I were focused on a letter from a white senior written to Ernest Green, one of the nine, asking him not to attend their graduation. Mr. Green had visited Mississippi State University in 2014, and I was telling Drummer Boy about the lecture. Bug and Baby Girl, in the perpetual reading lesson stage they are in right now, had focused on the next piece of paper under the glass. It was a copy of lyrics to a song children were taught during the time of the Arkansas Nine. The title included the word “nigger.”

It was the first time the children had heard the word “nigger,” and I supposed I’m thankful that they learned it at a place like the National Civil Rights Museum. That reading lesson was just one of many conversations our visit to the Lorraine Motel has facilitated over the last few weeks. And, the moment of hearing “nigger” spoken aloud by my daughter was just one of many moments that brought me to tears as we took in the exhibit. It is a very moving and challenging place, but one that is absolutely essential if we are to do the necessary work of learning from our own past.

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I’ve had several friends ask me what kind of experience the museum was for small children. Mine are young — fourth, second and first grades — and it was definitely a lot for them to take in. I am sure there was much they did not understand, and quite a few times they did not have the patience to listen to what I tried to explain to them. Still, I am very glad we all saw it together, and it will serve as good groundwork for when we can see it again as they get older.

The exhibitions are incredibly well-done and well-organized with displays, artifacts, video and audio throughout. There are several interactive walls that my children called “big iPads” where they could tap, drag and cater their experience to what interested them. (Or just be amazed by the fun of sliding things around when the information was beyond their attention spans.)

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The museum includes displays from Freedom Summer, the Freedom Riders, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Memphis Sanitation Strike, March on Washington, information about the slave trade and its impact on the history and economics of the United States, as well as artwork and music related to social justice themes. It also includes an interactive smart table called “Join the Movement” where information about other issues beyond civil rights for African Americans are shown in quotes, images and video.

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Without a doubt, the most moving portion of the museum for me was the Mountaintop Theatre, followed by viewing the hotel rooms where Dr. King stayed before he died. In the theatre, we heard Dr. King’s “mountaintop” speech given at the Mason Temple on April 3, 1968, along with commentary from those who were with him both on that evening and the day after when he was killed. The prophetic words of Dr. King, heard in his own voice in that particular place, created a true flood of emotions from shame and sorrow to honor and resolve…

“Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

The restored hotel rooms, viewed right after hearing the speech, were a very quiet and almost hallowed place. Hardly anyone spoke, and even my children found the need to whisper. Viewing the exhibits related to Dr. King’s death — the hotel rooms, the balcony and the wreath from the parking lot (now a courtyard with interactive video kiosks), the rooms across the street where it is believed James Earl Ray stood to shoot — definitely produced the most questions and confusion for my children. But, honestly, they produced the most questions for me as a Southerner and a human being as well. Although the ensuing discussions were very challenging as a parent, I’m so grateful to have taken the opportunity to begin some of those conversations surrounded by actual sights and sounds from those for whom the struggle for civil rights was a matter of life and death.

This quote from Rev Martin Luther King, Sr was displayed as the last image in the viewing area in front of his son’s hotel room in the Lorraine Motel. It brought me to tears, and I snapped a photo of it because it was such a poignant reminder that civil rights are not just about policies and speeches and national movements. Civil rights are about people. They are about my children. They are about me. There is no more poignant reminder of that fact than the words of a father about the son he’s lost — a lesson I hope I’m taking from the National Civil Rights Museum into each new day.

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The Pull of Legend

On Saturday I read this article about Penn State Athletics. It gave me that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. If you haven’t seen much about the story, I’ll just let you read it for yourself. And I predict you will get that sick feeling too.

I read the article while I was watching the Mississippi State homecoming football game on television with my boys. You see, I have boys. Two of them. And they’re just learning about football and what a college is and which team is the Bulldogs. The article made me spontaneously hug and kiss them, which they have sort of come to expect from their Mommy. So, it was no big deal for them. For me, it kept me awake that night.

