Entries related to things political.

Keeping the Saint in St. Valentine’s Day

This morning on Facebook, I posted,

Happy Saint Valentine's Day everyone!
(Let's keep the Saint in Saint Valentine's Day!)

Several people liked the post, but one asked,

Why? I'm fine with thinking it was invented by Hallmark.

A friend of a friend on Facebook posted,

Who was St. Valentine? I believe he was beheaded for secretly marrying couples during a time when marriage was banned so that men would be more likely to go to war! St Valentine was therefore canonized by the Catholic Church. Am I right?

Another posted

St Valentine was a pimp... but then again we celebrate slave owners and criminals as well.

So, let’s look at some of what is currently said about St. Valentine online.

Wikipedia lists several stories about St. Valentine, noting that

All that is reliably known of the saint commemorated on February 14 is his name and that he was martyred and buried at a cemetery on the Via Flaminia close to the Milvian bridge to the north of Rome on that day

History.com provides this story:

Under the rule of Claudius the Cruel, Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families.
To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.
When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, on or about the year 270.

Wikipedia also mentions this story as one of many about St. Valentine.

While we may never know the true story, there is a timeless truth people performing marriages against orders, to avoid military service, or to promote some greater good.

Marriage was a way to get avoid being drafted during the Vietnam War. Friar Lawrence married Romeo and Juliet in hopes of bringing to warring families together.

Even this past week, we have seen the Alabama Chief Justice order probate judges not to issues marriage licenses to same sex couples after a Federal Judge found the state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. Some probate judges refused to follow the Chief Justice’s order and a subsequent ruling was expanded the number of probate judges issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.

So, while, my post was meant as a play on, let’s keep the Christ in Christmas, and the many other lines that inspired, such as let’s keep Thor in Thursday, there is something to celebrate in priests and judges that seek to bring people together against the will of those who would wage war or try to keep people apart.

Happy Saint Valentine’s Day.

Doing the Dishes

I stand over the sink, doing the dishes. The leftovers have been put into containers that will be brought to work for lunch tomorrow. The kitchen is almost clean. Outside, the cold snows blows as the most recent storm abates. The storms, the dishes; it’s all so tedious.

On Facebook, the other day, one of my neighbors asked if anyone knew the story of the two homeless men that often stand at the end of the parkway ramp asking for money. I’ve seen them. I’ve given them money, but I don’t know their stories.

A lively discussion breaks out in the comments. All of the stereotypes come out. They’re probably drug addicts, part of a gang, too lazy to do real work. Some suggest that you shouldn’t give them money, it just enables them and doesn’t fix anything. Others bring more nuance and compassion.

I relate the story of a church retreat I was at last fall where the topic of giving to homeless people came up. One person expressed concern about giving money to people asking on the street. How do we know that they won't just use it for things that are not good for them?

Yet it was pointed out that God gives blessing to all of us, continually, even though we, too often, don't use God's blessings in ways that are good for us. Likewise, we should give to those that ask of us, even when we don't know if they will use it for their benefit each time.

Many people shared ideas about how to help, with organizations like Partnership for Strong Communities, Columbus House, soup kitchens and various church groups.

Yet the discussion turned nasty as people call other people judgmental and condescending. There is a lot of passion around this subject. Perhaps, some of it revolves around the idea of, “there, but for the grace of God, go I”, around the idea that any of us are just one catastrophe away from being homeless ourselves.

I set down another pot to dry and look outside. The dishes, the snow, are all tedious, but how much more tedious would it be to be standing outside in this storm, unsure what you will eat or where you will sleep tomorrow.

Every December, they have a memorial service for homeless men and women that have died over the past year, and a couple of these services have inspired powerful blog posts.

Homeless is Not a Disease. It's a Fixable Condition.
What it means to be homeless

I finish the dishes and sit down to write. On the couch next me the dog sleeps. In the family room, my wife watches some television show, and my daughter is off in her bedroom being a teenager. Our stomachs are full, we are warm and dry, and I even know what I’m having for lunch tomorrow.

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.

Political Engagement

It is easy, as a politically engaged person, to wonder how other people cannot be politically engaged. This evening, I sat down to write about bills currently being considered in the CT State Legislature, and maybe comment on some Federal legislation, and, if I had energy, talk a little bit about the latest in town politics. There is so much to write about.

Yet it has been another long hard day, and I don’t have the energy to write that post. It is a useful reminder of how people cannot not have the time or energy to become more involved politically.

I do spend time trying to balance out my writing, my studies, my work, my tasks around the house, my responsibilities to various committees I serve on and at times, it just seems as if there isn’t enough time.

It begs the question, what really does matter? I think that’s a useful question to ask. I find I ask it of people in political discussions. For many, it seems to be a question of getting ahead, or simply not falling further behind. Underlying that is the question of who is getting ahead or not. Are we concerned about ourselves? Our neighbors? Our country?

Back to social constructs and the social contract, at least when there is time to think about such things.

That Vision Thing

And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.

At vestry this evening, we talked about our church’s budget, the upcoming annual meeting and how all of this relates to our hopes and aspirations, to that vision thing. Driving home, I listened to some of the State of the Union speech, and I suspect any parts of that vision thing in the speech will get lost behind the partisan rancor.

It seems as if we are losing sight of that vision thing, that oratory is getting lost. I won’t comment on the budget President Obama will be presenting. I won’t comment on the budget the vestry has approved.

Instead, let me reflect on a comment at vestry. One person talked about how budgets and visions are not separate things. Budgets are moral documents. They reflect what we really believe. Budgets should be how we pursue our visions. Instead, too many people’s visions seem to be only about specific budgets.

Our vision needs to include those around us, those that are different from us, and those that shall cross from shore to shore years hence.

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