O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
I have often quoted Robert Burns, “To a Louse” in my blog, and the quote came back to me this morning as I reflected on the gifts I received yesterday. The gifts we receive give us some indication of how others see us. They are based on assumptions about what we are interested in, what we find enjoyable.
I have been thinking about this a lot recently. A couple months ago, a group of people whose vision of who I am has a significant impact on who I may become said that they see me in a very different way than I see myself. It was, and continues to be, jarring. One person suggested I read Parker J. Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. The suggestion says something about how that person views me and based on my reading so far in Palmer’s book, it is a view that clashes with how I see myself.
Another book I was given was The Agpeya: The Coptic Prayer Book of the Seven Hours. In the fall we visited a Coptic Orthodox church in Hamden for their Egyptian fair. My wife, knowing my interest in liturgical prayer from many traditions, picked that up for me. I find the different words and traditions used to pray helpful as I think about prayer and I have started using The Agpeya in some of my prayers.
My wife also got me a copy of Upstream by Mary Oliver. It is a selection of her essays. I really enjoy Mary Oliver’s poetry, but I’ve never read any of her essays. I read the first essay last night, about going upstream, and I really like it. As I reflect on Mary Oliver and Parker Palmer, I suspect that Oliver may have more to say to me than Palmer and that this is something I need to reflect upon in my own writing.
My middle daughter, who built a tiny house as an art project she now lives in, gave me the book, Living at the End of Time by John Hanson Mitchell. From reading the cover, it sounds like the book is about the intersection of my interests and my daughter’s interests; a simple life reconnected to art, beauty, simplicity, and spirituality. I have not yet started it, but I am looking forward to it.
Yet, lest people get too one-sided a view of my interests, my eldest daughter got me Colin Cremin’s book Exploring Videogames with Deleuze and Guattari: Towards an Affective Theory of Form. I often talk with my eldest daughter, over Skype as I am driving to work in Connecticut and she is coming home from school in Japan about Deleuze and Guattari as well as about videogames. I’m pretty excited about reading this book.
I hope to bring thoughts from each of these books into my writing here for the next several weeks.
Yesterday, a friend posted on Facebook about a review of a church his wife works at that starts off, “These people are Zigeuner trash. These Gypsies should be all be rounded up and exterminated”. He said he had reported the post to Facebook, but they were not taking down the post.
I’ve shared my friend’s post a few different places suggesting others request the review be taken down or that the review gets drowned out by positive reviews. I am not a big fan of removing content, or of trying to silence other people’s speech, even if it is hateful or promotes violence. I’ve had to do it for work, and I often wonder if it is the best approach.
Who is Milton? What has happened in his life that fills him with such hate and hurt? What has gone on in his life that makes him think it is okay to post stuff like this. I set these thoughts aside, and got on with my day.
Throughout the day, as I read articles about the anniversary of Sandy Hook, the conviction of Dylan Roof, and the latest news about President-Elect Donald Trump, my mind went back to Milton.
I believe it is a sin to refer to any person as ‘trash’ and I wondered about the word “Zigeuner”. Wikipedia says this is a racist term most likely from a Greek word meaning “untouchable” used to describe Romanians and Gypsies, especially by those, like the Nazi’s, intent on genocide. My sense of Milton as a broken person, a sinner in desperate need of God’s love became clearer.
I did a little searching online. Milton’s Facebook page talked about going to various elite schools, but the times didn’t make a lot of sense. He posted a very positive review of a church in New York.
He posted on the page of a Bar “I hope you die.” about a week ago.
All of this made me think of Evan. What are we supposed to do when we see someone posting about death, hatred, and genocide? My first reaction is to pray for Milton. To this, I’ve posted a comment on many of his posts that I am praying for him.
I am sharing this post as a question to all of us about how we respond online.
It seems hard to believe that New Year’s Eve is but a fortnight away. For the past month or two many of my friends have been talking about being so ready for 2016 to come to an end and I nod my head in agreement. I have a good family, a good job, good friends, a strong faith community, and much more. I am not fleeing Aleppo right now. Yes, there have been disappointments, setbacks, and grief during 2016 and there are various dark clouds on the horizon for 2017, but all in all, life is good.
Yet there remains a certain restlessness, something incomplete, something unfinished. It is coupled with a certain hope for the New Year. I feel like I am at a place of greater uncertainty than I’ve been in a very long time. All of this makes me sit and ponder, what should my New Year’s resolutions be?
I’m trying to get better at listening to what is going on around me so it seems like a good exercise would be to crowdsource my search for New Year’s Resolutions?
What do you think I should resolve for 2017? Should I participate in the resistance or seek reconciliation? Should I persist in current quests or change direction? How much energy should I put into current communities and how much should I be seeking new communities? What should I be studying? What should I be creating? How should I seek to share my thoughts and ideas?
These are very generalized questions, partly in the tradition of Vaguebook, and partly to give the members of my hivemind as much latitude as possible in suggesting resolutions. Yet I am hoping for very specific responses.
In a few hours, I will greet children at the Community Health Center’s holiday party in Middletown, CT. I have been doing this for a few years now and Santa journey has slowly become clearer.
On the way to work today, I had a discussion with my eldest daughter who is working on a master’s degree in gender studies in Japan. Her classmates have all seen pictures of me as Santa as well has have heard about my interest in postmodern theory. I hope to post a picture later today in my Santa outfit reading a little Pierre-Felix Guattari. Currently, I’m thinking about the title: Performing Santa Claus: Reimagining the dominant cultures concept of Santa Claus in a Postmodern Society.
A friend posted a reflection on Facebook today by Henri Nouwen about The Freedom to Refuse Love:
Often hell is portrayed as a place of punishment and heaven as a place of reward. But this concept easily leads us to think about God as either a policeman, who tries to catch us when we make a mistake and send us to prison when our mistakes become too big, or a Santa Claus, who counts up all our good deeds and puts a reward in our stocking at the end of the year.
God, however, is neither a policeman nor a Santa Claus. God does not send us to heaven or hell depending on how often we obey or disobey. God is love and only love. In God there is no hatred, desire for revenge, or pleasure in seeing us punished. God wants to forgive, heal, restore, show us endless mercy, and see us come home. But just as the father of the prodigal son let his son make his own decision God gives us the freedom to move away from God's love even at the risk of destroying ourselves. Hell is not God's choice. It is ours.
Before taking up my role as Santa, I like to watch a short video called “Validation”. I think of this as I smile at the children waiting to see Santa, as I wave at them, beckon them, and tell them I have been waiting for them and how glad I am that they came. I’ll think of all of this as I try to share even just a little bit of God’s love for them as a postmodern Santa.
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?