Light & Darkness, Darkness & Light

I just read a blog where the writer was consumed by a feeling that something big was about to happen and it would appear that whatever "IT" was, it was not going to be good. She received many comments that both commiserated with and added to the feelings of doom and gloom.

I am not a Pollyanna by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I all too often see the proverbial glass as half empty. Having said that, this was my response to the blogger.

I would like to shed some light on the darkness in this thread. Just today I got a phone call from Jesse. He convinced me to join a group of people in my community who will meet monthly to get out a progressive message in our country that will stick and resonate with a growing number of people who are fed up with the "darkness" that has pervaded our lives in the last several years. Without getting into the nitty gritty and at the risk of sounding naive to some readers, I am here to say that in fact, just today, after speaking with Jesse and committing myself to join these local coordinating councils, I have begun to feel a little more uplifted, somewhat more hopeful , a wee bit LIGHTER. Margaret Mead said,
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Just last night I happened to go to Friday night Sabbath services, something I rarely do, but did to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of my father's death, to say Kaddish along with my brother, sister and children. As it happened, the regular Rabbi was not there; instead, the service was led by a rabbi-in-training, who must have been all of 22 years old. Her years were few, but her words were wise. She told us (AND I AM DEFINITELY PARAPHRASING HERE) that the "Parsha" (Portion) of this weeks Torah reading had to do with Moses being told by his father-in-law that he, Moses, can not expect to carry out the task of improving his people's lot on his own; that it is too large a burden for one person to carry. It is not that he shouldn't do this alone, but that he can not do it alone. He must ask the help of others and thus share the burden.

I took this to mean that though neither I, nor you, can change our world for the better on our own, if we pool our abilities and our efforts and our blood, sweat and tears, then we can and we will and we must take on the responsibility to help, to build up and to make a difference. Only in this way can we shed some light and dispel the darkness. It is far better to try this, then to hang on tenaciously to our fears and linger in the dark.

How often and how easy it is to go about kvetching, "the sky is falling; the sky is falling". I do not believe that change will come by the grace of god, nor as a result of prayer and not even if we hope and hope as hard as we can. Social justice, a clean environment, a fair system of law and a fair and effective government, in other words some much needed LIGHT will happen by the efforts for change made by you and me and anyone else who wants to join in and come along for the ride..



ATONEMENT: A Book Review and a Question

For the past month I've been reading the book, ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan , finding it rather dry and somehow uninviting, as if the book itself wanted to keep me at a distance. And then, suddenly some 290 pages into it, it comes at me from behind, grabs me and shakes me to my core.

It is war time, the Second World War and it is England. Briony has up to this point, been a rather shallow, immature child, though with some talent for writing. Her writing has sustained her emotional well being. Or has it? The war finds Briony as a young adult of 18 years. Adulthood itself does not necessarily bring with it maturity, yet, when accompanied by the raveges of war, can maturity be far behind?

For all the many pages that I read, I could not understand why this book was entitled, ATONEMENT? For 269 pages I could find no answer. It may just as well have been called, Boring England. And then, some 290 pages into the book, I began to understand. When Briony begins to recognize that she has not only seen sorrow, but has been its cause, then it becomes apparent that there may be something here worthy of atonement. Briony sees that she and her actions and lack of action caused near total destrucion of two lives, that of her sister, Cecilia and Cecilia's lover, Robbie. There is still the question of atonement. Can one, on one's own, make oneself atone? Or does life itself have to turn around and present the opportunity?

Briony makes a choice to become a kind of nurse's apprentice in her stepping up to serve in the war effort. She can not possibly have known what she would see and experience. She comes face-to-face with the after effects of war, with virtual hell on earth. One can have a hangnail and lament over it for days on end, thinking it to be the most annoying and painful affliction. In war time, you no longer have that luxury; the hang nail becomes the entire foot which is cut off, while the bone protrudes. There are things the human being is not meant to see. There are sights and sounds and smells that could only be called horrific, disgusting, unbearable..."the sticky sour odor of fresh blood, the stink of gangrene, a leg that is black and soft, like an overripe banana,...seeing through bloody cartilage"...things that should make your legs weak and unable to hold you up...."excruciating pain witnessed...seeing a face, the resemblance to the cutaway model they use in anatomy classes, a face in ruin, crimson and raw, seeing through a missing cheek to the upper and lower molars and the exposed muscles around the eye socket...so intimate, and never intended to be seen"..... Yet, it was, all this and more. that Briony saw, smelled, touched and experienced. Was this Briony's atonement, this level of pain and suffering in exchange for atonement? The question can be asked, does it takes these unspeakable horrors of war to bring a person to where she/he is worthy of atonement? I ask you.


Red-eye, Chocolate, and Communion..Did I Mention I Was Jewish?

