SoCS: causes

I’ve spent decades now advocating for change on a whole raft of social justice and environmental issues.

There has been some progress in some areas, but I admit that there are times when I get tired, times when I realize that a change we’ve been working on for decades still hasn’t happened or where there’s been backsliding on a right that we thought had been secured.

Some days, I want to just throw in the towel.

But then I think about it and realize that a lot has been accomplished by so many people working together. The progress is often slow and incremental. When a change seems sudden, it’s usually the result of years of groundwork laying the foundation.

When I get discouraged, it’s often a comment from a friend that helps me realize the importance of the work, even when it seems we aren’t getting anywhere and even when the hoped-for change is unlikely in my lifetime. (This especially applies to my work on gender equality in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church tends to think in centuries.)

So, at least so far, though I do change the issues I concentrate on from time to time, I keep at it.

Keep on keeping on.
*****
Linda’s Prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is to use “throw in the towel” at some point in the post. Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January! Find our more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/27/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2023-daily-prompt-jan-28th/

remembering Paul

Yesterday, for the second time in a week, I attended a memorial service. My spouse B and I attended services for Paul Everett. Paul and B had been co-workers at IBM for many years before Paul had to leave work for health reasons.

While Anita’s had been a Catholic funeral, Paul’s service was in the Reformed Protestant tradition. Because it was in non-liturgical form, the service was more easily molded to reflect Paul’s life and gifts, which, if you read the obituary linked above, you will realize were many and varied.

For example, all the music in the service was arranged by Paul for folk instruments. Paul had hosted a weekly folk session for many years and compiled his beginner-friendly arrangements in the Wednesday Night Jam Canonical Tune Book. B and I had chosen seats near the ensemble, which included guitars, piano, accordion, tin whistle, fiddle, and hammered dulcimer, an instrument that Paul had both constructed and played. The gathering music took place at the beginning of the service rather than before it so that we could listen and reflect instead of being distracted by conversation.

The homily was given by Paul’s son Isaac, who inherited his father’s love of music and theology, studied them, and became both a professional musician and an ordained minister. Isaac used his father’s love for the Book of Jonah as a lens to relate who his father was. It was moving and heart-felt and beautifully crafted. I’m sure Paul, who had served as a deacon and lay preacher himself, would have been proud. Isaac also played guitar and piano during the service.

During fellowship time after the service, B was able to connect with some retired IBMers who were in attendance and reminisce about Paul, including his adventures and misadventures building boats and taking them out on the waters. Fortunately, Paul’s nautical journeys went better than Jonah’s!

Later in the afternoon, I went to vigil mass at my home parish. The opening hymn was “Here I Am, Lord” which was the gathering song for Anita’s funeral. At communion, we sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” which we had sung at Paul’s memorial service. The echo of these songs calls me to reflect on what my call is at this time of my life, increasingly cognizant that I am much closer to the end of my life than the beginning.

Rest in peace, Anita. Rest in peace, Paul. Thank you for your example of how to live fully until the end.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/15/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-15th-2023/

One-Liner Wednesday: woman power

The moment a woman comes home to herself, the moment she knows that she has become a person of influence, an artist of her life, a sculptor of her universe, a person with rights and responsibilities who is respected and recognized, the resurrection of the world begins.

Joan Chittister⁠

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday and Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/11/one-liner-wednesday-jusjojan-the-11th-2023-a-squirrel/

Saying good-bye to Anita

This morning, I sang for the funeral of Anita Alkinburg Shipway. She was a member of the music ministry at a church that I attended for a number of years, but our primary connection was through poetry.

When I joined the Binghamton Poetry Project in 2014, Anita was already involved. I got to know her better when we were both invited to join Sappho’s Circle, a women’s poetry workshop convened by Heather Dorn. We later also participated in some workshops with the Broome County Arts Council.

I always admired Anita’s storytelling ability both in conversation and in writing. She often used the tools of narrative poetry to reveal the truth – and quirks – of human nature. She smiled and laughed easily while also being very sympathetic when we most needed it. I appreciated the depth of her wisdom as an elder.

When the pandemic moved the Binghamton Poetry Project to Zoom, Anita joined us as often as she could, despite some technical challenges. We often joked with her about the cuckoo clocks in her home that would add their voices to ours. She shared a poem about them here. You can find more of her poems in the Binghamton Poetry Project online anthologies.

