Saturday, October 16, 2010

Words To Live By

The other day I wrote something highly critical of a piece in First of the Year by Benj DeMott. I was offered a reminder by Scott McLemee, via Facebook, that it is impossible to place in any neat package the editorial or ideological viewpoint of either DeMott or the journal in question.

In a review Scott published (which alerted me to the presence of the journal), he includes a long quote from a letter DeMott received from his father.
Study humiliation. You have nothing ahead of you but that. You survive not by trusting old friends. Or by hoping for love from a child. You survive by realizing you have nothing whatever the world wants, and that therefore the one course open to you is to start over. Recognize your knowledge and experience are valueless. Realize the only possible role for you on earth is that of a student and a learner. Never think that your opinions – unless founded on hard work in a field that is totally new to you – are of interest to anyone. Treat nobody, friend, co-worker, child, whomever, as someone who knows less than you about any subject whatever. You are an Inferior for life. Whatever is left of it....This is the best that life can offer. And it’s better than it sounds
These words summarize my own view of my own life, really. They are harsh, but also quite beautiful. The view offered here resonates with my own refusal to consider of any serious merit the things I do. I do the best I can; I fail as often as I succeed; I have no particular gifts or talents the world desires. Yet, this opens up all sorts of possibilities. I consider myself always growing, always learning, rarely being right. The best I hope for is that I will be known by those most dear to me - my wife and my daughters first and foremost; my closest friends - as someone who tried to live with love and joy, and never assumed the world owed me anything at all. Happy with the life I have, I also work to make sure the world is just a tad bit better for my having lived, without ever thinking this will be the case.

In any case, I offer up this view to you, dear readers. Be open to all the possibilities the world has to offer. As my father used to tell me, in a single sentence the summarizes the quoted words above, "You don't know every goddamn thing." It took me a while to learn those words and accept them. Now that I think I have, I consider myself open to all sorts of new things out there in the world.

The Search For The Primary Text: A Lesson For The Church From Music

Ever since musical notation was standardized, musicologists have privileged the written score over any other form of expression. Even with the advent of more sophisticated folk music forms - jazz, post-Dylan rock, pop, folk, and R&B - there still remains a bias not only for western art musics (a far preferable term to "classical", which actually only denotes a single period), but for the written score. Not only has this bias hindered serious discussion of much popular and folks musics in the west, it has also set to one side any consideration of non-western musical forms. Indian classical music defies easy notation using the western diatonic scale, for example, because of its use of quarter-tones and the open spaces in even the most structured spaces for individual expression. The music created by the Indonesian gamelan - a huge influence on, for example, Robert Fripp - is another case in point where western literary prejudices keep off the table a serious consideration of a wonderful art form.

In the 19th century in America, the publication of sheet music for the expanding middle class created not just a market for all sorts of songs, but a demand that ever-new forms become accessible. First with the rags, and later with even the earliest jazz, the demand that popular musical forms become accessible in a literary form was met by music publishers. As early as the mid-1920's, Louis Armstrong's work with King Oliver and his own recording groups known as the Hot 5's and Hot 7's was annotated for others to learn. Before that, US Army band director James Reese Europe and dance band leaders like Fletcher Henderson created written arrangements that incorporated the new syncopated style, with the accent on the down beat, that were the hallmarks of jazz. Jelly Roll Morton, among his many accomplishments, wrote all his music, and arranged it for recording sessions.

Yet, some of the best jazz was never written down. Count Basie's Orchestra worked from what were called "head arrangements"; he would set out a basic harmonic framework on the piano and his band would then create the melodic and rhythmic structure. These pieces, marvelous examples of group creation, were never intended as anything more than instances for the patrons of the seedy clubs in Kansas City where Basie played to dance to. Yet, they became, due to fame and repetition and even, in the end, notation, actual "songs".

The problem, however, is that not just jazz, but blues, and later R&B and rock and contemporary pop and hip-hop, by and large, incorporate all sorts of room for individual expression - improvisation, "free-from" in Britain - that not only cannot be notated, but changes with each performance. It is right here that the whole question of the primacy of musical literacy arises. Not just for these musical forms, either. Once one raises the issue of performance, it is necessary to include art musics as well as more popular and folk-oriented musical styles as well.

