Provisional Conclusions is a collection of my poetry over the years. It includes thoughts about ADHD, losing Amy, travelling, and thinking about life ina general. Please check it out!
Provisional Conclusions is a collection of my poetry over the years. It includes thoughts about ADHD, losing Amy, travelling, and thinking about life ina general. Please check it out!
There’s been a ton of ink spilled over the last several centuries about Romans 13 – it was used by slaveowners, it was trotted out a few times during the Reagan years, and it was recently onstage again, this time quoted by Jeff Sessions in support of the administration’s immigration…”policy.”
I’m not going to go into long and boring exegesis on the verse (tho there are a few links below that you might find helpful)1, I only want to point out that this is the same sort of cherry-picking (“read this part, ignore that part”) that people sometimes do (both liberal and conservative) when they want to use the Bible to justify their stand on some issue or other. Whether you want to condemn homosexuals, or support government programs to feed the hungry, or blame all the evils of the world on women (“Eve, why’d you do it?!”), or complain about “these kids and their tattoos”, you can find a verse to support your position.
The best preachers/ministers/rabbis/priests I’ve heard and the best Biblical scholars I’ve read all came back to the same point: you have to read the WHOLE THING – warts and all2 – and then reflect on any passage in light of that reading.
The whole point of the New Testament is that the admonition to “Love God” and “Love one another” is the lens through which everything else must be interpreted. Serious people can have legitimate disagreement about what policies best reflect this and how to implement those policies (I’m sympathetic to the argument that Jesus was not a social reformer), but to stand in front of people and justify your actions – or your administration’s actions – by simply saying “God says you should blindly obey your leaders” is the kind of behavior that has been turning people away from organized religion since at least the late 80s.
1. A few recent discussions of this verse can be found in the Atlantic, in the Huffington Post (in 2017 when Pastor Robert Jeffress quoted it as giving Donald Trump the right to nuke North Korea if he sees fit), and elsewhere.
2. By “warts”, I mean things like Lot’s daughter getting him drunk and then…you know…sleeping with him, David’s little adventure with Bathsheba, Jesus admitting that he hides the meaning of some of his parables so people won’t understand them and be converted [Mark 4:10-12]
One of the things I really like about having a wide range of players at the Improv Meetups (Taylor or Royal Oak) is that I get a good check on my pop culture awareness. Some examples: I know that “Game of Thrones” exists but wouldn’t recognize Jaime Lannister if he came up and bit me, I’m about 50/50 on current songs, and I’m a little disappointed that more of the group don’t get the My Little Pony and Steven Universe references I make.
They do do well with references to the Beatles and Star Trek, so it all balances out.
Every now and then, though, a word will pop up that only a few of us recognize. It usually leads to us throwing the word in here and there all night, often not knowing what it means until someone finally breaks down and asks.
So, here are a few examples of the things I’ve learned:
cannolo is the singular of cannoli
ferrule (sounds like feral) – a metal ring used at the end of a handle or tube to keep it from splitting
ferule (which didn’t come up, but is interesting) – a flat ruler with a widened end, used in earlier days for disciplining children (ref. Tom Sawyer, ch. 6)
There may be more coming up – watch this space!
Last Sunday, Rev. Nate Nix was giving a lesson about paying attention to the signs around us and learning both from our elders and from past experience. I have a love-hate relationship with experts and authority (we tend to over-rely on them and ignore our own experiences and wisdom), but an even more healthy skepticism that “newer is better”. Humans have been through a lot. To ignore all of that accumulated wisdom and experience is just plain dumb.
The point he made about tsunami stones is that they were easy for contemporary Japanese to ignore. Which they did, raising buildings well below the danger zone the stones indicated. And they found themselves shocked and devastated when their homes and buildings were destroyed by high walls of water.
It’s easy for us to ignore warnings about things that we haven’t experienced. Especially things that happened hundreds or thousands of years ago. But “it hasn’t happened recently” isn’t the same as “it won’t happen again.”
As individuals, our life spans are short blips in human history. We need to at least give a listen to those who came before. To blindly ignore advice is just as bad as blindly accepting it.
Every since I got myself educated on the history of Improv, I’ve been wanting to connect with Gary Schwartz. He worked with both Viola Spolin and her son Paul Sills and I really like the direction he’s taken with Improv. (This article on spolin.com talks about some different paths in the evolution of Improv. I don’t see one as better than the other — any more than I see playing the guitar as “better” than playing the piano or writing fiction as “better” than writing poetry — but I feel more drawn to what he’s doing than what others are doing.)