Originally, Anita was scheduled to participate with me in a Zoom reading for National Poetry Month in 2021, sponsored by the Broome County Arts Council and WordPlace. Unfortunately, she got trapped in the Zoom waiting room and wasn’t able to be recorded. I sincerely regret not being able to share any video of her reading her work.

Anita died at Mercy House, a residence for those near the end of life. Anita had volunteered at Mercy House and it’s a comfort to know that she was in such a familiar and peaceful place in her last days.

I was upset to learn that COVID played a part in her death. Apparently, a COVID infection interacted with other medical conditions and Anita could not recover. It reminded me again to remain cautious. I know that, despite my best efforts, I may someday contract COVID and could infect someone else, but I don’t know if I could forgive myself if I was being cavalier about infection and passed the virus on to someone who suffered grave consequences.

Anita visited Top of JC’s Mind and would occasionally comment on posts. More often, she would write to me directly. I remember having a discussion with her about what it means for something to be “top of mind.” Apparently, her Midwestern upbringing a generation before my New England one resulted in a different interpretation of the phrase.

No matter.

Today, Anita is at the top of JC’s Mind.

Rest in peace and eternal joy, Anita. May choirs of angels greet you and lead you to paradise.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January. Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/10/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-10th-2023/

a quiet Christmas

Spouse B, daughter T, and I were on our own this Christmas. While we had originally hoped that daughter E, son-in-law L, and granddaughters ABC and JG were going to be able to join us from London, UK, circumstances prevented that, probably a blessing in disguise given the travel disruptions caused by the extreme weather here in the US.

We here in Broome County, New York, were spared the worst of the storm. While it was cold and windy, we didn’t get a lot of snow and ice. Our hearts go out to places that suffered flooding or blizzard conditions. Erie County, about 200 miles to our west, has reported 25 deaths so far from the intense blizzard.

I did change my plan for when I went to church, in deference to the cold. I decided to attend the 4 PM vigil rather than the 10 PM. We had a prelude program from a wonderful brass quintet from Southern Tier Brass. I especially appreciated their rendition of “Lo, How a Rose” which was arranged from the Brahms organ chorale prelude that I learned when I was in college and which has always been a favorite of mine.

I also loved the introduction to the liturgy, which welcomed everyone whatever their state in life. It meant a lot to me to hear such an explicit statement of universality. The word catholic means universal but the Church has often strayed from that concept. I appreciated hearing this all-encompassing welcome at Christmas-time when people who aren’t members are often in attendance while visiting family or friends.

In the evening, B, T, and I watched Miracle on 34th Street, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. T had never seen it and it had been many years since B and I had watched it. It was a sweet way to spend Christmas Eve.

In the morning, we enjoyed cranberry and date nut bread so breakfast, made by B who does a lot of the cooking and baking, especially over the holidays. We opened stockings and gifts. I was especially pleased to receive a 10th generation iPad from B; our current one is 2nd generation, so definitely a step up!

We had a chance to video chat with our London family when it was mid-morning here and mid-afternoon there. The energy of a two- and a five-year-old was palpable, even five time zones away. B and I were also lucky to have phone conversations with our siblings.

When E and T were young, celebrating Christmas was a days-long endeavor. Christmas Day would be spent with my parents who lived nearby. In the following days, my sisters would arrive with their families for a couple of days and then we would travel to B’s parents’ home in Vermont, which usually involved a celebration with his extended family. Days and days of gifts, socializing, and eating.

With just the three of us, we scaled back on the extent of our traditional holiday fare. B did make lasagna for Christmas dinner, using Nana’s recipe. He also made fresh, artisanal bread and sauteed asparagus, followed by tiramisu for dessert. On Christmas Day, we used to have a variety of homemade Christmas cookies for dessert; we would make eight or so types, sometimes supplemented by homemade dried-fruit fruitcake and chocolate fudge. At the moment, we only have two kinds of cookies, pecan puffs from B’s family recipe and cranberry-pistachio biscotti.

Although our celebration was scaled down this year, it felt right, homey and comfortable and mostly low-stress.

I don’t know if we will ever return to a predictable pattern for Christmas celebrations. With all our elder generation now passed on, it’s unlikely that we will have big, extended family gatherings as we were accustomed. Last year, the first Christmas after Paco passed away, we went to London for three weeks over the holidays, just as the first wave of Omicron was cresting. It was complicated.

The pandemic has reinforced the lesson to expect the unexpected and to be open to change. It’s difficult because we often carve certainty and routine. The parlance you often hear is “return to normal.” For me, there is no way for that to happen – for holidays or for much of the rest of life.

