The Shooting of Jacob Blake

•January 6, 2021 • Leave a Comment

I’m sure there are sighs of relief tonight that no charges were handed down against the officers involved in Jacob Blake’s shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin this past summer. I’m afraid I won’t be one of those people. It is the latest in a string of officer acquittals in murder/attempted murder which, in any society that claims “civilization,” should render this aspect of law enforcement utterly impossible.

I’m sad to say that rather than impossible, it is the norm for people who have been shot by the police to have no hope of legal recourse. That this is twice as true for our BIPOC friends, neighbors and relatives is just one more testimony to the failure of America to embrace the best of her ideals and promises. Those promises are empty this evening, and unfulfilled because for yet another family it remains the case that an officer of the law may attempt, with impunity, to kill a person in front of their family.

Don’t read the situation that way? Don’t like the way that’s phrased? I’m sorry. I have no more considerations to give to the tender feelings of those who don’t like the way facts come dressed when they wear their truth in the cold light of day. Because the truth is that Jacob Blake, walking away towards his car and refusing to submit to the orders of an officer, was shot seven times at point blank range in front of his children and significant other.

And if you believe this could never happen to you because you are a law abiding person who never goes astray I have news for you: it could happen to you at any time if you made decisions based on fear in a tense situation because our officers are trained to kill you and not to de-escalate the situation. It would have been simplicity itself to shoot the tires of the vehicle out, to stand down and wait if he tried to drive off, to follow him. All his information was attached to that car. That police officer did not do his best to obtain Jacob Blake’s cooperation, but he did do all his possible to kill him. What else can you call shooting a person at point blank range seven times?

But no charges.

That should frighten every citizen of the US. It should scare you that your police can kill US citizens (essentially commit crimes that no member of the armed forces could commit without facing court martial) and be acquitted of any and all wrong-doing. That police officer did his best to kill Jacob Blake. The force itself was not merely excessive, it was murderous. It is only through the grace of God and the hands of skilled surgeons that Jacob Blake is not dead.

I was afraid there would be no charges when a federal judge handed down the final blow to Tamir Rice’s family’s hopes for something approaching justice in his death this week. The verdict, however, ratted on justice. The judge played Pontius Pilate with the evidence and said that there wasn’t enough evidence. Not enough evidence when the first shots from officers came within two seconds of arrival on the scene. That is not an exaggeration. According to official evidence in the court case it clearly states that within two seconds of exiting the patrol car, Officer Loehmann opened fire at point blank range on a 12-year-old child. Not enough evidence, and no charges.

As the mother of a special needs child, who will grow into teenage years and then, hopefully, adulthood, to send him out into the world trusting that if he panics when an officer pulls him over some day on some unnamed road their first impulse won’t be to kill him, I can tell you it’s enough to keep you awake at night. The statistics for those with handicaps and mental impairments are not much better than those for BIPOC citizens.

Did you see what I did there?

Jacob Blake is a human, a citizen of the United States, a man with children who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and even if he made the wrong decision in your eyes, the decision to disobey the commands of an officer of the law, do you believe he deserved death? If you do then you have to be mentally prepared for the fact that you’re comfortable with the idea that law enforcement officers, when taxed with recognizing your humanity, might similarly disregard it… We’re so fond of labels in this society. They’re not a means of keeping track of legitimate realities, however. No, unfortunately our fondness for labels is yet another aspect of our utter lack of civilization as a country. We use labels as a means to strip away humanity. He was a “thug”, the guy was “deranged,” and what we’re proclaiming with words we borrow in to attempt to mask the coarseness of our meaning is that, “he was less human than I and deserved death for that lack.” Let’s face facts because I’m so tired of living in a land of alternative “facts” and post-truth realities. I’m so tired of hearing people excuse the brutality of our society as a whole with the stripped and sanded vestiges of the souls who were no less human than I.

In the immortal words of C. S. Lewis:

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors… And our charity must be real and costly love, with feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner– no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

The Weight of Glory (HarperOne, 2001), pp. 45-46.

Jacob Blake, and all the executed who predeceased him at the hands of law enforcement are as immortal as I, were every bit as human as I, and it matters not what they had done in life because no words I could fling at their immortality could possibly remove or change it. Their deaths must be felt by society as though we have lost our own, not seen some creature, devoid of that godliness justly killed. You might ask what charges for the officers in any of the aforementioned cases would change. It wouldn’t bring back the deceased or free Jacob Blake from paralysis. But charges for law enforcement officers who, when failing to control a situation choose execution by firearm in place of any and all other methods of de-escalation would signal that we are ready, as a nation, to stop allowing death to be part of the practice of law enforcement.

We are not there yet. I had slivers of hope that we might have reached that point, but the struggle continues and will continue for all those hoping that at some point in the future, officers of the law will not be permitted to disregard your godly nature if you choose to disregard their orders.

For now they can breathe a sigh of relief. The privilege of onsite execution is still theirs, but I hope not for long.


•August 28, 2020 • Leave a Comment

It means “the spirit of the times” in German.  Some languages have words for things that we do not, and the funny thing is that I would take this word and make it a bit different to explain how I feel about this past week in Kenosha…  I would make the word, Ortgeist, or “the spirit of a place.”  I know the Ortgeist of Kenosha because I grew up there.  I taught there.  I was raised and educated there.

I have moved all over Wisconsin and within Western Europe.  The ortgeist of various places moves upon you in ways that are mostly spiritual because you don’t sense them along skin and nerve, but through encountering the people of a place.  I’ve heard and seen variations on the theme of “a smile is universal”.  It is… But it isn’t.  The ways that people smile, the reasons for it, the sincerity and the means by which a smile sheds joy is different in each place.

You learn this moving through space and with others.  You begin to savor the means of expression and not merely the feel of different languages and cultures.  So a place will have a geist in a different way that a time will be possessed of a spirit.  The spirit of a time is composed of the larger mass cultural feeling structures at home in the larger culture encapsulating the place.  A place is composed of the humans at home within it, their core values, the ways in which they interact with each other, and the gathering spaces that shape their converse.  The spirit of a place is more stable than the spirit of a given time.

I know the spirit of Kenosha like I know myself.  I’ve watched that spirit fight with itself at times, struggle for its purpose across the four (nearing the start of five) decades of my life.  I know her parishioners, her caring hearts, her singing and performing students, and her parents. I know her schools because they were my schools.  I know her colleges because they were mine too.  I know that city, and I learned something this past week.

I learned that the kind of violence a lot of us are sick of in this country can happen anywhere if it can happen in Kenosha.  The elements must be present anywhere, and so we have to all begin examining the elements that make up a systemic, national approach to governance because if it can happen in “Kenowhere” (our fond name, usually during our teens, for our town), it can happen anywhere.

I know the sleepy August days before school starts, biking along the lake and seeing it hazy in the afternoon with the heat shimmering across it.  I know the smell of Big Star while fending off your rootbeer float from the yellowjackets.  I know the church picnic in an Autumn too hot to call Autumn so we call it “Indian Summer”.  I know the first snow storm every year brings cars in the ditches, and cars buried under the plow, and so it also drags the neighbors out to help everyone dig out.

I know the students in practice rooms texting instead of doing their scales, and then pretending they weren’t doing anything except practicing.

I know the art classes and craft fairs.  I know the Pumpkin Farm sugar cookies and the strollers on gravel trying to get the kids to see all the fun dioramas and wondering which characters have been added this year.  I know the church in Easter darkness before the new fire is lit.  The scent of the incense and the renewal of a paschal flame.

