Advent in New York #ICantBreathe

“Do you hear the people sing?”

I glance at my Facebook feed

“so I wish I could say I'm numb. I cannot. Surprised? No... but in all kinds of pain.”

“I am at The Taking it to the Streets: Reviving the Black Church Conference. I am in the right place in light of the latest verdict. Yes!”

“There is a lot of unrest in the world. We should care about it.”

When I get home, Fiona is listening to music from Les Mis, which she will be singing in a school concert tomorrow.

“One day more!
Another day, another destiny.
This never-ending road to Calvary;
These men who seem to know my crime
Will surely come a second time.
One day more!”

I try to find words to make sense of it all. It is Advent and I wait expectantly for the coming of peace and justice. The words from Les Mis come back in focus.

“Tomorrow we'll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store!”


A college classmate of mine is a paster in the United Methodist Church and her husband is a physician. She has posted on her Facebook wall a request for prayers for her husband as he flies to Sierra Leone today to work in an Ebola treatment center.

A few weeks ago, she shared posted part of "A Litany in Response to UMCOR’s Call to Pray for Those Affected by the Ebola Epidemic"

Here is a link to the Litany:

Please pray for Dorothea and Guy.

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Thanksgiving 2014

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;”

Kim and Fiona are still sleeping. The dog is pawing at the door, wanting to go roll in the thin layer of snow and slush that turn to ice overnight. It is Thanksgiving morning, yet there is no hustle and bustle in the kitchen or scent of pies or roasting turkey in the air. There are no mints, grapes, or pieces of celery stuffed with cream cheese or peanut butter on the table.

I grew up in New England. My ancestors were early European settlers in Massachusetts. We all have days that define our culture, and for me, that day is Thanksgiving.

Part of the lore of Thanksgiving is the story of five kernels of corn. As a kid at our big white Congregational church at the center of a small New England college town, we would receive five kernels of corn before Thanksgiving as a reminder of the hardship our ancestors had faced when five kernels of corn was the daily ration to make it through a hard winter as those around we’re dying.

We would be reminded of the days we were the strangers in someone else’s land and despite battles with the local inhabitants, they also helped us, provided us food and taught us how to survive in this difficult land.

I glance outside at the thin layer of frozen slush and think of how things have changed. We are now the local inhabitants. Are we helping those now coming to this land? The furnace kicks on as I finish my bowl of oatmeal. Life is much easier these days, but it can still be harsh. I think of the car accidents I saw on the drive home yesterday. I think of the storm and car accident that took my mother.

“Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,”

As the family sleeps, I read through messages on Facebook, friends wishing one another “Happy Thanksgiving”. Yet even in that, I see the grief behind the words, friends with cancer, friends who have lost loved ones. One friends posts pictures of pastries he is baking and I think of his grandson who died this year. Another friend ponders about driving to see her stepdad whose cancer has spread. She lost her son to cancer a few years ago and questions whether she will have the strength to be there.

“Over the river and through the woods”

Friends have made it through the snow to grandparents’ house where a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving awaits them. Others have to work this evening and tomorrow. Yesterday, my priest posted, “Do I have to get all ‘annoying preacher’ on y'all, and tell you that it's blasphemy against anything holy or good to go shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday?”

Fiona wants to go shopping tomorrow, in part to pick out presents for the eleven year old girl whose family can’t afford gifts. The girl’s wish list is on a gingerbread man that Fiona picked up at church. We will bring our gifts to church, and try to keep a healthy focus on the gift giving.

“Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,”

When I was a kid, we would gather around the old black and white seventeen inch television with rabbit ears antennas on top. We could only receive three channels and we’d switch between the three to see which gave us the best picture of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. As a kid from a small New England town who had never been to a city of more than probably fifty thousand people, New York, with its parade was a place of fantasy, no more real than the places I read about in books of dragons and unicorns.

The first television show I ever saw was Underdog when we got the TV one Christmas. The giant Underdog balloon seemed no more real than the cartoon character we had seen.

As I grew older, those five kernels of corn took root, and I would slip out to church on Thanksgiving morning, going to the small Congregational church a couple miles away. It was a small group, a remnant, that still worshiped on Thanksgiving Day. Later, even that fell away, and I hit the slopes, skiing in the morning and building up a big appetite for the large meal.

“O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,”

So here we are in 2014. The riots driven by racial tensions further exposed by the lack of an indictment in the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri have subsided, although there are reports of planned disruptions of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“We are here. We are here for all of us.”

The words of Alicia Keys comes to mind as I try to tie it all together, as I think of discussions that are bound to come up over Thanksgiving tables.

“Cause right now it don't make sense”

After my mother-in-law's mother died on Labor Day weekend, no one really had the energy for putting together a big Thanksgiving Dinner at Kim’s parent’s house. So we will drive to a restaurant and have Thanksgiving dinner there. I figure Thanksgiving will be rough for a lot of people this year.

“Let's talk about our part. My heart touch your heart”

What is our part? I ran for State Representative this year. It was a lot of work. I didn’t get elected, but I did get a chance to talk with a lot of people about important issues. I spoke about health disparities, a topic people don’t seem to talk about. I talked about how a black woman in New Haven is two to three times more likely to lose her child in infancy that a white woman in New Haven.

“let's talk about living. Had enough of dying”

I quoted Alica Key’s on the campaign trail.

“Let's do more giving Do more forgiving”

Yet I always come back to my roots, to the pilgrim’s way and the struggles of my ancestors in New England. The rush of Christmas seems so far removed. I’ve become an Episcopalian since my early Congregationalist upbringing. I think more about Liturgy and the flow of the seasons. It is Thanksgiving. We are still in the season of Pentecost and will be until Sunday when Advent starts. I’m not ready for Christmas carols, but I will jump ahead just a little bit with an Advent Hymn.

