Category: Undervalued

The art of concession

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) kept a journal that became a syndicated column on 12/31/1935 published as “My Day” in many newspapers until 9/26/62. Her column for November 4, 1954 describes a visit by an old friend, Britain’s Queen Mother.

The column also includes two brief paragraphs:

I am writing this column on election day, so I know nothing as yet about the final results. Being a pessimist, I always expect to lose and therefore, if I happen to win, it is that much more of a surprise. I hope with all my heart that we are not going to lose, but whatever happens in this world one has to accept it and go forward with the intention of doing better next time.

If one wins one has to put the best one can into one’s service because that is all one can do to repay the voters who put their trust in a candidate. If one loses one must struggle equally hard to build up one’s party and to use one’s time usefully in business, even though one does intend to go back to politics in the future.

From “The art of the concession speech,” by Al Tompkins, Poynter, November 6, 2020

The Blessed Youngster

As dawn breaks this Christmas morning, my mind is on Mary’s contribution. She has been called “The Blessed Virgin” and “Theotokos” (Mother of God). Can’t top that! But, do those accolades draw her closer or make her seem more distant?

History has placed several layers of cultural veneer around Mary’s sexuality, freighting “The Blessed Virgin” with baggage that likely would feel foreign to her. At heart, her story is about a profoundly faithful, powerful simplicity.

So, this Christmas, my focus is not on Mary’s sexual history or her divine motherhood, but rather her blessed youthfulness, which radiates eternal dedication to simple truth and justice in a world dominated by the ethical complications of elders.

Without creating an unnecessary comparison or pedestal, a simple tip of the hat to youngster Cassidy Hutchinson for a 2022 example of freedom from a complicated web created by the ethical compromises of those older but not wiser.


Democracy as Oasis

I believe historians will record the 2020-2021 “Stop the Steal” campaign as a clever ploy to cover-up an “Attempted Robbery.” It would make a great John Grisham novel. Unfortunately, this story will be in the non-fiction section of the library.

The real-life heroes are the poll workers, county and state election officials, law enforcement personnel, journalists, judges and a few high-ranking officials who did their duty. From Heather Cox-Richardson’s brief, eloquent “first draft” of this history:

Fittingly, on December 15, the Coup d’État Project of the Cline Center for Advanced Social Research at the University of Illinois, which maintains the world’s largest registry of coups, attempted coups, and coup conspiracies since World War II, reclassified the events of January 6 as an attempted “auto-coup.” According to its director, Scott Althaus, an auto-coup occurs when “the incumbent chief executive uses illegal or extra-legal means to assume extraordinary powers, seize the power of other branches of government, or render powerless other components of the government such as the legislature or judiciary.”

The stresses and strains of the US, an old democracy, are lived out in plain view. Many democracies are new, with their own difficulties, such as Ukraine and Mongolia. From “Kerry Calls Mongolia ‘An Oasis of Democracy’,” Voice of America, June 5, 2016.

Subtle, but very present markers

Richard Rohr and company were the leadoff batters on Sunday (previous two posts), followed by a powerful SALT class lesson about an encounter between Jesus and a rich man. John, our teacher, used a video portrayal of that event which showed the rich man arriving and departing with his entourage. It’s hard to give up everything when others depend on you. It was a subtle reminder of tribal webs that both provide identity, yet sometimes limit our possibilities.

Then, a worship service to begin Advent. It was the first time the congregation had passed offering plates since before the pandemic. I have enjoyed simpler, no plates worship but I became teary when the plates and a doxology brought back decades of memories. The entire recorded genealogy of Jesus was read aloud, a first for me. Cristin’s pronunciation skill brought a spontaneous ovation. During the sermon, Stephanie read the genealogy again, noting only the mothers that were mentioned and the many instances where the mother remains unknown to us.

Sunday’s blast of “marker consciousness” continued as I reflected on our many tribal markers (monuments and institutional namesakes). We have a scarcity of global markers for breakthroughs–from parochial, tribal consciousness to a more global, universal consciousness. It was an energizing way to begin the week as I began to look for subtle markers of a more global, inclusive consciousness.

From “gallery one–Monument to Forgiveness,” by Francis Jansen, Kosmos, Fall/Winter 2016

Margaret’s wisdom

Aunt Margaret has taught me by example. She faced the searing pain of violence with steadfast love and grace. She made something positive out of that pain by learning about mental illness and volunteering work in that field.

At 91, her current challenge is living with decreasing memory. After 35 years as an independent single, she is adapting admirably to community life that must feel like communal life to her. She’s taught me that brief visits are best and it’s best to talk about memories of siblings, parents, grandparents and her time at Hiwassee College.

After a brief visit in her apartment on Saturday morning, we returned to the day room shared by 12 residents. She introduced me by saying, “This is my brother, Ray Hicks.” Ray (1922-2013) was her older brother. I was honored by the promotion. He was a WW2 veteran and a retired Marine Corps Colonel.

Margaret wrote notes to herself, many of which were quotes she read or heard. I found one of her notes this week:

Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many. Live your life and forget your age.

Spending time with children is more important than spending money on children.