Most of my kids’ enjoyment of football games consists of spotting “Bully,” the Mississippi State mascot somewhere in the televised coverage. Admittedly, the homecoming game didn’t have the same audience appeal as the Thomas the Tank Engine story they had concocted and were playing out on the living room floor. Still, we were watching football. And somewhere between the television ad spots proclaiming how college football in the South is part of the year-long cultural fabric and Emmitt Smith selling his favorite tailgating products, I saw the Penn State story.

I couldn’t help but think about what I can only assume is the incredible pull of legend. As college football legends go, I suppose Joe Paterno’s Penn State program is as legendary as they come. It’s a legend you want to follow — to appreciate, to see win. It’s a legend you’d like to see untarnished.

Was that the motivation behind the complete lack of human-ness displayed in this story by so many grown men? Were they thinking of their own individual jobs? The bad publicity? The loss of sponsorship and conference dollars from television broadcasts? From my couch, I imagine that it was all of the above.

For the first eyewitness to this horrific situation, I can imagine some combination of shock and fear prevailed. I would hope that for athletic staff and university administration, the first thoughts WEREN’T the horrific experience of a football program. But, as the story played out through the sequence of events described, it appears that is the exact horrific experience that was at the forefront of their minds.

Something is amiss in legend-making. In legend-keeping. Shock and fear are certainly relevant emotions. But, what else happened while a witness mulled over his next actions? What else happened while the powers-that-be slowly formulated a crisis-management strategy. On that night, a young boy was left at the mercy of what appearances and indictment language tell us is a sexual predator. A young boy was left with no defense against unspeakable acts. And statistics tell us that for victims they ARE unspeakable. The shame and fear and long-term emotional effects of such experiences are difficult to express and therefore, very often go unexpressed. And let’s not forget that silence is one of the most powerful weapons a predator uses to protect himself and allow his pattern of abuse to continue. Yes, the acts were unspeakable.

Sadly, for the grown men in this situation, the events were apparently unspeakable as well — at least outside of the closed doors of a college football legend. What kept me up on Saturday night: The questions. What else happened? What further humiliation was the boy (a boy like mine) subjected to by such a key figure in this football legend? What was the look in his eyes? How did he get home? Did he have a home? Was he subjected to other meetings with this predator? Did he have someone who could help his young mind and soul cope with this life-changing experience? Wouldn’t he be about college-age by now?

On Sunday I read an article about the indictment of Jerry Sandusky. Apparently the language from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office specified that Coach Joe Paterno acted appropriately and was absolved of any wrong-doing. It indicated he would likely testify for the prosecution in the case. I was happy to read that caveat to the story. I, like many others, enjoy the mystique of Saturday afternoons in Autumn. I admire winners. I want to see a storied figure maintain his legacy. The legend of Penn State football can remain somewhat intact.

Good. But, what of the boy?

Courage to Dream

Of the many profiles in courage available in our time, the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. is shining. As we commemorate his life on this national holiday, I’ve been thinking about the type of courage he possessed and wondering about the lessons it still offers for my own pursuit in 2011.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of controversy to be sure. At least he entered our stage at a season of controversy, a season a long time in the making. He was a catalyst, an instigator in his sheer and unwaivering pursuit of freedom AND peace–at the same time. This man who was so hated and reviled by some, but deemed leader and even savior by many ignited the actions of others like few men in recent history. This man with the ear of pastors and presidents and poll workers and paupers alike demonstrated the life-changing quality of being willing to lend his ear and the power that results when we lend our words and actions to what we see as necessary and right. He was indeed a courageous man.

As I think about the legacy of Dr. King, many lessons emerge, but of all the teachings of courage available in this man’s exemplary life, this one rises:

“I have a dream.”