A few months ago, I was reading Gary’s regular newsletter and I saw that he was having an Improv Retreat in January, 2018. I was reading it in November and, to my ADHD brain, a retreat in January was “a long, long way away.” So, I forgot about it.
I quickly checked his website and saw that there were 3 spaces left. I also saw that he wasn’t holding another workshop in the U.S. for the rest of the year. So, I wrote him a quick email introducing myself and explaining that I really felt drawn to Improv — not as a form of comedy, but as a way of bringing people together, creating a safe space to play, and work together on focus, on being present, on being enagaged and being (as they say) “in the moment.”
He encouraged me to come and so I did some quick shopping for plane tickets (I’m saving $400 by leaving from Chicago), cancelled a Sunday morning commitment (thank you, Greg and Faith, for being flexible), and pushed everything on my “to do” list back a week.
One of my goals for 2018 (not a Resolution, but a real, live Goal) is to become a better Improv leader and see if I can find more places to apply it.
This seems like a good first step.
I have a friend on Facebook who I can count on to forward me links to pro-Trump resources. Even though I have yet to read anything that changes any of my ideas about the man and his antics, I appreciate it. It’s helpful to hear opinions other than your own. Go figure1.
The latest thing I received was a link to an article with the provocative title “BREAKING: Mueller Busted with Muslim Radicals In White House – Could Be Removed From Investigating Trump” on officialnewstoday.com2. As someone who is interested in how our religious lives interact with our political and social lives, I thought it was worth looking into.
I poked around the Internet and found other articles like “Russia Special Counsel Mueller Worked with Radical Islamist Groups to Purge Anti-Terrorism Training Material Offensive to Muslims”3 and “Gohmert Claims Mueller Compromised National Security as FBI Director”4 with very strong language like “[Mueller] purged the training materials for the FBI of anything that offended the radical Islamists.”
The idea that then-Director Mueller ‘caved into Islamic radicals’ kept showing up in these articles. But nothing I’ve read about Robert Mueller makes me think he’s a guy who caves in easily. Plus, this story is being told by people who would certainly like to see Mueller go away and leave Trump alone so he can get on with his program of … (nope, not gonna go there. Not what this one’s about).
So I thought I’d look into it a bit. Here’s what I found:
Back in 2008, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller met with representatives of Muslim and Sikh groups and the Interfaith Alliance. The meeting was requested to discuss information in the FBI anti-terrorism training material that was either factually incorrect or blatantly Islamophobic. As a result of that and subsequent meetings, over 700 pages of documentation were purged5 by the FBI based on four criteria:
Some examples: that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult” leader, that “mainstream” Muslims sympathized with terrorists, and that the more “devout” a Muslim was, the more likely he would be to commit a violent act.
It’s hard for me to see how removing such blatantly offensive material constitutes caving in to the demands of radical Islamists. It seems like an attempt to make the training material more useful by not perpetuating stereotypes that would 1) make FBI agents less likely to talk with Muslims who might provide helpful information and 2) make Muslims less likely to engage with FBI agents when approached.
In the Wired article, Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab-American Institute, points to exactly this point as a reason for the review: “They’re producing these kind of documents that inhibit our counterterrorism efforts. We need our communities engaged, and these have done nothing but alienate us.”
So, what do we have?
An attempt by some of our fellow citizens to not have FBI agents automatically associate their religion with terrorism? Or an attempt by Muslims to hide the fact that they are all just sitting home waiting for the right moment to attack?
What if I say “I don’t know”?
What if I say I don’t know the answer to that question any more than I know the answer to whether the Ultra-Rich of all nations are in cahoots and are enjoying playing 1984/Hunger Games with the rest of us or if they are really just hard-working, incredibly brilliant people who earned and deserve everything they’ve got and are working for the common good?
Or if I don’t know the answer to whether or not I think white guys should be allowed to buy guns, since statistics show that 51% of all mass shootings between 1982 and 2017 were done by white guys?
What I’m getting at is this: each of us interprets data through our own filters, we see the world through our own lenses. It’s just the way humans are built.
So, how do I try and get to a more balanced view?
