A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fear Not

I'm reading some of the old Christmas devotionals on lds.org, and I found this quote from Elder L. Whitney Clayton in his address "Fear Not" from the 2015 Christmas Devotional. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The angel perceived the shepherds’ fear when he appeared to them, telling them to “fear not.” The astonishing glory of God, which radiated from the unexpected heavenly messenger, had indeed struck fear in their hearts. But the news the angel had come to share was nothing to be afraid of. He had come to announce a miracle, to bring the ultimate good news, to tell them that the redemption of mankind literally had commenced. No other messenger before or since has brought happier greetings. The Only Begotten of the Father was beginning His mortal sojourn: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” These were indeed good tidings of great joy.

We each face moments in our lives when the great joy that the angel promised can seem elusive and distant. All of us are subject to the frailties and hardships of life—illness, failure, problems, disappointment, and, in the end, death. While many people are blessed to live in physical safety, others today do not. Many face great difficulty meeting the demands of life and the physical and emotional toll it can bring.

And yet, despite life’s hardships, the message of the Lord to each of us is the same today as it was to the shepherds keeping watch two thousand years ago: “Fear not.” Perhaps the angel’s injunction to fear not has more transcendent relevance to us today than it did in calming the shepherds’ fear that first Christmas night. Could he also have meant for us to understand that because of the Savior, fear will never triumph? to reinforce that ultimate fear is never justified? to remind us that no earthly problem need be lasting, that none of us is beyond redeeming?

The sweetest gift given at Christmas will always be the one our Savior Himself gave us: His perfect peace.

(One of my Favorite Christmas Songs - "When the Baby Grew Up" by Kathy Mattea

Monday, November 14, 2016

Forward

So, I'm not "at peace" with Trump's election, but I do see a way...well...forward (my fundamental Pollyanna-ish optimism has apparently re-asserted itself). One thing that helped was a thought experiment. 

Trump won Pennsylvania by less than 80,000 votes, he won Wisconsin by less than 30,000 votes, and he won Michigan by less than 20,000 votes (note that votes are still being counted, but these are margins as of this writing). If the tables were turned, and Clinton had won any two of those three states, she would be President-elect instead of Trump. Think about that - if only 50,000 people had changed their votes (out of 120 million votes cast!), the whole outcome of the election would change. But fundamentally, we would still be a very divided nation. Roughly half the people who voted would have voted for someone other than the President-elect. And some of those people would have been just as disappointed as I am now.

Somehow, that helps me. Despite the fact that I find Trump repugnant, it's incumbent upon me as a citizen to understand the hopes and fears of millions of my fellow citizens, and what motivated them to choose Trump. It's too easy to dismiss all Trump supporters, and I can't fall for the fallacy that they all are racist misogynists. I know good people, rational people, who voted for Trump. If I can't understand why they did that, I'm failing at empathy. That is hard for me.  

Here are a few things that have helped me over the past few days - I share them in the hope they will help you too. Except for the first one, they are in no particular order, and are interspersed with songs about moving forward. None of this changes the fact that I'm bummed out big time by this election, but it does help me move on a little bit.

If you don't read ANYTHING else, read this post at the Mormon blog By Common Consent: "Mystic Chords and Better Angels: Building Zion when we Disagree." Convince your friends at the other end of the political spectrum to read it too (and if you don't have any of those types of friends, make some).


Some wise counsel on being Instruments of the Lord's Peace in the world.

Stephen Colbert's end to his election special (also, check out additional comic takes on the election results by Seth Meyers and another great Stephen Colbert moment):

I don't think I can link to a friend's post on Facebook because it isn't public. But she shared some words of wisdom from a rhetoric teacher friend that touched my soul:

I teach an 8 am first-year rhetoric class. For most of my students, this is the first election they've been able to vote in. Our lesson? Not moving to Canada.

I mean this metaphorically, of course, because I don't think that many people are actually going to raise stakes, but "moving to Canada" is shorthand for disengaging and shutting up. "Moving to Canada" is about surrounding yourself with people who already agree with you and not taking seriously the concerns of people who have very different backgrounds, life experiences, and concerns. "Moving to Canada" is about saying, "Not my problem anymore." Don't move to Canada.

Our class is about civic dialogue, about employing a rhetoric that listens first, and about being unafraid and optimistic about speaking up. I hope my students engage in many conversations, even heated ones, with people who don't agree with them. I hope they open their mouths. I hope they stay here in America. We need them.