For me, this courage–the courage to dream–offers a poignant lesson and challenge. Delivered in one of the most profound and memorable speeches in our modern rhetoric, Dr. King spoke not only of life as it was on that day in 1963–as it had been for many years before–but of the reality he envisioned standing in stark contrast to it. Dr. King possessed the courage to look into the face of a dark and hopeless reality and pull from it a new vision of how life could be. A dream. And dreams require courage. Dreams require the courage to look past what seems immovable, to look beyond what has become normal and dare to see it as abnormal. To reject the notion that life as we know it is acceptable when, at our very core, we know it is not. This ability to see and voice the desire for that changed existence brings hope. And often makes a path of action possible.

Several months ago, Little Drummer Boy’s school conducted a book fair. I, of course, went to the school library to peruse the books and find the selections on LDB’s wishlist. I’m always looking for books that make science and history fun, and as I looked through the educational section, I came across one called A Value Tales Treasury by Dr. Spencer Johnson. It was a book that combined an introduction to several American historical figures with lessons in character building. Right up my alley! It used a unique approach to storytelling that highlighted how each memorable person listened to their “true voice” to make the right choices and to demonstrate the character of their best selves. I brought it home to the kids to a decidedly uneventful reaction compared to the Marvel Heroes treasury I also purchased. So, I put it on their bookshelf for later days.

A few weeks ago, that later day came. Little Drummer Boy found the book and became interested in the stories. Louis Pasteur taught us the value of believing in yourself. Helen Keller taught us the value of determination. Will Rogers taught us the value of humor. And, although Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t included, we came to a story about Harriet Tubman–another profile in courage worth exploring, to be sure. Harriet listened to her “true voice” to demostrate the value of helping–helping other slaves find freedom in the underground railroad, as she had been helped herself. It was a lesson in paying it forward, so to speak. And, for Little Drummer Boy, a lesson in a new idea. The idea that someone might be treated unfairly because of the color of their skin.

After we finished the story, he wanted to turn back the pages to examine a few points he didn’t understand. The first was the concept of slavery where one person could be owned by another. Then, he turned to the page where Harriet had to ride home after the Civil War in the baggage compartment of the train. And how Harriet told her story. How it shocked many who read it and prompted them to work to change how others were treated. Little Drummer Boy was curious about this. He asked me, “why did Harriet have to ride with her suitcases?”

Realities.

I explained that at one time people were not allowed to go places or do things because they had dark skin. It was a powerful moment for me in realizing that this thought had never occurred to him. Thank God. I further explained to him how very important it was that Harriet let others know about her experience so that people could learn how they needed to be different. “In fact,” I told him, “we enjoy the results of what Harriet shared today.” His face told me another “why?” was coming. (LDB is nothing if not inquisitive.) “Well,” I asked him. “Who is your best friend?”

A smile broke across his face. And a light of understanding. “E,” he admitted in recognition. “E” is a 6-year-old African American classmate of several years and LDB’s best friend. It was his first recognition that E’s dark skin might be anything more than an interesting cosmetic feature that took a back seat to E’s amazing ability to kick and catch the ball or discuss the continuing saga of Transformers. And while in many ways it pained me to introduce the reality that there was a time when people might not have seen “E” this way, I was thankful for the opportunity to teach him that fairness is important for everyone. It’s important so that we are free to see friends near and far for the wonders they really are.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.”

As important as this lesson in racial equality was, the lesson in courage is even more powerful for me at this moment. You see, in my bedtime reading with Little Drummer Boy, I saw the reality of Dr. King’s dream realized in the most innocent and uncontrived circumstances. I saw a young boy who took no thought of the color of his friend’s skin. And, while I certainly don’t take full credit for that reality as his mother, I am grateful for it. And while I can’t claim that this reality is true for all in our nation, I’m thankful for the collective actions and experiences with others in Little Drummer Boy’s life that made it possible for us.

Dr. King never saw the fruition of his dream. But, the courage to dream that dream did, in fact, move what seemed immovable. I’m spurred toward his courage in my own day-to-day struggles, no matter how they pale in comparison. The courage to conceive of a life that is more than the one I see before me. The courage to believe in the best version of myself to make that life possible. Inspite of fear. Inspite of detractors. Inspite of the incredibly overwhelming “normal.” The courage to dream.

