One of the themes of the 2016 Trinity Institute conference, Sacred Conversations for Racial Justice was the idea of Counter Narrative. It is an idea that people talk about, in certain circles, but perhaps do not do enough to foster. There is the official narrative, the stories we learn in school or read in the mainstream media; the stories of America as uninhabited or inhabited by barbarians, when Westerners came, the stories of Westerners being welcomed at a great first Thanksgiving meal, the stories of southern plantation life which overlooks the suffering of slaves, the stories of a city on a hill and manifest destiny. A good way to understand the problems of this is by listening to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story.
The dominant narrative of the day seems to be one of consumerism, where what matters is getting whatever you can for yourself, and the rest be damned. It is a narrative based on fear; sending troops and building bigger walls. It is a narrative where all people are not created equal, let alone created in the image of God Some of seen as more or less deserving than others, perhaps because of their skin color, the location they were born, or how wealthy their family was when they were born.
I thought of this when I listened to a book on tape by Barbara Kingsolver where she said that $100 is spent every year for every person on the planet, trying to get them to buy more stuff. Friday, I heard Dr. Gail C. Christopher of the W.K. Kellogg foundation say, at a forum on health equity and access, talking about what you see on television and movies, “We are entertained these days by the destruction of life".
The master narrative is about consumerism and inequality, it is about the loss of creativity and spirituality. People talk about counter narratives at conferences. Perhaps they tell some of the other sides of the story, like those talking about the Middle Passage are doing. Maybe they are telling some women’s history, talking about the domestic arts with as much respect as has been shown to the “fine” arts, or highlighting great black and/or women artists and scientists.
Yet what about countering the master narrative in daily life? Today is the last day of National Poetry Month. I set for myself a goal to write a poem a day during the month. When I’ve done this in the past, there have been days that I could find nothing to say, and wrote pieces that weren’t all that great, that were throw aways, just practice pieces. This month I did a little better. I didn’t always get the poem for each day posted on the day I wrote it. Sometimes, I’d let it sit for a day or two before editing and posting, but I did get my thirty poems done. I’ll probably edit my last poem of the month and post it tomorrow.
I’ve also been participating in a Modern Poetry class online. I’ve been reading Frost, Sandberg, and Masters most recently. I’m listening to a book about the transcendentalists in Concord during my commute. Next up is Spoon River Anthology or Big Magic, depending on when I finish the transcendentalist book and when Big Magic becomes available from the library.
All of this shapes into an idea for a counter narrative. Can I write a post, more or less daily, often as poetry, but not necessarily always, that celebrates spirituality and creativity while giving voice to people and things too often overlooked? Can I find others who are willing to write along with me? Can we listen to one another and by listening and writing shift the narratives?
Today’s Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr is What You Seek Is What You Are.
Only when we are eager to love can we see love and goodness in the world around us. We must ourselves remain in peace, and then we will find peace over there. Remain in beauty, and we will honor beauty everywhere.
I guess this is something similar to, you are what you eat. I’ve written about this in the past, Does Facebook Make You Sad? It does seem like these days people seek conflict online.
Google’s US Trends for 2015 says a lot. Paris Under Attack. Adele’s Year. The Oscars. Caitlin Jenner. The 2016 Elections. This is what we searched for in the United States. It is similar in other countries, with Cricket or the Tour de France showing up as top topics.
This evening on Twitter, #OregonUnderAttack has been a hot topic as everyone puts their political spin on the events there.
I’ve tried to keep my focus elsewhere. The Society of Saint John the Evangelist’s word for the day is Rejoice, and they link to a post, Remembering Joy. That post talks about Ecclesia Ministries seeking ‘to take the gifts of church out to people who, for whatever reason, cannot come inside to receive them”.
Part of my focus is poetry. The poem for the day is Carl Sandberg’s The Answer. This poem captures some of what we seek.
My daughter Miranda shared a link to Adrienne Rich on Creative Process, Love, Loss, and Public vs. Private Happiness. I listened to a couple poems by Adrienne Rich on YouTube: What Kind of Times Are These and North American Time.
What are you seeking?
One of my goals for #DigiWriMo is to be more engaged in other people’s blogs and hopefully to have others more engaged in my blog. Years ago, I used to participate in various blog swaps and I work as a social media manager, so there is nothing really new about this for me.
One person who has been really good at this, at least in the early moments of #DigiWriMo is Sarah Honeychurch. She’s been commenting on my posts, thank you Sarah, and responded to Joanne Fuchs tweet about blogging once a week, “I find having a supportive audience in events like #DigiWriMo helps me.”
So, I went over to Joanne’s blog, where her most recent post was Yes, Virginia. You Can Ask Your Own Questions!. Joanne sounds like the sort of teacher I would want my inquisitive eighth grader to have. Joanne was talking about helping students form questions around “letters from service men from different wars”. It fit nicely with the story I heard Arnie Pritchard tell Friday night about This Business of Fighting based on his father’s letters.
Joanne also reminds me of Paul Bogush and I wonder if they’ve met. As an aside, another participant of #DigiWriMo this year is Geoffrey Gevalt. I read his bio and looked at the Young Writers Project. It made me wonder if Geoffrey knew Steve Collins and Youth Journalism International. I sent Steve a Facebook message to see if they knew each other. They should.
