Month: December 2021

The long haul

The underbelly of this pandemic includes the long-term, residual impact for a group of people known as “long haulers.” From the Harvard Medical School:

Long haulers are people who have not fully recovered from COVID-19 weeks or even months after first experiencing symptoms. Some long haulers experience continuous symptoms for weeks or months, while others feel better for weeks, then relapse with old or new symptoms.”

Son Rob, who’s been dealing with chronic fatigue for over a decade, is part of the ME/CFS community. He spends most of his limited energy doing medical research. Earlier this morning, Rob sent me a link to a very helpful article by Cort Johnson in Health Rising, along with this summary:

“...technologies are being used in COVID-19 and long-COVID research that would have taken years, if not decades, to show up in chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), fibromyalgia (FM) research.  They’re accelerating insights into potentially critical issues in these diseases.  None is more critical – particularly in ME/CFS – than the cause of the fatigue and lack of energy in these diseases.

Long COVID, then, is doing what people with ME/CFS/FM wanted it to do. It’s bringing new technologies and new researchers to the study of post-infectious disease states, as well as an increased focus on factors that we already believe may play a significant role in these diseases, and is already providing potential insights into them.”

From “What doctors wish patients knew about long COVID,” by Sara Berg, American Medical Association, October 22, 2021

Too liberal, too religious

Yesterday’s brown bag lunch at Dayton’s courthouse square drew me to the statue of Bill Bryan (William Jennings Bryan). When I was 14, my grandfather recalled reading about the 1925 trial of John Scopes in the Knoxville News, which editorially opposed the recently passed Butler Act that prohibited the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution in Tennessee schools.

My grandfather was the one who first helped me see that evolution doesn’t conflict with biblical faith. Science studies facts, asking “how” questions. Faith studies truth, asking “why” questions. Faith is about life’s meaning. After a recent foray into Bryan’s history, I realized that my view of him has been shaped by the Hollywood caricature presented through the 1960 movie “Inherit the Wind.”

Bryan may be more remembered as the loquacious ringer to help Tennessee’s prosecutors, rather than as a 3-time presidential nominee (1896, 1900, 1908) and Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State. The “Great Commoner” was the most progressive political leader of his era. Think of him as an early Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, rather than as a foil for the character played by Spencer Tracy.

One observer said Bryan never made it to the White House because he was “too liberal for the religious and too religious for the liberals.” His death in Dayton five days after the Scopes trial made him an icon for anti-evolutionists. I bought into the movie version, but I now see him in a larger context. This is another reminder that I learn by asking questions, not by jumping to conclusions!

Even though all the names were changed, the 1960 film “Inherit the Wind” was clearly about the real-life Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, which pitted Darwin’s theory of evolution against creationism in court. Spencer Tracy (left) and Fredric March (seated) played Henry Drummond and Matthew Harrison Brady, characters based on the real-life court opponents Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan.

(From “Two sides boldly taking a stand,” a review of the movie “Inherit the Wind,” by Roger Ebert, January 28, 2006)

Nonpartisans

Hopefully, the previous four posts convey that I am congenitally nonpartisan. I see good in both major parties. I also see the not-so-good. We need nonpartisans to serve alongside people of different parties. They are among countless heroes who proved in liberating strife that “more than self (or party), their country loved.” A healthy, critical mass of nonpartisans can help save us from partisan excesses.

Surveys of the US public in 2018 by the Pew Research Center suggest that 38% describe themselves as independents, 31% Democrats and 26% Republicans. That’s pretty close to my DNA.

A few examples of why nonpartisans are vital to the health of our society:

From Insurgent Democracy: The Nonpartisan League in North American Politics, by Michael J. Lansing, 2015

Paradoxical, patriotic, pragmatic, progressive

The Democratic Party, formed in 1828 around Andrew Jackson, claims Thomas Jefferson as an ancestor. A brief article about the Dems’ Jefferson-Jackson Dinners describes the party’s diversity (including re-naming the dinner). Harry Truman’s brief speech at a 1949 Jefferson-Jackson Dinner is enlightening.

Tomorrow over lunch at the Dayton, Tennessee Courthouse Square, I plan to reflect on my Dem DNA with two Democrats: William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) and Clarence Darrow (1857-1938). Bryan’s 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech has been called “the most famous speech in American political history.”