Perhaps the most devisive issue of our day is abortion. Today I received an email from a friend that was a reprint of an article written by Anne Lamott. I hope that she won't mind my posting her words here on my blog. Her words are my thoughts screaming to get out with clarity and forthrightness. I give Anne Lamott full credit for these words and thoughts, for thay are hers. But, I share them almost word for word. Well, perhaps not exactly word for word. Anne is a practicing Catholic and is speaking as one here. I am not Catholic and thus obviously do not speak as one. But, there the differences end. This article speaks my mind.
February 10, 2006

latimes.com : Print Edition : Editorials, Op-Ed
Print E-mail story Most e-mailed The Rights Of the Born By Anne Lamott, ANNE LAMOTT is a novelist and essayist. Her most recent book is "Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith" (Riverhead, 2005).

EVERYTHING WAS going swimmingly on the panel. The subject was politics and faith, and I was on stage with two clergymen with progressive spiritual leanings, and a moderator who is liberal and Catholic. We were having a discussion with the audience of 1,300 people in Washington about many of the social justice topics on which we agree — the immorality of the federal budget, the wrongness of the president's war in Iraq. Then an older man came to the mike and raised the issue of abortion, and everyone just lost his or her mind.Or, at any rate, I did.

Maybe it was the way in which the man couched the question, which was about how we should reconcile our progressive stances on peace and justice with the "murder of a million babies every year in America." The man who asked the question was soft-spoken, neatly and casually dressed. First Richard, a Franciscan priest, answered that this is indeed a painful issue but that it is not the only "pro-life" issue that progressives — even Catholics — should concern themselves with during elections. There are also the matters of capital punishment and the war in Iraq, and of HIV. Then Jim, an evangelical, spoke about the need to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and the need to diffuse abortion as a political issue, by welcoming pro-choice and pro-life supporters to the discussion, with equal respect for their positions. He spoke gently about how "morally ambiguous" the issue is.

I sat there simmering, like a samovar; nice Jesusy me. The moderator turned to me and asked quietly if I would like to respond. I did: I wanted to respond by pushing over our table. Instead, I shook my head. I love and respect the Franciscan and the evangelical, and agree with them 90-plus percent of the time. So I did not say anything, at first. Then, when I was asked to answer the next question, I paused, and returned to the topic of abortion. There was a loud buzzing in my head, the voice of reason that says, "You have the right to remain silent," but the voice of my conscience was insistent.

I wanted to express calmly, eloquently, that pro-choice people understand that there are two lives involved in an abortion — one born (the pregnant woman) and one not (the fetus) — but that the born person must be allowed to decide what is right.
Also, I wanted to wave a gun around, to show what a real murder looks like. This tipped me off that I should hold my tongue, until further notice. And I tried.

But then I announced that I needed to speak out on behalf of the many women present in the crowd, including myself, who had had abortions, and the women whose daughters might need one in the not-too-distant future — people who must know that teenage girls will have abortions, whether in clinics or dirty backrooms. Women whose lives had been righted and redeemed by Roe vs. Wade. My answer was met with some applause but mostly a shocked silence.

Pall is a good word. And it did not feel good to be the cause of that pall. I knew what I was supposed to have said, as a progressive Christian: that it's all very complicated and painful, and that Jim was right in saying that the abortion rate in America is way too high for a caring and compassionate society. But I did the only thing I could think to do: plunge on, and tell my truth. I said that this is the most intimate decision a woman makes, and she makes it all alone, in her deepest heart of hearts, sometimes with the man by whom she is pregnant, with her dearest friends or with her doctor — but without the personal opinion of say, Tom DeLay or Karl Rove.

I said I could not believe that men committed to equality and civil rights were still challenging the basic rights of women. I thought about all the photo-ops at which President Bush had signed legislation limiting abortion rights, surrounded by 10 or so white, self-righteous married men, who have forced God knows how many girlfriends into doing God knows what. I thought of the time Bush appeared on stage with children born from frozen embryos, children he calls "snowflake babies," and of the embryos themselves, which he calls the youngest and most vulnerable Americans. And somehow, as I was answering, I got louder and maybe even more emphatic than I actually felt, and said it was not a morally ambiguous issue for me at all. I said that fetuses are not babies yet; that there was actually a real difference between pro-abortion people, like me, and Klaus Barbie.

Then I said that a woman's right to choose was nobody else's goddamn business. This got their attention. A cloud of misery fell over the room, and the stage. Finally, Jim said something unifying enough for us to proceed — that liberals must not treat people with opposing opinions on abortion with contempt and exclusion, partly because it's tough material, and partly because it is so critical that we win these next big elections .It was not until the reception that I finally realized part of the problem — no one had told me that the crowd was made up largely of Catholics . I had flown in at dawn on a red-eye, and, in my exhaustion, had somehow missed this one tiny bit of information. I was mortified: I had to eat my body weight in chocolate just to calm myself. But then I asked myself: Would I, should I, have given a calmer answer? Wouldn't it have been more useful and harder to dismiss me if I had sounded more reasonable, less — what is the word — spewy? Maybe I could have presented my position in a less strident, divisive manner.