This podcast by Krista Tippet (who has one of the most soothing voices in radio). She interviews Eboo Patel, an interfaith activist, and he has some words of wisdom. If you don't have time to listen to the whole thing, here are my two favorite parts:

(Part 1)
So, if you add religion to a diverse democracy, and if you understand religion per Tillich as “ultimate concerns,” you have a society in which people are invited to make their personal convictions on matters of ultimate concern public, knowing that their neighbor has a different definition of “justice” than they do. Justice is another term that we assume everybody has the same definition of. My new line to 20-year-olds who look very chastised when I say this on campuses is, “If everybody in the room that you’re in has the same definition of ‘justice’ that you do — I don’t care how many colors, or genders, or sexual preferences, or religions are in that room — it’s not a diverse room.” Part of the definition of “diversity” is the recognition there are diverse understandings of justice.
So, in that situation, what does healthy look like? And my quick take on that is healthy is a society in which people who orient around religion differently can disagree on some fundamental things and work together on other fundamental things. And in my mind, the most dangerous trend in our society right now is what Andrew Sullivan calls the “scalping” trend, which is if you disagree with me on one fundamental thing — and I’m going to recognize that these things are fundamental — matters of the Middle East, same sex marriage, abortion — they are fundamental — let’s not say that they’re marginal at all — but if you disagree with me on that, I will neutralize our entire relationship, and I will take your scalp and hang it on my wall as a trophy to make sure that everybody else who has that opinion knows that I’m coming for them.
And I just — how do you have a society in which people who disagree on where to draw the line in the Middle East will perform heart surgery together, or serve on the PTA together? Isn’t that what a diverse democracy is? And it feels to me like the central thing that we do is nurture that ethic of a half-full cup of, “I will disagree with you on this set of things and continue to work with you on this other set of things.”
(Part 2)
William Raspberry writes a column in which he says, “The smartest people I know secretly believe both sides of the issue.” And that was so striking to me. Because I was — the way I viewed the world at that point was, “I’m the smart one. You all are the dumb ones. My job is to figure out how to make you smart.” And the definition of “smart” was you thought like me....And this notion of William Raspberry, who was, generally speaking, a progressive columnist was like — look, the smartest people I know choose the pro-life side and understand that there’s something else at stake. The smartest people I know are against the death penalty and understand that people who might be in favor aren’t crazy, that there’s a set of values, something at stake there.
I wanted to say one thing very briefly on this matter of justice. And I actually — my sense is actually justice and empathy, they’re in the Venn diagram. There’s a shaded area. But the more empathy one has and the more diversity one is in, the more one recognizes different definitions of justice. So, here’s my moment to this. Eight or 10 years ago, I’m speaking on a college campus, and I happened to be speaking with a man named Nechervan Barzani, who was introduced to me as an Iraqi leader
And as a good multicultural against the Bush administration progressive, my first instinct was to apologize to him for, quote, “the unjust war in Iraq.” And he looks at me, and he kind of shakes his head. And I think his English isn’t great, and so I repeat what I said. And I said...[laughter] This is a great insight into the mind of the Manichean, right? You don’t understand me because your English isn’t great, not because you disagree with me. I said, “I want to apologize on behalf of the American people.” All 320 million — for the unjust war in Iraq. And he looked at me, and he said, “I’m a Kurd. The only unjust thing about the war in Iraq is you didn’t do it 20 years ago.” And I thought to myself, how ridiculous that I didn’t even imagine that. And I mean, of course, this is over the next several years that I kind of unpacked this in my head. But how narrow a world did I live in that I thought that this was — now, I still believe the Iraq war was unjust, but I do I think that Nechirvan Barzani’s position, after having tens, hundreds of thousands of his people killed by Saddam Hussein’s chemical warfare, that his position is not a reasonable definition of justice?
And what strikes me in reflection is, how come I didn’t imagine that? How come I didn’t play with the figure of Nechirvan Barzani in my mind in the dialogue? How is it that I had such a black and white vision of justice in the world? And I find that — I think that that is a problem in the hyper-diverse, 325-million jazz of a nation in which we live.
In my mind, you don’t have a diverse democracy, you don’t have America, unless people are willing to say, “I am able to disagree with you on this set of things, and you will see me on the other side of the picket line on those things. And I will try to defeat your candidate at the polls. And we will find other things to do together.”
If you haven't read or watched Hillary Clinton's concession speech yet, you should - even if you didn't vote for her.