I know Tenuta’s to gear up to host parties, and Oliver’s to celebrate birthdays.  I know the skating rink that started out as Rad’s and then became Great Skate.  I know a Kenosha that felt small and rural because just outside the border was Petrified Springs Park which now has a biergarten, but only had sledding and cross-country ski trails in winter when I was little.

I know the ways in which the community has taken its time learning to accept its shifting identity as a community of mostly white lower-middle class immigrants to being a significantly more diverse place.  It started when I was a kid.  It has matured over the years into calls for changes to policing, aggressive school policies that go as far as they can to keep policing and schooling completely separate entities.

I know Dairy Queens that only opened seasonally and so you’d ride your bike to them because they were newly opened again for a Dilly Bar.  I know the games of street hockey until the lights came on and it was time to head home, riding to the North Side Library when it moved out of the strip mall it was originally housed in to the new building just west of my elementary school.  Riding back with books down highway E and being convinced you were safe on your side of that white line.

I knew the long hours of teachers and students at music festivals: Orchestra Fest, Band O’Rama, Choral Fest, Solo and Ensemble, Large Group Competition.  I knew the work and time and investment we all made so that each student would grow up with a strong history of performing, and the pride in creating and fostering that for each student: an arc of experience performing for audiences and judges across the years of their enrollment as a music student.  I knew of the fine work of our athletics departments though I was never a participant.  I cheered our teams at games, had friends who were athletes, and envied the swimming team, but couldn’t squeeze in another activity.

I know Kenosha.  I know the love that lives there every day between neighbors and friends, within community and around it.  So I took heart at the end of this week watching as my friends started posting pictures of downtown where everything was boarded up.  It was no surprise to me to see that while outsiders saw opportunity for great misdeeds once there were protests, actual Kenoshans, once violence and mayhem had moved aside saw canvases for their love.  I share, but a few of those images, a sampling of that voice now because it reflects and embodies so much of what I know Kenosha’s ortgeist to be.


Outsiders came to Kenosha in the wake of unrest and they did their worst.  Two deaths followed swiftly upon the grievous injuries of Jacob Blake.  But Kenoshans saw their boarded up downtown and thought, “Here is a place where my light can shine, heal, and reinspire.”

The story of Kenosha is long.  It’s a place filled with many different voices.  Voices who sing together, laugh and play together beside a massive lake, seek community together, dissent and fight together.  I honor those purposes in their community.  My heart goes out to you Kenosha because this is a bitter time, but it is in the gall of bitter days that the warmest hearts come forth to share their grace.

Keep shining with love, my town.

A Few Glimpses of Hell

•July 28, 2020 • Leave a Comment

You can find horror stories about people’s battles with COVID-19.  They’re not hard to come by, nor do they make for easy reading.  I often scroll past these now because I’m not the person such accounts are written to persuade. Today, for one reason or another, I read yet another horror story of accidental exposure despite the best precautions about  an essential worker who brought the virus home to her elderly parents both of whom had hair-raising brushes with death, but for her father, death might have been kinder.  As I read this account, the tale of the dad going into multisystem organ failure and needing to be put on dialysis I started having memories.

My family and I never talk about Dad’s battle to live for 8 months after his kidneys failed after another heart attack.  I know why none of us ever discuss it.  You slam the door on the Hell you lived through, you examine the rents in your soul and tell yourself, “Alright.  I’m through.  I might be in pieces, but I’m through.  Onward from here.”  None of us ever speak of those 8 months.

We don’t bring up the suspense of life with a person on dialysis, which, to put it in layman’s terms for those who don’t know what dialysis is, a tube runs now out of a person’s body and fluid exchanges are made using gravity to cleanse their kidneys.  You medically rig the body to keep functioning though part of it is dead.

We did it to buy time.  Mom and Dad had wills, but those wills had been designed for a time when I was older, an adult.  They weren’t supposed to be needed now.  Now provisions would have to be made for Mom to survive Dad, but be left in charge of Jackie and I with help from their full-grown kids.

This was the nightmare scenario Mom and Dad had been afraid of when they adopted Jackie and I at 6 and 3.  At the same time as knowing that they could provide a stable and loving home for us, their own mortality was a thing very real to them.  Both of them knew that their ability to provide that home for as long as it took us to grow up required a gamble.  They had thrown the dice together and not thrown the main; not quite snake eyes, but their gamble didn’t pay fully either because Dad died when I was 15 (Jacko 12) and Mom was the one stuck trying to move through her grief and parent two teenage girls.

Worst of all, though, the reason none of my family members ever talk about that time, was the descent into death.  Had he been carried off suddenly by the first heart-attack it would have been kinder though we would have lost three more years with him.  No… The journey to the end of life was one of the bitterest struggles I’ve seen a human wage out of panic and fear for the kids he had agreed to love and raise.  The devil’s bargain to go forward with dialysis for the time it would buy him was a terrible bargain.  Yes, they gained 8 months, but those 8 months were a slog through Hell for us all, and there wasn’t one family member it spared in that time.

Not my aunts nor my cousins, not my sister and I, and not my mother.  I still remember her summoning physical strength from a well I know not whence it came from because it did not belong to her own failing body.  She had lost much of her mobility, walked only short distances and then with a walker (not even a cane anymore).  Still, I can recall her hefting the massive boxes of exchange fluid in the night to crack open another when they needed it.  Surgical masks, gloves, hand-washing until her hands bled.  Dad underwent peritoneal dialysis.  Mom and Aunt Deb went through all the training necessary to help my dad who began wasting away.  The dialysis uses the lining of your stomach to clean your blood.  It wasn’t the special diet, however, that was so hard on Dad.  He stopped being able to eat.

I still can’t look at the few pictures I have of him from that time because he looked as though he’d escaped a concentration camp.

It was no longer “if” he’d die, just “when,” and for most of us the silent prayer that it be swift and soon because watching this slow, horrible, agonizing stilling of life in a man so proud and so capable was like being tortured.

So I read about this poor man who went into the hospital one day and came out of it into a nursing home with dialysis as his companion because this virus killed his kidneys, and I read the stalwart children saying, “We got him back which is more than we thought at one point.  I’ll take it.”  I can’t stop myself from thinking, “We thought this too, at first, dear lady.  We thought this too.  God hold and be kind to your family as you wade in these horrendous waters.”

So many lives.  So many unnecessary deaths. They were unnecessary because of pride that says, “I will not wear a mask.  I will not believe that I have things I have to do to protect others.  They’re not my responsibility.”

And suddenly I find myself grateful for my father’s suffering, which seemed to me unimaginable prior to this viral plague.  For my Daddy didn’t lose his kidneys to anything other than dumb luck.  I had nothing to harbor anger against except the anger one feels losing a loved one.  I had no one to blame, no hatred to feel over the obscene lack of conscience I observe when I see people still running around as though there is no pandemic on.  I had only simple grief in losing my father to contend with.  Sure…

We all walked for a time through Hell.  We knew that Death would shut its portals for us, however.  We didn’t come through it together.  It’s a shame, but it was to be anticipated.  A grief counselor could have looked in, seen all the mess we were in spiritually and psychologically and foreseen that this family would break for at time given all the damage that had been taken.  But we’ve found our way slowly back to one another.  As our wounds from our time in Hell have healed, most of us have reached back out for the others and found ways to remain in contact though we don’t speak of Dad or those horrendous 8 months.