“Come, Thou long expected Jesus Born to set Thy people free;”

This is what I want to be hearing this weekend, not advertisements for the biggest sales of the year. Yet there is still turkey to be eaten, there are still hymns of Thanksgiving to be sung. God has provided, in the wilderness, during the Thirty Years’ War (when Martin Rinkart wrote “Nun danket alle Gott”), at the first New England Thanksgiving, and today, as friends mourn the death of loved ones and our nation struggles with racial tension.

“For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore."

#FergusonDecision Blaming the Victims

Had Michael Brown not believed that he had the right to "strong arm" a shop owner from his own small community he might be alive today.

It was determined this officer was justified in this incident yet he'll never work as a cop again, he will have to move if not hide the rest of his life for doing his job !!!

And so it begins, the collective efforts to make sense out of Ferguson. As a professional social media manager, working to help the underserved and who has conservative friends, I had a pretty good idea about what would happen once the verdict was announce, and I chose to go to bed at 8:30 Monday evening. There would be time enough to hash things out later. So, now, it is time for me, like everyone else, to add my voice.

And so it begins, the predictable responses of blaming the victim and defending the victim. Michael Brown was the victim of the shooting, yet if he hadn’t been out that night, he wouldn’t have been shot. Would he have been shot if he were white? Would he have acted the way he did if it wasn’t for the way he was brought up? How much of this upbringing is the result of racial tensions that grew out of policies about segregation that dated back to before the Civil War?

From the Gateway Arch, the Dred Scott Case, to Torrington, CT’s John Brown participating in “Bleeding Kansas”, St. Louis and the surrounding area has been a key racial fault line for generations. Yes, Michael Brown was a victim, not only of a shooting, but of our history.

As one of my friends above notes, Daren Wilson is also a victim. His life is forever scarred. He probably never will work again as a police officer. He was a victim of the same racial tensions dating back over a century. If he hadn’t been out that night or had worked in a different place, he wouldn’t have killed Michael Brown. If he had had better training, perhaps he wouldn’t have killed Michael Brown. If there weren’t years of racial tension affecting how he saw the situation, perhaps he wouldn’t have killed Michael Brown.

Beyond this, we can look at the shop owners as also victims. Yes, they set up their businesses on this racial fault line, and they have had their livelihoods shaken, damaged, and in some cases destroyed.

In fact, John Donne’s words apply.

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

We are all the victim of Ferguson and we are all to blame. We have not done enough to address racial tensions in our country. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

At the end of Romeo and Juliet the Prince says

See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish'd...

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

The Hardest Places to Live

Lord, his daddy was an honest man, just a red dirt Georgia farmer
His momma lived her short life having kids and baling hay
He had fifteen years and an ache inside to wander
So he hopped a freight at Waycross and wound up in L.A.

Sometimes at dinner time, we have “YouTube Riff-Offs” where one person plays a song on YouTube, Spotify, or some other source, and the next person selects a song that they free associate with the previous. It may be that the first song makes reference to the second song, that they have similar riffs, or simply that they are related in terms of topic or performer.

Friday evening, Fiona started off with some current popular song about someone from Georgia. I don’t remember anything more about the song. Kim then played “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”. I remembered a song I listened to a lot when I was younger. I remembered it was Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez singing about a “red dirt Georgia farmer”. With a little searching, I came up with “San Francisco Mabel Joy”.

It is a song with a story and character development. It reflects the complexity of life not often found in pop songs today.

Well the cold nights had no pity on that Waycross Georgia farm boy
Most days he went hungry, then the summer came

Today, a friend shared a link to the New York Times article, Where Are the Hardest Places to Live in the U.S.?

Los Angeles shows up 703 on the list of over 3000 counties. The areas around Waycross Georgia rank near the bottom of the list.

Yet all of this made me stop and wonder, what makes life hard?

A Joni Mitchell song comes to mind,

You read those books where luxury
Comes as a guest to take a slave
Books where artists in noble poverty
Go like virgins to the grave

I’m not going to as far as to suggest that life is harder for the wealthier, although Matthew 19:24 does come to mind. Yet I must question the assumptions made in the New York Times article.

The New York Times article looks at “six data points for each county in the United States: education (percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree), median household income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity.”

Is the percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree really a good measure of how hard a place is to live? The question too many philosopher majors end up asking comes to mind, “Would you like fries with that?” How significant is a bachelor’s degree in how hard life is?

Median household income is another questionable number. I used to live in Fairfield County, where the median income is listed as $82,614. The median household income for the United States is $53,046. I’m not sure that life is that much easier if you’re making $53,000 or $82,000. In fact, the cost of living in places with higher median incomes makes life harder for those with low paying jobs. Perhaps a better indicator would be percentage of people below some poverty line.

I do agree that unemployment rate, if it properly includes discouraged and underemployed workers, disability rate, and life expectancy work pretty well as indicators of how hard life is, but I’d also question the obesity rate.

Yes, it can be a good indicator of how hard it is to get healthy food, but it may also reflect dietary and lifestyle choices, that while people can argue about how healthy those choices are, don’t necessarily indicate how hard life is.

My eldest daughter, when she was in South America had a guy comment to her about how she wasn’t very skinny. He meant it as a compliment. It indicated that she had access to food.

No, a better metric might be the number of people who go to bed hungry or don’t have access to healthy food.

The New York Times reflects a view of how hard life is based on an individual’s education and earnings. In a few days, people will rush to the stores to by junk which will show how well off they are. Perhaps we need to challenge these assumptions. Yet it is these assumptions that drive stores to advertise in the New York Times, so maybe they have a financial reason to encourage these assumptions.

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