So, this year I will be content with a quiet Christmas, having no idea what next year will bring but hoping I will have the grace and support to handle it.

moving toward Christmas

I’m managing to do more Christmas preparation than I have in the last several years.

I have over half my holiday cards sent.

Yesterday, B and I went to the tree farm to buy our Christmas tree and wreath. Today, along with daughter T, we decorated the tree.

I love our Christmas ornament collection. There are ornaments that belonged to our parents. Ones we have bought on our travels over the years. Ones we received as gifts. Home-made ones by my grandmother, B’s mom, B as a child, our children. Handcrafted ones made by artists on four continents, including my friend Yvonne Lucia. Ornaments made of cloth, yarn, wood, birch bark, wax, corn husks, glass, paper, teasels, metal, ceramic, plastic, even eggshell. The angel on top of the tree is one I made from a kit with the help of a friend shortly after B and I married. The latch-hooked tree skirt featuring candy canes was made by my mother.

If our home suffered a disaster and our ornament collection was lost, it would be impossible to re-create.

Still, during the years when I was caring for my parents and in the immediate aftermath of their passing, as much as I cherish these ornaments, I couldn’t being myself to unwrap them, touch them, place them on the tree. Even when others had done so, I could only manage a few glances at them.

Dealing with grief and loss is an individual and unpredictable endeavor. Last Christmas, our first since the death of my father, known here as Paco, we traveled to visit daughter E and her family in London, so we didn’t have our usual Christmas decorations. I really wasn’t sure how much of the usual Christmas routine I would be able to resume this year, so I am grateful that I felt up to participating in some decorating.

Granted, Christmas this year will be quieter than usual. It will be just B, T, and I celebrating at home. I will be going to church on my own. There will be stockings and some presents to open. (I admit my Christmas enthusiasm has not yet extended to shopping.) We will have a nice dinner and dessert although we haven’t settled on the menu yet. We have decided not to make our usual number of cookies, most years dozens of cookies in at least a half dozen varieties. It just doesn’t make sense for three people.

I think one of the factors in my feeling some Christmas spirit this year was singing Lessons and Carols with the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton last weekend. Given that I spent so many years doing liturgy planning and music in Catholic churches, I’m not accustomed to singing Christmas music publicly during Advent, but I think this year doing so boosted my anticipation for Christmas and helped me to feel up to helping with decorating.

If I’m lucky, it will carry me through finishing the cards next week.

If not, I will try to remember to take the advice that I offer to others who are dealing with loss: Be gentle with yourself.

Maybe the fragrance of the Canaan fir, the rainbow-hued lights, the meaningful ornaments will help lift my spirit if it flags.

Christmas trees are beautiful, even through misty eyes.

One-Liner Wednesday: compassion

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings which are all part of one another and all involved in one another.

Thomas Merton

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/11/30/one-liner-wednesday-ha/

Review: The Letter

At the Vatican on October 4, 2022, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, a new film premiered, entitled The Letter.

The Letter in the title refers to Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home, Pope Francis’s 2015 papal encyclical which was addressed not only to Catholics around the world but also to all people of good will. Its release in May helped to build momentum for the Paris climate talks that fall that resulted in 196 countries signing onto the landmark agreement on climate change.

Laudato Si’ espouses integral ecology, which involves both care for the earth and care for all people, especially those most vulnerable. The encyclical cites science and various faith traditions to build a framework for fighting climate change and for lifting up those dealing with hunger, poverty, dislocation, water scarcity, and other challenges.

The film’s title has a second meaning, as the first part of the film shows five people around the world receiving a letter from Pope Francis, inviting them to the Vatican to discuss the issues of Laudato Si’ with him. Together, they represent both “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” It is these five people and the communities they represent that form the bulk of the film.

They are:
~ Cacique Dadá, an indigenous leader of the Borarí people from the Maró Indigenous Territory of Brazil, representing indigenous communities
~ Arouna Kandé, a climate refugee from Senegal, representing the impoverished
~ Ridhima Pandey, a teen-aged climate justice activist from India, representing young people who are inheriting a world that has been damaged by prior generations
~ Greg Asner and Robin Martin, a married couple from Hawai’i in the United States, who are both marine biologists studying the impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems, representing the voice of nature

The stories of their native places are stunningly conveyed by director Nicolas Brown and the team of Off The Fence Originals, in conjunction with The Laudato Si’ Movement. I especially appreciated the segments from the Amazonian rain forest and the Pacific marine environments.

