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Recording American History

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RECORDING AMERICAN HISTORY

Historians will remember (assuming the DeVos Department of Education does not create an alternative reality) that America’s public policy was once at least loosely based on objective facts. Members of Congress were allowed to ask questions and read legislation before they voted — maybe even improve the legislation. It would have been unthinkable to scribble down a bill affecting the health of tens of millions of people and slip it through a committee at 4:30 in the morning.

Private citizens and nonprofit groups had input and even testified before Congress. There were public comment periods, and Senators didn’t run away from constituents at town hall meetings. There was a differentiation between facts and opinions. There was a public record and there were cost estimates.

All this information was committed to a written “record,” a noun derived from Old French circa 1300, meaning memory, statement, or report.

Factual written records can help us learn from our mistakes and hold people accountable, but they can be troublesome for some who would rather that certain things be forgotten, such as the hearing record where incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied and said that he had not talked to the Russians before the election. 

The Devolution of Recorded Truth

In the 1800s, as technology advanced, the noun “record” also came to mean “a disk on which sounds or images have been recorded,” such as real and true photos of two inauguration crowds of vastly different proportions.

Or recordings of an imaginary wiretap.

In 1883, we find the word being used in reference to “a best or highest achievement,” for instance the number of people at your rallies or the size of your electoral college margin or your TV ratings or how big your hands are or how high your wall will be or the number of women you have grabbed by the crotch or the breast.

Records used to be measured and based on reality, but now they are established by random tweet.

The verb form of “record” is older, from 12th century Old French, and it means “to repeat, reiterate, recite, rehearse, get by heart,” as in White House spokespeople reiterating that, for-heaven’s-sake-what-is-wrong-with-you-people, the president didn’t mean what he said literally, which has now morphed into “The President believes what he said.” Period.

They know that one by heart.

Restoration of the Record

Interestingly, the original Latin source of the verb “record” might provide America a way out of its current moral and ethical crisis. The verb “record” comes directly from the Latin word “recordari” which means to “remember, call to mind, think over, be mindful of.” The roots of this word come from re (restore) and cor (genitive cordis: the heart).

Restore the heart.

Can we remember and be mindful of our roots as a generous, open-hearted immigrant nation — stained though we’ve been by genocide and slavery — and restore the heart of America?

I pray that the record will show that we did.

Today’s word prompt: record

Inside the President’s Head: A Poem

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INSIDE THE PRESIDENT’S HEAD: A POEM

Through the president’s head swarm nightmarish images known only to him. Mostly recently, he saw that black president we had — you remember, the one who ruined America? — scurrying through the halls of trump tower, listening at doors and wiretapping phones.

Or something.

The president’s supporters attempt to stay abreast of their hero’s nightmares so that they can protect and defend him. Tweeting paranoid delusions as if they are truth, calling in to radio talk shows to decry the latest outrage, sharing alternative facts on Breitbart’s comments page.

It keeps a person busy! You hardly have time to think before you make your rally signs:

Did she think this was funny?

For those of us still living in what I think is reality, here is a poem in response to the word prompt: swarm.

Swarms of Mexican rapists and drug dealers descend on innocent golf courses, stealing landscaping jobs from hard working Americans, while hoards of black hooligans hidden under hoodies swarm our hellish cities, torching trump™ hotels and ruining the gold drapes.

Swarthy Iranians — or maybe they are Indians — swarm college campuses, pretending to be students, while boys who used to be girls and girls who used to be boys swarm school bathrooms and try to recruit our kids to turn gay.

IRS officials swarm West Virginia, hauling away coal miners for not buying Obamacare, while EPA officials swarm small businesses, forcing nice white men to fill out forms in triplicate and stop dumping toxics in the rivers.

Illegals, dead Democrats, and people in pink hats swarm polling places and vote for nasty women, while swarms of paid protesters, pretend judges, and dishonest reporters keep harping on about the so-called Constitution.

Ash Wednesday — Evicting Monsters and Embracing Glitter

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Lent has begun. As is often the case, I am over-reaching, counting on these forty days to miraculously transform me into a new creation all at once, free from all the parts of myself I don’t want anymore, leaping out of bed at 6  every morning and exclaiming “This is a day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it!” and then making a healthy breakfast with no saturated fat or sugar before heading off to the gym and then coming home to meditate and read my Bible before mindfully munching a lunch of sprouts and legumes and walnuts (rich in healthy omega 3 fatty acids).

I doubt it.

It’s not quite that bad this year. My plan is this: I will do my centering prayer meditation every day. I don’t know why this should be such a challenge – I did it daily for five or six years, but I’ve lost the hunger for it. Then I will read twelve pages of The Message Bible in contemporary language. At that rate, I will get through the New Testament in forty days.

In addition — and here is the kicker — I will spend only an hour a day on social media.