We need two strong parties. We benefit from lively, respectful debate. We can take the best of both party traditions. What I’ve gleaned from the Republicans is my GOP. What I’ve gleaned from the Dems is my Democratic Party. Here are some of its principles and attributes:

  • Paradox and diversity are preferable to over-simplified formulas and cultural sameness;
  • Patriotic sacrifice creates a purposeful unity around democracy’s basic principles and ideals;
  • Pragmatic, effective governance chooses healthy, practical compromise over ideological purity;
  • Progress is the expansion of human rights, liberty, equal justice under the law, and prosperity.

My Democratic Party reflects the best ideas/practices of Jefferson, L.Q.C. Lamar, Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson II, James B. Reston, Albert Gore Sr, Ryan deGraffenreid Sr, Robert Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Fannie Lou Hamer, Madeleine Albright and John Lewis.

Tomorrow’s post wraps up this series with a focus on the contributions of non-partisans.

From “Obama’s America,” by Matt Ford, The Atlantic, March 7, 2015

A grand older party–divided

After the 1861-1865 Civil War, a very young Republican Party became the “Grand Old Party.” The older Democratic Party was formed in 1828 by Martin van Buren and others to elect Andrew Jackson.

Prior to the Civil War, the Democratic Party was sometimes called the “Grand Old Party.” In 1860, a Connecticut newspaper warned “this grand old party is divided and in danger of defeat.”

The Democrats remained a divided, conflicted–yet formidable–coalition. In 1960, John Kennedy won 58.8% of Alabama’s 570,225 votes. Alabama was a one-party state, ruled by white Democrats. But, by 1964 the sea turned red. The Democratic solid south became the Republicans’ southern strategy.

Barry Goldwater carried his home state Arizona plus Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina. Goldwater won 69.45% of Alabama’s vote. Five Republicans went to Congress, the first since Reconstruction. Still red, 2020 exit polls indicated Donald Trump won 77% of Alabama’s white votes.

The Democratic Party is part of my DNA, in spite of the institutional racism of Alabama Democrats’ one-party rule during my formative years. Parties have both tyrants and heroes. Choose wisely. Tomorrow, I’ll share some best ideas/practices, and some inspiration, gleaned from my Democratic DNA.

From “Suffrage in the South Part II: The One Party System,” by George C. Stoney, a March 1, 1940 article in Survey Graphic, reprinted by the Social Welfare History Project of Virginia Commonwealth University

So conceived and so dedicated

At Gettysburg in 1863, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) spoke of a “nation conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all (people) are created equal.” It was an open question “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

Just as there’s nothing romantic or nostalgic about the Confederacy, the first two projects of the young Republican Party weren’t flawless–the Union’s prosecution of the Civil War and Reconstruction. With all its imperfections, the early efforts of the Party of Lincoln enabled “that nation” to endure.

These are some of the principles and attributes of my GOP:

  • Government of, by and for all the people–as small as possible and as large as necessary;
  • Liberty, defined by the US Constitution and dedicated to equal rights and equal justice;
  • Loyal to our national Union of shared principles, including fiscal responsibility and conservation;
  • Civic responsibility, respect for persons and institutions, opposition to all authoritarians.

My GOP idolizes no one, debates respectfully, and reflects the best ideas/practices of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie, Dwight Eisenhower, Frank Johnson, Ronald Reagan, William Buckley, George Will, John McCain, Peggy Noonan, Margaret Hoover, Condoleezza Rice and Liz Cheney.

Tomorrow: My other Grand Old Party.

From “Wendell Willkie (1892-1944),” Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

My Grand Old Party

From 1834 to 1854, the US was led by the Democratic Party and the Whig Party, founded in 1834 by Kentuckian Henry Clay to oppose Tennessean Democrat Andrew Jackson. We had four Whig presidents. Two were elected: William Henry Harrison in 1840 and Zachary Taylor in 1848. Both died of fatal illnesses and were succeeded by Whig Vice Presidents John Tyler and Millard Fillmore.