I also appreciated the diversity of age, race, gender, country of origin, and faith portrayed in the film. While Pope Francis and the Vatican officials are, of course, Catholic, we see participants who follow other faiths, including Islam and indigenous traditions. It is a true reflection of the encyclical being addressed to “all people of good will.”

In keeping with that diversity, people in the film speak in their native languages with subtitles and narration available in English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. There are also subtitles available for the entire film in many other languages. You may watch the film free of charge at the link in the first paragraph of this post or on the YouTube Originals channel. Details about offering a free screening for groups can be found here.

My hope is that many people around the world will view the film and take action on social and environmental justice issues. We are one human family and we must together care for each other and our common home.

voting and violence

I try to keep up-to-date on the news, particularly in the US, and often blog about what is happening with politics and public policy.

I admit it has been daunting to write about the upcoming midterm elections next week. There has been so much disheartening rhetoric that I haven’t been able to make myself post about it but I feel compelled to post today after watching the continuing aftermath of the horrific attack against Paul Pelosi, spouse of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

For those of you not in the US, early Friday morning, a 42-year-old man broke into the San Francisco home of Paul and Nancy Pelosi. He had zip ties and duct tape with him and asked where Nancy was. (She was in Washington, DC.) He attacked the 82-year-old Paul Pelosi with a hammer, fracturing his skull and injuring his hands and arms. Pelosi is still in intensive care following surgery and is expected to recover over time from his physical injuries. The suspect is in police custody and will be charged soon, most likely for attempted murder among other charges.

The suspect had posted on social media his belief in a number of conspiracy theories, including those that demonize the Democrats as child abusers. While Democrats have been vocal and universal in the condemnation of the attack, Republicans have been much less so. Instead of recognizing this as political violence, some are saying it is just another example of increasing crime. They also fail to acknowledge that their political advertising, posts, and speeches featuring weapons and demonizing Speaker Pelosi and other prominent Democrats have any role in the increase in political violence.

The Republicans do a lot of “what-about-ism” in which they try to create false equivalencies and fear-monger on their talking points, all while conveniently dismissing any responsibility. In this case, they ignore things like the fact that most of the rise in crime is occurring in Republican-controlled areas that have relaxed regulations on guns. It’s likely that one of the reasons that Mr. Pelosi was attacked with a hammer rather than a gun is that California has a more rigorous system of allowing gun permits than Republican-led states, such as Texas. Republicans, including those in New York, blame bail reform for the increase in violent crime, even though the data show this isn’t true. There is also a much higher level of violent extremism on the far right than on the left. And, of course, we have recent and ongoing trials and convictions of perpetrators of political violence on January 6, 2021 at the US Capitol and the thwarted kidnapping of Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer.

My usual way of determining for whom to vote is to look at the stand of the candidate and their party on a range of issues. Given my personal background, I place the highest priority on environmental and social justice issues. This is in keeping with the principles of Catholic social justice doctrine and with the call in the Preamble to the US Constitution to “promote the general welfare.”

I look at the candidates’ character, personal behavior, and integrity. I also look at their personal experience and intelligence. I want to vote for candidates who are smarter and more experienced than I. I don’t choose candidates on the basis of “who I want to have a beer with!” That comment may sound strange to those outside the US but there is recurring theme about this question as a gauge for likability/authenticity since about the year 2000.

In this election, there is an additional factor that I honestly never thought would be an election issue here in the United States. Do you believe in democracy? So many of the Republican candidates seem to be embracing anti-democratic, even autocratic, leadership and policies. They don’t believe in the outcome of free and fair elections, such as the 2020 election, even though they have no evidence to the contrary. They won’t say that they will accept the outcome of their own election if they lose. They won’t say that Biden was legitimately elected president. They have tried and sometimes succeeded in making it more difficult for minorities, elders, young people, and lower-income people to vote. They have broken up likely Democratic voters who live in a community into different voting districts to dilute the power of their vote.

What is most destructive is that they continue to support and perpetrate the lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election and that he is not responsible for the January 6 insurrection, for illegal possession of presidential documents (including sensitive national security information), for obstruction of justice, and for other crimes for which there is ample, publicly available evidence.

Apparently, Republicans are into wielding governmental power for their own benefit – and the benefit of the wealthy people and corporations who underwrite them – rather than being public servants.

I won’t be voting for any of them.

I will vote for candidates who uphold our American values and who are serious about enacting and executing laws that improve our lives and communities, that try to heal our planet and climate, and that work with all people of good will to end conflict and disease.