Of course, "Hillary Clinton" (aka comedienne Kate McKinnon) singing Hallelujah on Saturday Night Live:

Don't give up - I won't either!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Road Trip (Part 2)

I'll take refuge from political posts with Part 2 of my October road trip (see Part 1 here).

For part of the trip, my parents joined me. We started our first day at the cemetery where my grandparents are buried in western Massachusetts. I had never been there before when the leaves were changing, but it was a beautiful and peaceful place. Unfortunately I don't remember my grandma, because she died when I was really little, but it is nice to think of an remember her and my grandpa.

While on this road trip, I listened to a book on tape: "Lives Like Loaded Guns," which is about Emily Dickinson and her family. We visited her house in Amherst, Massachusetts which was lovely. While I don't always understand her poetry, I think some of it is profound and moving.


My parents had both lived in Western Massachusetts so they were both excited that the Hartford, Connecticut temple was being dedicated - we made it to the last day of the open house. The temple was simple, but peaceful.


The next day we visited Mark Twain's house (for some reason I didn't take many pictures here). Mark Twain was father of three girls, two of whom died before he did, which I think is so sad.


After another long drive, I spent the next day at Hyde Park, New York. I went to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Presidential Library and home, along with "Top Cottage" (where he planned to retire after his Presidency), and Eleanor Roosevelt's home after his death, Val-kill.

FDR's home, living room
I liked that FDR's home had a room called the "snuggery" - it was his mother's private parlor. I think I need one of those in my house.
View of the front of FDR's house (behind the house are gorgeous views of the Hudson Valley)

Outside the library - statutes of FDR, Churchill, and a sculpture carved from remains of the Berlin Wall. Franklin wrote Winston at one point: "It is fun to be in the same decade as you!"

The FDR Library had a lot of interesting exhibits regarding FDR's presidency - my favorite were some of the campaign buttons for and against Roosevelt's re-election bid in 1940. He was the only President to ever seek a third term and there was some vigourous debate about it. Some of the slogans on buttons:
- "I'm against the Third Term. Washington Wouldn't. Grant Couldn't. Roosevelt Shouldn't."
- "Better a Third Termer than a Third Rater."
- "Third Term Taboo. 23 Skidoo."
- "Two good terms deserve another."


A view of "Top Cottage," which FDR built up on a hill near the main house. He wanted to retire here after his Presidency was over. This cottage was where he hosted the King of England during the King's visit to the U.S. FDR's mom was scandalized when FDR served hot dogs at the picnic (there was plenty of other food too).


Above is the study in Eleanor Roosevelt's home, Val-Kill. She liked to read, can you tell?  She is one of my heroes and I love so much about her. After she was first lady, she worked tirelessly for human rights and helped draft the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This study was where she met with a young senator named John F. Kennedy when he sought her endorsement. She grilled him on civil rights and urged him to do more for this cause, but ultimately did endorse him. The Presidential library also had an exhibit of the contents of her wallet when she passed away in 1962. It had this prayer:

Prayer
For All Those Who Work or Fight in the Air
Lord have pity upon all men.
To those who are in darkness
Be their light.
To those who are in despair
Be their Hope.
To those who are suffering
Be their Healing.
To those who are fearful
Be their Courage.
To those who are defeated
Be their Victory.
To those who are dying
Be their Life.


After learning a lot about both Roosevelts, I took a walk across the Hudson river. "Walkway Over the Hudson" is an old railroad bridge that has been converted into a public walkway over a mile long. It was a lovely jaunt and very scenic with the changing leaves.

The next day brought art from the Hudson River school of American painting, and lots of it. I stopped first at Cedar Grove, the home of Thomas Cole, who was the father of this school of painting. He spent a lot of time in upstate New York, hiking and sketching, eventually moving here after marrying a local girl.

Painting by Thomas Cole - forget the name of it, but I loved the light of the sun in this painting.

Cedar Grove - they had SO MANY of Cole's paintings, it was amazing.
Next, I crossed the river and visited Olana, a home designed by Cole's fellow painter and artist, Frederic Church. Church had bad arthritis for the last few years of his life, so he spent his time being an artist on a grand scale - designing the house and grounds.

A lot of the windows at Olana have beautiful frames to create "living pictures" from the outdoor scenery.

Loved this pastoral scene, with cows, by Church
 I thoroughly enjoyed a tour of the inside of the house, which was full of Church paintings and artifacts, but the best part was the landscape tour of the grounds that I also did - the fall colors were, quite simply, perfect and it was a beautiful fall day.
View of Olana from the grounds - it's a beautiful house with a lot of Arab design touches.