Which is primary? Which is the "real", "true" form of a particular musical composition? For many pieces for the western art traditions, it is easy enough to say the musical score, being the basis for performance, should hold pride of place. In 1990, I watched a film of Leonard Bernstein conducting a performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony in a newly reunited Berlin. Early on I was stunned to realize, after a close-up on Bernstein, that was doing so without a score. If the musical notation is most basic, primary text from which one works - and a conductor is surely a conductor is as much a performer as the individual musicians - how do we square this with Bernstein's ability to do so without any text at all? Is it just enough, perhaps, to offer up his extraordinary understanding of the entire piece? Yet, doesn't that beg all sorts of questions?

It has been over a century that music has been available to people in recorded form. The addition of a recorded instance of musical performance (enhanced with the visual component since the addition of sound to moving pictures) muddies the water even further. It becomes almost impossible to untangle considering contemporary recording techniques (music is built from individual performances, from the bottom up - the rhythm section records first, with later additions of other parts, usually in multiple takes; finally, at the mixing process, all these pieces come together and are rearranged even more) and the ability to use samples and other pre-recorded sounds to create a composition.

Finally, there are disparate approaches to the recording process. The Beach Boys and the Beatles, in many ways, pioneered the view of the recording studio as a creative space - an instrument to be played and used, in other words. Roger Glover, bassist for the early British heavy metal band Deep Purple, once said in an interview that the band disliked recording immensely. Seeing it as too restricting, the limitations placed upon artists who desire creative space can be a burden. Considering the differences between a jazz recording, say, and a performance of that same piece, it can become almost impossible to recognize the former in the latter, especially in the hands of musicians like John Coltrance or Sony Rollins.

The limitations of the preference for musical literacy when applied outside the confines of western art musics was demonstrated by jazz critic Gary Giddins. In his National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Visions of Jazz, he includes some notated solos from a monograph on Charlie Parker. It should be noted that the monograph's author had to sit and listen to these solos and notated them himself. While musically literate, even gifted in terms of theory, Parker's solos were the product of intense concentration on the harmonic structure playing underneath him. One can, I suppose, take those notations, learn them, and play them note-perfect given enough time. They would not, then, be Parker solos as-played-by. Parker not only had a deep and subtle understanding of musical theory; his intonation, embouchure, tonguing, and phrasing were unique. It is impossible to notate these distinct, Parkeresque realities. Even taking a cue from the recordings along with the notated score leaves me at a loss as to how one could possibly recreate Parker's solos. In fact, since it becomes necessary to combine both musical literacy as well as a gifted ear for subtle distinctions, we have arrived, yet again, at the question that haunts this essay - What if there is no primary musical text?

These questions - abstracted from a musical context - become important for the discussion here on the role and function of the Biblical canon in the life of the Church. While one can point, easily enough, to the growth and final selection of the canon in the early church councils, there is also little doubt that these same writings were considered important precisely because they were seen as having been seminal in the creation of the Christian community. Even the Old Testament writings contained in the Septuagint testify that the experience of God in the community was formative; yet that experience included certain literary forms, including the legend of the law inscribed on stone. Inclusion in the community of the people called out of Egypt was signified by certain acts, in particular circumcision of the men, before it became a matter of accepting the written testimony of the history of the people.

The circle, or spiral, of reflection that insists we can, or should, or even must, point to some instance, some text as primary is belied by the very reality we continue to live. As long as the Christian faith is a going concern, text and community, the word on the page and the on-going life will inform one another, change one another, and change one another.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Some Questions For Benj DeMott

This essay from First of the Month offers a spirited defense of Pres. Obama in the face of left-wing criticism. Not the least of the things I applaud is the casual dismissal of radio host Ed Schulz. Like Rush Limbaugh, Schulz is nothing more than a radio entertainer, to be taken with the same amount of salt - less than a grain, in other words. All the same, starting with a discussion of Shirley Sherrod's magnanimous statement toward her former employer, and building a case for a more broad and patient approach to Pres. Obama's tenure in office misses on several points.

