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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

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Graceful Grace

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Grace is one of my favorite words. Just the sound of it is lovely, let alone the meaning. I wouldn’t say the word itself is graceful — it doesn’t have enough syllables. For something to be graceful, it must have moving parts, it must be coordinated and flowing. Like the flower name, Lisianthus. Now that’s graceful. Also, “grace” starts with a hard “G” and that never sounds graceful to me.

Graceful Lisianthus (common name for Eustoma)

Graceful Lisianthus (common name for Eustoma)

On the other hand, that hard G melts into a gentle, caressing S, so I’ve changed my mind. The word grace itself is graceful. It recognizes and owns hardness, but moves past it easily and into beauty and peace, like a stream flowing over rocks before moving into a calm stretch.

It’s a pretty word. But the meaning — could there be a more gracious word, gracious being defined as “courteous, kind, and pleasant?”

Grace can be used as a verb, meaning to show favor, as in “I have been graced with an amazing house in New Hampshire where I can rest, read, and take the time to blog every day for a month,” or as in the sarcastic, “Oh, thank you Mr. Trump, for gracing us with your 3 a.m. tweets about Miss Universe.” (I know, I know — that wasn’t very gracious of me.)

We throw the word around, at least I do, but it is truly a precious commodity, which I guess means we’ve moved into noun territory.

Grace as a noun means “unmerited favor, love, or help,” and is usually associated with divine favor. The part I like is “unmerited.” Because I’m a mess, I really am, and yet my divine source just flows right over the rocky parts of my personality and showers me with blessed grace.

Religious people sometimes tie the idea of grace to forgiveness, but that doesn’t feel quite right to me. Forgiveness assumes some judgement, and grace bypasses judgement. There is such a rushing flow of love that any obstacles or hurdles we may put in the way of this divine unmerited giving might as well not exist. Grace is clean and pure and doesn’t pause to judge or even notice worthiness or the lack thereof.

It is a gift, an unconditional, extravagant gift, like an armload of Lisianthus delivered on a drab and rainy day.

Day four in my month of daily blogging: from the word prompt, graceful.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

I Have a Dream

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I Have a Dream.

Only words, a collection of letters, random markings made divine when early humans first scratched symbols in the dirt, trying to communicate with each other. Trying to connect. The animals are here. The water is here. This is the way. This is what I know.

Only words, but words are all we have, and so we keep scratching.

I picture Martin Luther King, Junior, scratching away, crossing out, circling words, drawing arrows from one paragraph to another, shaking his head, crumpling up his paper, and starting again. Forgetting to pray, getting frustrated, praying, and starting again. And again.

He had a dream, and he needed words. And eventually, God answered his prayers and gave him the words that have been such an unspeakable gift to the world. I have a dream . . .

Today some folks from my church are getting together to watch Dr. King’s historic speech. Afterwards, we’ll talk about racial justice, white privilege, and reconciliation. It will probably be hard to find the right words. We’ll be afraid of using the wrong words. It might be hard to hear some of the words that are spoken; I mean really hear them.

We’ll forget to pray, get frustrated, pray, and start again.

“This is my experience. This is what I know.”

Words of Love

Words are a gift from God. Of course, they can be misused, even turned into weapons. Just tune in to a presidential debate, FOX News, or a so-called “Christian” broadcasting channel and you’ll see how words can be used to drive wedges and stoke the fires of hate and fear.

But love is stronger than hate or fear. Dr. King knew this. Words of love and hope have more power than words of hate and fear could ever dream of having. His words reach across the decades, bridging the great differences that divide us and diving deep into the common spirit that unites every one of us, throughout all time and beyond time.

This week’s photo challenge from WordPress is to share a photo that reflects the word: alphabet. This MLK Day post was inspired by these two photos taken outside a community center in rural New Mexico:

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Peace and Justice in Vivid Color

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Vivid — what a fine word. I think it’s a psychomime, also a very fine word. A psychomime is a word connoting the state or condition to which it refers, like mushy or funky, and is not to be confused with a phenomime, a word which brings to mind a psychological state or emotion, like maybe giddy. Not to be confused with the more familiar onomatopoeia that you learned in school, which refers to a word that literally sounds like what it describes, like whoosh or crack.

