Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Drink up!

No, I'm not hitting celebratory champagne (yet, at least).

I'm realizing that millions of us are at risk of dehydrating from all our tears of joy today.

Remember to drink plenty of water today, folks!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Trying to figure it out...

I'm a folk music fan. So I've known for years that Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land had lyrics that got bowdlerized for the delicate sensibilities of the wealthy and powerful. Those are potent and important lyrics.

And now Pete Seeger, bless him, has publicly restored those lyrics to the public consciousness (I've not looked to see how many delicate flowers wilted and died because of it).

So here's what I'm trying to figure out in words;

Why is it that so many people are so deeply touched by that act?

Just reading that it happened got to me. I hadn't read the article, hadn't seen video. I just had seen enough words to tell me what had happened--and I could fill in the rest. I knew... and was choked up. My wife tells me that when she heard it, she was in tears. Many others have written about it and remarked on it.

It's such a small and curious thing--and yet such a large and numinous one. Why?

That Day Has Come--Almost

No, this is not an "I can't wait for tomorrow post." Tomorrow will come--and I look forward to it as much as anyone--at the same pace it always has.

(Which my Buddhist friends, and Lewis Carroll--jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today--would both remind us is never. But that's another discussion.)

A CNN poll today shows that two thirds of black Americans reported that Martin Luther King Jr's vision for race relations in America has been fulfilled--and that just under a majority of whites feel the same. Perhaps that's more or less the Obama electorate; most blacks and almost a majority of whites. More or less, because black Americans voted for him overwhelmingly--which means that a significant number of blacks who did vote for him don't think that King's vision has been fulfilled. On the flip side, it means that an appreciable number of white Americans who didn't vote for him do feel that King's vision has been fulfilled.

I've no evidence, but my gut-feel is that the black/white dichotomy of this poll is explicable in this manner; roughly 70% of Obama supporters think King's vision's been met. (That, given the scant report of the poll, would be a hair over 30% of all whites, given that 43% of whites voted for him.)

That would give us the number of blacks who do, and it would provide a majority of the whites who agree. The rest, you ask, who are those white people who agree then? Those are whites who would like to believe so--and in most cases probably wanted to believe so--or would have asserted so--before Obama ran for the presidency. Perhaps even before he ran for the Senate.

This has been a thought experiment in how what may look like a coalition may not be; how fractured alliances may really be--and how a poll may tell you something that it really should not.

Ok, so if that's correct... then black Americans are roughly twice as likely to agree that King's vision's been met as whites of a moderate to liberal bent (I'm labeling, and I'm aware of it) are. Or maybe those aren't really whites of a more liberal bent. Or perhaps we're ever so slightly more aware of shadows that still lie over King's vision on the white side of things.

Interracial dating and marriage is more common, but there's still a not-uncommon twitch at first about it. That's actually true for both sides of the color line. But I think the motivations are, on average, slightly different. I think that whites are -- again, on average -- more able and willing to see beyond skin tone to character and the quality of one's heart than they were. But one still hears stories of kids whose parent takes them aside to have a word about this. And, gloriously, one hears more stories of the kid calling the parent on the inconsistency of that word with what those parents have taught those kids for years.

I think we're getting there.

I think there's been great progress.

But I don't think tomorrow came. I don't think we, as a nation, yet judge each other simply on our hearts and characters.

King walked so Obama could run. And yes, Obama won, and that was an amazing, historic moment. Progress indeed. The fact that a black American will sit behind the desk in the Oval Office on Lincoln's 200th birthday is a truly significant thing. The fact that a vast, staggering number of us--of all shades and ethnic origins--think that Obama can, and should make a huge difference for this nation on issues that are real and tangible, that's significant.

But his race was still an issue. His skin tone had to be addressed. It had to be walked around at times and skillfully handled.

There's a tale reported during the election of someone door knocking in Pennsylvania, asking who the residents of one home were voting for, and the answer came back "We're voting for the nigger." I think that captures this limnal moment we're in. We, as a nation, are starting to be able to judge hearts and characters--but we still see skin color, and it still carries assumptions, judgments, fears and prejudices.

That should be no great surprise. Real change comes slow; damnably slow and frustratingly slow. Oliver Wendell Holmes observed "We are all tattooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribes." I think we in America are starting to give up on some of those tribal tattoos--and taking up new ones, for good and ill. But many of us still have the old ones, or scars from painfuly excising them--ghosts of tattoos that haunt us.

Tomorrow isn't here yet. But maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow's jam promises to have a rich and wonderful flavor.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Peace, Baked Daily

We winnow ourselves of husks
That we may grind ourselves to flour
To make dough

Leavened by imagination
Flavored by the salt of our sweat--and blood and tears--

Rising (some things cannot be hurried much)

Baked hot
(Surely this will burn us, let us out!)
Emerging crusty
Glorious to the eye

Breaking bread
Ourselves, each other

Saturday, January 17, 2009


I have several long blocks to walk each day--at least twice--in the cold. My body is moving, caught in tension between sweat and freezing; my mind seems to find this conducive to thought-fragments that seem... eye-catching, like shiny potsherds.

Contemplating the curious habit of claiming iconic figures who were (or may have been) Unitarian or Universalist (or UU, even) as a way of claiming legitimacy, which seems to serve as a device for not really having to actually know much at all about those figures as real people both worthy and painfully human, brilliant and flawed. Jefferson, the apostle of freedom--and slave-owner (oh, wait, not a marble saint, so don't claim him any longer?), or ... oh hell, there's a long list.

Fine, hero-worship. That's fine, and even useful. But know your heroes as human. Iconoclastic, fine too--but while you're pillorying others for their failings and imperfections, watch your hypocrisy level (just where were all your clothes made, and by whom; what were they paid and what were their working conditions? There are more slaves today than 150 years ago; "ours" labor out of sight...)

Can we manage to make useful pots from all our feet of clay? Watching everyone walk on the potsherds is both painful and so very old and tiresome.

Dream Verse #1

Without much comment. Words from a dream; I'll see if it fills itself back in.

A life spent stacking stones for a great temple

may be as virtuous as

One spent [farming / feeding -- image indecipherable/words obscured]

A life spent stacking souls for God

may be as sinful as

One spent in war, counting bodies of the slain.