The Hell has only begun for large swathes of this nation and not wearing masks, deciding to act as though we know enough about the illness to take risks with it is but the tip of an iceberg.  We’re hurting the people who help us now the most.  The grocery clerks, the medical professionals, all those who work in the public sectors… Behaviors I wouldn’t condone in my five-year-old I observe in adults now and I don’t understand why you would choose more Hell than is utterly necessary.  Not with the deaths mounting higher each day.  Not with communities who are soon to be tested as their critical medical professionals succumb by the hundreds to this disease.

America, you’re walking in Hell.  Don’t stir the coals.  Don’t wake the demons or court their notice.  Press on.  Be kind to one another.  Pass softly this way.  You’ll come through, but not in burdensome anger or loathsome contempt.

The Hard Work of Marriage

•July 17, 2020 • Leave a Comment

“Why do you say Romantic Love is a lie?”

“Well because it is… A gigantic lie that we’ve been sold on for the last 400 or more years in narrative form and it’s to the point now where no one recognizes that when ‘Romantic Love’ ends that’s when the hard work of marriage takes over.  No one celebrates that.”

“How would you celebrate it, though?  If not with cards or presents or gifts or anything?”

“I’m not sure…”

So ran the conversation more than a month ago; a conversation that began after Bart took a gander at part of my thesis and began asking me questions about some of it and then asking questions about our upcoming anniversary.  I’ve been living in this conversation as this coming Friday drew near.  I’ve been pondering the ways we’ve been (and when I say we I mean every workaday family with parents in the grind) cheated of real celebrations of real relationships.

Because marriages that work are marriages that have been worked for, fought for, have had not just a string of photogenic moments that were captured to be plastered on walls and feeds.  They’re the bonds that people outside of them trust exist.

As is often the case, when I go looking for the roots of what I’ve read somewhere, I discovered that I could not lay my hands on the proof that the ancient Greeks had seven words for love.  Oh, I could find them online, but I could find nothing beyond what I could easily find online.  When I took my search for the seven to the university library I came back with only four: Eros, Storge, Philia and Agape. I could find no mention of Pragma, Mania, or Philautia.  This does not mean that they do not exist, but it means that (because I cannot read Greek or search in the original language) I cannot put my skills as a researcher to work finding these in a proper text.

So I will stay with the four I was able to find (in C. S. Lewis’ The Four Loves) and I will leave the others for now, because these four are a good base to begin with.

I wish to say something else first, the temptation to go always back to the Greeks and their traditions for anything is an equally hindering impulse.  There are thousands of cultures on the Earth.  The Greeks wrote a great deal, published a great deal and preserved a great deal.  That we still turn to their modes to justify the present is both an accident and a collusion of historical and cultural practice, and of this, I am not unaware.  It would be truly an engaging study to delve into the ancient writings of many cultures and explore their perceptions, divisions, and catalogues of Love, but starting with Greece and what I can get my hands on in the “now” is a good, if finite and incomplete beginning.

Storge– in Lewis’ words, comprises both a Need-love and a Gift-love.  A Need-love which inspires Gift-love, and a Gift-love whose existence depends upon the needing.  It is a love without discretion because it can exist between unequals, but this existence, unpredicated upon discernment, does not turn around and confer the divine universality of Agape upon it.  It is affection unembroidered by understanding.  As such it is (in Lewis’ reading) the most base form of Love because it survives all inequalities, but without a rational basis for its survival.  It is a Love born only of familiarity and borne merely because of familiarity.  In other words, it is a Love that constantly requires the vigilance of the heart and mind because it is the Love we are most likely to betray all humanity through.  I think here of the grotesque behaviours I have countenanced through my silence on them because of the familiarity of those I Storge.  I make excuses for their behaviours though I was in all honour bound to remonstrate with them.  Because of Storge I silenced the part of my conscience that cried out for me to speak up.  Storge is not to be eliminated, but to be vigilant about.

Philia— Friendship.  I greatly enjoy Lewis’ words on this one so I will quote him in all the glory of his intellect.

To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue.  The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.  We admit of course that besides a wife and a family a man needs a few ‘friends’.  But the very tone of the admission, and the sort of acquaintanceships which those who make it would describe as ‘friendships’, show clearly that what they are talking about has very little to do with that Philia which Aristotle classified among the virtues or that Amicitia on which Cicero wrote a book. (Lewis 1960: 72 and 73)

Happily, I am able to challenge the truth of this.  Perhaps in Lewis’ time, Philia was little regarded.  I am most overjoyed to write that in 2020 I can report that my parents, at least, told me when I started dating that “All the best marriages are built off of strong friendships.”

I can also say that I relate to the statement above in its exaltation of friendship. I thought that there might be something wrong with me as I got into the later years of puberty, then the beginnings of adulthood and it persisted that there was only one close “friend” besides my sister.  But as I grew older I came to know that real friendship is rare, and it blesses exactly as is written there, “the crown of life and the school of virtue.”  I couldn’t think of more fitting words for my oldest friend.  She has been exactly that description in my life.  I think of the friends of the people I know, and they describe those close friendships in much the same way, “My rock.  The person I can always count on.  The person I trust.”

No, Lewis, I must say that a reversal has taken root in my modern world.  Your modern world neglected friendship, but mine has recaptured the sacredness and value of it.

And I call that a victory for humanity.

This (so to call it) ‘non-natural’ quality in Friendship goes far to explain why it was exalted in ancient and medieval times and has come to be made light of in our own.  The deepest and most permanent thought of those ages was ascetic and world-renouncing.  Nature and emotion and the body were feared as dangers to our souls, or despised as degradations of our human status.  Inevitably that sort of love was most prized which seemed most independent, or even defiant, of mere nature.  Affection and Eros were too obviously connected with our nerves, too obviously shared with the brutes [our animal nature]. You could feel these tugging at your guts and fluttering in your diaphragm.  But in Friendship– in that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships freely chosen– you got away from all that.  This alone, of all the loves, seemed to raise you to the level of gods or angels. (Lewis, 1960: 74-75

The funny thing about marriage is that our narrative stories paint an image of “Love” between a man and a woman as belonging only to Eros.  But Eros will die. We know that it is of finite duration.  We know that fires go out, men and women age, lust disintegrates, and if there remains no Philia to take over where Eros was vanquished by time, too many obligations, the strain of rearing children, a pandemic and poverty, the marriage has no energy to continue.

I look around at the hundreds of marriages (literally hundreds) that I know that have failed.  I look at the number of marriages I know that have stood the test of time (maybe 50 or so), and I know that the reason those other marriages ended was often because Eros can get you into a marriage, but it can’t make it work.  Storge can keep it alive for a time, but even ‘familiarity breeds contempt.’ Relationships between man and wife disintegrate because Philia never found its way in.  An unnatural alliance.  A luminous, tranquil space where both individuals choose one another every day, not because of the humdrum and its comfortable sameness, but despite the comfortable sameness.  The active choosing, the mindfulness embedded in the rational choice not engendered of familiarity or lust (and lust here is not purely sexual, but a stronger iteration of the idea of temporal desire), is the key to the shackles of the lie we’re all sold in “Romantic Love.”  Shackles we gratefully don believing that to have been a choice because, “Someone wants me, and I want them in return.”

Eros– To be thoroughly honest, one should read this chapter.  It’s a hard chapter owing to the depth of the philosophy, but the reading is important because reading as an active search within the self for the meaning distributed from another’s hands is an act of reverence.  To summarize the great and powerful thought (powerful through its thorough depth) of Lewis here would be to do actual disservice to it.  I summarize only what I must, then, to make my own thoughts plain, but I strongly advise that anyone who reads this, read Lewis’ chapter on Eros for yourselves, if not the whole book.  This chapter is one of peculiar and defined brilliance.