But the questioner's use of the words "murder" and "babies" had put me on the defensive. Plus I am so confused about why we are still having to argue with patriarchal sentimentality about teeny weenie so-called babies — some microscopic, some no bigger than the sea monkeys we used to send away for — when real, live, already born women, many of them desperately poor, get such short shrift from the current administration. Most women like me would much rather use our time and energy fighting to make the world safe and just and fair for the children we do have, and do love — and for the children of New Orleans and the children of Darfur.

I am old and tired and menopausal and would mostly like to be left alone: I have had my abortions, and I have had a child. But as a Christian and a feminist, the most important message I can carry and fight for is the sacredness of each human life, and reproductive rights for all women is a crucial part of that: It is a moral necessity that we not be forced to bring children into the world for whom we cannot be responsible and adoring and present. We must not inflict life on children who will be resented; we must not inflict unwanted children on society. During the reception, an old woman came up to me, and said, "If you hadn't spoken out, I would have spit," and then she raised her fist in the power salute. We huddled together for awhile, and ate M&Ms to give us strength. It was a kind of communion, for those of us who still believe that civil rights and equality and even common sense will somehow be sovereign, some day.

Cheney.....Quail.....Hunting...You Couldn't Invent This Stuff!

I must apologize prior to writing what I am about to write, but it is simply too good and god help me, too funny, to be true. Now, mind you, it was not so good nor funny for poor Mr. Harry Whittington, the 78 year old hunting buddy of VP Cheney, but it is a story better than any political satirist could possibly write.

Mr. Cheney, is out hunting quail at a south Texas ranch, when he turns towards a covey of birds, meaning to shoot one of them, and accidentally shoots his friend. Now, I am not the kind of person who laughs when someone gets hurt or goes to sit down, misses the chair and lands "squat" on his tush, but I simply can not tell this story or even think about it without giggling and this, I know, is not nice and I was brought up to be nice, and thus the aforementioned apology.

I mean, think about it..... our beloved Vice President is out hunting quail, as if he couldn't just go to the grocery store or better yet, a fine restaurant, and order up some of that quin·tes·sen·tial quail. But no, Mr. Cheney decides he needs to hunt and shoot himself a bird. Now, he may have decided to hunt wild turkeys or pheasants, but not today; today it was to be QUAIL (not to be mistaken for that other 1980's potatoe eating Quail).

So, he takes a friend along for the hunt because, one might assume, hunting is nothing, if not a bonding experience with ones friend. And, how better to bond than to, well, put plainly, to shoot ones friend. I mean talk about irony. Talk about satire. Talk about a self-made skit for Saturday Night Live or MAD TV or grist for the Jon Stewart mill! I mean, it just doesn't get any better.

Sorry, Mr Cheney and Mr. Wittington, I don't mean to make jokes at your expense. But in this case, I think, even you, can see the humor.


We Don't Need Castles in the Sky: Democratic Party Take Heed: # ONE PRIORITY

This is the email I sent to the Democratic Party today in response to their email requesting money for the important work they do, especially in trying to get more Democrats elected to the Senate and Congress in 2006.

I receive your emails and I take them seriously. But I am leary of sending money because I think the Democratic Party must begin to get its house in order, take a stand and stick to it. I received an email from MoveOn.org asking for my ideas in setting the agenda for the next few years and I will include it here. I want to add that the problem is not just leadership in the party, but also what the Democrats stand for. The Democrats are not putting out a strong and conclusive message nor a clear plan. We need to hear alteratives to what the Republicans say and do and we need them to be stated clearly with clear objectives and means of solving the problems. We all know what the problems are. Tell us once and for all what the solutions are and HOW you plan to achieve them. Once this is done, stick to the message. There has been way to much wishy-washy-ness and appeasement in the last several years.

Leadership means clarity and sticktuitiveness. Truly, the Democrats have not demonstrated either since Bill Clinton (I'm sure there would be those who would disagree with this assessment, but I believe Clinton came closer to this leadership role than any others we've seen in a long time). If you want donations from me and other like-minded people, consider what I have written, seiously. I know I am not alone in these opinions.

What we most need to accomplished and soon, is to come up with a Democratic leader who has a clearly defined message and agenda. We Progressives have nowhere to turn in the political system as it stands today. We need a leader who has the insight, foresight and progressive ideals to lead us toward a better, cleaner, more humane society. One hears over and over again that the Republicans are in major trouble, but the Democrats offer few good alternatives. Let's stop whining and complaining and rather act aggresively to find someone who can lead the Democrats to victory both in the Congress in 2006 and finally the Presidency in 2008. We don't need castles in the sky. What we do need is Leadership and Clearly Defined Goals. Change will not come without them.