All of this is prologue to the key focus of this evening’s #DigiWriMo post. The other week, my daughter Fiona texted me, letting me know that there was some guy at her school teaching the kids about Internet Safety. Now I want the internet to be safe as much as the next guy, probably more so, since my job is social media manager for a health care organization, but I often find a lot of the internet safety talks, at best, misguided. They focus on online predators and stranger danger, and less on more important issues like cyberbullying or how you can help online friends in times of danger.
Stranger danger: I’ve never met Sarah, Joanne, or Geoffrey face to face. Yet if I ever get a chance to, I will jump at it. They sound like my kind of people. I have met lots of other people face to face after getting to know them first online, including my wife. Knowing how to judge and get to know people that you meet through the media, whether it be online, or any other form of media is an important skill. It applies equally to getting to know authors, musicians, journalists, politicians, and others.
Yes, online predators are a danger, but I believe a greater danger may be accepting uncritically what various media personalities are saying. Learning how to think critically about what we experience through various media can address both of these dangers.
Later this week, I will be speaking at Career Day at my daughter’s junior high school. I will be talking about being a social media manager, and what it takes to do that well. Perhaps key areas I’ll focus on include the value of meeting the right people online, collaborating with them, and how to better judge what we consume online.
Years ago, Kim got me a shirt for Christmas or a birthday that said, “I get my news on twitter”. I would wear this to journalism conferences and it would always start a lively discussion. These days, there isn’t much new to that. On Facebook the other day, a friend shared a link to a story, How Facebook and Twitter Became Your Newspapers citing a Pew report, The Evolving Role of News on Twitter and Facebook.
These days, I get my news from many sources. I often click on links, and then leave the tabs open to come back to later when I have time. Unfortunately, I’m often very busy and the number of tabs grows until I need to clean things up.
Today was one of those days. As I read through the tabs that were open, it seemed as if there was some greater narrative there, which I’ll try to explore by looking at some of these links.
A good starting point is UMD 'tragedy of the commons' tweet goes viral. A friend shared this link on Facebook and I reshared it with this introduction:
I think the interesting question is not why the professor did this, but why it went viral. Does it say something about the 1%, about the current crop of GOP candidates? Something about the current state of our society, that this has struck a chord? #ChooseTwoPoints
I receive fourteen comments and twenty people shared the post. To me, it comes down to some key issues. Many of the GOP candidates seem to be focused on Ayn Rand’s virtual of selfishness, believing that it is better for everyone to grab as much as they can. The tragedy of the commons illustrates why this does not work.
Another link I had open was David Brook’s, Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While White. He writes, “I think you distort American history” and goes on to present a vision of American History from the wealthy white male perspective. I imagine many of my friends interested in historiography rolling their eyes at what Brook’s is saying. To me, it relates back to the tragedy of the commons. Brooks is unwilling to accept that by grabbing all he can, he is in fact making things worse for everyone. He doesn’t want to hear that. Instead, as I commented on a friend’s post about the article, “Brooks op-ed reminds me of a four year old when told something he doesn't want to hear. Brooks just uses fancier words to scream out "La La La La La, I can't hear you!"” I understand the needs of papers to have short headlines, but it seems that a better title for Brook’s article would be Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While being a privileged rich white male unwilling to look critically at himself.
Another article that fits into this larger narrative is For the sake of the gospel, drop the persecution complex.
So what I’d like to suggest to my fellow Christians is that perhaps taking up the cross means laying down the persecution complex. A spirit of fear and entitlement does more to obscure the gospel than elucidate it.
Brooks, and conservative Christians seem afraid to live out the Gospel of loving our neighbors as ourselves. Instead they complain bitterly, perhaps even calling it persecution, if they are asked to make room for other people’s beliefs.
Perhaps some of this relates to the issue of climate change, and the bigger issue it represents. Two of the articles I had open were We should all worry about Climate Change, study reveals and Does Climate change Influence Death Rates in the U.S?. Is climate change an illustration of tragedy of the commons? What sort of response are Christians called to make to climate change?
Yet two of the articles I recently read seem to do a better job of relating our lives to God. They don’t directly relate to the tragedy of the commons, but indirectly seem to fit quite nicely. One was by a high school classmate, Saying Yes. Another blog post that caught my attention was Leaving a light on.
I should also do an inter-faith shout out here. As the month of Ramadan comes to an end, I think about a video a Muslim friend shared, Mercy Like the Rain.
One other link that I had open was the Poets and Writers database of MFA programs How do we write about The Tragedy of The Commons, Climate Change, and Faith in the Twenty First Century?
I’ve just watched the 2015 Super Bowl Ads as listed in Variety and thought I’d look for a moment on the social constructs they are built around.
One of the biggest constructs is around gender and sex, and there are several interesting ads. At the top of the list is the Kim Kardashian cellphone carrier ad with the idea that the reason we need as much online data as we do is to look at her. Um, not.
The second ad focuses on Marcia and Jan Brady; how Marcia gets grumpy if she’s hungry and Jan gets grumpy when it’s not about her. A traditional idea. It does make sense that people get grumpy when they’re hungry, but there are probably better ways of dealing with hunger than eating a candy bar.
The car ad featuring Pierce Bronson does a great job of tweaking ideas of the suave male spy, yet another gender construct. The ad for a television show about royalty doesn’t do a good job of exploring the constructs and is fairly forgettable.
The lingerie ad is fairly predictable, and the only thing memorable is the tag line, let the real games begin.
Yet the most compelling ads in the gender construct category are Dove’s #RealStrength and Always’ #LikeAGirl
They challenge traditional constructs and present emerging constructs that are more positive.