First of all, not all the animus directed at the President from the left is rooted in racial animus (even unrecognized). Indeed, it seems to me much of the criticism of the President, particularly his inept approach toward the current mid-term election cycle, is rooted in specific instances that are easy enough to point out. His famed reticence in the face of the constant barrage of right-wing attacks upon him, his Administration, his policies, and the Congressional wing of his party have only hurt. While I for one still doubt a Republican takeover of either chamber of Congress is likely, even the erosion of current majorities spells the end of any serious Obama-endorsed legislation in the next Congress. Far too many Democrats, never failing to learn the wrong lesson, will have discovered that supporting the President is political poison.

Second, and more to the central thesis of DeMott's article, it seems to me that the so-called "grassroots" insistence on patient support for the President ignores certain facts that are all too clear. Once in office, and after some overtures to certain interests on the left, the President has consistently pursued policies that favor large, monied interests over the far more pertinent interests of the coalition that elected him in the first place. The stimulus package made law early on was deemed by those who know the subject well far too small, by about half, and the subsequent financial breakdown in the states has negated any gains from the stimulus. Because of the success of right-wing messaging on the stimulus, a second chance is just not possible, despite the obvious necessity for such.

Second, placing Larry Summers and Tim Geithner in positions of prominence in his economic team sent the signal that, first and foremost, propping up the large banks would override and all other concerns, not the least of them being holding the banks accountable through serious oversights and regulatory reform. With the recent revelation that the large banks, in an effort to rid their books of questionable assets, may have foreclosed on properties without even a glance at legal procedures, now renders any question of the success of TARP moot.

Recently, most of the large banks have made final payments on their Troubled Asset Relief Program loans floated in the first weeks of the crisis at the very end of Pres. Bush's term. TARP managed to earn a relatively modest profit, and many in the financial community not only heaved a sigh of relief but made this out to be a sign of stability-to-come in the financial services industry. Except, hot on the heels of this good news, was the revelation that the cost of this success was wide-spread, systematic fraud, not the least of which was simply ignoring that most basic right-wing right - recognizing the right to and observance of property rights and laws.

Finally, in a day and time when the right in America has a nearly bottomless supply of financial support for flinging poo at the President, Democrats in Congress, Democrats in general, without any compunction concerning issues of accuracy or even sanity, a plea from "the grassroots" seems not just quaint, but almost sweet. Also, quite irrelevant. The President does, indeed, still enjoy broad support among many liberals and those on the left. I have to wonder, however, if this is a case of "still hoping", rather than dealing with the simple reality that Obama has, in large measure, and despite many specific instances of success and follow-through on any number of campaign promises, been exposed as that most feared political caricature - the hollow man.

The fact is that, despite a history of grassroots, community organizing, Barack Obama's political career has been one long sprint away from this history as he moved further up the ladder of political success. Embracing the notion that being "too liberal", whatever that may mean, is political suicide, Obama has embraced all sorts of measures and political practices that have rendered him weak and, heading in to the midterms, increasingly marginal.

The first year of his Presidency, I was surprised at how well he seemed to do, even as some of the things he did raised red flags. His performance as party leader and supporter of his own Administration's initiatives (health care, specifically) was dismal. The result is the spectacle we see unfolding before us, weeks before midterms that may well not only be a sea-change politically, but offer the spectacle of numerous Nero's fiddling while Rome burns.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Authority And The Christian Tradition

My undergraduate academic advisor, Robert Heineman, was a fairly conservative guy. A student of Kirkian conservatism, Heineman was not the kind of normal reactionary one thinks of when the word "conservative" is bandied about. Like Kirk, he took his starting point from Burke's observations on the nature of human society, as an organic reality that impacts our lives in various and sundry ways. His major work, revised twice, is entitled Authority and the Liberal Tradition. Its central thesis is simple enough. Liberalism undermines itself as a social philosophy precisely because two of its central tenets render the necessity of authority untenable. The false notion of the atomized individual, sovereign in reason, being both judge and jury upon any claims upon the individual result in even the most beneficent liberal authority being questioned as a source of social and political authority.

