During a Friday morning conversation with friends about ever present signs of hope amid relentlessly depressing news, I decided to devote some posts to hope. In Friday’s conversation, one of my friends cited an Ian Millhiser tweet via Heather Cox Richardson: “This was a good week for the United States of America and I may be coming down with a case of The Hope.”
On Friday afternoon I learned about Select Specialty, a network of hospitals with a location on the Brookwood campus in Birmingham, where a long-time friend is a patient. The trademarked words “Let Hope Thrive” are appropriate for an extended care facility for patients with serious illness. As one staff member said, “Slow and steady wins the race.”
Let’s begin this focus on hope with a reminder that life is a marathon, not a sprint. My goal is to be more diligent about looking for signs of hope, especially when evidence is to the contrary. The human community has a deep reservoir of hope at our disposal and sometimes it’s necessary to remind each other about the undying hope that is within us. How can I, you, we embody hope today?
The title of one of my favorite classes was Erich Fromm. It was a small discussion for doctoral students, but ordinary seminary students could enroll. Each week, we read one of Fromm’s many (thankfully paperback) books. I gave them away long ago, thinking I had internalized Fromm’s big ideas.
Born in Frankfurt in 1900, Fromm fled Nazi Germany in 1941. His experience with Hitler’s fascism shaped his professional practice of psychology and sociology. My two favorite required readings from that class were Escape from Freedom (1941) and its sequel, The Sane Society (1955).
Skeptics point to limited third party success. A new party hasn’t grown to lasting national prominence since Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party grew out of the old Whig Party. Maybe a multi-party era would inspire more positive creativity among the electorate. I like the name “Forward.”
The new party could help shift the nation’s focus from Backward to Forward, from Negative to Positive, from Violence to Civility. If we can move in those directions, we’ll be stronger and healthier. We could rediscover the art of peaceful, respectful debate. This could be a turning point–forward.
I gained a new perspective yesterday about memory loss when I took my aunt for a post-surgery exam. We had multiple conversations about family members. She spoke about her mom in the present tense and minutes later talked about her mom’s funeral. My aunt has lost the relativity of time but maybe she’s gaining something the ancients described as a narrowing of the “veil” that separates the living from the departed. On a 2011 study trip to Ireland, our guide took us to some “thin” places.
I experienced a powerful continuity in my aunt’s 91-year-old brain. She thought the doctor’s office was on the college campus she and her sister Grace attended. In that moment, the medical facility provided an atmosphere for her to express the meaning of their relationship, which transcends time and space. Details become more dim, but the reality of her formative relationships remains essentially the same. In the big scheme of things, isn’t essence more important than details?
Yesterday’s excursion reminded me of my friend Stephen’s recent comment that artificial intelligence pales in comparison with the human brain. From a paper by Jiawei Zhang: On average, the human brain contains about 100 billion neurons and many more neuoglia which serve and support the neurons. Each neuron may be connected to up to 10,000 other neurons, passing signals to each other via as many as 1,000 trillion synapses. Maybe our synapses mature in ways we youngsters cannot yet appreciate.
Could a brain that appears impaired operate in a different plane, look at reality from a different perspective, on a wavelength we can’t quite grasp. Two years ago, while sleeping in my aunt’s guest bedroom, she knocked on the door and said, “Midge, are you in there?” Midge (1924-2007) was her sister and my mother. We talked for a few minutes and I suggested that she may have been dreaming about Midge. The ancients viewed dreams as windows for peering through the thin “veil.”
It’s been a privilege to be part of countless conversations with individuals and groups. Yesterday, a dear friend reminded me of something I said 30 years ago, then asked, “Do you remember saying that?” I laughed and said, “No, I don’t remember saying it, but I agree with it.” One of the best things about groups is that continuing conversations across the years help us remember things that matter.
I’ve learned not to ask. It’s a mystery. In her assisted living abode and her current rehab facility, my aunt sometimes wears clothes I’ve never seen, such as her now favorite brown sweater. A staff person told me over the phone that as long as she’s wearing that sweater, she’s content. I don’t think I packed it for her, but I don’t remember. Yesterday, I said, “That’s a pretty sweater you’re wearing.”
Immediately, she said, “It was a Christmas gift.” I asked, “Last Christmas?” She said, “Yes, I think Grace gave it to me.” Her older sister Grace died in 1988. Then she reminded me how Grace helped with her college tuition and books. Our conversation included several other family members that are deceased but about whom she spoke in the present tense, including her late son. She said he’s “at work.”