I think the challenge for all of us is to recognize our assumptions and try to adjust for them. When I first read the article about Mueller, I thought “wow, seems unlikely, but I know I want to believe that, so let’s go look for some evidence.”I didn’t find any.
The facts are: there was a meeting, people developed criteria and reviewed documents, and some pages were found offensive and removed. Whether this is sensitivity to a non-majority community or a government plot to collude with Muslim terrorists is nowhere in the data.
The interpretation is my choice.
I believe that the FBI has a job to identify and counter terrorism, whether it’s from Muslims, North Koreans, white men (who are responsible for 51% of the mass shootings between 1982 and 20176 – “domestic terrorism” anyone?), or Hobbits.
I don’t believe that labeling adherents of a particular religion as “likely terrorists” helps them do that job.
1. or go read Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill’s arguments for free speech.
2 The website that hosted the report, officialsnewstoday.com, looks to be an outlet for someone named Katherine Rodriguez. I couldn’t find articles by any other writers on the site. Ms. Rodriguez’s work can be found on Breitbart, Muck Rack, and other sites, so I am making the assumption that’s where she gets her data. No other sources are cited.
5 the latest numbers I could find, tho this was from the 2012 article
Just to try and stave off comments like: “but the Islamic groups he met with are known terrorists” – they are not. The closest to true is that Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) were unindicted co-conspirators in the 2007 Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing case, according to the same article on Judicialwatch – a site that tends to see all Muslims as terrorists anyway.
This is a very small example of how information on the Internet gets skewed. I’m posting it because I just had one of those crazy phone calls during which a young whipper-snapper corrected me about their employers’ hours of business.
I want to be clear, in case their employer reads this, that this is not about the person. They were very nice. It was about me saying “those aren’t the hours that are posted” and them saying “yes they are, I’m looking at them right now.”
We were both right.
I looked at the results of the Google Search and got one set of hours. I clicked on one of the results and got a different set. Then, I went directly to their website and got a 3rd set. (There was actually a 4th set, but that was for their Service Department, so it doesn’t count.)
I want to point out here that none of this is the company’s fault – there are too many ways data gets distributed on the Internet for a small or medium sized business to keep on top of all of them.
So, how does it happen?
Pages get cached (stored away) on the internet as a way of speeding up response time in the browsers. Sometimes they get stored locally on our own machines. Pass-through sites store information and don’t update it. There are other ways data gets “frozen”, but it all leads to the same problem: I have my answer (“You close at 5:30 on Wednesdays. I’m looking at your website.”) and you have yours (“No, sir, we close at 8:30. I’m looking at our website.”) and we’re both right. We have the data to prove it.
Keep that in mind when you’re quoting numbers and percentages and, really, just about anything else you find on the Internet.
Google Search Results sidebar:
Results from Google Search on my cell phone:
Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman
This blog entry was motivated by a post I read from a friend on Facebook. Savannah is part of the band The Shake Ups in Ponyville – a fun and talented band that plays pop and rock songs written around themes found in the “My Little Pony” TV series. Lisa and I have been fans of theirs for a long time and have logged a lot of miles driving to Indianapolis to hear them.
This summer, the band – in their current configuration as The Shake Ups in Beach City – played at Ann Arbor’s Top of the Park. Before the show, we had a chance to sit down over a meal and chat. At one point, someone asked why they used shows like Steven Universe and My Little Pony to inspire their music. Her husband P.J., who writes most of the band’s material, deferred the question to Savannah. She said that they were a pretty stable couple with a pretty happy life and that to really write, you had to have conflict and pain to write from. That really stuck with me.
Earlier today, Savannah posted this about what happened in Charlottesville this week:
Am I actually still in high school reading a piece of dystopian fiction or is this life? Nazis and the KKK are big bads again? The people in charge of our government are ok with this? What happened to the world while I was on a magical pony adventure?!
I re-read the last sentence then re-read it again. It brought a lot of things to mind because I’ve had similar thoughts over the last several years. How could I be trying to write a show about ADHD while Ferguson was happening? How could I be in the park playing with my kids while someone else’s kids were being killed in Columbine?
More recently, how can I be teaching improv classes while the Flint water crisis is going on and we have a man in the White House who’s intent on taking away millions of families’ health care (including mine), who ignores the overwhelming consensus on climate change, and who handles international diplomacy like a second grade bully on the school playground?