(You know it’s a questionable blog post when the second sentence leads to a serious digression which then necessitates an apologetic parenthetical phrase. Sigh – it’s Monday.)

Believe it or not, this isn’t going to be one of my wildly popular stream-of-consciousness posts about a favorite word, though my digressive mental state might indicate that it’s almost time for one.

No, this post is simply a response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: the word vivid. So here is my photo:

Vivid!

Vivid!

I love, love, love this photo. It was a banner at the Wild Goose Festival last year, which is coming up again in July, and you really must come. I can almost promise it will change your life, especially if you’re feeling hopeless or sad or cynical, and who isn’t these days? The world’s about to blow up or melt down in any number of ways.

Wild Goose is a progressive (very) Christian event, but anyone might enjoy it — “the intersection of spirit, justice, music, and art.” This year’s theme is Blessed are the Peacemakers, and it fits right in with what my church has been talking about the last few months — social justice and how we as followers of Jesus can help bring light and reconciliation to a time of darkness and fear, instead of adding to the divisions and hatred as so many “Christian” politicians and media mavens sadly do. We’ve been talking about confronting and healing racism and war and violence and oppression and toxic religion.

So the word vivid resonates with me right now. I’m in the light, and I’m ready to hope again. I am coming out of my grief over my brother’s passing, beginning to de-clutter the depressing masses of stuff that somehow piled up around me while I was doing eight years of caregiving/grieving, and getting just the teensiest glimpse of the gifts I might bring to my new role as Pastor of Prayer and Healing at my church.

So yes, please: I want to “live out loud” in vivid color this summer.

Meet me at the Beer & Hymns tent at Wild Goose!

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, I will answer you: ‘I am here to live out loud.’”

– Emile Zola

 

 

 

Syntax, Serenity, and Spiritual Ratiocination — Say *That* Out Loud Three Times

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If you tuned in last month, you read my ignominious blog, which happily was not as ignominious as I had feared. Stuck in my winter doldrums and with no creative burst in sight, I simply dashed off a stream-of-consciousness blog based on a word that was floating around in my head (ignominious) and hoped for the best.

Based on reader feedback, I need not feel humiliated by what felt like my lazy surrender to the doldrums. Since you guys liked it, and it’s still winter, and there have been no ensuing creative bursts, I’m doing it again.

Forthwith, a series of digressions about the word ratiocination:

Ratiocination isn’t a particularly fun word, not entertaining like ignominious or salubrious or sanguineous or serendipitous. It’s more like calibrated: a serious word. One who is engaged in ratiocination has no time for frivolity.

As you might know or guess, the word ratiocination means the process of forming judgments by a power of logic; reason. The process of exact, methodical thinking. How no-fun is that?

The word stuck out of May Sarton’s memoir like a logic puzzle lodged amongst lyrical poems. In Sarton’s book Recovering, one finds titmice and garden phlox and dogs and cats and poetry and people coming for tea or lobster salad. Not ratiocination.

In fact, May Sarton was actually talking about the opposite of ratiocination when she used the word: “That is the miracle, that my [ex]lover and I have come through together to a place of benign peace and light. Miracles cannot be explained, that is their miraculous nature. They are beyond ratiocination, so I cannot tell what has really happened.”

May Sarton Courtesy NY Public Libraries

May Sarton
Courtesy NY Public Libraries

Although I’m partial to miracles and tend towards the intuitive, I can indeed think methodically when absolutely necessary. As it happens, I’m currently engaging in a nightly process of painful ratiocination, which I am bound and determined to survive. Working with a master wordsmith, I am studying what amounts to syntax on steroids, breaking down lovely lyrical prose into nominative predicates and adjectival infinitive phrases so that I can put them back together into suspended sentences and braided metaphors. This goes well beyond what I studied at Hopkins, and that was difficult enough for me. Syntactical ratiocination — now that’s kind of a fun phrase.

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Ratiocinating Serenity

Since the enlightenment, human beings have put most of their energy into ratiocination. Everything must be sorted out and put into its proper, logical box. “It just doesn’t make sense,” is the ultimate dis.