Memory is powerful. No one’s memory is perfect. Each moment is fleeting. I choose to live within whatever reality one happens to be. I don’t “correct” about who’s still living. They may know more than I think they know. And, they may know more than I know. We help each other re-member. The thing to remember is that we remember what’s really important. Don’t let me forget that!
We plan to join some camper friends later this year at Strunk, Kentucky, named for the post office that opened in 1892 on Strunk’s Lane. (George W. Strunk owned a local coal mine.) Today the post office is on Strunk Highway (old US 27). To get there from the east or west, you’re on your own. From the north, go to Somerset, Kentucky, then south on US Highway 27.
Strunk is north of Wartburg, Tennessee, founded in the 1840s by a land speculator who formed the East Tennessee Colonization Company with the intent to establish a series of German colonies in the Cumberlands. The area was marketed to Swiss and German immigrants to the US during tough economic times in Europe. The town of Wartburg is named for Germany’s Wartburg Castle.
A commentary by Norman Solomon in Salon summarizes calls for Joe Biden to announce he isn’t running for re-election: “Don’t run, Joe: After beating Trump, Biden can do the nation one more big favor.” I understand why Biden didn’t, but to get us past the prior four years, I hoped he would make that announcement in his inaugural address. My response to Solomon’s article is this: It’s refreshing for a political party to have an honest, open conversation about what’s best for the nation, rather than kowtowing to a party leader‘s desire for power.
To be fair, historian Heather Cox Richardson asserts that Biden has accomplished more than his critics admit: When he took office, Democratic president Joe Biden recognized that his role in this moment was to prove that democracy is still a viable form of government. … Biden has defended democracy across the globe, accomplishing more in foreign diplomacy than any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Before COVID, the conventional wisdom in the financial and political community was that Donald Trump would win a second term. He was confident that he would win big based on the strength of the economy. One of my many “double-takes” during his years in the White House was when he first said he deserved not just two terms, but three.
Some friends occasionally invite me to lead their Sunday School class. Today is the fourth of five classes scheduled for 2022. Some of these dear souls are 15-20 years my senior, so I approach these engagements with respect, admiration and tenderness. It’s a relationship that began 31 years ago and I continue to marvel at the depth of their intellect and faith.
I’ve been pondering the importance of boundaries, or borders, in our lives. Jacob’s memorable dream at Bethel featured angels descending a ladder, or stairway, promising him land and progeny. Much of the ensuing Hebrew story was about the settlement of that land and their return there after a time of slavery in Egypt and, centuries later, after a time of exile in Babylon. Borders are important.
My Tennessee aunt receives mail at our house, including a card from a candidate for the state legislature. The first of his three promises was to “always vote to preserve legislation that protects our state and national borders.” I understand national border integrity, but I’m trying to find out if there’s a problem with one or more of the 8 states that Tennessee borders. I’ll let you know what I learn.
Borders are important, but some things transcend borders. Leviticus 19:33-34 captures a biblical theme that will be the launchpad for our class conversation today: When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
On Thursday afternoon I was greeted with this headline: “Supreme Court Refuses for Now to Restore Biden Plan on Immigration Enforcement.” The Court will hear arguments in November, so Thursday’s issue was whether to uphold a Federal judge’s decision to block a plan that prioritizes deportation of people in the US illegally who pose the greatest public safety risk.
What struck me as historically noteworthy was the way the justices voted on the issue. It was the first case in which the newest justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, voted. It was the first time the Court’s composition included four women. It was the first time since the Court’s founding in 1789 that a 5-4 decision was comprised of five men voting one way and four women voting the other way.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elana Kagan, Amy Comey Barrett and Ketanji Brown Jackson would have granted the administration’s request to put the lower court ruling on hold until the Supreme Court hears arguments in November. Here’s a toast to the day when fivewomen prevail in a decision.
Yesterday, our household was negotiating the day’s food intake. When those discussions occur, I’m always conscious that such conversations are very different in Ukraine or in the world’s poorest countries. I was reminded that dinner would be light since we would have evening popcorn as we watch the House Select Committee’s televised hearing about the January 6 insurrection.
Though I consider Donald Trump a clear and present danger who divides our country for personal gain, I’m grateful that he has unified my family and motivated us to actively resist authoritarianism. And, he entertains us, albeit perversely, with his absurdities. His habit of regularly undermining democracy prompts healthy “civics lesson” conversations.
Earlier this week, our son asked, “When will the country finally have had enough of this so-called conservatism?” I said, “When people under 35 vote in large numbers.” He and I agreed that fallout from the Dobbs decision may give new relevance to what may seem a distant subject: Constitutional Law. As I write this on Thursday afternoon, I’m preparing for tonight’s class–with popcorn.