Whitman in Fukushima

This evening, the Walt Whitman class I have been taking online comes to an end. As a final exercise, we were encouraged to write a poem in the style of Whitman.

Last night, I went to the opening of "A Body in Fukushima" at Wesleyan. It is a powerful show, that I highly recommend. As I thought about the show, and thought about my assignment for the Whitman class, I thought it would be good to writemy thoughts about the show, al a Whitman.

So,
A Body in Fukushima

Who were you that rode your bike to the train station, now abandoned to the radiation?
Who were you that steamed your rice, in a cooker now too hot with a different type of heat?
Who were you that mended the boats, the boats damaged by the tsunami, the boats that can no longer be repaired?
Who were you that danced by the one ton bags of radioactive dirt or photographed the dancer?

And those of you in years past who helped build the nuclear power plants. You saw Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Did you not worry that those promises of prosperity to your impoverish properties would be empty?

It is all part of a giant dance of survival, the deals we make to escape mind numbing subsistence work. But sometimes, the deals go bad.

Now, the cherry trees, that your ancestors nurtured so lovingly, bloom each spring, but the radiation keeps away the visitors, keeps away the former inhabitants. Their flowers, their smells, their beauty hidden behind the warning signs.

And what can we learn from the photographs? And what will those who come many years hence, after the radiation has decayed, what will they learn?

Questions to Think About

Tomorrow is the last day of the online class on Walt Whitman I have been participating in. We’ve read sections of his poems and been given things to think about

think about how hearing Whitman in song affects your understanding and interpretation of Whitman's words as they appear on the page.

It sounds like a homework assignment and doesn’t set my mind wandering.

On Sunday, the church I attend will have its annual meeting. Prior to the meeting, we’ve been invited to think about two questions.

1) We are now at five years with a new Rector. There have been many transitions in those five years, many new things. What new, different, exciting enhanced ministries do you see coming out of this parish over the NEXT five years?

2) In our fallen, rapidly-changing world, what do we believe God is calling us to be/do as a Christian community of faith, as p part of the Body of Christ, in this time and place?

These are important questions as we think about how we will spend our time and money. They are questions I’ve been tempted to write a long response to.

These are the things I’m thinking about as I stop at “A Body in Fukushima”, an exhibit at Wesleyan. This is another experience deserving much more though, and a well written response. There are issues of art and politics, things that I find echoed in discussions on social media.

Perhaps, all of this is woven together into some larger construct.

I’ll spend some time thinking about all of this, hoping that I’ll get a glimpse of the larger construct, but now, it is time to sit quietly pondering.

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The Blessing of Memories

I got home late, after stopping for a parent teacher conference at my daughter’s school. I have a few days left of the online classes I’m doing and am behind. Perhaps, I thought, I can catch up a little.

But first, I checked email to see if there was anything that needed a response. Nope. Next, on to social media and I see the word, “unexpectedly”. A friend wrote, “Early this morning, my father died very unexpectedly”.

I listen to Sting, How Fragile We are. I cue up Box of Rain by the Grateful Dead. No. I won’t get much studying done this evening. I won’t write a complicated blog post. Instead, I will think of the saying, “May his memories be a blessing to all of us.”

In a Facebook group I’m part of friends are pasting pictures of the town I grew up in. I look at pictures of Montgomery’s General Merchandise store that was across the street from the elementary school I went to. I look at pictures of Spring Street, where I hung out when I was in high school. Many great memories, all of which are blessings.

I have a list of songs on Spotify that I play when someone I know dies. I pause my writing to interact with folks a little on social media and Sarah McLachlen’s “I will remember you” comes on.

“Don’t let your life pass you by, weep not for the memories”

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Vaccine Politics

Recently, several friends have posted comments on Facebook trying to make sense about the underlying issues around vaccines. It has become a much bigger discussion today after comments by Gov. Christie and Sen. Paul about whether or not vaccines should be required.

One friend on Facebook asked why Republicans were pandering to the anti-vaccine crowd. I suggested two reasons

1) Republicans seem to be focused on anti-science policies in general, e.g. Teaching creationism, climate change denial, anti-vax, etc.
2) Republicans seem to be focused on individual freedoms at the expense of the common good. This is another key aspect of the vaccination debate.

There’s not much that can be said about the anti-science position of too many Republicans. However, the struggle between individual freedoms and our responsibility to the common good is a big issue which muddies the discussion around vaccines. Large pharmaceutical companies are viewed with much suspicion. Many believe that heads of these companies lobby hard for their freedoms and the expense of the common good. They suggest that a better way of addressing concerns around vaccines might best be addressed by getting the large pharmaceutical companies under control. People presenting this argument of also talk about the proliferation of toxins in our environment.

There is also the issue that many people are stubborn. They will refuse to do what is in their best interest if they feel they are being forced to do it.

Another person on Facebook, perhaps recognizing this dynamic, questioned the utility of people posting pro-vaccine messages on Facebook. Those messages are very unlikely to change the opinion of people opposed to vaccines. I pointed out, however, that people who are opposed to vaccines might not be the intended audience of pro-vaccine messages. Instead, there is something important about getting a pro-vaccine message out for those who haven’t really thought about the issue. If all they hear is the anti-vaccine rhetoric, they might come get to a point of opposing vaccines, without ever hearing the flaws of the anti-vaccine position, or the vast support for vaccines.

I suspect there might also be some perfect enemy of the good thinking going on here. Yes, in rare cases vaccines can cause complications. Yes, in rare cases vaccines don’t protect the individual who has received the vaccine. It is frightening to look at the risks we all encounter, but it is important to compare relative risks and chose risks that are more likely to have a beneficial outcome, or less likely to have a negative outcome. We need to do this as individuals, and we need to do this as members of society.

So, I stay up to date on my vaccines because I believe it is the best thing to do for me as well as for the people around me.

#WhatIMake

Today, my daughter Miranda posted, Why I Ask People What They Make in response to Debbie Chacra’s article, “Why I Am Not A Maker.

At one point, Miranda says,

I agree that Chacra is not a maker, that her role as an educator is just as important as that of makers, but I don’t see need to construct a dichotomy between making and teaching.

I reject the dichotomy between making and teaching, so I shared Taylor Mali on "What Teachers Make" as part of my response.

Chacra says,

Walk through a museum. Look around a city. Almost all the artifacts that we value as a society were made by or at the order of men.

Is what we see in a museum or walking around a city how we determine which artifacts are valued? I run my fingers over the scarf that Miranda made for me for Christmas. That is what I value. I think back to the wonderful dinner my wife made the other night. There are no artifacts left of that, but it is what I valued. A fleeting smile is not an artifact stored in a museum, but is of great value. What do I make? Sometimes, I make people smile.

Of course, that points out other false dichotomies and constructs of Chacra. Making isn’t a male dominated activity set against female dominated caregiving. Caregiving is part of making. Making people smile. Making people comfortable. Making people think. Men can create feelings and women can create objects

Miranda looks at another aspect of maker culture, the relationship between making and consuming.

“The rise of the Maker Movement shouldn’t be simplified down to a glorification of consumerism…
In an age of unprecedented industrialization, globalization, and consumerism, the divide between creators and consumers has never been greater.

It is easy to create a dichotomy between the makers and the consumers. Yet I think that is also a false divide. Isn’t the maker of knitted scarves a consumer of yarn?

To me, a more useful dichotomy might be between those who seek quality and those who settle for lower quality mass produced items. And here, I should also not that mass production does not necessarily mean low quality.

This, then leads us to the question of what is quality? To that, I refer my readers to Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Perhaps Miranda appreciate red-winged blackbirds a little better now.

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