Green Flamingos, Nelson Mandela and Courage

Over the last few months I’ve noticed green flamingos around Starkville. They started popping up unexpectedly on bridge railings, electric boxes and the like, your typical vandal fare. But, they were some pretty well-designed vandal fare. These repetitive stenciled green fowl were nicely composed and sufficiently funky — something a designer would enjoy. And, it ticked me off.

It ticked me off so much that I was poised to launch one of my infrequent, but soul-cleansing rant posts complete with a few of the following points:

1. Kids these days.
2. Great. My tax dollars are going to have to clean that up.
3. That whole underground starving artist thing may seem glamorous, but it’s, well, NOT.
4. Get a job!
5. It may look like art, but it’s actually a misdemeanor.
6. Your talent is a gift. Make it count.

Yep, I’ll admit I was ready to unload, but that’s not the essay I’m writing. An overloaded schedule (and maybe some poor time management skills) stepped in and allowed those uncensored thoughts some time to germinate. Although I may still feel the same way on many of the points, they’ve also reminded me of the need for a shift in thinking.

“Your playing small doesn’t save the world.”

It’s from a quote by Nelson Mandela. It’s been floating around in my brain since I read it in a transcript of a commencement address several years ago. I can’t escape it. And, before I knew it, my impetuous rant turned into a post about courage. It’s been a while since I’ve written about the pursuit of my 2010 theme word. Perhaps I’ve been too immersed in exercising some courage in a few areas of late (where exercising equals being tossed into the deep end and hoping your swimsuit top doesn’t fly off.) I suppose that the laboratory takes priority over the lecture series in life lessons just as it often does in the traditional classroom.

I read in last week’s Starkville paper that the green flamingo vandals have turned themselves into the police department. They are exactly who I imagined they were — a couple of art students at the university making their mark on the world, literally. They are offering restitution and performing clean-up duties in hopes their records can escape with only minor blemishes. I’m sure their parents are hoping the same, and that their dollars spent on higher education will not go to waste. End of story.

Only not.

I’m sure there are more personal elements to the situation, to which, as a mother, I would likely be sympathetic. As an artist, I’m sure even more sympathetic. As a person, quite challenged with the realization that talent deserves courage. The broader quote from Mr. Mandela says this…

“Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, ‘who am I to be brilliant gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small doesn’t save the world.”

This from a man who has seen and lived at the pinnacle of authority and power as well as the despair of imprisonment, a man who HAS changed many aspects of the world around him. My first reaction to green flamingos was to say… Your talent is being misplaced. Your education is a privilege many in the world aren’t offered. The opportunity to learn in the arts is one many in the world don’t experience — or at the least they experience it with makeshift tools and eagerly devote themselves to the instruction knowing it may be their only hope to rise from desperate living situations. The superfluous materials of stencils and spray paint are luxuries many in the world can’t afford because they need rice or flour. While my first notion was to remind those young students of these facts, my more in-depth realization is to remind myself. To challenge myself against laziness. To challenge myself against cynicism and pessimism. To challenge myself against pity and compaint. To challenge myself into embracing big gifts.

I’m talented, as each person is in unique ways. And those talents aren’t entitlements or rights. They are gifts. Remarkable gifts. It’s so typical to diminish them. To be shaken by others who diminish them. To deny them. To apologize for them. To waste them. To shirk them. To make them seem small. To use them as if they WERE small.

“Your playing small doesn’t save the world.”

Even if the only world I’m saving is the one where I sit every day, I’m realizing that whatever talents I bring to bear on that world require courage. The world where I sit deserves a courageous talent, one that is used wisely and generously, without fear and without apology. To make those gifts count in whatever tiny sphere I apply them is my privilege. My responsibility.

