Category Archives: Politics and Culture

Good Morning, #Baltimore

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My middle child sings this little bit from Hairspray every time we go to Charm City—our most recent visit was just three days ago. Our family knows Baltimore primarily as tourists and day-trippers, and I’ve visited there in a professional capacity many times. So while it’s not our city, and there’s a lot of it we’ve never seen, we have a lot of affection for it.

I don’t make a habit of commenting on current events as they’re unfolding. I always feel other people say things so much better than I could. But my next planned post was going to be a muffin recipe, and… no. Just no.

Hugh Hollowell wisely advised well-intentioned people (especially white people) who don’t know what to say to amplify the words of others, especially people of color. So I’m going to amplify the words of Derrick Weston, whose post deserves to be read widely—and judging from Facebook shares, it is:

Violence is what happens when grief has nowhere else to go and black Baltimore is tired of grieving its young men. That is not a justification for violence. At my core, I believe that violence is the ultimate dehumanizing act and yet when individuals and communities have been on the receiving ends of all sorts of violence – physical violence, economic violence, racial violence, psychological violence – those individuals and communities assert their own humanity by declaring they will no longer be trampled. That is what you are seeing in the streets of Baltimore tonight.

I hear his anger and weariness, but also his wisdom in trying to see the big picture. (Read it all.) I often want to ask him what I want to ask LGBT friends who respond graciously to people who hurl the most hateful language at them:

Do you ever get weary of being the bigger person? 

And yet, they are embodying the change they wish to see. I’m thankful for that.

Anyway. If you only have time for one post, stop reading mine immediately and read Derrick’s.

But if you have time for the disjointed thoughts of a white woman 75 minutes south of Baltimore, here goes.

I’m thinking a lot about language. I’m remembering Hurricane Katrina, when a photo of black individuals taking things from an abandoned store was captioned with the word “looting” and a similar photo of white people doing the same thing was captioned “taking.” I’m thinking of the many examples of wanton destruction that take place when one sports team beats another one that get framed in completely different ways than what happened in Baltimore yesterday. (See Black People Riot Over Injustice; White People Riot Over Pumpkins and Football.)

I’m thinking about use of the word “thugs.” Robert told me some stories just the other day about the most disgusting sexism at the highest levels of Silicon Valley. When women would complain, HR would respond “He’s the CEO, he can do what he wants.”  Thanks in part to the culture these executives created, the number of women in high tech is lower than it was just a few years ago. These men operate without any regard for decency, or in many cases the rule of law.

They are thugs.

When we use that term for some people and not for others, it says something about us.

In college at Rice there was a sociology professor, Chad Gordon (may he rest in peace), who taught a popular series of classes that got nicknamed “_________ with Chad.” My husband took TV with Chad, for example. There was also Death with Chad. (Of course the most popular was Sex with Chad.)

He also taught a class on the psychology and sociology of group dynamics, nicknamed Crowds with Chad. I wish I’d taken that class. Perhaps it would help me understand the dynamics of this situation. Protests have gone on for days and have been overwhelmingly peaceful, with police seeking to contain the crowd rather than subdue it. And yet even that peaceful atmosphere could not neutralize a smaller group of primarily young people intent on violence yesterday.

A Crowds with Chad class might help me understand the crowds on the Internet, where people feel free to call people “animals” and say “run ’em over.” It’s a mob mentality out there. I’ve seen it said so many times since #BlackLivesMatter began that if people would just follow police instructions, they’d still be alive today. Since when is resisting arrest or running away from police a capital crime?

A Facebook friend, a Presbyterian church elder in Tennessee, posted the following on Facebook:

#FreddieGray matters.

America, your double standards are showing. This land was looted & its inhabitants murdered or displaced. We have consistently used lethal force to achieve political ends from the onset. Violence is & has been the American way. I am all about the #Peace, but if the youth of Baltimore stop rioting & practice nonviolence as self-defense instead of looting, they would be way more ethical & revolutionary than every role model they have in this messed-up world.