What helped me with these questions was thinking about Howard Thurman.
Thurman (along with Albert Fisk) was the founder of the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco. One thing I learned while I was working in the office there was that Thurman enjoyed painting (specificially, penguins).
Another thing I learned was that he had been challenged by some activists in the 60s for not being engaged enough, for not being visible enough. He might have wondered “what happened to the world while I was busy painting my pictures?”
I think the answer is this: there are people who are visible and active and out there in the world, bringing things to people’s attention that need to be that need to be exposed, and there are the people who maintain the conceptual and spiritual world in which those people grow, in which they grow and are energized.
Another thing I learned about Howard Thurman was that he was an inspiration and a spiritual grounding point for many of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement.
Dr. Thurman was a teacher of teachers, a leader of leaders, a preacher of preachers. No small wonder, then, that Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, Samuel Proctor, Vernon Jordan, Otis Moss, and I sat at his feet. – Rev. Jesse Jackson
Kim Lawton, in a piece about Thurman in Religion and Ethics Weekly, points out that Thurman was working at a different level than these others: “Thurman believed social change would only come through personal transformation and spiritual disciplines such as meditation.”
Thurman made his contribution by promoting and supporting that transformation, by keeping the world of Meaning alive, by outlining (in his writing and sermons) ways to be in the world that transcend our individual and group differences and promote what is best in all of us.
Shows like Steven Universe and My Little Pony – and a lot of others in both the fantasy and sci-fi genres – consciously try to model a world in which the connections and relationships between people are what’s important, not what they look like or where they came from. What they have in common is that their characters each have their own strengths and quirks and work together to bring out the best in each other. Nobody is showing off, nobody is trying to “one-up” (unless it’s part of the plot…) – they each bring their best to whatever situation they are facing and work together to resolve it. In my day, this was part of Gene Roddenberry’s dream with his Star Trek series, and it’s still going strong.
The writers and producers of those shows, the animators and voice-over talent, and bands like the Shake-Ups in Ponyville, Harry and the Potters, Five Year Mission, and others bring that world to their fans in a different way, inviting them into this bigger vision of what the world could be. They are maintaining and cultivating that same space of Meaning for the next generation.
Later in that same Facebook thread, Savannah posted:
I am much more afraid of people who almost burned down the world once than those we have only just met and may yet live at peace with.
This is the hope that lives on in the fantasy worlds of Gene Roddenberry, Rebecca Sugar, J.K. Rowling, and the others who try to model a world where we come together despite our differences in the face of larger challenges (climate change, anyone?).
This is the hope that musicians, artists, and other performers can create for their audience through their art. I’m not sure how effective it is, but even Pete Seeger wasn’t sure and he’s got a lot more experience at this than most of us.
So – “What happened to the world while I was on a magical pony adventure?!”
A lot of kids hung out with new kids they might not have otherwise met.
A lot of parents who brought those kids to a Shake Ups show saw them surrounded by love and enthusiasm, regardless of who they were standing next to.
A lot of adults who walked by the Rackham Stage on June 18th saw Savvy Shy come offstage and dance with a group of kids, and some of them even joined in, maybe rekindling something inside of them.
A lot happened. And it happened with joy and love.
Each of us has our own part in this mosaic. Not all of us are called to be on the front lines, directly confronting the various problems we all face. Some of us are in the background, hopefully modeling a better world and hopefully offering a place for our more visible peers to refresh and recharge, hopefully keeping joy and love alive. And hope.
To come full circle to Dr. Thurman’s quote at the top of this entry: I think Savannah and P.J. and others like them have found what makes them come alive.
And that’s what we need the most.
Pete Seeger Full Quote by Harry Chapin:
You know Harry, my involvement in any cause, benefit, march or demonstration, I’m not sure it’s made a difference (and here’s a guy who’s being very modest cuz for forty years he’s stood up for every major issue of our times, he was fighting fascism in the early 40s, late 30s) but he says I can tell you one thing, that involvement with these issues means you’re involved with the good people, the people with alive hearts, alive eyes, alive heads.
Well, who are the people who are your best friends? who are the people you keep coming back to? who are the people that make your life worthwhile? Usually, people who are committed to something.
So, in the final analysis, commitment, in and of itself, irrespective or whether you win or not, is something that truly makes your life more worthwhile.
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