Friday, May 27, 2011

Nineteen Butterflies and A Squirrel

        Driving across Jack Mountain the ten miles from my house to the next town over the other day, I suddenly became aware of an abundance of butterflies.  Being the kind of woman I am, I began to count them.  For those of you interested in such things, I counted nineteen -- some with blue-black wings, some small translucent white, but most bright yellow.
        Oh, and there was one squirrel in the road.  I think he was the same one I saw the day before.
        The sheer abundance of the beauty of the butterflies is what captivated me.  Flapping their wings or soaring on the breeze, they're just magic.  I wish I had the talent of a Romantic poet like Keats to tell you of the dance of the butterflies.  I wish I had the observing eye of the naturalist to tell you what kind they were.
        Even though I am sure the butterflies were not thinking of such things, I can tell you how glad I am to live in this place, where not only are there butterflies, but there are people who take in the news of their presence with the same attention usually given to the arrival of a dignitary from a far away land.
        So as members of Congress stood to give applause to the President of Israel, instead of spending my day wondering why they don't invite the leadership of the Palestinians to come and speak, I marveled that my friends at the lunch table greeted my news about the butterflies with amazed "Really"'s?
        When butterflies and squirrels come to town . . . now that's news!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

If Someone Could Only Hear One Word From You . . .

        If someone could only hear one word from you ever, what would that word be?  I'm guessing it would be 'love' or 'friend' or 'God' or something similar.
        Why, then, I wonder, is so much of our speech filled with the words 'hate' and 'war' and 'combat' and 'troops' and 'hurt'.
        Why is it so much easier to say 'I hurt' than to say 'I love'?
        Even in community-driven events like Relay for Life, our language is filled with the words of combat, perhaps understandable when what is opposed is something as formidable as cancer.  But does it make sense that volunteers are referred to as troops and that military imagery filled the air yesterday in my own community's Relay event?
        Language matters.  Linguists tell us again and again that our words not only reflect our understanding of things; words actually shape our understanding of things.  Professional propagandists have understood this for centuries.


        Try this exercise for a week:  keep a log or just a piece of scrap paper with you and jot down every reference you speak or hear that uses the language of violence and war to refer to something other than actually being in a fight with some one or some nation.  (Example:  'I hate fish', to mean 'I do not like the taste of fish').  If you want to make it more interesting, add a column for when those engaged in violence or the 'business' of war use other words to disguise what they're actually talking about (example:  'collateral damage' to mean 'civilian dead').
        I have done no formal studies, but a few observations of interest:  (1)  the more violent we are in war, the less likely we are to name what we're actually doing in that war; (2)  the more engaged we are as a nation in violent conflict or war, the more the language of violent conflict and war creeps into everyday usage (so that volunteers suddenly become 'troops'); and (3)  for some reason which escapes me, we the people of these United States (I can't speak to other countries on this) are absolutely unwilling to accept that there is any connection between the violence and militarization of our language and the violence and militarization of our behavior as adults, even while stressing the importance that our children hear words of love from us and helping our children develop coping strategies to deal with the harmful effects of hurtful language from the playground.


        It is my hope at the end of the week, you'll come away with new awareness about the words inside and around you and with new commitment to emphasize the language of peace and reconciliation rather than the language of militarization and war and violence.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

To Jump or Not to Jump, That is the Question

        Sidney, the black cat I’ve inherited, sits on the arm of the couch in my office.  She stares longingly at the window, sizing up the gap between her and the radiator under the window that has long been her perch for that favorite cat past time: bird watching.
For the first time, Sidney elects not to jump.  She’s getting older and the distance just seems too far today.
I suspect it was much the same for that rag-tag group of followers of Jesus in the days between Easter and Pentecost, as they sat and waited, for what they knew not.
If it had been up to them, the jump from crucifixion to resurrection to being church just would have been too far.
Fortunately for them and for us, it wasn’t up to them.  Jesus leapt; the Holy Spirit came; and the rest is history.
I am so grateful to serve a leaping Lord!  Aren’t you?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Question of Faith

How can a follower of Jesus the Christ believe that some people just need water boarding?

Mr. Santorum, I am speaking to you.

In the play I recently saw, The Circumference of a Squirrel, the protagonist, reflecting on an incident from his childhood, where his father led him and his brother in the brutal killing of a squirrel in the house, he says that for the first time, “I understood the difference between the executioner and the torturer,” referring to his father’s jubilation at the chasing, cornering, and bashing to death of the hapless squirrel unlucky enough to have taken up residence in the family’s chimney.

Now can we finally talk about the national policy of torture?  Now can we begin to understand that it has always been a fool’s errand to focus the national dialogue on efficacy rather than morality?

If the conversation is about what works, the efficacy of torture matters.  Ultimately, however, efficacy is beside the point.

The point is that torture is wrong.  Morally wrong.  Even when it works.

In the case of the location and killing of Osama bin Laden, maybe torture worked.  Maybe it did not.

But that is beside the point.

For a person of faith, isn’t the locus of the conversation on what we should do rather than on what we can do?

Thus I am still asking, still wanting, Mr. Santorum, or someone, or anyone, to explain to me how a follower of Jesus the Christ becomes an advocate for torture?

I really want to know.

I want to know how a thinking faithful fellow Christian comes to the conclusion that some people need or require water boarding and all the other tools in the torturer’s kit.  I know how the Inquisition came to its conclusions.  But how do you?  What biblical text do you refer to?  What teaching of Christ do you rely upon?  What doctrine or maxim of your faith underpins your beliefs as to torture?  What Christian teaching leads you to the unspoken premise that the greater good for the many requires the disregard of the humanity of the one?  What do you do with the fact that the man you follow was himself a victim of torture by the state?  Or that the cultural and religious leaders of his own time believed they were acting for the greater good?

I do not claim that there are no answers to these questions.  I simply do not know what they are.  And I want to.

Please, won’t you tell me.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Too many deaths

        My son Ben received his Masters in Library Science on Sunday.  I am, needless to say, a proud Mom.
        Amidst all the buzz, there's a moment . . . he's standing in the doorway, posing for a picture.  Grandmother is outside, taking the shot.  I stand behind him, off to the side, watching this young man I know so well and not at all.  And I realize what I've always known . . . there will be a time when he will live and I will not . . . when I will not be in the snapshot.  And that is as it should be.  And that moment began today.
        Later, Ben is walking ahead, Mom is behind and I'm in the middle, bridging the generations, wanting to hurry ahead with the younger but waiting instead for the older, knowing that Benjamin slows down for me as I slow down for Mom,.  Never quite matching each other's steps, we walk single file along the sidewalk, one before the other - how is it that the one who came after walks before?
        A mother's son died today.  Joy's boy, a man, reallly, 61 years old is definitely a man, but still her boy -- a heart attack, it seems.  There has been much too much dying in our little town lately.  But as long as there is living, there is dying, old life making way for new.  And somewhere, a baby was born as a man took his last breath.  I don't know if there's hope in that, but somehow, there is comfort.