I hope millions of others will join in this cause and remember that democracy is on the ballot.

US education

In the United States, some school districts have already started the new school year and the rest will follow over the next couple of weeks.

In many places, the situation is fraught.

First, an organizational primer for those outside the US. The United States, unlike many countries, does not have a national education system. The various states exercise control over the curriculum and policies to greater or lesser degrees, depending on the state. The greatest degree of control usually rests with local school boards.

It’s a mixed blessing.

In some districts, the local school boards have bought into the notion that something as simple as having a book that includes a gay character in the library is akin to “grooming” students to be gay. Or that it isn’t permissible to discuss racism because it might make white students feel bad or guilty. This puts teachers in the uncomfortable position of being afraid to teach history, civics, literature, science, etc. in the way that they were trained to do as educators.

Some of these issues are even more pronounced when they become a state policy. The most prominent example of this at the moment is Florida. This school year marks the beginning of enforcement of the Parental Rights in Education Act, informally known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The most prominent provision of the law is that there must be no classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. The reasoning is that these topics should be totally controlled by (heterosexual) parents.

But, here’s the thing. We use gendered language ALL THE TIME. Some of the first sight words that children learn – mother, father, boy, girl, man, woman, he, she – are all gendered terms. Are teachers supposed to use gender-neutral words at all times, referring to students, parents, and siblings rather than using such common terms as boys and girls, moms and dads, and brothers and sisters? What if a student asks why the family picture a classmate drew has two moms or two dads? Will the teacher be sued if they say anything beyond “ask your parents”?

Florida is also facing what has been termed a “critical teacher shortage.” It’s hard to say how much is due to curriculum concerns versus low pay, lack of administrative support, large class sizes, contract provisions, etc. Teacher shortages are fairly common in the United States, especially in math and science. To fill gaps, some states allow people to teach subjects in which they are not certified or even allow people to teach who are not certified at all.

Meanwhile, teachers and schools are under COVID-related pressures. Although almost all students, teachers, and staff are eligible, many remain unvaccinated, raising the risk of illness. During the pandemic, some students fell far behind academically during the period of remote instruction and need highly qualified teachers and extra tutoring to help them catch up to grade level. Teachers are also struggling with the mental health and developmental needs of students who faced fear, uncertainty, and isolation for months and now struggle with inattention, misbehavior, and lack of age-appropriate social skills. Some teachers are opting to retire as soon as they are eligible rather than continue under these stresses.

In some areas, schools are dealing with church/state issues, as well. Because of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the government may not establish a religion. However, a couple of recent decisions by the conservative majority of the Supreme Court have poked holes in what had been termed the wall of separation between church and state. Both cases benefit the expression of Christianity; I wonder if the decisions would have been the same if they had been about public prayer by Muslims, for example. In some localities or states, there are even instances of (white) Christian nationalism creeping into school curricula, such as teaching that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, which it was not, and downplaying the role of enslavement and indigenous land theft/genocide in our national history.

A lot of this is supposedly done in the name of parental rights, that is, that parents are the ones who should determine what their children learn in public school. I don’t agree with that. I look upon public education as a public good. I want free, high-quality education for every student so they can grow into responsible, mature members of our communities. They need to learn wide-ranging skills in communication, quantitative and scientific skills, technology, social studies and civics, and the arts. Having a broad base helps to develop critical and creative thinking and to identify where a student’s interests lie. Learning in community teaches how to work together and solve problems in a civil way. That was my expectation when I chose to send my children to public school. If my priority had been to control what they were exposed to, I would have opted to home school them. If I wanted them to have learn through a faith-based approach, I would have sent them to a religious school.

I don’t believe that a subgroup of parents should be able to dictate the learning environment of all children in our public schools. If a parent thinks that a certain assignment is inappropriate for their child, the vast majority of schools have a mechanism to assign an alternative. However, that parent should not have the power to say that the other students can’t undertake the original assignment. If those parents don’t understand that in terms of community values, they should at least understand that the parents of the other students have the same right to direct their child’s education as they do. If a parent thinks that all/most of the assignments are inappropriate for their child, it’s time to either homeschool or send their child to a private or religious school that meets their needs.

With my daughters in their thirties and my grandchildren abroad, I admit that I am grateful to have been spared the personal pressures of education during the pandemic. There is a lot of ground to make up for students in the US. Let’s concentrate on that for the good of their future and our country.

%d bloggers like this: