We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Music of the Counter Culture

Lughnasa                                                                Monsoon Moon

long black veilListening to some music on youtube while cleaning/rearranging. One clip leads to another. I’d started out on the Band’s “Long Black Veil” and youtube ratcheted me along to a guy named Blake Shelton. He’s a country guy, well known in areas where he’s well known, I gather. The song was, “Kiss My Country Ass.”

This was a slick video production, an official version. It featured Blake at the Carnegie Hall of Country, The Grand Ole Opry, and shifted often to videos of fans singing along and acting out the words. As I watched it, about the last half, I noticed the glee and fervor of Shelton’s fanboys and fangirls. I thought back to my own fanboy days with Steppenwolf, the Stones, Velvet Underground, the Doors, Creedence, the Band. I sang along (quietly in less I was alone) with equal passion.

kissThen it hit me. Much of country music is protest music. It’s the protest music of the blue collar worker, the southern working class, and the white supremacist (these are not conflatable categories though they may cross over.) You may have noticed this a long time ago, but I hadn’t.

Set apart by reason of counter cultural norms, this protest differs in content, but not in sociological significance. We are not like you, and, guess what? We don’t wanna be. If you don’t like that, well, you can kiss my country ass.

And God placed a rainbow in the sky

Summer                                                                              Monsoon Moon

Stage two fireban lifted. Rains have been remarkable the last few days. We’ve gone from fire restrictions to flash flood and small stream flooding advisories. Yay. Feels safer here now and I’ll feel less worried when I leave for Minneapolis on Tuesday.

Kate and I went to a protest yesterday at the Aurora ICE detention center. The Moral Minyan sponsored it. A Moral Minyan is a local group organized through bendthearc. In Jewish practice a minyan is ten (men in the past and still in Orthodox communities) Jews together so public instead of private prayers can be offered. There were about fifty people there, perhaps a bit more. Too cerebral, too speaky, but only the second one of what the Moral Minyan plans as a monthly gathering. It needs guitars and better music, more chants, maybe some songs in Spanish.

There was one remarkable moment for a Jewish gathering.

double rainbow over ICE detention center, Aurora

double rainbow over ICE detention center, Aurora

There was brief moment of defiance when a protest leader asked those of us who were willing to block the only road into the facility. Many of the group chanted, “We will not be good Germans.” as we moved onto the drive. Maybe 15 of us were there when an ICE employee, heading home from work drove up. And began honking. Impatiently. After less than a minute, the group dispersed.

The Democratic candidate for state attorney general, Phil Weiser, spoke, as did his primary opponent, Joe Salazar. Salazar, who lost the primary, gave an impassioned speech as a Latino whose roots go back 500 years in the land now known as the United States. A young pediatrician, a woman, gave a moving speech, referencing, as did many of the speakers, the holocaust. As I wrote here a week or so ago, Renee, a Beth Evergreen member, said that as a child of holocaust survivors, she could call these detention centers what they were, concentration camps.

Here are a few more photos from the event.

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Back Window Semiotics: the continuing saga

Summer                                                                              Monsoon Moon

Followed this Mercedes sedan into Evergreen yesterday. American flag fluttering from a small plastic pole in the passenger side window. A Marine Corps decal on the lower left. Believe in America faded and scraped in the center. The lower right medallion reads: Friend of Coal. The upper left sign is: Stay Calm and Frack On. On the bumper is a Christian fish. Go, Murica!

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The Very Model

Summer                                                                 Monsoon Moon

found by friend Bill Schmidt:

Moral Minyan

Summer                                                                             Monsoon Moon

justice

Suggested to the woman who organized the immigration talk that perhaps the Beth Evergreen Social Action committee should be doing this kind of work. She passed my e-mail on to the Rabbi and to the chair of the Social Action committee. Lengthy response from the Social Chair chair amounts to, we do small things because they’re not political. Sigh. Same ol, same ol. Heard this all the time as a clergy in the Christian church, less so in the UUA. Say the word politics and you’ve touched the third rail.

Uncharacteristically, however, I intend to stay back from this conversation. I’ve got Jewish Studies Sunday Sampler and 6th grade religious school to prepare for. Perhaps the slight nudge will create a larger conversation. Hope so.

justice2

Kate and I are going to a protest at the Aurora ICE detention center next week. It’s led by the Moral Minyan*, a project of bendthearc. Family separation, though attenuated by the court ruling last week, remains a reality. Immigration is a distinctive American good, mixing our polity with new citizens from all over the world. It’s always been fraught with tension, with nativism, xenophobia, chauvinism, and, our record as a people with regard to persons of color is still miserable, but that French gift, Lady Liberty, with the poem by Emma Lazarus, represents the ideal toward which many of us strive. I believe most of us.

This notion that only a certain kind of person, usually white, can be a good U.S. citizen is racist at its core. The obvious rejoinder is the facebook meme of Indians confronting immigrants on the Mayflower. As Valentina said Tuesday night at Beth Evergreen, “Immigrants work hard. Immigrants pay their taxes, raise families.” Immigrants contribute to our national well-being and always have. In fact, immigrants created our nation.

justice obama

This current politics of meanness, of grudge-settling, of honoring foreign strongmen over our own government BY OUR PRESIDENT, the unleashing of the American id typified by the Charlotte rally and the way too many video clips of various individuals calling out persons they suspect of being “illegals” or “terrorists”, makes us all smaller. He who shall not be named is spending the capital accumulated since World War I which made this country a superpower. Shame on him.

Justice theodore-parker-bend-the-arc-email1

Parker was a Unitarian clergy, an abolitionist, and an activist who kept a loaded gun at his desk in case slave catchers showed up. Be like Theodore.

 

*In Jewish tradition, acts of public prayer require at least 10 people to gather to form a minyan.

In this moment of political crisis, we’re calling on progressive Jews across the country to gather to form Moral Minyans for acts of public protest, solidarity, and organizing as part of a national network of Jewish Resistance.

People who become leaders of Moral Minyans have a variety of skills and experience levels. We provide trainings and support for activists in our network who are organizing their Jewish community in living rooms and in the streets.

 

Concentration Camps, in the U.S., Right Now

Summer                                                                      Monsoon Moon

florenceSad. Mad. Incredulous. Shocked. Mystified. Hurt. The Florence Project. Kate and I went to Beth Evergreen last night to hear Valentina Montoya*. She’s a mental health attorney for the project, which means that her clients are not only caught in the detention trap, but have serious mental illness as well.

Reading about family separation, shaking our heads, how can they? That’s one experience. Hearing Ms. Montoya talk about children in detention, five month olds, toddlers, blind children, physically and mentally disabled children, children who have no apparent medical care or educational opportunities, children who know their parents as mama and daddy, but don’t know their given names, children separated from their parents with no tracking or identifying system in place, one four-year old boy, for example, who refused to change his clothes because he was afraid his parents wouldn’t recognize him, that’s another.

florence2Ms. Montoya became too emotional to talk. Several times. She answered question after question from this audience of maybe 75 people, all outraged, most wanting to do something. Kate stood up and asked what kind of medical care did these children receive? Ms. Montoya said no particular medical care was available. That means diabetes goes untreated. Other chronic conditions, too. Another asked what kind of education the kids were getting? Ms. Montoya said, “The kids speak Spanish; all the guards and caretakers speak English.”

This was an especially poignant topic for Beth Evergreen. As Renee said, “I’m a child of holocaust survivors. I’m uniquely qualified to call these what they are, concentration camps.” I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s true. No Zyklon B. For now. But, as Renee said, “If they can come for them, they can come for me. Maybe next, maybe three, four down the line.”

Here’s a thing I’d not paid attention to in the news reports. The families separated in Florence, Arizona, a distant, isolated location for an ICE detention facility (not an accident) are asylum seekers. That means they came to a U.S. port of entry and, as required by our law, asked for asylum. These are legal immigrants who have fled horrific conditions of gang violence, local drug cartels, domestic abuse, government oppression and seek refuge here. Let me say that again, these folks are LEGAL immigrants.

The bad elf, Jeff Sessions, has done everything he can to undercut the law by, for example, offering a biblical rationale for family separation, trying to defund basic legal orientation services. DHS lawyers raise jurisdictional issues in immigration proceedings to obfuscate and extend detention proceedings.

florence4Part of the problem for legal projects like Florence and Rocky Mountain Immigration Advocates is immigration law itself. It’s a hodgepodge of laws, rules, exceptions that have accreted like barnacles over the years, making it an area of the law for which even its specialists can claim only partial knowledge. That means even willing pro bono lawyers are often not competent to help. This makes it even easier for mendacious buffoons like Trump, Sessions and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Michele Nielsen to throw forks and knives into the wheels of justice.

It was, all in all, a heart rending evening. Unimaginable suffering. Detention is different from prison. In prison you know when you’re going to get out. Detention is indeterminant. Until Sessions quashed it, each detainee used to get a bond hearing every six months. That hearing at least offered a review of your circumstances and a possibility of release. With that bond hearing eliminated, there is no legal requirement for a time certain when your case will be heard. If at all. This out Kafka’s Kafka. And, it is definitely, a first step toward Nazi area solutions for folks we don’t like.

 

valentina-150x150*Valentina Restrepo Montoya was born in Boston to Colombian-immigrant parents. She earned her J.D. from Berkeley Law, where she advocated on behalf of asylum seekers, latinx workers, latinx tenants, and indigent defendants in criminal cases. Valentina clerked for The Southern Center for Human Rights, where she investigated language access to adult and juvenile courts. After law school, she joined The Southern Poverty Law Center, dedicating herself to litigation against The Alabama Department of Corrections for providing constitutionally inadequate medical and mental health care to prisoners, and not complying with The Americans with Disabilities Act. Prior to joining The Florence Project, Valentina was an assistant public defender in Birmingham, Alabama. She enjoys playing soccer, reading The New Yorker, practicing intersectional feminism, and rooting for The New England Patriots.

Rant.

Summer                                                               Monsoon Moon

In case you’ve been wondering I’m still outraged. On a daily basis, actually more frequently than that. Trump loves Putin and Kim Jong Un. Sees himself in their strongman politics, no doubt. Both of them are better at their style of governance than Trump is at his.

He puts tariffs on our allies, creates faultlines of tension on traditional friendly terrain like Europe, England, Canada and Mexico. He trusts a foreign power who’s been our long time enemy and calls the European Union our foe. And, yesterday, he sided with Russia against our own intelligence agencies. All of this is recent. Leaves out pussy grabbing, mimicking a disabled reporter, outright lies and the mockery he’s making of science. Not to mention morality and ethics. Done.

A Lunar Month of Significance

Summer                                                                     Woolly Mammoth Moon

Rustic Ranch, Bailey, breakfast on the Durango Trip. Sweet cream pancakes.

Rustic Ranch, Bailey, breakfast on the Durango Trip. Sweet cream pancakes.

As the Woolly Mammoth Moon phases away toward a new moon, its month, the same lunar month we always have, yet also a different lunar month from any we’ve ever had, all spiraling through space as we follow the sun while orbiting it, I just wanna say thanks for what happened under its gentle influence.

It rose as a new moon, invisible but watching us, on June 13th, the day Mark, Paul, Tom and I headed out to Durango and the 416 fire. It was a trip both across southwestern Colorado and back into 30 years of friendship. Not to mention back to the days of the Pueblo dwellers of Mesa Verde. It was, in a sense, a way to say to each other that, yes, these friendships are for a lifetime. That this lifetime, whatever it may mean individually includes each other–and Bill. When you think about it, affirming the power of our past and honoring the reality of our future, is pretty damned cool.

Ode lays out the trip

Ode lays out the trip

It was also on this same trip that I read the essays about ground projects by Bernard Williams and about setting a rejection goal. The first one affirmed my existential sense that life gets meaning from our intentions and our labor to fulfill them; the second has transformed my writing life. A big, huge, amazing, wonderful thing.

Also under the Woolly Mammoth Moon, Alan Rubin and I began digging in to developing a curriculum for 6th and 7th graders in the Religious School at CBE. This work has affirmed the depth of my immersion into the Jewish world of CBE and reconstructionist thought. It also underscores my continuing fascination, see posts below, with the supernatural, or at least the fruits of humanity’s speculation about the supernatural.

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Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, ballet at CBE

Also under the WMM, I’ve been putting together the Jewish Studies Sunday Sampler series for the 2018/2019 adult education year. This will feature both courses from the Great Courses company and courses from the MOOC aggregator, Coursera plus the odd film or two.

I also met Harv Teitelbaum. He’s the Sierra Club’s lead for their anti-fracking initiative, a big deal here in Colorado. I believe he and I share a similar attitude toward our current political reality and a similar focus on local races while maintaining an emphasis on the Great Work.

My flaxen haired Nordic goddess

My flaxen haired Nordic goddess

It’s been a big, big month for me and I want to say out loud how grateful I am to all of you who’ve made it possible. Yes, Kate, especially you. It’s been a very difficult month for you nausea wise, I know, but you picked up a board membership at CBE and guided the food committee for the Patchworkers. All the time you’ve been supportive, though understandably surprised, at my new commitment to finally, finally, finally submitting my work. You’re the gyroscope in all this, keeping us stable and focused. Thanks, Kate.

Yankee Doodle

Summer                                                                  Woolly Mammoth Moon

4th of July, 2015

4th of July, 2015

Celebrating the beginning of the American experiment. SeoAh, oddly, enough is a Yankee Doodle dandy, born on the fourth of July and currently with Joe and Murdoch on the beach somewhere in Florida. In the military Memorial Day, Veterans Day and the 4th of July are big, moments of national attention to the difficult life chosen by those in the armed forces.

The 4th, though it retains a certain martial flare exhibited in parades and political speeches, is also about remembering the life of our country, its many birthdays and its often rocky history. This 4th of July being in the moment, being present to the current reality of our country is devastating to me. Trump and his executive branch filled with people opposed to governing, with crony capitalists and regulators captured by the industries they oversee, have drained this July 4th of its joy.

Ruins of Johns-Manville factory, September, 2015, Alexandria, In.

Ruins of Johns-Manville factory, September, 2015, Alexandria, In.

Instead it occasions reflection, a how did it come to this wondering. We are all complicit, of course. Too confident in the uneasy, but predictable governing of traditional Democrats and Republicans, reading amity as a sense that if things were not exactly ok, they were as good as they could be expected be. Now that amity, the politics of my youth until the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War showed the poison blossoms that had been just waiting to bloom, is long gone, certainly after 2001 though the roots are a lot, lot deeper.

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Bailey, Co. September 2015

In the complex sashay between politics as usual and the politics of the marginalized some of the latter decided to walk down the aisle with plutocratic grooms. This July 4th the marriage of one percent privilege to the rage of white Americans who feel their privilege slipping away has turned a bright light on the problem of factions, well known to the writers and signers of our Constitution. We are in a time of politics by defamation, by lie, by corruption, by deceit, by arrogance, by rapaciousness, by the basest of human impulses. We are in a time when groups defined by their hate and by their isolation at the top conspire together, though only to the benefit of those at the top.

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Black Mountain Majesty

All this is true as we light the candles on the red white and blue cake for birthday 242. I’m choosing however to celebrate the promise of America, that promise of working together for liberty and justice and happiness and a decent life for all. Since I still believe in that America, since I know many who do, I’m not going to give into despair or angst; rather, I’m going to celebrate the abolition of slavery, the passage of the civil rights act, the Marshall Plan, the victory in WWII, the Great Society programs of LBJ, Obamacare (flawed as it was and is), Medicare and Social Security, the purple mountain majesties and all our fruited plains.

I’m going to stand up today with the Statue of Liberty and affirm that I still mean Emmy Lazarus’ words written there. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” No, we are not all, not even most, Trumpian chauvinists and xenophobes. We, too, are America and eventually our voices will be heard.

May it happen soon.

 

Choose Life

Summer                                                              Woolly Mammoth Moon

Installing solar panels, 2015

Installing solar panels, 2015

Here’s a surprisingly existential sentence from economic journalist, Annie Lowrey, “The way things are is really the way we choose for them to be,” she writes. Her new book, “Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World” (Crown),is considered as part of a New Yorker article, “Who Really Stands to Win from Universal Basic Income?”

UBI is an interesting idea, made more interesting by Nathan Heller who offers a good summary of its possibilities and pitfalls, and I recommend the read; but, I’m much more taken by that single sentence of Lowrey’s. Lowrey is, as Heller says, a policy person, so her comment in this instance refers to our economic reality. Our economic life is not a divine endowment from a class loving God, rather it is the sum of choices we make as a people, choices reflected in our laws, our deference to the wealthy, our moralizing (Calvinist driven in large part) of personal income and wealth (more, better person, less, worse person), even the choices we make as consumers. In sum we live in a created society, one that we can choose to recreate or even uncreate.

IMAG0912Why are we so reluctant to recognize that racism, sexism, homelessness, income inequality, white fear are the result of decisions we’ve made collectively and individually? I think the answer lies in ideas Arthur Brooks identifies as the bedrocks of conservative thought. Below is a portion of that article, Republican or Conservative: You Have to Choose.* NYT, June 25, 2018. Though it may surprise readers of this blog, I have considerable sympathy for these ideas.

They challenge the Lockean idea of a social contract among independent actors, a notion at best abstracted from common life. They challenge the fabric of a liberal political worldview. I agree that we are not wholly autonomous individuals. Heidegger’s notion of thrownness underlines this point by reminding us that our life begins in a particular time, in a particular place and in particular circumstances over which we had no choice whatsoever. Brooks says something similar, “…individuals emerge out of families, communities, faiths, neighborhoods and nations.” To this point, I’m with him. There are unique realities that shape us.

IMAG0913But, to sacralize that unique reality, “…conservatives have always placed tremendous emphasis on the sacred space where individuals are formed.” says Brooks, serves to deny its perniciousness, its damning of so many to lives of desperation, marginalized from both economic and cultural blessings. Once we emerge in the era, the family, the town or neighborhood or rural place, the religious or areligious space gifted to us, the nation of our birth, once we are over being thrown into circumstances beyond our volition, we gain the power of choice.

It is decidedly not the case that though thrownness may come first, as Brooks says “The order comes first.” that “…individual freedom is an artifact of that order.” No. Order is neutral, neither a moral good, nor a moral constraint. If the order into which we are born nourishes lives, lifts people into their best possible existence, then, yes, let’s sustain it. If, however, the order into which we are born is itself pernicious, damning us to poor education, inadequate nutrition, a lifetime of social doubts about our worth, then we must recognize the truth of Lowrey’s wonderful encapsulation of the liberal perspective: “The way things are is really the way we choose for them to be.”

 

*”Conservatives said we…think you’ve got human nature wrong. There never was such a thing as an autonomous, free individual who could gather with others to create order. Rather, individuals emerge out of families, communities, faiths, neighborhoods and nations. The order comes first. Individual freedom is an artifact of that order.
The practical upshot is that conservatives have always placed tremendous emphasis on the sacred space where individuals are formed. This space is populated by institutions like the family, religion, the local community, the local culture, the arts, the schools, literature and the manners that govern everyday life.
Membership in these institutions is not established by rational choice. We are born into them most of the time and are bonded to them by prerational cords of sympathy and affection. We gratefully inherit these institutions from our ancestors, we steward them and pass them along to our descendants.”

August 2018
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