BP, Leftovers & Jesus: A Dialogue

I think I’ve mentioned my instigator friend, #17. He’s actually an old friend (don’t take that personally, #17) who claims to be a recent and avid EyeJunkie convert. I call him an instigator because he sometimes sends me links or questions or book recommendations to stir the Junkie pot a little, prompting me to express myself on various issues or ideas, and perhaps inspiring me to some essay eloquence. Right.

It happened this morning. Again.

Like many across our country (and indeed our planet), I’ve been watching news of the oil “spill” in the Gulf of Mexico over the past six weeks. The story is of particular interest to those, who like me, live in Mississippi and other Gulf states. But, the implications environmentally and economically are so much more far-reaching.  Anyone who is awake is certainly convinced of that. Right? When I heard of the proposed “top kill” option to stem the flow of oil into the Gulf, my first thought was, “This whole process is an exercise in experimentation with 210,000 gallons of oil gushing daily.” It’s a frightening concept to realize you are reaching the limit of your own capacity to redeem a situation.

Enter #17.

This morning he called my attention to an article from the New York Times about the affect the “spill” is having on Louisiana shrimpers and fishermen. The implications of this disaster on their way of life and livelihood are unmistakeable, including the  larger questions of whether shrimp from the Gulf will ever be safe to eat. The plot thickens on the impact of the explosion at Deepwater Horizon. #17 wondered aloud in cyberspace why the disaster is still being called a “spill” rather than a “crime scene.” Good question. But a crime against what? Against whom?  Then, of course, #17 took the probe one step further.

“WWJD?”

For the unindoctrinated, that means “What would Jesus do?” Yep. Once an instigator, always an instigator. The ensuing dialogue in pursuit of an answer to that question made me think. It made me sad. It made me wonder. It made me ask more questions. With #17’s permission, I thought I’d share it here with little editing…

Junkie: And what’s YOUR take on what Jesus would do?

#17: Maybe He would cry. Why don’t YOU lead me to water on this?

Junkie: I don’t know about leading to water, but random thoughts…

I do think God is grieved by it. I believe a few facts about God that color the situation.

I think God made this earth. I think He designed it to be a living and continual testament to Himself and His existence. I also think He made it to sustain itself in many ways, but also to need a caretaker. The first few chapters of the Bible indicate that God designated man to be that caretaker. I think God designated man as the culmination of His creation — therefore not equivalent to nature, but more important than nature. In many ways, He designed the “system” or nature to serve man. That’s not necessarily a popular opinion with environmental groups.

In those first few chapters of Genesis, there is the account of man in the garden of Eden. Some see it as figurative, some as a recount of history. To me, the concepts are the same regardless. In that story, it was God who killed the first animals to provide clothing for man after his “fall.” The environment was used to serve the needs of man.

So, there’s a fine line with this situation. I think it’s ok for man to explore, ok to tap and use the resources we have available on this planet. However, God entreated man to be the caretaker. So there is an inherent responsibility of stewardship. I think that’s where we fall short. I think that’s where greed takes over. I think that’s where we show our lack of restraint. That lack of restraint and balance is what so often leads us into disaster.

But, above all, I believe God is compassionate. He gave souls to men, not to plants or animals. In this situation, I think he still sees the people as more important than the damage. I’m also aware that the two aren’t easily separated.

What would Jesus do?
I don’t know. I think He would have men act with compassion. I think He would want us all to take responsibility for our own actions, to own them. I think He would want sincerity in motives and actions. I think He wants the extra mile, the giving of the shirt as well as the coat, the recognition of what is priceless. I think He wants this mess cleaned up.

I like the idea of the Gumbo parties. [Gumbo for the Gulf is the benefit brain child of Environment Michigan.] Go out and buy shrimp. Eat it and give. But, is a halt to all drilling the answer? I don’t know.