Eros is the plane humanity moves to when it creates an altar out of another’s existence.  We call it ‘being in Love,’ but we are the pieces of sacrifice on that alter just as the other’s objective reality has also been sacrificed, and this is the crux of the reason why Eros will die.  We are human and that deeply sacrificial love, that alter is not ours to make though we all will at some point.  We will slave (and enslave) ourselves to the worship of another human and when the fog of that masochistic desire to vanish into the other person fades we’re left with only our humanity and theirs… And the pitiful nature of that humanity usually smotes us to the core.  Marriages built only on Eros are doomed.

Some of them undergo tremendous stress and then rise above the crisis.  It is these marriages that often endure to the end of the couple’s life together.  I know two such marriages personally.  One was my parent’s marriage.  The other is a young marriage that survived catastrophe because of the strength of the souls within it.  They reached back out towards each other and saved their marriage and each other in the doing.  In many ways I look up to that couple as an example of how determined and beautiful Love can be, and how we can be saved through it.

Many marriages built on Eros turn to active hate because the thing you once worshipped could never have deserved your devotion.  The intensity of your wasted investment recoils into self-loathing and you in turn unleash that as hatred upon your partner.  Other marriages collapse under the weight of those expectations or dissolve quietly once the altar was dismantled.  This is the soul-destroying conceptualization of Love that St. Paul spotted in marriage: the temptation to idolize the Beloved, and, in truth, our modern conception of the giant “white wedding” is much in service to this idolatry.  We’re embodying our worship of the other simultaneously declaring that our union, our wish to no longer be single, but united be blessed by God.  I understand St. Paul, at present, better than I understand our modern customs of marriage…

But, then, again, I’m a confirmed iconoclast.  It’s what I was put on this Earth to do, so here I am.

Above is what I put together reading the chapter and adapting my own thoughts to it, but here I summarize Lewis, and it is, I hope and pray, justice to him.  In part of the chapter where he separates the over-solemnization of the sexual participation of Eros from the rest of the story of Eros transcendent, he opens the door to where I believe, as my parents did, that Philia is what a marriage that will last is built on.  We laugh with our friends.  Sex, once it has lost its fervor, deprived of its worshipful space, reincarnated between a couple who survived the altar and its ruin, resumes its laughter and humor.

No, I’m not talking about smut, but joy.  The funny thing about marriage is how much laughter and joy you stand to gain if everything in it isn’t so bloody serious.  The hard work of marriage, arguably the hardest work, is not letting the joy be taken away by the dissolution of Eros right at the same moment that all the real world work sets in.  The childrearing, the homesteading, the car payments, the long nights and too short time for reconnecting with one another beyond, “Good morning, Good bye, Hello and Goodnight, Asshole!”

I mean it.  If the laughter, the joy, the choice, the silliness of Life has disintegrated then there’s very little means for the pair of you to recapture the freedom and tranquility of Philia.  And that’s just plain hard because Storge can’t replace Philia– familiarity and comfort are no fit replacements for freedom and joy, and neither are they the source of those two requirements for a life together.

Agape— Well, and here, you’ll just have to forgive me if this next section makes you turn away from my words and spit in disgust. I’m a Christian, more correctly, an Episcopalian, and so my world-view includes a devout and steadfast love of God, and this was also true for Lewis.  I want to bring up two examples of why a marriage can’t survive without Agape.  One comes from a meme I saw at some point.

“Nice wedding, now invite me into the marriage.” — God

I have no idea who first wrote it, where I first read it, but it stuck.  I saw it and thought, yeah… Without God there, there’s little hope for the marriage.

The loves prove that they are unworthy to take the place of God by the fact that they cannot even remain themselves and do what they promise to do without God’s help. Why prove that some petty princeling is not the lawful Emperor when without the Emperor’s support he cannot even keep his subordinate throne and make peace in his little province… Even for their own sakes the loves must submit to be second things if they are to remain the things they want to be.  In this yoke lies their true freedom; they ‘are taller when they bow’.  For when God rules in a human heart, though He may sometimes have to remove certain of its native authorities altogether, He often continues others in their offices and, by subjecting their authority to His, gives it for the first time a firm basis.  Emerson has said, ‘When half-gods go, the gods arrive.’ (Lewis 1960: 152)

Philia, Eros, Storge are not substitutes for Agape.  Poor Simon Peter has a painful moment in the gospel of John.  I can’t read Greek, but have read explanations of the translation of that terrible moment when Jesus asks him three times whether or not Simon Peter “loves” him.  In Greek, he’s not asking the same word three times, but each time Simon Peter replies with the same verb.

“Simon Ioannou, agapas me?”

“Nai, Kyrie; su oidas oti philo se.”

“Simon Ioannou, agapas me?”

“Nai, Kyrie; su oidas oti philo se.”

“Simon Ioannou, phileis me?”

Elypethe o Petros oti eipen auto to triton Phleis me

“Kyrie panta sy oidas sy ginoskeis oti philio se.”

That line between the final repetition from Simon called Peter is often read in English along the lines of, “Peter was grieved because Jesus asked him whether he loved him a third time.”  A better translation of this would preserve the case structure of the language in which the emphasis falls on the altered verb because it comes at the end of the sentence and this is a trait that modern Russian shares with ancient Greek: you emphasize an idea with word order while pinning meaning with the case.

“Peter was grieved because Jesus had asked him at the third time, “Do you Philein me?”

Peter was not grieved because he was being asked a third time.  He was grieved because he heard the change in verb.  The Lord came to where he was, met his needs, and ceased asking for transcendental love, but the knowledge that he brought the Lord to his level rather than rising to the Lord’s gave him pain.  This is the beginning for Simon called Peter, and it’s the beginning for the celebration of the real work of marriage too.  The Lord is there at the wedding, He meets us wherever we are in the stages of marriage, and tells us that working for Agape is the way forwards.  Footstep after footstep, together.

Like the Catholic Church, Episcopalianism holds marriage as a sacrament: an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace.  In the Book of Common Prayer the prayer directly after the exchanging of vows, the celebrant says, (words that have never been spoken over me in marriage)

Look mercifully upon this man and this woman who come to you seeking your blessing, and assist them with your grace, that with true fidelity and steadfast love they may honor and keep the promises and vows they make…

Arguably the word “love” in there would be an entreaty for God to invest them with the power of Agape because without it they will not be able to fulfill what they have promised each other in Eros or Philia.  “When half-gods go, the gods arrive.”  Their promises, without the Agape of God will stay empty even should they obtain Philia out of Eros, joy from sameness, and laughter from the sadnesses of every day.

“How would you celebrate the everyday hard work of marriage?”

I think I’d keep on it, searching for Agape, continuing to build on our work together in Philia, and acknowledge the journey Eros sent us down together seven years ago.

Happy Anniversary, my Love.


Riffing in the Rip Tide

•June 13, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Went for a long walk today and we were strangers to the place though not to the scent of warm pine needles and the whispers of early morning wind that sighed in those branches.  We weren’t strangers to the sensation of babies falling asleep, tired and sticky from rambles down forest paths.  I wasn’t a stranger to the road running before me while Paul and Art sang “For Emily…” I always wanted someone to love me like that.  Or at least I thought I did…

We were strangers to the trails and so left laughing echos and shouting memories behind for others who won’t come into contact with our particles.  And the boys greeted the horsewomen who were out trying their paces in sunlight and shadow.  I loved hearing the rustle and slick of the long grass against the horses chests.  It speaks always of deep life to me.  Thudding beats and more laughing voices.  The rush of a stream who winds its way without looking back.