From a touching 3-minute conversation with mutual respect and understanding by Scott, who suffers from memory loss, and his daughter Bailey, via YouTube

The gift of time

This morning I awoke with an appreciation for longevity. The privilege of accompanying relatives and friends through the latter stages of life has taken away my fear of old age. I’ve been inspired by those who have proactively exercised their agency deep into old age.

Later this morning I was part of an Old Testament discussion with some thoughtful, insightful souls, which included conversation about this quote from Erich Fromm’s You Shall Be As Gods:

…the Sabbath is the expression of the central idea of Judaism: the idea of freedom; the idea of complete harmony between humanity and nature, harmony among humans; the idea of the anticipation of the messianic time and of humanity’s defeat of time, sadness, and death.

My friend Marnie was intrigued by “humanity’s defeat of time….” Maybe Fromm meant freedom from the tyranny of time. We feel pressed. It may seem we have not enough time. We hurry, turning Highway 280 into the Talladega Speedway. Sabbath helps us recognize and prioritize the gift of time.

From “The Ancient Greeks had two words for time: Chronos and Kairos–the difference?Greek City Times, August 14, 2022

OT and WOW

The Old Testament, according to a Jewish rabbi I heard speak long ago, maintains that the benchmark for an ethical community is how well it treats those without rights. In ancient Jewish society, the three major groups without rights were widows, orphans and wanderers (aka homeless, refugees).

Empires consolidate power by taking away rights, as in Putin’s Russia and his war against Ukraine. Who are the “widows, orphans and wanderers” in American society today? An era of rights-expansion begun by Brown v. Topeka Board of Education (1954) is being reversed by today’s US Supreme Court, by various state legislatures and by leaders of the national Republican Party.

I’m grateful to the Christian communities who have touched my life by keeping this OT quest for justice alive. I’m grateful for the exposure I’ve had to Judaism through the OT, through several synagogues over the years, and through numerous Jewish rabbis, Jewish scholars and Jewish friends.

From The Home for Little Wanderers

Critical thinking

On Friday’s PBS NewsHour, several factoids scrolled across the screen from a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, accompanied only by the program’s theme music. The one that grabbed my attention was “62% of Republicans are not accepting of candidates that openly criticize Donald Trump.”

This was right after I had read David Brooks’ piece about the dangers of “essentialist” thinking (see Saturday’s post). Here’s a discussion starter at your next coffee conversation with friends: “Is it more surprising that 62% of Republicans won’t accept a candidate that openly criticizes Donald Trump?” Or, is it more surprising that 38% of Republicans will accept a candidate that openly criticizes Donald Trump?”

Maybe the answer for which is “more surprising” depends in part on one’s location. As someone domiciled in Alabama, it was more surprising to me that 38% of Republicans are willing to accept a candidate that openly criticizes Donald Trump. I think most of the 38% live outside Alabama.

From “Two-thirds of Republicans want Trump to retain major political role; 44% want him to run again in 2024,” by Amina Dunn, Pew Research Center, October 6, 2021

Lying as strategy

Lee McIntyre is a research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and an Instructor in Ethics at Harvard Extension School. In his 2018 book Post-Truth, he defines post-truth as “the political subordination of reality.”

McIntyre has researched the origins of science denial. He connects the roots of our current political situation where lying to the public brings shrugs rather than shame to something that began happening with science 70+ years ago.

In a fascinating 1/14/20 Amanpour & Co. interview with Michel Martin on PBS, McIntyre said it’s important to remember that disinformation has a purpose behind it. In the 1950s, the tobacco industry’s ads competed against each other over whose cigarettes were healthier. In preparation for a looming scientific study that virtually connected smoking with cancer, a public relations consultant told tobacco industry leaders, “You have to fight the science. You have to create doubt. You have to give to the public another side to this story.”

McIntyre said, “That really created the blueprint for the next 70 years of science denial. … I think there is a straight line that you can draw from the science denial that started with the tobacco industry … to present day through climate change, anti-vaxx, evolution and flat earth … to today’s post-truth in the political arena.”

You can click here to watch the interview or read the transcript.

From The Scientific Attitude, by Lee McIntyre, MIT Press, 2019

Fourth Estate

In Europe, there were three estates: nobility, clergy and commoners. Over time, various groups were called “the fourth estate.” Thomas Carlyle wrote that when Parliament allowed press reporting in 1787, Edmund Burke said “in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder,” sits “a Fourth Estate more important” by far than they all the members of Parliament assembled.

A chess board has eight nobles, four bishops and sixteen commoners. I like to think of the four rooks (or “castles”) as representatives of the press. It’s fashionable in many circles today to have a low, derisive opinion of the news media, but I hold them in high esteem. Like nobles and clergy, some are better than others, but done right, it’s a demanding, honorable profession.

Photo journalists covering the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s revealed the ugly face of racism and helped bring change. Good investigative journalism is a bulwark of freedom and one of our best defenses against authoritarians who seek to control dissenting opinions. The Founders were wise to insist that the Freedom of the Press be listed among our Bill of Rights.

It’s been a long time since I’ve played chess, but (if and) when I play again, my name for the rooks will be bulwarks, standing on the four corners of the board, providing a civilian “check and balance” for the other three estates.

From “Intriguing History of Chess Pieces,” LAPOC (Learn and Play Online Chess)