We non-Roman Christians inherited a similar disposition from the Lutheran Reformation, which became ensconced in much Enlightenment thought on religion. It has become almost a caricature in American religious life, with the proliferation of denominations whose claim to authority all too often rests upon differences that are either of minute dogmatic concern, or deeply rooted social anima, mostly racial. Churches in the Wesleyan tradition, for example, are numerous. The largest are the interracial United Methodist Church, and three large historically-black denominations, The African Methodist Episcopal Church, The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. There is also the Wesleyan Church, Free Methodists, and the CME Zion Churches. Finally, there are off-shoots from the holiness revivals of the 19th century, the most prominent of which is the Church of the Nazarene. There were even more Methodist-related denominations, the result of pre-Civil War regional tensions and anti-Epsicopal feeling (The Methodist Protestant Church, which spawned Westminster Theological Seminary, which was moved to Washington, DC in 1965 to become Wesley Theological Seminary, my alma mater) that only ceased to exist at the so-called "Uniting Conference" of 1939, which also created the now-defunct, racially segregated Central Conference system (these were done away with at another "Uniting Conference" in 1968).

That's just one tradition.

These initial thoughts are prompted by this discussion begun by ER. At the heart of this discussion rests, I think, some assumptions concerning authority, how it is constituted, and how we and it interrelate. The multivalent tensions - between the individual and the community; between our contemporary needs and the ancient nature of our foundational texts; the various claims of authority - individual, communal, historical/traditional, and modern - seem to have surfaced in this discussion in various ways.

We early-21st century Christians cannot escape the conundrum, and I for one would never insist we surrender that part of the tradition that calls for questioning "authority" as it rests either in denominational structure or deeper doctrinal claims of Scriptural authority. For both good and ill we must each come to terms with what way and how far we are willing to grant to these ancient writings and their accumulated layers of interpretation any role in shaping our own experience of faith. Such questions must always exist, plaguing our sense of ease and rest in having reached satisfactory conclusions.

Because, you see, the texts themselves insist they are not so much authoritative as pointers toward the only truly sovereign authority - the God whose interactions with creation are given voice and narrative shape within their pages. Precisely for this reason, the texts offer up an opportunity to delve in to them and their claims of authority. Not just on an individual, but communal, level we must always be ready to post that most dangerous, frightening question - Why should I accept this word about the Word?

From this, Calvin's notion of a church always in need of reformation should open up our too often stale and limited devotion to tradition to all sorts of ideas and thoughts. It is this impetus that gives the Christian tradition its liveliness. It is in this way that the tradition becomes authoritative for us in each generation, precisely by raising the question of whether or not it should be an authority.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Washington Post Figures That Balance Includes Hatred (UPDATE)

For the second year in a row, I had in the back of my mind the possibility of entering The Washington Post's "Next Great Pundit" contest. As soon as I saw the announcement it was on, however, there were some op-eds that made me realize even entering the contest would present a compromise on my part. It was mindless, thoughtless ambition, and the lure of filthy lucre for doing something I love, that made me sit and consider the possibility. Considering the stable of writers they employ - using Mad magazine's old by-line for their editors, "The Usual Gang of Idiots", seems fitting to describe Broder, Parker, Will, Cohen, and the rest - I figured that being known by the company one keeps would leave me with few shreds of dignity left.

More evidence that I dodged a bullet arrived today. Even by entering the contest (I am just confident and egotistical enough to believe that I could have been competitive), the following report from Media Matters for America would have left me feeling dirty:
Via Pam's House Blend, I learn that the Washington Post's remarkably poor decision to post Tony Perkins's falsehood laden, anti-gay screed on their On Faith blog (on National Coming Out Day nonetheless) was because they felt they needed to "cover both sides" of "bullying and gay suicide." No, really, they're serious. Apparently they hosted a Live Q & A chat with Dan Savage to discuss "bullying and gay suicide" and his "It Gets Better Project," which is a You Tube channel Savage created in order to reach out to gay youths to prevent suicide. So, to balance Savage, the Post turned to Perkins to respond. Apparently to the Post, gay suicide is a two-sided issue.