Be like the river, “I thought.”  Paul and Art sang me home and I was forgetting how long I’ve known all those songs.  New words in Russian evade me though they passed not a week ago through my skull.  Old words drift back to me in harmonies I stitched my teenage years to tooling along between high school, rehearsals, violin lessons in Milwaukee, youth orchestra, conducting lessons.

The Dangling Conversation was my warning,  I Am A Rock my motto.  I learned their poetry even as I threw Frost in to while away hours on drives, trying to stay awake I’d urge that man whose horse knew so much more about those frozen miles than he did, “Keep your eyes open, Dear.”

Strangers today to the path, but not the joy of oak and sap, of pine and wildflowers.  Tracks made on their hearts, and I hope they learn to love the trail.  I can’t give them other things because there’s no truth in things. But sensing the self as an interconnected piece of creation…

There’s a truth there beyond truth.

An Open Letter in Response to the Clearing of St. John’s

•June 2, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Dear Mr. President,

I am a member—a baptized and confirmed lay-member— of the Episcopal church, whose mission it is to unseat the demons you represent and embrace in this world.  You are greed and callousness personified.  You are a walking embodiment of a life spent in the hatred of every meeker class in this society: women, minorities of any kind, the disabled.  You have mocked and scorned them all.

You ordered the peaceably assembled driven off, and you authorized the use of brutal force to do this. You posed in front of a church belonging to my denomination, with your hands wrapped around the library (yes, the Bible is a library) in which are written the laws and words of the prophets: words of Love, Comfort, and Grace.

You came with hatred like the conquering elite male you are.  You came with your privilege, and a bound book you have never understood.  You had dispersed those who served in Love and applied the lash of your privilege to those who had gathered in the courtyard of that place of worship, and you pillaged their rights to be there with force meant for the unlawfully assembled.  What gave you the right? Might did, and it is a might you wielded without cause.

The volunteers who stood in that courtyard were providing water to those who were exercising the right to peacefully demonstrate.  You beat them and drove them away.  You, by the command of your orders, emptied a space that had been filled with Love moments before.  You assumed the place that was viciously vacated for you and you filled it with threats and with assault upon the rights of every citizen of this nation.

You enacted evil where there had been Love.  You stood before the first church to recognize the holiness of woman, to permit her equality in the rite of ordination.  You stood before a church who has been globally silenced for daring to radically Love our homosexual brothers and sisters, and grant them the rite of ordination.  You took up the book wherein it is written,

“Blessings crown the head of the righteous,
But violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.

The memory of the righteous will be a blessing,
But the name of the wicked will rot.

The wise heart accepts commands,
But a chattering fool comes to ruin.

The man of integrity walks securely,
But he who takes crooked paths will be found out.

He who winks maliciously causes grief,
And a chattering fool comes to ruin.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of Life,
But violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.

Hatred stirs up dissension,
But Love covers over all wrongs.” (Proverbs 10: 6-12)

You, who manifest no love, who cleared a place of worship where Love was walking in service to the rights of all those whose voices clamour to be heard are being called out now.

Because I consider this an attack on my church and the work she does in this world.

I ask my brothers and sisters in the faith of Christ Jesus of all denominations to turn against you.  I ask them to not let the violent clearing of one church courtyard go unnoticed and unremarked.  I ask them to take to heart the mouth of the fool whose violent ways overwhelms everything he says.  I ask my brothers and sisters who profess other faiths to join me in denouncing this attack on those who practice their Love every day.   I ask for your support in supporting our brothers and sisters of colour in this country.  Those who were assembled yesterday in that courtyard were illegally driven off, by a man whose administration has much to answer for, and much that should inspire so great a rage that we all rise up and demand the world we want to see reflected in our hearts.

Mr. President, you personally have much to answer for, but yesterday, when you used my church as a staging ground for more of your ruinous foolishness was the day that you unstoppered my silence.

You have waged war with hate and violence, but we will overcome with Love.  You will not cage, bully and silence those who are filled by the Grace of God. You will not turn aside the work of hands called to Love and service try how you may to dodge your own callings.

You have wreaked evil on my nation, and you stood yesterday before my church, with the article of its faith in your hands, and you spoke vengeance.

I ask all Christians to denounce you.  I ask them to take to heart their baptismal covenants: to renounce and drive out the forces of darkness at work in this world.

For the work of Love is heavy and needful enough.  We must have a place to begin, but our beginnings cannot be gotten underway until evil like yours has been put to flight.

We all must act.  Now.  We all must cry out.  The time for silence has ended.  Let the voice of God ring out as one: we LOVE our brothers and sisters.  You cannot kill them, you cannot stop them with bullets and gas because we will stand before you.

We were given those rights to protest and to serve those who march, and the mouth that spreads evil will not take those rights away!

Old Characters with Familiar Faces

•May 14, 2020 • Leave a Comment

I didn’t learn the story first when I was twelve… Because my father was compulsive about recording “specials” off the television for his daughters in the 1980s.  Kids today won’t know this, but back in the 1980s there was a dearth of good, wholesome programming for children on television.  Most of what was broadcast was specifically for adults, so when a special ran as “children’s programming”, Dad, who’d taken in first one daughter in 1983 and then her sister in 1987, tended to tape record it— regardless of age appropriateness.

But I was fascinated by this very bizarre, 1970s incarnation of Norton Juster’s inimitable The Phantom Tollbooth.  The commercials that Dad captured with the movie tell me that this special ran at some point in 1987.  So there I was, 4 years old and captivated by Milo, Tock, and his adventures to reach The Castle in the Air in order to free Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason.  When AJ was five I showed that tape to him.  So began a tradition in my household of children becoming entranced by one of the unsung heroes in the US educational process.

I did not encounter Milo first when I was 12, as most Wisconsin 6th graders do.  He was an old friend of 8 years, and the demons he faced were old foes.  I was ecstatic to meet him again, and I was vastly surprised when my classmates were not as excited as I was to re-encounter him.

I think that was the first time that I encountered my “context” viscerally.

Most of my peers had never heard of Milo before.  This story was just another assignment to them.  Milo had no charming half-tonal, half-modal song that went plaintively with his only superpower: a colossal boredom that could overset any plans for his entertainment or education, an arrogant stupefaction with his privileged and (therefore) boring existence.

They didn’t come running to pages happy to see the original drawings to this book whose fabled edges had been part of the figments of my awakening consciousness.  Milo had been my friend long before I had an awareness of self, and so at 12 I learned how powerful moving images, songs, and a well-told story were in the creation of an interest in learning.  I was excited to share the story of Milo.  My peers were as bored as the main character, and remained so.

The Phantom Tollbooth is an allegorical tale, and, as my son once observed to me after he fell under the movie’s spell too, the demons Milo faces are all too real.  The Terrible Trivium “demon of useless tasks” is a real fixture in our society.  The Demon of Insincerity, whose words are all bluster and false, and whose physical and mental stature does not match their intent can often be seen in our society.  The Gelatinous Giant, so afraid of new ideas and progress that they make him sick, is real too.

Milo faces these demons with gifts of knowledge that he has acquired traveling through lands torn asunder because the two warring kings imprisoned the princesses, Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason, thus giving the demons lurking in the Mountains of Ignorance sway.  Unhindered by the leadership of the princesses, the demons stole the rhyme and reason from life in the kingdom of Wisdom.