One of the views on the Olana grounds.
 After a day of art, I headed (where else?) to a cemetery. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, to be exact. It's the final resting place of Washington Irving, writer of the short story "Legend of Sleepy Hollow." A few other famous New Yorkers are also buried there, including Dale Carnegie and Samuel Gompers, along with some Rockerfellers.


My last day was a stop in New York City to see the 9/11 memorial and museum there. It was sobering to reflect on my memories of that day so long ago.


An art exhibit - the artist asked people to recall the color of the sky on 9/11.
 My last stop was the Morgan Library and Museum, which had an exhibit honoring Charlotte Bronte, one of my favorite writers. They had the manuscript to Jane Eyre, which was open to the famous scene between Jane and Mr. Rochester where he proposes. Before realizing that Mr. Rochester intends to marry her, Jane says: "I am no bird, and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will." Jane Eyre is one of my favorite characters because she is so strong willed. Charlotte Bronte took great pride in the fact that contemporary critics couldn't tell if she was a man or a woman, and she wrote that she wanted to be judged as a writer, so it didn't matter whether she was man or woman.

Only professional portrait of Charlotte Bronte done during her lifetime (other than a portrait by her brother)
I really enjoyed the trip (not all the driving, though). It seems somehow appropriate to close with these words from FDR's prayer address on June 6, 1944 (D Day):

And, O Lord, Give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impact of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

Keep the faith, be brave and be bold. There is so much to enjoy in life.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

This Time is Different (Or, Why I Hope I’m Really Really Wrong)

The Presidential Election of 2000 was nothing if not hard fought. George Bush and Al Gore had a vitriolic  campaign (well, as much as Al Gore can be vitriolic…he’s kind of a sleeper). After two Supreme Court decisions, hanging chads, and a mismatch between the popular vote and the electoral college, there was a lot of pain (some of which echoes to this day). When hearing about the ultimate outcome on the radio that fall, many weeks after the election, I was disappointed but not necessarily surprised. I had been pro-Gore, but accepted the outcome and hoped for the best.

Next time around, my first vote in a Presidential election was for a loser. I voted absentee for John Kerry in 2004, while I was in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) preparing to serve my mission. I was super excited, mostly because I was VOTING (*nerd alert*), but also because I didn’t particularly care for then-President Bush. Then, on the day I actually flew from the MTC to my mission, it ended up being Election Day. As we all sat down for a meal with all the missionaries who had trained with me, our Mission President (leader of missionaries in a given area) said that he had “great news” and President Bush had been re-elected.

Don’t get me wrong, that SUCKED. I was disappointed President Bush had been re-elected, and sad that I had to spend that day with a bunch of Republicans, when I would have rather spent it with my family and friends more sympathetic to the Democratic cause. But I didn’t feel an immobilized by it, or terrified, or disheartened for days. I shrugged it off and moved on with my life, knowing we’d live to fight another day. Since then, I’ve been more lucky, having voted for Obama twice.

But on Wednesday night as I drove home from work, I cried. Heaving and gasping sobs. I feel like I need to articulate why this loss mattered (and hurt) so much more than the others. This time is different. This time, my fellow Americans had elected a man so horrifically unqualified that it hurt. It hurt to think that this man would be representing me and representing this country I love so much. It hurt to think that over 50 million Americans either didn’t know or didn’t care what he is, and voted for him anyway. 

I’ve decided to narrow it down to three reasons why this loss hurt so much. It’s not a comprehensive list, but here it is. Mr. Trump is unfit to serve in the presidency due to his (1) blatant dishonesty, (2) mistreatment of women, and (3) xenophobia/Islamophobia. I’ve tried to support these with evidence as much as I’m aware. These issues are the reason I’m so distraught at the outcome of the election.

First, blatant dishonesty. During debates and public speeches Mr. Trump displayed strikingly little knowledge of current events or historical context and little or no willingness to learn, but he also repeatedly lied. He lied about things that were easily disproved, he lied about his opponent’s record, and he lied about his own record. Politifact, the fact checking service, rated 19% of his statements “mostly false,” 34% of his statements “false,” and 17% of his statements as “pants on fire,” the most mendacious rating. How can we trust this man to lead us when he lies so constantly and so blatantly? He does not have any shred of integrity.