He took it down within hours because the vitriol got completely out of hand. I happen to agree with the sentiment, but even if I didn’t—how does bullying someone into silence on Facebook help anything?

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the two-part series This American Life produced called Cops See It Differently. Please listen to it. It’s an important two hours of audio. It will open your eyes to the many good law-enforcement officers who take their duty seriously to protect and to serve, and the difficult position so many of them are in. (Guess what? Pretty much everybody would rather be taken to the hospital than to jail. Wouldn’t you? Unfortunately that means it’s very difficult to discern which detainees truly “can’t breathe.”)

The show may also leave you feeling very, very discouraged. It did me. The bridge we still need to cross in order to reach one another, or even just understand one another, is just so long… and riddled with bodies, both physical and metaphorical.

By the way, many people have claimed that the police problem is a matter of a “few bad apples.” I hope they are extending the same courtesy of nuance to protesters in Baltimore, most of whom were peaceful, and many of whom are taking the day off to clean up the mess someone else made. They do this because they love their city and want to do their part.

How are we, how am I, being the change we wish to see?

The Parable of the Pizzas

What do you think? A man had two sons. To each he said, “Go and sell pizza.”

And the first said, “Yea, I shall do my father’s will, but to the gays getting married I shall not sell pizza. For the six scripture verses are clear to me, both the verses next to the ones condemning shellfish and mixed fiber clothing, and the ones uttered by Paul, though peculiarly never by Jesus. Very truly I tell you, I am certain of their meaning; it hath been revealed to me that these specific sayings of the Ancient Near East are worthy of literal acceptance in the Year of Our Lord 2015.” And he didst spake it unto Fox News.  

And the second son said, “Yea, I too shall sell pizza. But to the poor and homeless I will not sell pizza. Rather and verily, I will permit my patrons to pay for extra slices for the least of these my brothers and sisters. They wilt share their good works via Post-It, so that all who enter our doors will see the glory of free pizza and give thanks, and all will be fed.” 

And the news of the two sons and their pizzas spread far and wide.

And it came to pass, the wrath of the Internet rained on the head of the first son, both the righteous anger and the immature trollishness, until the first son closed his doors. And behold, a GoFundMe site came into being, and a large multitude showed their support for the man, and his six scripture verses. 

pizza_custom-e8c20e171a874bed213c97937f44826dc4b4784e-s1700-c85And the deeds of the second son spread across the land with a great many shares, becoming as a holy virus to all people. So many didst tell the story that it was recorded on the hallowed scrolls of Upworthy. And the homeless did come, and went away rejoicing, their bellies full. And all who heard of it found themselves desiring to be better people and to share light unto the world.

Let anyone with ears to hear, listen! Which of these did the will of the father?

Go and do likewise.

The Art and Craft of Not Being a Racist

Thanks to my friend Amy Hemphill for sharing this video, in which Jay Smooth turns a critical (side) eye to the Academy Awards. While this year’s presentation was the most “explicitly political” Oscars ceremony in years, the academy selections and nominees also managed to represent “the most exclusionary, white-ish, dudebro-ish” aspect of Hollywood.

Even if you care nothing for the Oscars, you owe it to yourself to watch this short 5 minute video. Especially if you’ve ever said to yourself, “I can’t be [racist/sexist/homophobic], I’m a good person.”

To that Jay says: There is nothing that does more to perpetuate injustice than good people who assume that injustice is caused by bad people.

The message is an especially potent one for those of us in the church, given the ways we both perpetuate the status quo without intending to, AND give ourselves a pass because we consider ourselves to be nice people who mean well.

Watch, think, and learn. And tend to your craft.

Be Bored! Be Brilliant!

I’ve recently discovered the New Tech City podcast, and am liking it a lot. Here are folks who love and use technology and are interested in how it’s impacting our world: “No jargon – just compelling stories about how technology is changing our lives for better and for worse.” A recent episode followed a 16 year old girl living in the NYC suburbs, resulting in the fun and informative 9 Things We Learned about Phones from a Teenager.

