Friday, March 28, 2008

barbarian solution

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn't anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What's the point of senators making laws now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city's main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor's waiting to receive their leader.
He's even got a scroll to give him,
loaded with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.
And some of our men just in from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

--by C. P. Cavafy, trans. by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
because I already have too many readings for Justice Sunday.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Obama on race

This isn't about the election; this is our best "teachable moment" about race and class in the USA in a generation, and the best leadership in that conversation since Martin Luther King, Jr.

Obama's speech was masterful. Marc Lamont Hill writes, "once he got his perfunctory centrist kowtowing out of the way, Obama delivered one of the most complex, sophisticated, and powerful speeches in recent political history.

Instead of merely assuaging white racial anxieties, Obama’s words forced the entire nation to come to terms with its demons. Although he unequivocally denounced Jeremiah Wright’s remarks, Obama refused to reduce him (or his own white grandmother) to a racist caricature. Also, through his evenhanded analysis of both structural inequality and individual responsibility, Obama raised the stakes for racial discourse in American politics."

Of course, even as Obama was still speaking, CNN was doing its best to slant his message, and re-affirm the dominant paradigm. CNN ran selected quotes in text under his live speech. While Obama spoke of a coalition of "white and black, Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old," CNN used selected quotes to emphasize the existing racial divide. While Obama said, "What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them," CNN carefully quoted, "many blacks were ultimately defeated by racism." Yes, Obama did say that, but *NO* that isn't the real thrust of his comments.

Well, there is a lot more of that to come. We haven't nearly heard the ugliest attacks yet. But in some ways, that doesn not matter. If we seize this moment, and deepen our grass-roots conversations about race and class, then we won't be relying on a politician to save us; we'll be taking responsibility ourselves. Whatever his ultimate career path, Obama's greatest legacy may stem from this speech.

Let us seize the moment. If Obama "raised the stakes," let us ante up ourselves, and see if we cannot live up to his vision.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

finding our way

"We just let her find her own way, and that was her salvation."
The end of Esther Hurlburt’s piece, in the Spring 2008 edition of the UUWorld, bothers me, and I think that says more about me than it does the piece.

Ms. Hurlburt’s story is about her own journey, coming to accept the Christian-language eulogy about Marie, a woman whom she’d visited in prison. While the preacher, Brother Dick, was certain that Esther and other women “took Jesus” to Marie, Esther was equally certain that his memorial service would end in condemnation. When it actually ended with a message of love, she challenged herself to get beyond her own prejudice against Christian ministers.

Similarly, I’m challenging myself to examine my reaction against her tale. I think I’m disturbed by the implication that we can or must save ourselves. I am not certain that this is what Ms. Hurlburt meant, but that is the way I read it. Martha’s “earth-centered presence,” and Leslie’s Course in Miracles spirituality and Susan’s atheist presence and Frances ’ AA-based words and Marybeth’s poetry all impacted Marie. These women did not "let her find her own way"—they shared her journey, and showed her what gave them the strength to carry on, in their own paths. Ultimately, of course, it is up to us to describe our salvation, using the words and metaphors we prefer, but that is not the same as being abandoned to our own devices.

I am not entirely comfortable saying that the other women "saved" Marie; nor am I comfortable saying that she saved herself. Somehow, all together, it did happen.

If the ending were "we just encouraged her to find her own way..." I would feel better about it. Whatever Ms. Hurlburt meant as she wrote this, I clearly need to feel the presence of others along my spiritual journey.

Fortunately, I do. Thanks to all of you.

Friday, March 07, 2008

cleric, please

Gary Gygax, inventor of Dungeons & Dragons and the innovator that helped make most other RolePlaying and online gaming possible, has died.

I cannot count the hours I've spent playing D&D and other games, cracking puns, listening to great music and gossiping, as our merry band of (imaginary) travelers faced challenge after challenge.

Where is a @$%@$# cleric with the "Reincarnate" spell when you need one? On second thought, let's not use a spell. Rest in peace, Gary.