I know that for many counties in Mississippi and Louisiana, the best job opportunities for feeding families are found in offshore drilling (and ironically in fishing or aquaculture). With the limited educational opportunities and historic poverty, those jobs are essential in many ways. In Mississippi, forestry is one of the largest industries (if not the largest) — another target of the environmental lobby. The current crisis is in need of funds and so are the shrimpers and other fishermen. But what about long term? What economic development can be produced to replace the jobs lost with a halt to all drilling?

And, the reality is that most goods are delivered by freight across this country. A reduction in the amount of available oil (regardless of its source) means double or triple prices on basic needs. I can’t afford that again.

There are many positions here. And not many easy answers. For me, I think the best answer lies in balance and restraint. For regulations and limits to be real. For incentives for alternative fuel to be real and enticing. For disincentives to breeching the limits to be real and detrimental.

#17: I agree completely.

I appreciate the narrative about the scripture. I also see nature as something in service to man. So did the Romans. So did the American Indians. Have you read Wendell Berry? On Stewardship? [more instigation]

I also believe in moderation and compassion. I believe in restraint and delicacy. That’s why I re-read books, why I wear my clothes out, why I have ridden a bike for so long. Its why I took the bus in Cincinnati. Its why I took the train home in Mississippi. That’s why I buy $25 of gas at a time, why I eat leftovers and pack a lunch. Its why I put new lenses in old frames and why I’m careful about how often I wash clothes.

I also believe Jesus would be grieving. And so do many others at a distance from this crisis. We feel helpless.

Junkie: Everyone feels helpless. And, we ARE in many ways.

Presumably the best and brightest minds from the private and public sectors are applying solutions to this problem to no avail. That’s not an easy thing for man to accept. And, it’s not an easy thing to look in the mirror as a race or a people after having created such a far-reaching dilemma. It’s not easy to admit that we had no foresight, or at least inadequate foresight. It’s like the realization after Hiroshima — what have we done? What genie is now out of the bottle?

Bringing it back to the real people, I think what bothers me the most is the rush to embrace agendas. It’s human nature and politics, but it’s taking our eyes off the ball. Party lines, Obama bashing, big oil bashing. The rhetoric has a place, but it is in the back seat. I was disappointed most, I think, to see the immediate adversarial relationship established by the EPA representatives upon their arrival two weeks after the explosion. In reading the tenor of the press conferences since, it put BP in an immediate defensive position. Of course, they’re going to be the fall guy. They are going to be the culprit. That’s obvious. But, that was a mistake in crisis management. To establish advocacy and an environment of cooperation fosters the best ideas. It squelches the need for secrecy and hedging. I think that approach was politically motivated, and it offended me as a citizen of a state that is likely to be affected directly by this disaster for decades. And, to see a Congressman holding up a glass filled with dark liquid that could just as easily have been 3-day old coffee was just ridiculous posturing.

You know, I’m seeing articles where the concept of “risk management” and its viability are coming into question. The assumption is that BP (or any of the oil companies) may have imagined this scenario in some brainstorming session somewhere in the past, but it was likely not even addressed because the possibility was so remote. Now, the remotest possibility has created a situation where a hazmat suit is required to walk in the Louisiana marshes that feed the lowest elements on the food chain — for wildlife and humans. “Managing” risk is an exercise in choosing, in setting priorities. Unfortunately, the priorities provided by probability (and certainly by financial gain) are being shown NOT to match up with the potential consequences. The horror is that just as we can’t conceive of an appropriate solution to this problem we’ve caused, we also can’t conceive of the true impact. For all our smarts, our brains simply aren’t big enough to accurately predict that.

Dialogue is important. Sadly, it’s not always the product of this small world we live in. It’s not always the norm for friends living 17 states apart or issues entrenched an ocean apart. But, I think maybe that dialogue is our greatest hope for solutions.

From there OUR dialogue moved into less weightier topics and pleasantries, punctuated by something like…

Junkie: What were you thinking getting me started with both Jesus AND British Petroleum at the same time?

#17: A *smirk* I could read loud and clear across 17 states.