For someone like me who grew up in a dysfunctional home, the need to “figure things out” is even stronger. In order to stay safe and keep things from blowing apart, kids in such homes feel they must know at all times what everyone is thinking and feeling so that they can control what’s going to happen. All children have a sense of over-responsibility; they think the world revolves around them and everything is a response to them. This is complicated in a volatile home because figuring out how to control circumstances feels like a matter of survival and it sometimes is.

Of course you can’t *know* what other people are thinking and feeling, and you can’t control their emotions or actions. Which is why people from dysfunctional homes find so much solace and recovery in Al-Anon, the twelve-step program for friends and families of alcoholics. There they learn to keep the focus on their own feelings and actions through the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.”

What a relief to let go of the illusion of control and the need to figure things out!

The Serenity Prayer, which is used in all twelve-step programs, describes ratiocination from a God perspective. This might sound like an oxymoron. But if you believe in God, it makes perfect sense to rely on this Higher Power to help you sort out what you can and cannot change. Other people, places, and things are on the “cannot” list. But our baggage (history) may keep us from ratiocinating this out on our own.

Mind, Body, Spirit, Not Necessarily in that Order

I found the Oxford Dictionary’s two model sentences for ratiocination to be odd:

“One of his premises is that ratiocination is dependent on emotion, as mind is on body.”

And this: “One fondly imagines that one reaches opinions by personal ratiocination, but of course many of them one inherits.”

So underneath all of our pondering and “figuring out” are serotonin levels and cortisol rushes and veiled memories. We may think our minds rule supreme, that ratiocination is the highest function, but in fact we’re often ruled by heart and soul. Our gut, if you will.

And — dang if I didn’t end up back here again — it seems to me that there’s a God factor in this mix of heart and soul and mind. I just think there’s a higher power than the human mind. There is some higher Ratiocination going on in this ordered universe, and it includes the nudges and prompts and intuitions that guide our spirit life.

Stream-of-consciousness writing runs like a river; it really has no end. It spills into eddies and spins a while and then keeps going, sometimes riffled by the wind, sometimes calm and clear. I seriously did not mean to end up talking about God again, but most of my streams are going to eddy into God, unless they end up in climate change or maybe social justice.

Go figure.

That’s a Strange Post for Martin Luther King Day

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Ignominious. Isn’t that a marvelous word? I thought it might be fun to pull a favorite word out of my gray matter once in a while and write about it. Kind of stream of consciousness, but not entirely because that’s hard to do without sounding ignominiously affected. Virginia Woolf, I am not.

Anyway, ignominious is an adjective that means “deserving or causing public disgrace or shame.” Some synonyms include humiliating, undignified, embarrassing, and mortifying. I’m not sure why the word popped into my head this morning. Perhaps it’s because some friends and I were talking about family alcoholism and drug addiction, and stories of shame and disgrace naturally came up.

I’ve been thinking about alcoholism a lot lately, I guess because of the drunken fiasco in the streets of Philadelphia that I witnessed on New Year’s Eve, and because a friend of mine’s husband just died from the disease. I drafted a blog about alcoholism, but it’s on hold, along with yet another one about differing views on God, this one brought on when my atheist neighbor passed away last week.

I’m not writing about those things, though, I’m writing about ignominiousness. Ooo – it’s even better in the form of a noun, isn’t it? It somehow brings to mind the sound a spider might make skittering along it’s web to bind up fresh prey. Ignominiousness, ignominiousness . . .

I read in the Oxford dictionary that there are few words that rhyme fully with ignominious. The name Phineas, as in, “The dirty dancing of Phineas was ignominious.” And another word — new to me — consanguineous, which denotes people descended from the same ancestor: “My attempt to prove that Virginia Woolf and I are consanguineous was ignominious.”

And my favorite ignominious-rhyming word, which probably deserves a whole blog post of its own: sanguineous. I’ve always loved the word sanguine, meaning optimistic or positive, especially in the face of a bad situation. I love what it means, and I love how it sounds.

And what about the noun, sanguineousness? That sounds nothing at all like skittering spiders — more like a sea otter gliding across the ocean on its back with a pup on its tummy.