GLAAD and the Washington Post had an exchange over Twitter, in which the Post responded to criticism over publishing Perkins' column, by saying, "[W]e're working to cover both sides. Earlier, we hosted Dan Savage of It Gets Better in a live chat." GLAAD rightly replied, "There are not 'both sides' to this issue. Teen suicide isn't a debate-it's a tragedy."
Savage has a pithy response to the Post:
...if you had told me that my doing a live chat with your readers about the It Gets Better Project was going to be used as an excuse to publish the hateful, bigoted lies of Tony Perkins, I wouldn't have done your fucking live chat.
I feel bad for Savage, because he probably saw this as an opportunity to take his message to a platform with a broader audience. In the process, the Post managed to completely undermine him, his message, and its own moral authority.

UPDATE: It's actually much worse than Tony Perkins.

Diaries, Journals, The Internet, And Identity

There are two reviews in the latest New York Review of Books on diaries and journals. One concerns Jimmy Carter's release of his diaries from his White House years. The other is the publication by the Library of America of an edition in two volumes of Ralph Waldo Emerson's massive private journals (the actual journals, according to the reviewer, comprise 40 thick volumes; the two under review, covering a span of 57 years, come out combining the two volumes, to around 2,000 pages). Carter's diaries, despite the headline-grabbing "revelation" that he and the late-Sen. Edward Kennedy clashed over health care reform, is revealing not just of this particular dispute. Carter had pretty solid, yet succinct, opinions on all sorts of people, from German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to the late Sens. Scoop Jackson and Frank Church. Mining the wealth of detail, the reviewer concludes that, in many ways, Carter has become his own worst enemy, not least by publishing these diaries. He also recently shot himself in the foot (which was embedded in his mouth, no mean feat) by declaring that his was the best post-Presidency career of all. That this has often been remarked upon is true enough; that he was un-humble enough to agree with this assessment says much about the character of the man.

Emerson's journals in many ways appear similar to Carter's. Rich in detail, precise and unflagging in his opinions on people and events (the young Emerson dismisses a small group of English Romantics, including Coleridge, even as one is hard pressed to discover differences between Romanticism and much of Emerson's pantheistic, individualist notions of human possibility), reveals both the sorrow at a series of deaths that occurred in a span of a few short years - his young wife's, two brothers, his son - and the ensuing heroic, monumental efforts to overcome that grief and continue to affirm the basic goodness not just of humanity, but the entire Universe. One can speculate on whether this was an act of self-delusion, an example of a powerful will and intellect integrating the events of his life with his vision of an ordered, loving universe, or the maundering thoughts of a borderline sociopath Yet, the sheer volume of his private thoughts makes any simplistic reduction of this complex individual impossible.

I used to keep a journal. I started the summer after my freshman year in college, as an attempt to come to terms with a relationship gone horribly wrong. I also took the opportunity to reflect on events in the larger world. I have kept these journals, written in spiral notebooks, but am now thinking again about whether or not they should be kept around. In the case of Carter, it seems that publishing his detailed account of his far-too hands-approach to the Presidency reveals him to be an individual capable of an interpersonal pettiness that emerged in his public life in his far-too-revealing 1979 speech scolding the American people for a failure of spirit, known for a word - "malaise" - that never actually appeared in the speech. It is possible to reveal far too much of oneself, particularly if one is still around to hear critics gasp in wonder at one's faults.

The original "blogs", or web logs, were little more than on-line journals. Some of the best I still read are exactly that. Even my own is little more than that, and considering the limitations of the genre it is surprise that anyone thinks they can be much more than that. It is this more than anything that lends a certain credence to critical dismissal of even the best political blogs as nothing more than the muddled musings of persons ill-equipped to do serious analytical reflection on our current events.