Tardy Flag Day

Yesterday I intended to celebrate Flag Day by sharing some great old poster images I found at the virtual Library of Congress, each bearing images of the stars and stripes. But, I was behind, as is so often the case, and I wanted to get another post off my chest. In light of that MIPOTW post, however, I thought these images were still appropo. Most are from war eras back when patriotism was cool, and you know how I love the old illustration styles. (Details are at the end.)

flagday1

flagday2

flagday3

flagday4

I’m reminded of a quote from the fictional president, Andrew Shepherd in Aaron Sorkin’s 1995 movie, The American President:

“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the ‘land of the free’.”

Yep, America isn’t easy. That’s for sure. Our ten core enumerated rights mean that dissenting speech, even hate speech often has a place on the podium alongside everyone else. This whole shebang was founded on the principle that everyone doesn’t have to believe the same thing. In fact, long before 1776 the continent was invaded by Europeans willing to stake their life on that principle–at least the principle that MY way of thinking has the right to exist. It’s always easy to demand the right to my own way of life.  The inevitable fruit of that freedom, however, is differing opinions, each vehemently promoting action.

It was interesting to me to note that last Friday was the anniversary of the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right to interracial marriage–6 years AFTER our President was born into one such marriage. It’s an issue the vast majority of Americans now see as obsolete, even ridiculous. Sadly, Wednesday’s Holocaust Memorial shooter probably didn’t agree. America isn’t easy. For those coming late to the party, speech has power. It inspires laws and defiance of laws. It motivates action (at times horrifying) and thus bears a responsibility, making it all the more important for me to step to the mic. If I’m to wave the flag, I want to take full advantage of it–not while away the voice I have the privilege of raising.

The images:
1. “Our Flags Beat Germany” showing U.S. and Allied flags, 1918
Adolf Treidler, artist

2. “Teamwork Wins”, 1917
Hibberd V. B. Kline, artist

3. “Elmhurst Flag Day,” 1939
WPA Federal Art Project
Library of Congress Works Progress Administration Poster Collection

4. “140th Flag Day”, 1917

5. WAC poster, 1943
Bradshaw Crandall, artist

6. “Forward America!”, 1917
Carroll Kelly, artist

7. “The Spirit of America” Red Cross poster, 1919
Howard Chandler Christy, artist

8. “Fight or Buy Bonds”, 1917
Howard Chandler Christy, artist

The One Where I Come Out… And Say It

Have you ever had occasion to cross a barbed wire fence? Sticky predicament. I’ve done it on Busy Bee farm through the years, tromping through a pasture, avoiding cow unmentionables. Many notable attempts have occurred in the pursuit of a Christmas tree that we were convinced was over in some greener cedar tree pasture. Sometimes crossing the fence just beats the long bumpy ride down the fence row to a just-as-bumpy gravel road, through a gate and back down the flip side of said bumpy fence row. Economy of movement is an essential concept in pasture tromping.

There’s an art to crossing a barbed wire fence. You have to judge whether there is enough slack in the line to allow you to pull the wire wide enough to go through the fence, or if you’re better served pushing down on the top and going over, although your inseam is clearly not tall enough to avoid the peril. After all, a barbed wire fence has barbs.

If you’ve been reading a while, you may have seen me refer to “the blog you didn’t know I was reading.” I say you didn’t know I was reading it because it’s not the sort of blog you might think I’d be interested in, not the sort I’d deem worthy of supporting. If you’ve read much of my blog, you also know a few things about me. I am a politically conservative, white, heterosexual, middle class evangelical Christian from Mississippi.  And, I’m probably pretty close to who you think I am when I write those words.  [Sans a few Mississippi stereotypes. For example: I have a college degree.  I don’t work in agriculture. I have wireless DSL in my home and office.  I speak (and write to y’all) with a very thick Southern accent, but usually using correct subject-verb agreement. I have two full bathrooms complete with running water in my house.  I wear shoes on a daily basis.  I don’t own a gun which would need to be pried from my cold, dead hands at some point, nor do I own any camoflage. I’ve never had a mint julep.]