Well, even a stream of consciousness post must have some sort of point. Since it’s Martin Luther King Day, let’s make it about racial justice. And here it is: despite many being in positions of power, despite some being armed to the teeth, despite having a legal system skewed their direction, opponents of racial justice in America will eventually go down in ignominious defeat.

Like the police who turned firehoses full-force on peaceful African-American marchers so many years ago and created for themselves an eternal, ignominious reputation, the systems of white privilege, which many white people are unable to see simply because they know nothing else, will — eventually — be nothing but an ignominious chapter in the history books.

And that’s not just sanguineousness. That’s the arc of history bending towards justice.

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Wouldn’t You Like To Be A Person of Dignity?

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A friend of mine used the phrase “a woman of dignity” the other day, and the words echoed inside me like the caroling of a cathedral bell tower on Christmas Eve. Now I know what they mean when they say “it rang true.”

Ringing Truth

That’s exactly what I want to be, I thought. A woman of dignity. Not a woman with dignity, as if it’s something additive —  attached from the outside or assigned by someone else. But a woman of dignity, as if it’s the very stuff she’s made of. The word connotes integrity, another character trait to which I aspire. Integrated — whole, sound, of one piece of cloth. Dignity is something woven into your being.

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The Latin root of dignity means worthy, proper, and fitting, and the Indo-European root would be dek – to take, accept.

I love this combination of meanings, not just for women, but for everyone. We are all worthy just by our very existence. All we need to do is take this — accept it as truth. This way of self-identifying, this state of grace, is what I would call being a Child of God and recognizing it. We should accept no less than the proper and fitting honor for that, both from the way we treat ourselves and the way others treat us. Our inner ruminations, self-talk, our motivations, our outer behavior, and the way others treat us should all be rooted in decency — also from that same dek root.

Unlearning Falsehoods

I’d venture to say that most women, in particular, have grown up thinking they are not good enough. From a million societal messages, we hear this every day and our mothers did and our grandmothers did and so on and on. Many men I know got this message from their fathers, who probably got it from theirs: “No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t please him.”

Deep inside, most of us do not believe we are worthy, and we accept behavior that we don’t deserve, from ourselves and from others.

I grew up in an unhealthy environment where we all learned the various family “isms” that go along with an alcoholic home. Low self-esteem, anger, denial, anxiety, shame, lack of authenticity and trust, fear of intimacy — visit the Al-Anon family site if you’re interested in finding out more.

By the way, it’s not just alcoholism that foments these traits — a raging parent or sibling, emotionally distant or disturbed family members, drug, sex, or gambling addictions, etc. etc. And the behavior is often passed from generation to generation, so even if a particular generation does not have active addictive behaviors, they will still exhibit the behavioral and attitudinal “isms.” No offense, but I’ll bet you have some of them. You’ve got some voices in your head telling you lies.

We Get to Choose

Today, though, I get to choose. I’m no longer a trapped child, no longer a victim. I don’t have to do crazy anymore. I don’t even have to do disrespectful anymore. I can choose to walk away from people and situations that do not honor my dignity.

I can make choices that recognize and honor myself as a woman of dignity. If I recognize and treat myself that way, it’s far more likely that others will do the same. So honestly, you don’t have to become a person of dignity. You already *are* a person of dignity. Accept it and believe it. If you have to, start by “acting as if” — just act as if you’re a woman or man of dignity; own it — and see what happens.

Reach Out and Take It

This week, I’m going to talk to a lawyer about a situation that I have allowed to go on for many, many years. It’s been disrespectful and stressful and has had big ramifications in my life. I’ve decided that I deserve better. I’m not acting out of anger or revenge — that doesn’t come from dignity. I’m simply not accepting this anymore.

I am stunned that I have found the courage to do this, despite the fear of anger, retaliation, and loss of relationship. I’ve heard it said that courage is simply fear that has said its prayers. In fact, it was surprisingly easy to dial the lawyer’s number when I woke up this morning and said to myself, “I am a woman of dignity.”

So, here: I offer you dignity – reach out and take it.

Free, Public Domain Image: Military Veteran, In a Wheelchair, Shaking Hands Stock Photography

It’s Yours

Photo credits:
Bell Tower: Wikimedia Commons

Weaving hands: Wikipedia

Elderly man shaking hands: White House public domain photos; Acclaim Images

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