Second, his mistreatment of women. We are all aware of his comments on the Access Hollywood tape, where he bragged about assaulting women. He also stated on the Howard Stern show that he liked walking in on naked women participating in his beauty pageant. His Twitter feed provides ample evidence of his views regarding women. He re-tweeted a nasty photo of Ted Cruz’s wife. To me, one of the most terrible example was his Tweet regarding Meagan Kelly, a Fox News journalist who had the audacity to ask him tough questions. His response was to say she was disgusting and must have asked these questions because she was menstruating. In his speeches and actions, Mr. Trump has displayed a disregard for women and made clear that he values them only for their attractiveness.

Third, his xenophobia and Islamophia. Mr. Trump kicked off his campaign by stating that Mexico is deliberately sending us rapists and murderers. He’s called repeatedly for a wall to keep out immigrants (which is cost prohibitive and wouldn’t work anyway). He said that he would ban all Muslims from the country, a blatantly discriminatory practice (which he later amended to “extreme vetting,” whatever that means). He refers to “radical Islamic terrorism,” thus giving the terrorists exactly what they want. Saying the phrase radical Islamic terrorism doesn’t mean you have a plan to actually fight terrorism, it just means that you are willing to let an entire religion practiced by 1.6 billion people be defined by a few thousand extremists.

For these and so many reasons, Donald Trump is not fit to serve as President, and it horrifies me that he will. Some have suggested that his campaign was full of bluster and that he doesn’t really want to deport immigrants or ban Muslims. They suggest that his daughter Ivanka is evidence that he supports women in the workplace and he doesn’t really disrespect women. But that, to me, only makes it worse – it means that he deliberately stoked the flames of racism, misogyny, and hatred in order to win this campaign. Even if he doesn’t believe those things, he didn’t have the decency or integrity to stand up to those horrible forces. Others have suggested that he’ll be checked by our separation of powers and checks on government overreach. I hope and pray that is so, but he can still wield enormous power as President and that depresses me. He has also displayed a striking regard for authoritarian leaders such as Putin, which makes me doubtful that he would accept a Supreme Court decision that goes against him. While I did (and do) disagree with John McCain and Mitt Romney, they were fundamentally decent men trying to serve their country. I can't say the same about Donald Trump with any confidence.

I know there’s a time for coming together. I get that this emotional reaction won’t last – that I can’t let it control me. I understand that we have work to do, to heal this country and bridge the deep divides among us and I need to be a part of that. Something inside me knows that this is not the end of the world and the sun will rise and we will move forward somehow. But for now, I mourn – I mourn that this man will be President for the next four years. I mourn that this behavior didn’t automatically disqualify him from the presidency in the eyes of the voters. For the first time in my life, I hope and pray that I am really really wrong about something. I hope that he won’t govern from a place of fear, that he’ll learn humility and reach out to those in pain. I hope that he isn’t as black as I’m painting him. But nothing that I have seen so far gives me confidence that that outcome will occur or that he actually has compassion for the downtrodden he says he wants to help. Forgive my cynicism while I cry a little bit that America has come to this.

In the words of Tom Hanks in a classic movie I love, here’s what I’m gonna do for now: 
Well, I'm gonna get out of bed every morning... breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won't have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out... 

Hugs, anyone?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Prophetic?

Here's to hoping that Susan B. Anthony was prophetic when she said this in 1900:

"It is beyond doubt that before long women will be sent to Congress as Representatives by some of the States...and who knows but that within the next century they may be appointed to the Supreme Bench? Indeed, it is not at all beyond the bounds of possibility that a woman may be elected President some day."

It's been marvelous to watch the live feed of people at Susan B. Anthony's grave who are placing their "I Voted" stickers there.  Thank you, Susan Brownell Anthony, and the thousands of other progressive voices who expanded voting rights to all of us!

While it goes without saying I want Hillary Clinton to win the Presidency, I hope we can all be civil and accept the will of the people.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Listening

I really liked this Mormon message about listening to others. So often we are very eager to say what we believe while trampling over others' beliefs. So, no matter the outcome of the election tomorrow, listen to those with whom you disagree!

https://www.mormonchannel.org/listen/series/mormon-channel-daily-audio/how-to-listen-when-you-disagree

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Faith

Faith - is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the scene that We do not -
Too slender for the eye

It bears the Soul as bold
As it were rocked in Steel
With Arms of Steel at either side -
It joins - behind the Veil

To what, could We presume
The Bridge would cease to be
To our far, vacillating Feet
A first Necessity.
   - Emily Dickinson, 1864

I'm not sure I fully know what this poem means, but I like the idea of faith as a bridge.