So, the blog you didn’t know I was reading is LesbianDad.net. And since today is “Blogging for LGBT Families Day, I decided to elaborate–something I’ve been promising for a while. Plus, I’m always up for a good post on social justice.

Lesbian Dad is probably pretty close to who you imagine she is–one of those crazy, liberal Californians, Berkeley graduate, feminist, Buddhist, lesbian activist. She’s also a “Baba” of two children and an excellent writer and photographer. She and her wife have one of the 18,000 marriages that were upheld by the California Supreme Court last week when it also upheld Proposition 8.

Reading her blog has convinced me of a few things. So I guess it’s time to come out… and say it.

It’s likely to elicit the same “duh” response of outrage from both the LGBT and conservative reader-types, but I’m sitting squarely on the (barbed wire) fence on this whole gay marriage issue. And, I’m trying not to rip my jeans or anything else while I figure out the side upon which I’m landing. If you’ve had experience with barbed wire fences as described above, you know that when you’re sitting, it would behoove you to get off. It’s uncomfortable. It’s dangerous. The best thing is to pick a side and stand on it. And, that’s what I’m in the slow process of doing.

You see, I’m a practicing (I’m afraid to say devout) Christian. I believe the Bible is God’s inspired word, and is true for always. I believe God is alive, active and cares about the cosmic and much of the mundane. I also believe homosexuality is not pleasing to God. I believe He thinks its wrong, which is why I call it a sin–much like I call adultery, lying, stealing or berating others a sin

Here’s the thing.

In this country, people aren’t required by law to believe what I believe. And, other people don’t think it’s a sin. My faith is big enough to even like a few of those people, even if I don’t agree with the complete scope of how they’ve chosen to live their lives. How do we properly deal with that in society? I know our response to sin has changed in the years since Moses codified the laws of the Israelite’s theocracy. I know that noone was clamoring to stone my first husband after he had an affair. I know noone is running around plucking out eyes or teeth because they’re ticked off. I know God hasn’t changed, but Jesus Himself changed how some of those old laws were executed. When He was confronted with an adulterous woman, He changed not what was accepted by God, but what was permitted in society by the religious leaders. I’m too entangled in the barbs to write an intelligent and well-composed argument either way–hence the uncomfortable fence-sitting.

LesbianDad wrote on her blog (or maybe it was twitter or somewhere else), that “they” don’t know who they’re voting against. Reading her personal story on the gay marriage issue has convinced me that’s true. This issue is not about the flamboyant gay bar scene, secluded roadside parks, irrationally suspected pedophiles, indecisive Hollywood-types or drag queen lounge singers that would prompt a much easier fence jump. No, this issue is about a desire for lifelong commitment, about monogamy. In practicality, it’s about social security benefits, health insurance, school permission forms, powers of attorney, and who has to stand out in the waiting room when a child is born. Yes, it’s about children who go to preschool or elementary school and like PowerPuff Girls and Cars.

I see the joy LD derives from her family every day. I see the frustration she feels about their “legal” status. I see the faces of her children at museums and dance class and home. I read that she sits on their beds after they’re asleep to stare with joy and hope for their futures just like I do. But for time zones, we might be doing it at the exact same moment.

One of the most poignant posts I read recently from LD was after a neighboring school board meeting regarding an existing anti-bullying curriculum that included content about sensitivity toward children in LGBT families. In response to the statements she heard, she wrote that there was “no hope”–no hope that others of my ilk would “see” her children.  And, I had already determined that I would see, that I would choose to look. That whatever side of the barbing I land on, I would do it with both eyes and ears open–not just to my side of the story, but to the side that might be uncomfortable. To look full on into the real “face” of the gay marriage debate.

I haven’t resolved it inside. There it is.  But, I’ve learned this. The “fight” for equality is not what it seems to be, and it’s getting bigger. (Thanks, LD)

I encourage and welcome your disagreements, insights and thoughts.

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