I did not see the larger lessons of the book until I was an adult reading it to my children.  I could not understand (neither at 4 nor again at 12) that Wisdom does not exist without the concord and peace lent by Rhyme to soften the blows of pure Reason.  The kingdom fell to the pride of the two kings who could no longer rule in peace together once they had decided that one must reign victorious over the other.  After sending Rhyme and Reason packing, they found that Wisdom too was gone.  They ruled over barren wastes with demons for company and where sense in all its lingual senses had fallen out of their lands.

There’s a point in the story, a moment before Tock, Milo, and the Humbug continue on their journey when they encounter Chroma the Great, “One of the last sane men in this country.” as Tock describes him to Milo.  Chroma conducts the sunsets and sunrises, rainbows, and thunderstorms.  In other words, he musicks the powerful natural wonders of life into being, and he can do this because of his training.  He charges Milo to wake him in time to conduct the sunrise.

Milo winds up caught in a moral predicament.  He has watched and profited spiritually from a graceful moment in the story, watching Chroma conduct a sunset.  The natural world was still in balance despite the eviction of Rhyme and Reason because a practiced and skillful individual, who maintained a knowledge of what Wisdom looked like in his spirit, was in charge of that domain.  Milo knows he is going to journey forth to do the kingdom a great good, but Chroma has forestalled him by asking Milo to wait and wake him for the sunrise.

The Humbug advises Milo (foolishly, of course, Humbugs cannot do otherwise) that Milo should conduct the sunrise himself, wave the baton as Chroma did (it’s just waving a stick, how hard can that be?!) and then they need neither disturb the Maestro nor delay their journey.

Of course, Milo cannot conduct the sunrise.  In doing so he ruins the last grace left to the kingdom before setting off to see if he can’t make it through the Mountains of Ignorance to rescue the only two people who can, indeed, put everything back to rights.  The point is that he does make it.  The princesses clear up his mistakes, he has learned lessons about haste and humility, and after his journeys in the kingdom of Wisdom he returns to his own life with a yearning for life again.

In these strange days when I watch people being hasty like Milo, turning away from practiced masters and their advice, allowing liars and demons access to their minds and thus their hands, I hear again one of the songs written for that bizarre little special.

“Time is a gift, fleeting and swift,
Ticking and tocking itself away,
Itself a way and saying: better beware.

Time is a gift, precious and rare,
Take it and make of it all you can,
Use all you can, there’s not a moment to spare.

So take a second to look around, see a sight, hear a sound,
Take a minute to concentrate – analyze – contemplate,
Take an hour and change the fate of the world!

Time is a gift given to you,
Given to give you the time you need,
The time you need to have the time of your life!

Time ticks hastily away. Take time to save it every day.
Time saved in the nick of time is golden time.”

But I remember too, that “idle hands” are hands those demons can put to their own uses.  I understand the panic behind the wish to reopen so swiftly in these days that we’ve had on our hands without work.  I understand it in a deeply positive sense, as well.  The author, Kahlil Gibran, wrote, in his great work The Prophet

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons,
and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.

When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?

Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.

But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written.

You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.
And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.

And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection,
even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,
even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead
are standing about you and watching.

Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “He who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is nobler than he who ploughs the soil.
And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.”
But I say, not in sleep but in the overwakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass;
And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.

Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

Pride in loving work is nothing like the pride of the two kings which destroys the kingdom of Wisdom.  English doesn’t have a good word for that kind of “pride” because it is selfless.  So instead I think I should probably call it “joy”.  When you work with love it gives you, and the people around you, joy— which is essential to the human condition.  We cannot survive mentally or spiritually without it.

We have been forced by a pandemic to lose touch with the seasons.  We have been asked to leave off making Love visible for a time.  We were charged with standing still in order to help others: healthcare professionals, our most vulnerable society members, and our scientists as they race to gather all evidence and bring it to the threshing floor for understanding.

Some heard the words, “nonessential” and weighed themselves in its syllables, and took a deep wound therein.  But this was not the intention.  The intention was to provide space for a monstrosity to fall to the ground between us.  Yes, to prevent lost lives, but to give room for people to study this.  We watched it come like a soul-harvesting menace to land after land.  The people of many lands have been losing touch with the seasons because there was no other recourse to a danger so new, but humanity knows how to fight a plague because plague has been with us since humanity began.

The love of many hands was laid aside in order to let the monster pass, and the hardest part for all of us is knowing that it will not pass without claiming lives no matter what we do.  There’s not one person out there who wants another person to perish because of this virus.  But we can have positive effects on how many lives need go with the reaper, and we can make attempts in these weeks and months ahead, in all our time ahead, to seek always for Rhyme and Reason, to protect the graces left to us, to make the kingdom of Wisdom a reality and not a fallen dream.

It can be done, but not, as Milo learned when he ruined the sunrise, with haste.  Rhyme and Reason cannot prevail as the leaders in the kingdom of Wisdom if we do not proceed thoughtfully, gently, and without working to honor, at all times, the responsibilities we have to all whose lives intersect with ours.

A Day for Mom

•May 11, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Dear Mom,

How many times I have wished for you this year?  I took time this evening, watching blue light steal more bluely over the boys… Listening to them breathe and I thought about you.

Because today is for you.

I thought of my inadequacies beside the bright reminiscences I have of your love.  Such is the means to memory: we become more grateful for understanding our shortcomings.

Like knowing why, now, when I was a teenager and asked what was for dinner you’d say, “FOOD!  And you’re going to like it!”  I get it.  I’m that harassed, constantly pulled, invaded and overstretched woman now.  Three pans on the go, a meal to get on the table.  AJ is the teen who wanders hapless into my chaos to ask what we’re having and, no, I don’t take his head off… But I know why you used to take mine.

I’m there now.  I’m the person who loses herself between too many goals and objectives.  The mind that wanders constantly over her fears for her kids, her anxious moments for her own ambitions.  I’m the one who tries every day for surrender only to wind up on my knees at the end saysing to God, “I fought more than I wanted to today.  I’m sorry.  I haven’t learned how to pick those battles, yet.  She showed me how, but I’m still learning.”

But as evening settled warm and close over their gleaming locks in the dusk tonight I thought suddenly back to your greatest strength, and it’s something I never spoke to you about when you were alive.

Oh how I wish I had.  “Cast ye not pearls before…” Ah, Mama, I wish I had observed more quickly and had a chance to ask you how you instinctively knew to tailor everything you were trying to teach to each child as an individual? Who taught you that?  Or was it a native gift you had?

I remember your anecdotes about this student and that student.  You always said that you needed time to learn a kid’s tricks and once you had them figured out you could teach them anything.  And it was true.  It was like you were a locksmith: forging unique keys for every fledgling soul who became your student.  They’d hand you the materials you needed for the key and you would make one just so they could learn.

I wish I could have talked to you about Ted this Mother’s Day.  He had what I call a “squidgy” day today.  More fragile than usual.  More meltdowns than usual.  More stress and even less self-awareness than normal.  On squidgy days I miss you most.  You and your endless set of keys.  He’s such a quick person, so creative, so loving. But those days when he gets all squidgy in his perceptions I don’t recognize my boy.

And those are the moments I wish you were here because you’d still be able to tell me how to reach him.

Teachers like you are rare beyond rare.  The name of the syndrome didn’t matter.  All that mattered to you was the kid.  The rest of us stumble around dealing with the syndrome like it’s a bloody map to a person, and you just saw the sweet being you had to teach, and all their quirks lying like falls and bores on a lock. You’d just wrap another turn in the metal, the key was almost ready.