The New Tech City folks have a new initiative that starts next week: a project called Bored and Brilliant: The Lost Art of Spacing Out. And it couldn’t come at a better time for me.

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As I prepare to leave Tiny Church and strike out on my own to write and lead retreats and other events, I’ve been wondering (OK, worrying) about how to keep myself productive and on track. As the New Tech City folks admitted, lots of people make big creative plans only to fritter away the time. It has always been thus, but the Internet makes that much easier.

One part of the answer for me is a part-time writing/editing gig I’m in the process of negotiating (more on that soon). Having a bit of structure will have a ripple effect on the less structured parts of this writing call. (Plus it’s a cool organization with a great mission—I can’t wait to start.)

Another part of the answer: getting a reign on my social media and technology use.

Smartphones and tablets have the potential to eradicate boredom and whittle away our downtime. But the New Tech City folks argue (with neuroscientists and psychologists to back them up) that boredom is an essential part of the creative process. One researcher found that people who were given a boring task (copying numbers from a phone book) were able to come up with lots more and better ideas for solving a simple problem than those who didn’t have this so-called “idle time.”

So far 11,000 people have signed up for the Bored and Brilliant challenge. Phase 1 is currently underway: tracking your smartphone use via specific apps—you can read about on the NTC website. I’ve been using the Moment app for iPhone and I have to admit, it’s not perfect. It tallies up whenever you’re on your phone, but I use my phone for GPS and for work, which skew my results. Still, it’s an illuminating exercise.

Phase 2 will start February 2: a different challenge each day. From their website:

Our big challenge week starts February 2. They’ll be issued via a mini-podcast episode for you every day that week. If you subscribe to the New Tech City podcast, you’ll get the challenges automatically downloaded to your device as soon as they’re ready. Subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or via RSS.

Each of those mini-episodes will be short and sweet, explaining the logic behind the day’s challenge, along with some research and/or personal stories to help you achieve your goal in the challenge. We’ll send out an early morning email to keep you in the loop and on track each day that week, and you can (yes, we see the irony) follow along on social media as well.

I’m in. How about you? I’d love to have some company in this boredom challenge! I have no idea what the challenges will be, but if they lend themselves to blogging some reactions, I’ll be here. And yes, as the podcasters admit, there is irony in using technology to reflect on the excesses of technology. Life is marvelously complicated, no?

A Triumph of Robert’s Rules

I’ve been reading To Kill a Mockingbird to Caroline for the past several weeks. We’ve been at it a long time, what with other things happening in the evenings. And Robert’s been reading Ender’s Game, so we alternate nights. It also doesn’t speed things along when I preface each section with a rapturous “Oh I *love* this scene.” The rabid dog… The night before the trial begins…

Anyway. That book, plus a conversation with a friend yesterday about our Presbyterian system of governance (he’s teaching a polity class next semester) reminded me of the following anecdote.

I recently read The Mockingbird Next Door, in which author Marja Mills describes her friendship with Harper and Alice Lee. The book was just OK, but one scene stuck with me.

The Lees’ pastor was describing the turbulent 1960s in which the southern churches were fighting hard over civil rights. At one particular regional meeting of the United Methodist Church, the church was preparing to adopt a committee’s report concerning the scourge of racism and segregation. Of course, the racists and pro-segregationists were threatening to bog the process down with various amendments, speeches and delaying tactics. There they were, clutching their legal pads full of vitriol, and the atmosphere was tense. Then this happened:

Before their leader could get to the floor, a wee woman from Monroeville, Alabama, got the attention of the presiding officer of the conference. Miss Alice Finch Lee went to the microphone to make her maiden speech to the Alabama– West Florida conference of the Methodist Church. Her speech electrified the seven or eight hundred delegates there— I was there. It consisted of five words.

She said: ‘I move the previous question,’ and sat down.

The conference applauded enthusiastically and voted overwhelmingly to support her motion and then adopted the committee report without further debate.

Like a boss.

~

Video: Robert’s Rules in action in a very NSFW clip from The Wire. “Robert’s Rules say we gotta have minutes for the meetin’, right?”