Facebook and Twitter flood my being with the lies, vitriol, and bigotry spewing from the White House, and even when the filth is accompanied by witty or wise or motivating commentary from my friends, it is bad for me.

Social media releases brain chemicals that numb my pain and anger, which is nice but not healthy. It allows me to feel as if I’m doing something useful when all I’m doing is losing sleep. But you know that quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one?” That is the real danger of social media for me. It taps into my hatred and contempt, and it makes me mean-spirited and rude.

And that, I do not need. I am sacrificing it for Lent.

I’m not shutting down, I’ll still be marching and organizing and calling Congress — I just need to survive and not become a monster, is all.

I’ll keep you posted on my efforts.

Beginning the Journey: Ash Wednesday

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Today I want to share this excerpt from an Ash Wednesday poem by my friend Robin Gorsline. Food for thought. To read the full poem and others, please visit his blog .

“I saw an Ash Wednesday drive-by yesterday, a church advertising getting
ashes on your forehead when you drive into their parking lot—
no need to come to service, no need to join in community
prayer. At first, I was repelled, maybe still am, but also I
know that it might help some, who would not otherwise bother,
to pause to consider their lives, even for just a few moments.

And glitter. I like glitter, and am glad that some churches
are combining ash and glitter,
acknowledging that I, and everyone else,
is a complex mixture of saint and sinner.
I remember the year I gave up Lent for Lent.
I was tired of beating myself up for my failings
and decided to spend forty days focusing
on my good qualities. I wanted to put my best foot
forward for Jesus, to be all I could be with him
on the journey to the cross. I did that only once,
but I am glad I did, because it has helped me
ever since have a fuller view of me and my relationship
with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with God the Parent.

So, here I am, here we are, another Ash Wednesday,
another Lent—again invited to walk
the often dusty and bumpy, sometimes crowded and busy,
at other times quiet and lonely,
even on occasion beautiful and merry, roads of life.
I’m a pilgrim, maybe you, too, with few if any answers,
and I’m here for more than sightseeing.”
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . I generally approach Ash Wednesday with mixed feelings, aware certainly of my shortcomings, but also not sure how much it helps to focus on them without also seeing my positive qualities, indeed doing that with everyone I encounter and/or care about. I decided that I would not pore over this poem with revision after revision as I often do but let it stand pretty much as it came out—a way of exposing myself for the still being formed person I am.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Don’t Buy the Trumpian Golden Glitter: A Poem

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Don’t Buy the Trumpian Glitter: A Poem

I wish I had time to tell how all that glitters is not gold.

How gold drapes in the Oval Office magnify a black heart of greed.

How shiny “health savings accounts” break the backs of the sick.

How the promise of “trickle down” tax policy does nothing but piss on the poor.

How pretending that climate change doesn’t exist won’t make it go away.

How the myth of “making America great again” is fraught with #FakeMemories

How the lure of “someone who says what he thinks” can lead to nuclear war.

I wish I had time to tell how all that glitters is not gold.

Because I love today’s word prompt:

Glitter.

Don't Buy It

Don’t Buy It

A Sad but Beautiful Personal Story of Japanese “Internment”

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A Sad but Beautiful Personal Story of Japanese “Internment”

This is Part Two of the story that I posted this morning, Executive Order Imprisons 110,000 People. I wanted to share this lovely remembrance that a reader wrote in response to the version I posted in my Daily Kos Diary.

This is from a Daily Kos member who calls himself HarpBoyAK, a “long-time Juneau, Alaska political and environmental activist.”

My community was incensed that their good citizens of Japanese ancestry were being deported.  They implored the Federal Government to let their beloved laundry owner and workers, their favorite cafe owner and workers, and many other Japanese workers stay.  They knew these good, honest, hardworking people, and did not want them to leave.

So much so that when the valedictorian of the Juneau High School class of 1942 (my uncle’s class) held their commencement, the school painted one of the wooden folding chairs black and put it in John Tanaka’s place in the front row of the class (he had been awarded his diploma 2 months earlier when his family was sent to Minadoka, Idaho in early March).

John Tanaka went on to enlist in the 442nd Regiment and fought in the Italian campaign where the “Go For Broke” unit had one of WWII’s highest casualty rates.  Unlike many other communities on the West Coast, Alaska’s capital city took care to preserve the properties and businesses of our fellow citizens and helped them get back on their feet when they returned after the war.  John worked summers in his family’s restaurant while he attended college and medical school.

2 years ago, we dedicated a bronze copy of that folding chair placed in the park next door to that school as a memorial to those who were deported, and to remind us that it should never happen again.

Never again will we allow people to be imprisoned for who they are.  Never Again.  NEVER AGAIN.

EmptyChair.jpg

For more information and the full story of the Empty Chair, see The Empty Chair Project blog.