In 1854, anti-slavery Whigs formed the Republican Party and nominated John Fremont for POTUS in 1856–anti-slavery, pro-Unionist, Governor of California, Georgia born, South Carolina raised. He lost to Democrat James Buchanan. With Democrats divided over slavery in 1860, Republican Abraham Lincoln won. Beginning in the 1870s, Republicans were called the “Grand Old Party” that saved the Union.

More than half my DNA is from Kentucky–Republican, conservative, Constitutional, Unionist, the Party of Lincoln. My Republican grandfather would be 130 this month. Sometimes I sip coffee on my swing and imagine a chat with him about his GOP. Tomorrow’s post will describe my GOP, the Party of Lincoln. The leaders of today’s Republican Party bear little resemblance to the Party of Lincoln.

From The Birth of the Grand Old Party: The Republicans’ First Generation, edited by Robert F. Engs and Randall M. Miller, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002

Centered and scattered

It sounds like a simple, if not easy, choice: Am I centered or scattered? A more realistic question focuses on intention rather than achievement: Am I trying to become more centered and less scattered? The bottom line is: I want to be more centered and less scattered. Then, I see the drone video below.

The footage is from Mayfield, but we’ve seen damage in Bowling Green, Edwardsville, and many other places. IL If I feel scattered in a dry, warm house, I can only imagine those whose entire lives have been numbed, stunned, scattered. The pros at the Weather Channel have been at a loss for words.

Recovery workers comb the wreckage. Neighbors dig through the rubble next door, looking for friends. Parents grieve the loss of a child. We find strength to be both centered and scattered. Our feet move when it seems everything inside has stopped. Community helps us keep moving.

Drone video footage in Mayfield, Kentucky, from “Over 80 killed in tornadoes in central US.; Biden declares emergency in Kentucky,” Deepa Shivaram, James Doubek, NPR, December 11, 2021 (Brandon Clement/WXChasing via YouTube)

Home

Our home church is First Church Birmingham. It’s a “Reconciling United Methodist Congregation,” an “Open Place for All.” Though it’s full of many old friends and colleagues, we are recent arrivals. I didn’t change clothes all day yesterday: twice walking our dog Friar, going to Sunday School and worship, writing this post, taking a nap–all the while in my blue jeans, flannel shirt and sneakers. It took awhile, but I’ve finally retired. I’ve decided wherever I am is home.

The theme for First Church this Advent is “Close to Home.” One of our young pastors spoke yesterday about “A Home for All.” He said a decade ago the congregation “named” this identity, though it “didn’t happen immediately.” Like all humans, the church is a work in progress. To paraphrase: “It hasn’t been easy. It still isn’t now, nor will it ever be easy. There’s work to be done.” His words that linger with me were these: “It was important to name it ten years ago.”

As he spoke, I saw my mentor and friend Joe a few seats away. He often repeats a phrase that seems to have originated at a 1930 Nebraska Sunday School convention: “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.” Yesterday’s bulletin cover included a statement entitled “Advocating for Home,” from a Presbyterian youth pastor, Sarah Speed, “written in love for all who identify as transgender and/or non-binary.”

A short, funny video: Leaders preparing for retreat, from the First Church Facebook page

Not in the wind

One of the great biblical passages is Elijah on the run, hiding in a cave. God’s presence was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in what various translations call a “whisper,” a “still small voice,” or “sheer silence.” I thought of that story yesterday morning as the Weather Channel covered the devastating tornado that leveled Mayfield, Kentucky.

As I reflected on the massive, instantaneous loss experienced by the people of Mayfield (and other communities in the wake of the storms), the Weather Channel ran a Christmas TV commercial for Chevrolet. A man spent a few moments in his shed with an old car. He became tearful when he looked at a small photo of who appeared to be his deceased wife.

After his daughter observes her dad’s grief, the camera shifts to their small town’s body shop, where she inquires about restoring an old car. The owner interrupts her by asking, “Your mom’s car?” The closing scene is her dad opening the shed doors to see the shiny, restored Chevy. As he drives it out of the shed, his daughter joins him in the car and says, “Merry Christmas, Dad.”

Today, Mayfield needs the gentle “whisper” of that Presence and some bittersweet Christmas joy.

First United Methodist Church, Mayfield, Kentucky (photo from the church’s Facebook page)