“Act, Rebecca, never react.”

“Parents set their kids up for those failures.  They prep the tantrum in every response they give and then they’re shocked when the child delivers.”

“A child only wants you to see them.  They’ll do anything they have to in order to make that happen.”

“If you can’t find time to give them love in your day, then you’re too busy.”

You were more patient with me than I am with mine, but I know too that you were 57 when you adopted me.  You had twenty years more experience dealing with young ones.  I know that some of the lessons you learned, you picked up from knowing that those mistakes were also yours.

You were so courageous.   I hope that on days like today I acquit myself with courage you used to show just to get up every day.  I come ragged into the end of squidgy days and look back and remind myself, as you used to remind me, that “there’s always tomorrow.”

Thank you, Mama.  Thank you for all the tomorrows I’ll ever see.  I love you.  Happy Mother’s Day.

“I’ve Got No Strings…”

•May 6, 2020 • Leave a Comment

I’m writing this because it’s been awhile… But also because I’m tired of watching the tribalism stretch into infinity, and I have this giant pair of scissors in my hands.  I want to cut strings.  I want to sever the bonds of those trapped with a merry puppeteer standing above them and help them see that when the master said, “Dance!” they could not do other than obey for the last several years.

This is what your teams, your politics, your parties and your void-spawned fear of reaching out to others who seem to think only like you means.  I bet you didn’t hear those pride-filled voices fanning the flames.  I bet that when you dug your heels in, you couldn’t hear the string-pullers laughing.  Here are my scissors, friends.  Come join me.

There aren’t two parties.

There aren’t five races and a dreaded category “everything else”.

There aren’t “rights” to an economy that grinds your freedoms into the dust.

Nor rights to a paycheck .

Nor rights to work… How strange, that.  You live in a right to work state!  Now look at that it was never a right to begin with.  And the puppeteers that told you otherwise laughed so hard when you slipped from their grasp.

We’re all humans and we all have the same needs: freedom, fun, love and relationships, self-determination.

But I want you to see the strings now.  I want you to reach up and cut them off because you have responsibilities enough to be going on with, but the responsibility to hate the other side isn’t one of those responsibilities.

Because “the other side” doesn’t exist either.  It’s the manufacture of a system of binary idiocies that wants us fighting amongst ourselves.  Want proof?

You have greasy demons telling you that they want your freedom for you.  They want the state to open up.  They’re hurting for you… Oh sure.  Of course they are.  From their couches and comfy seats, in seclusion with a stockpile of any creature comfort available to mankind they’re hurting for you.  Rush back to those trenches, boys!  Rush right in!

Where only angels would dare to tread.

I tell you they haven’t earned loyalty like this from anyone.  And why was it so easy to purchase yours?

Well because you grew up cheering for one side.  You grew up playing that game, memorizing the words to that song that said, “Our side! My side!  Part of a team!  And we’re winning at the game!” But societies don’t function on sides.

Because every issue doesn’t have a side, or that was invisible too?

To get to the person across from you, as you tried to find the corner to turn, much to everyone’s shock it was a circle we were gathered at.  No edges, no corners, just a hoop where we sometimes found ourselves opposite one another.  We all came to the edge of the circle, from all different directions, and once there the puppeteers starting laughing.

“Look!  They can’t see that it’s a gathering!  They think there’s a struggle here!  We’ll give ’em something to fight over! That will hold them there!”

But those are my scissors.  Shift your feet.  Wave your hands.  Walk the outer edge of the circle because I’m here, and we’re not on opposite sides.  It’s a curve: a line that goes all the way around, and if we move together we can pull the strings from their hands.  If we reclaim our thoughts, our humanity from tribal fantasy, if we understand that all issues have a scale along which there can be compromise, then the puppeteers won’t be able to reattach the strings.

Because we’ll dance together around the fire— too busy living, finding authentic existence together to be willing to surrender to those strings again.

Join me.

We’re being given a restart, a chance to reevaluate many things in this time of isolation.  We’re being given the opportunity to reapproach that fire, and I tell you, it scares me too.  Until I saw it was a circle I was scared to come back to the center.  But I know that, for some of you, my face seems to leer out of the darkness across a pit, and it’s because the puppeteers laughed when the fire died.

We used to gather here.  Humanity has known the fire since the spark of our intellect began.  We used to sing here.  Stories were invented in this space, and the sum of human experience was shared through the flames.  We kept the dark at bay with its light.

It’s time to snatch those strings away.  Time to relight a fire, to find the songs again, to give up the old ones that preached a side.  Time to find the stories and to tell new ones.

It’s time to be free of sides and pick up the circle where we were told that it vanished and a side took its place.

I’m tired of the name-calling.  I’m tired of the labels.  I’m tired of the illness that means I have to automatically fear people who have different labels from mine.  I don’t need that in my life.  Fear need not come to the circle.  We left Fear back in the darkness outside the fire.

Come warm yourself.  You look cold.  There’s room here.  We’ll share blankets, and instead of sharing labels give me your name.

It’s the only label I want to ask you for.

Maybe you’ll want mine, then, and if we have the names without the ugliness that came from all the other labels we were told about “other sides” then the puppeteers won’t be able to put strings on us again.

Will you dare the fire with me?  I think your freedom from Fear is worth it.  Fear’s a nasty master.  Come to center again and we’ll try Trust for awhile.

I think we can.

A Love Letter to The Dutch

•August 20, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I once wrote a post about how the Dutch seem to be adults who hang on to childish behaviours.  I want to write a different post now.  One in which I speak also as a Dutch citizen: a person who became fluent in their systems and language, but who retains the gaze of an outsider because I did not grow up there so I have no romance when their traditions rear their heads… So much the better.

I miss the Netherlands because I miss the character of the Dutch people who stretched out their hands to me in friendship and love.  I miss the innate kindness of the people there.  My husband used to rate me for being ignorant of the “average” Dutch person.  His critique was not without merit because I moved among elite circles: an upper class neighborhood, a university, a university chamber choir… These are not the places to meet an average sampling of humanity.  The average in most countries does not attend university by definition.  The average works in a variety of trades, but their footsteps do not cross the thresholds of the ivory tower.

But though I had friends in the university, dear friends, friendships I cherish and hold close to my heart through the months and weeks I am away, I had friends very much of the average during my years in the Netherlands.  Mostly these friendships were mothers living close to me, other women slogging through their days trying to haul their kids along with them too.  We knew the frustration of the “consternatie bureau”.  We knew the stress of school days looming, potty training, the problem of good childcare, the injustice that everything except a PhD was work that would qualify you to receive government subsidies for that childcare.  Women who understood trying to plant gardens with kids, tend to keeping a house and managing to get everyone on time through their days while still holding your own concerns to the light.  They didn’t all have university training, but it was irrelevant.  They were compassionate.  My first allies and friends when I’d talk about Teddy being on the Autistic Spectrum.  They were dear people I’d see doing groceries at our neighborhood store.  People who’d ride home on a bike with you from the market, meet you at a playground, make room in an overloaded life to share some smiles, some sighs, some laughs, a hug…

The Dutch grow up still with a respect for gentleness, and it’s a respect I never took for granted because I miss it so much in the US.  I think the US is full of gentle-hearted people who miss this too, and I do not know how a respect for fierceness, competition, and perseverance bled gentleness out of our culture, but so it seems at times to me.  The Dutch are community minded people.  Oh sure, they’ll complain about the fact that if you stick your neck out to succeed you’re most likely to get your head hacked off, but they live every day in that communal minded tranquility and so they are familiar enough for contempt to have been bred into their regard for their society.  Contempt away my friends, I know the price of having sticking your neck out being the norm and the unspoken expectation: a society without kindness.