We now come to the crux of the issue at the heart of the whole journaling/blogging enterprise. Even the most impersonal writings open up critics to the question of identity. "Who are you that we should heed your words?" is the most basic question posed to any authority. Even those bog writers who admit their identity in public (more common now than in the past) find themselves facing this critical question, usually countered by demanding an attention to the substance of their work. Yet, no writing gains authority apart from the acceptance of the authority of the person who wrote it. On the one hand, it is possible to consider any piece of writing "on the merits". Doing so, however, makes of any writing something unreal. A person wrote this or that. A person with a point of view, a background, educated or not, informed or not, that lends credibility to that writing, or detracts from it.

Until recently, journaling was an attempt by individuals to forge an identity, to question their identity, so they could then move out in to public without needing to reveal their inner struggle. Now, that sphere of privacy has been eradicated. Identity is no longer forged in the precinct of the private. On the contrary, it is becoming part of our larger culture of public display. Whether it is the antics of "reality TV" - which is no more "real" than scripted television - or the proliferation of blogs dealing with an individual's sex life, drinking consumption, relationships with family, we no longer even consider it necessary to keep parts of our lives from public scrutiny. Getting input from people on how we live our lives is part of our culture now. Even an octogenarian like Carter has succumbed, seeing in the publication a possibility for public vindication (which has gone very badly wrong). Emerson's journals, on the other hand, reveal that the man behind the essays and sermons and pamphlets and occasional writings struggled to live out his own creed, could be both magnanimous and petty, and rounds out an understanding of him as a human being who understood that part of being human, being an individual, is best forged in fires behind closed doors.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Boring And Irrelevant Family Story

A discussion on a Friend's Facebook page got me thinking about how some life-lessons I got from my home are tinged with bittersweet. If you know my parents, or their relatives, please don't repeat this. It's just been on my mind.

My mother has always been unfailingly polite to her children's significant others. Yet, at least for me, she has also been polite enough not to mention a prior lady-friend in the presence of a later one. My own sense of this was this came from her own family opening up their home to wayward children, as well as having a couple wayward children of their own. A large amount of tolerance was necessary in a home that housed Tom Johnston.

My mother told me a story, though, that changed my mind about some thing. Before she and my father started dating in the late 1940's, Dad had been in a long-term relationship with another woman, whose name was Darlene. My understanding is that, one day, she was just gone. No note, no message, no forwarding address. Nothing. Just . . . gone.

The first time my mother met my father's family, all of them - his parents, his brother, his sister - spent the entire time raving about how wonderful Darlene was. How beautiful. To say that my mother's feelings were hurt would be an understatement. When she told me this story, she said that she promised herself that she would never do the same thing to her own children.

This is not an indictment of the callousness of my father's family. It is rather, a story that, to me, illustrates how the things we learn as we come of age, the things we hope to carry with us to make us better people, are far too often rooted in pain and sadness. It would be much better is we just knew how to treat one another, how to live with consideration for others as the root of our interactions. Unfortunately, we have to learn the hard way.

Ernst Bloch On The Possibility Of The Church

Because of his style of writing and the vagaries of translation, Ernst Bloch is not eminently or pithily quotable. All the same, the following from "The Nationalized God and the Right to Community" in Man On His Own is in need of quoting.
The gates to hell will not overwhelm the Church; it has opened its own gates to hell too often. But it is one thing for the power Church to pass, the Church of superstitions, and would be quite another thing if a power-free force of conscience should be on guards, should undertake to stand guard and to teach whitehr and why. In the future ship of state (said Bebel), the teacher, not the officer, will be Number One; and the same could be case in a Church embarked on a voyage without superstititions. It could be thoroughly religious, but not in the sense of a re-ligion or reconnection with the cominion and its mythologies, but as the forward reconnection of a whole dream with our deficient make-shifts.