Another reader of my Daily Kos blog pointed out that calling these “internment camps” is “whitewashing” what our country did. They were concentration camps, built with the intention of concentrating the “undesirables” in one place. Hence the quotation marks.

And in case you missed it, the trump people are already citing these concentration camps as a legal precedent for their planned incarceration of immigrants (despite the fact that President Reagan issued an official apology for our World War II actions and paid each victim $20,000). The man currently occupying the Oval Office says he may or may not have supported the Japanese camps.

Executive Order Imprisons 110,000 People!

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EXECUTIVE ORDER IMPRISONS 110,000 PEOPLE!

On this day in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of any and all people “as deemed necessary or desirable” away from “military areas.” Pearl Harbor had been bombed ten weeks before.

The military decided that the entire West Coast was a military area. It also happened to be where most Japanese Americans lived. So off they went. A few months later, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans had been “relocated” (imprisoned) in internment camps built by the U.S. military. Sixty-two percent of them were American citizens. They lived in those prison camps for two and a half years. Then the “evacuees” were allowed to return to their homes . . . if they were still there.

Wow. Isn’t that shocking? I’m so glad nothing like that could ever happen in America today.

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Saint Francis for President

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SAINT FRANCIS FOR PRESIDENT

The odds for the United States don’t look good right now. Distrust, disdain, and mean spiritedness are the order of the day, regularly displayed and encouraged by the new president. Greed and aggressive corporate irresponsibility rule the incoming Cabinet. The stakes could not be higher.

I can’t imagine how compassion, justice, and rational dialogue will ever make a come-back. And I don’t see how one person can make a mite of difference, no matter how much we rally and write and call and donate. I’m down.

Pondering a Saint

This morning, I made an altar on my dining table in preparation for the upcoming Lenten season.

Lenten altar

Lenten altar

While I created, I got to pondering Saint Francis of Assisi. I guess you could call Francis one of my spiritual mentors. On my altar is a plastic statue of the saint that I bought with my allowance when I was ten, an icon of the Saint Francis Prayer that my brother gave me, a tau cross that Francis used as his seal, and a sweet snail shell that I picked up at the Saint Damiano convent in Assisi where Francis felt his call from God.

I got to wondering what Saint Francis might have to teach us today.

Radically Countercultural

I recently preached a sermon about gentleness and described Saint Francis as the embodiment of gentleness and humility.

He’s also a good illustration of how one person following a simple call can make a difference in the world.

Saint Francis lived 800 ago in Italy. He grew up wealthy and privileged and became a powerful soldier and a knight. But because of some crushing circumstances that led him to Christ, he rejected all that and instead adopted a gentler way of being, a life of absolute poverty, service, and simplicity. This lifestyle was radically countercultural amidst the violence and aggression of medieval times.

Today he’s known as the patron saint of animals and the environment because he saw no dividing line between himself and the natural world. He rejected the prevailing Christian idea that things on earth were bad and ugly, and only “heavenly things up above” were holy.

He showed absolute reverence and gentleness for every creature and even inanimate things because he believed that each contained divine mystery that he couldn’t possibly understand. It was all God’s creation, all good, and all due respect.

Francis was way ahead of his time. Imagine if more people over these 800 years had adopted his gentle and respectful stance towards the earth and its inhabitants instead of giving way to our insatiable appetites. We would not be in the environmental crisis that we’re in, that’s for sure. We wouldn’t have mass extinctions, we wouldn’t be blowing the tops off mountains or spewing toxics and radioactivity into the air and water.

Radical Compassion

Francis spent his life serving people who were oppressed and neglected by society. He tenderly cared for outcast lepers, and he sold all his goods and used the money to buy food for poor people (his father briefly imprisoned him in their basement after he started selling the family’s stuff).

Francis saw no dividing lines; he embraced everyone and saw no one as “the other.” His friends said that he was willing to be martyred for the sake of unity and peace, when he traveled to Egypt during the crusades to try to negotiate a peace with the Muslims. He walked right through the bloody battleground and because of his bold but gentle courage, the Muslim Sultan welcomed him instead of killing him. He was later sent back to Italy under Muslim protective guard.

The humble feet of a servant: Detail of Saint Francis statue in Assisi

The humble feet of a servant: Detail of Saint Francis statue in Assisi

Gentleness as an Act of Resistance

Following in the radical, nonviolent footsteps of Jesus, Francis stood up to the abusive power structures of his time by showing a different path of humility, kindness, and compassion. His Franciscan order thrives to this day, still focused on simplicity and compassionate service.

Such gentleness is a powerful act of resistance these days. It’s subversive in the face of terror and outrage, as was Francis’s vulnerability towards the Muslims and his rejection of the church’s violent crusade. This may be just what America needs to beat the odds and end the cycle of distrust and fear.

Stand up, fight back. But with love.

The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had.”

Dr. Martin Luther King

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