I miss the general friendliness of the Dutch disposition.  We were all in a crush, but I never met with a friendship that someone wouldn’t pull over and spend a few minutes beside the bike path chatting with me; ready to ride on the second I’d take leave.  Those felt like breaths of fresh air during hectic days.

I miss people whose social mindedness forced their local governments to be constantly planning ahead.  I drive around (yes, it’s ghastly, no more bikes for me because the distances are literally double the longest bike rides I would do on a regular basis in the Netherlands, and that kind of time doesn’t exist) in the US and ugly power lines hang above our streets, a waiting danger.  They haven’t been buried for a future with fiercer storms.  Our water mains break because the pipes are older than dirt.  Our streets flood because no one has researched fast wicking road building techniques (they exist!).  Bike lanes shielded by curb are non-existent, we force bikers into the road with larger cars because we don’t build for people who wish to live sustainably.  And in that vein instead of building inward and adding smaller grocery stores where people can shop for their food we build outward adding massively expensive buildings people have to drive to.

Nowhere do I see solar panels on people’s homes, and this is the starkest difference.  Wisconsin is a resource poor state.  We truck and freight in every OUNCE of power we use re: coal or natural gas.  Sunlight is free.  There are only two power companies in Wisconsin that do serious business here and the largest recently tried to pass tariffs on people who want to install solar panels on their homes.  This isn’t good economics or sensible living.  We want businesses to have competition because it drives down prices, and we want people to be able to choose their sources because supposedly we value freedom.  How can it be that in this wealthy country the average homeowner can’t afford to put up solar panels that would free this state from being dependent on external sources for power?  Wisconsin should be a leader in solar because we’re at the same latitude as Venice, Italy.  We receive the same amount of sun they do in a year, but have a variegated climate because we’re an inland state with a giant inland sea next to it.  Every homeowner should be able to have solar if they choose.  It should not be prohibitively expensive for us to make these investments but because of short minded local and state governments that’s exactly what it is.  This isn’t freedom, it’s slavery to powerful external interests that forces the citizens of Wisconsin to pay exorbitant power prices long after solar became affordable for the rest of the world, and as an American citizen it makes me boil.  As a citizen of a warming planet it makes me crazy.

I miss mass transit.  I hate being OBLIGED to own a car again.  There is absolutely no choice here because I cannot even WALK my child to a bus stop to get him to school or daycare.  This isn’t freedom either.  I should be able to choose whether or not to have the financial responsibility of a car.  The only choice I have is how far in to dig myself financially.  I can buy a junker, get the cheapest insurance I can afford and drive it until it dies, but there my choice ends.  This is crazy in “the land of the free”.  Who is free, pray tell?  It isn’t the average citizen.  In the Netherlands I used to have to walk a kilometer (.6 of a mile) to the nearest tram stop.  FINE!  It was good exercise, and I had the choice.  The nearest bus stop to my home (and the bus goes nowhere near my kid’s school OR his daycare) is double the distance.  I can walk a mile, but when the service is nowhere close to what I need it is less than useless.  It is not merely an inconvenience to try to live sustainably here, it is impossibly inconvenient in a life with youngsters because of time, distance, and inadequate services.  This is your best, America?  I live in a wealthy neighborhood, and this is your best?  The best money can buy is almost a mile and half away from a bus route that would force me to ride two busses just to get to a daycare?  That’s a joke.

I miss the Dutch love of hospitality, in short, I miss the trappings of real civilization.  I do get to experience this at church after the service.  Here every week families cater the coffee hour after service, and we’ve taken our turn too.  I used to go to choir rehearsals and the members concerned themselves at all times with whether or not coffee and tea would be present in the pause.  This sounds silly, but the first time I was welcomed into a Dutch home it was a ceremony I came to realize was culturally ubiquitous.  A cookie and either tea or coffee doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a symbol of the effort to care for the needs of those you welcome into your society and it was reflected in the larger system around it.  If I ran across panhandlers in the Netherlands it was unbelievably rare because the system for caring for the indigent and the mentally handicapped was robust with a capital ‘R’.  I miss that.  When I take the children to Chicago we skirt beggars on almost every major throughway because in Chicago I CAN and DO walk everywhere, but then I am accosted with the US reflection of our major tenets as a society of free people.  You’re free to drown and we’ll let you.  Not only will we let you drown, but we’ll make you an object lesson in our politics and conversation.

Give me the trust between humans that would insure that doesn’t happen.  I don’t like to think of people drowning because they’re mentally ill, indigent, do not have families to care for them… Name the reason that you would.  I prefer a mental outlook that says, “If someone is in need there is always a place that you can apply to where your needs can be met at a basic level.”  I know there are so many people trying to do that work in the US.  I know several of them personally.  This work, because it is left to INDIVIDUALS is back and soul breaking.  People burn out, pour their lives in, get hurt mentally and emotionally and eventually give up where a government should have taken over long ago.  It should not be for brave individuals to carve out an inadequate space for the massive need at the very bottom of society.

Let me give you an example.  My mother and father were not complete opposites in their political outlooks, however often they might joke at each other about “going to the ballot box to cancel each other’s votes”.  There was something, however, that I remember very plainly from my childhood.  Every fall when I was young and Mom was still teaching, we would haunt the local Goodwills while Mom bought at least fifteen winter coats, thirty hats, thirty mittens, twenty pairs of winter boots, and fifteen snow pants.  She was a kindergarten teacher, and Wisconsin winters can be utterly brutal.  Every winter she was ready should ANY student of hers show up inadequately dressed.  My sister and I were bundled into brand new snow outfits every winter, but Mom laid by this extra clothing in preparation because she taught at one of Kenosha’s very poorest schools: Old Bain.  She knew that every winter, without fail, a child or as many as ten (one dreadful year) would come onto that playground some frosty morning without mittens, without a scarf, without a hat, without a coat… My father, every year, would remark that it was not for her to clothe every gallows born waif (yes, I remember those words, it was a long time before I ever knew what it meant.  He was referring to the fact that those ill-provided for kids often came from families where one or both parents were in jail, and the kids were being cared for by another family member.)  She would turn her direct gaze on him and say curtly that he could take it out of her salary in the budget, but she wouldn’t allow five-year-olds to freeze while she had it in her power to supply them basic clothing.  He would accuse her of a bleeding heart, and she’d calmly ask him whose mother had given away a desperately needed canning stove when another family lost their only stove back in the 40’s?   It would usually end there.  Both my parents believed in the cardinal virtue of charity, and my father’s version of that was usually volunteering at the local food pantry and cutting checks for educational endeavors in our local communities.  My mother, who saw Need every year in her class took the task of rectifying it upon herself.

I never witnessed need like that on a playground in the Netherlands.  Clothing, the price of basic clothing in the Netherlands was ghastly.  I used to buy all my kids’ clothes in the US on vacations and bring them back to the Netherlands because it was so much cheaper (now who is a skinflint, eh?), but still I never once witnessed a child show up without a coat in the Netherlands at a school, and, mind you, children outgrow coats every single year when they’re in the first 15 years of their lives.

So there is my love letter to the Dutch.  There are things I don’t miss, oh sure, but that’s a post for a different day.  Someday eventually I will get around to writing my love letter to the US education system, a system I undervalued when I was a teacher in it.