Now to get back to our given Church: it lives almost entirely for modesty and moneyed piety. It zealously inveights agaisnt the harm done to Joseph and the sheep, but it has made its arrangements with the upper classes and serves as their spiritual defender. It bristles at see-through blouses, but not at slums in which half-naked children starve, and not, above all, at the conditions that keep three quarters of mankind in misery. It condemns desperate girls who abort a foetus, but it consecrates war, which aborts millions. It has nationalized its God, nationalized him into ecclesiatic organization, and has inherited the Roman empire under the mask of the Crucified. It preserves misery and injustice, having first tolerated and the approved the class power that causes them; it prevents any seriousness about deliverance by postponing it to St. Never-Ever's Day or shifting it to the beyond.
This juxtaposition between what the Church could be (the first quoted paragraph) and what the Church, too often, is (the second) offers a view of the possibility of the Church living out of its yet-to-be-realized future, that lies as the kernel buried in the sterile soil of the present. At the very least, it should be noted that Bloch's insight and prophetic criticism should be given a fair hearing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Lesson From Lost

So I'm watching the entire series, straight through. In the third episode of Season 2, when Jack and Locke and Kate encounter Desmond in the Hatch for the first time, Jack's reaction is almost violently reactive. He refuses to accept anything that is told him, not the least the order to put down his gun or Locke dies.

Jack's obstinate refusal to accept the oddities of the island - his insistence on keeping everything on the level of the mundane, despite multiple evidences that there is something far more happening - is in many ways the predicament so many of us moderns face. We are put in situations that defy easy explanation. We face events that seem to defy any rational understanding, or understanding based on our previous experience. Jack's violence, his insistence that reality conform to his own blinkered, limited understanding of reality is too often the reaction we see in people who cannot, will not seek to understand what is really happening. They refuse to accept what should be quite clear and plain because it falls outside their accepted canons of understanding.

Jack, in other words, is a Tea Partier. He is also, in these episodes (and in many others) quite an asshole. Were I on the island, I would quite quickly tire of him.

Another Day, Another Gay Suicide

This time, it's Norman, OK.
A 19-year old gay man committed suicide following a heated Norman city council meeting that focused on homosexuality, the teen's family said.


"I also think it's not dark thinking or bigoted thinking to have an opposition to this...But it's clear thinking," said one Norman resident during the meeting.

"Recruiting children into these lifestyles will be very easy with this kind of open format," said another resident during the city council meeting.


Zach's father said his son was a very private person who came out during high school. He said the Norman North graduate was bullied and harassed at school for being gay. Van Harrington said he feels a lack of acceptance from society and what he calls a "toxic meeting" last month is what finally pushed Zach over the edge.
Please note, the lack of acceptance wasn't from his family. It was the general lack of acceptance in the larger world.

In Other News - The Sun Rises In The East

A report that a Republican said something both stupid and hateful about gays is about as newsworthy as reports of the eastern horizon brightening in the early morning hours. The only reason to report it is to shine a light on such ugliness.

Beyond that, the only thing shocking about it is what took Carl Paladino so long.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's Giuliani Time All Over Again

The only difference between the NYPD and the Latin Goonies is the former had badges:
The nine members of the Latin King Goonies gang heard a rumor one of their teenage recruits was gay and then found the teen, stripped him, beat him and sodomized him with a plunger handle until he confessed to having had sex with a man, police said. The gang members then found a second teen they suspected was gay and tortured him and the man, police say.

The gang members found the 30-year-old man by inviting him to a house, telling him they were having a party, police said. When he arrived, they burned, beat and tortured him for hours and sodomized him with a miniature baseball bat, police said.

King Solomon Burke RIP

Solomon Burke was a large man in every sense of the word. He partook of all that life had to offer, eating, drinking, marrying, and procreating to joyous excess. His music career, too, crossed the spectrum from standard R&B through country music (he loved it) to gospel (among his many ventures was time spent as a preacher).

When he was inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, much later than he should have been, he was surrounded by part of his large family and entourage in another of those moments of ecstatic excess.

His singing, like his life, was done without restraint, with joy (even as he did heart rending ballads and songs of political and social protest). Even seated, he radiated an energy that was contagious. As in this clip from an appearance on the British program Top of the Pops.

The world is a little smaller today because he is no longer with us. At least he left behind a catalog as large as his own life from which we can continue to learn how to live life to its fullest, always with joy.

An Election Year Psalm

Today's lectionary readings include Psalm 146, verses three and four of which read as follows in the NRSV:
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
We would do well to remember that on all sides of the political aisle.

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