Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton: American Secretaries of State

Astonishing: three presidents, three women named to manage our relationships to the nations of the world. One had experienced the family life of a refugee, one had grown up in one of the most repressive racially controlled southern cities in our nation, one had managed one of the most disruptive marital episode of any presidency in our history.

I had been thinking about this the evening before our Friday Morning Book Study Group at the church. That morning I had brought the Harvard philosopher’s book on Justice – I referred to Dr. Sandel in a previous blog, you may remember. There were four women in our group, including my wife. The discussion was involved, brisk. As I read selected passages the focus quickly became on the two classical philosophical positions represented by the Democratic and Republican conventions. I thought to myself that I would not have heard a more insightful and penetrating discussion in any of the graduate seminars I ever attended. There were, however, missing participants that day. One had been more or less on leave for a couple of years.

She is a woman with a consuming passion. She owns property north of here and her focus is on that. Our part of Indiana is largely deforested farmland. Her goal is to plant 10,000 native hardwood trees. 

In a similar vein, on Sunday I was reading an interview with retired Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Lisa Rice. She was the first woman graduating from her law school. After passing her state licensing examination, she discovered she would not get a job as a lawyer with any law firm. Now, much later, she retired early from the Supreme Court in order to give full time care to an elderly progressively ill husband with Alzheimer’s. 

The United States is an interesting place; it has great gifts to give to the world – as well as its “oh, my gosh(es)!” and “ugh…good grief.” As I think of all that I have seen and heard and wondered about, however, I think its most remarkable gift is The American Woman.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

That insulting movie trailer about Mohamed; what’s an offense to honor anyway?

The most shouted about perspective of that trailer is, of course, the rioting eventuating in an ambassador’s murder. Such a trailer, as obscure as obscene, was twittered into wider violence. Actually, trying to apply the cultural norms of the Twenty First Century to the Seventh takes a leap of the imagination long enough should put a cramp in anyone’s fingers.

My son works with a couple of Hollywood companies so I asked him what was being said.. He just rolled his eyes. The editorials in professional media were that it was so amateurish everyone associated with it should go into hiding! Maybe there ought to be more stand-up comics on Middle Eastern television to handle such problems.

From another perspective, however, we can learn from the event by seeing the response as similar to “an affair of honor.” This makes sense of why a smart American ambassador in Egypt after the initial rioting issued the statement he did rather than “throwing his gloves on the table,” to use a traditional phrase.

 We actually see the prickly sense of honor in our western world, too. One Christmas Eve my wife and I were having dinner in a small dining room in Bavaria. She nudged me and I looked at the next table. An elegant elderly gentleman was sitting there with his party. On his check were two elongated scars, proud remembrances of a duel in a German university fraternity. We hear mutterings about male relatives in the Middle East executing some young female with stone throwing because she had gotten pregnant; I have also heard rumors about sewing a horse hair into a saber cut to ensure its prominence. The whole thing died out back in the time of World War II. There was enough blood spilled to satisfy several generations of students. 

Actually, we Americans are not too far away from such events. Andy Jackson – President Jackson - was murderous enough to kill a man in a duel for making a snide remark about his wife. About twenty years later the multiplicity of small printing presses had changed the tide of public opinion; Abraham Lincoln could write his comic political pieces – by using an equally funny sounding made-up name. My father once told me, as a matter of fact, that when he first ran for public office in Texas the application form had a section in which he had to swear he had never participated in a duel.

Things do evolve. I like to switch around the television news channels after a big event to see how each handles it. On one there was a loud mouth shouting that Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, “had blood on her hands.” Lucky for him. In another time he would be pushing up grass under some oak tree as the sun came up. I haven’t heard, but you would think, however, that a TV executive and a security guard would have marched him to an outside door and thrown the contents of his desk out in the street after him.

I have not checked the references, but the quotation sounds very much like the Apostle Paul writing to Timothy, “Speak the truth In love.” It’s a goal. When my wife edits this piece she will undoubtedly have her opinion…

If you are married, how about reading this piece to your spouse, 

                                                                                                       discuss it with your family

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed, Joseph Smith: how do the remembrances turn so violent?

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread, broke it and said, “Do this is remembrance of me.” As soon as his followers took power a few centuries later, they were chasing each other out of town – or worse – about some interpretation of remembering him.

Father Abraham wanted so much to have a homeland: made friends with the natives, treaties, and he and his sons took on wives (or adds on to the family) from them. Sensible. Last night a friend of mine pointed out there are now 2.4 million Palestinian displaced persons in Jordan. Abraham also had this magnificent dream that all the world would be blessed through his descendents. What has happened is understandable, given the Holocaust, but I can’t help but wonder how poor Abraham would feel about such an outcome among kinfolks?

Then we have this wide spread Muslim outburst over that awful betrayal of American free speech coming out in a movie trailer on the internet. It is easy to understand the anger at insulting one’s revered Prophet, but I can’t help wondering if Mohammed himself would be less embarrassed by being called a “womanizer” than humiliated some of his followers have actually been involved in killing people over it.

Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon movement, was assassinated, as you may know. A couple of decades later some followers massacred a wagon train of people from Arkansas as they were passing through Utah. Smith, of course, had been fleeing his enraged fellow citizens, but courageously chose to return and face them. I suppose, knowing how the followers of the great religious leaders twist and turn in their remembrances, we should give some thought to all of this.

Personally, I grew up as a Christian; it was a given in our little rural town you were either Methodist or Baptist (and hardly anything to all right thinking folks). Being considerably older now, I have decided to be a Christian. Now when the bread and wine is given out, my remembrance is to internalize His teachings a great deal more. Please, God. Please make it so – even it makes me even more universalized in my feelings.  My neighbors are so wide spread.

Please feel free to share with a kindred spirit

Saturday, September 15, 2012

In this election, the debates are about the individual and community, the issue is rather the “narrative”

 Michael Sandel’s work on Justice is richly rewarding  I am going to suggest it to our Friday Morning Book Group. His exposition on the themes of Choice versus Community, with the contrast of individual rights and fairness, helped illuminate our recent political conventions for me. I was especially struck, however, by his thoughts on the significance of the person’s sense of narrative – not “tradition,” but internalized story line. Our interpretation of reality is not only based on our experience of events, but also greatly colored by the tales we have incorporated.  

It no longer makes any difference to me that I am a “Texan.” Yet that mythology surrounding the “ Old West” molded my sense of self, continues to do so. Puzzling. I got to thinking about my wife’s swearing in ceremony as an American citizen. It altered a legal status, but much more. She was formally accepting the narrative of being “American,” embracing its story , enlarging who she is. 

This line of thought clarified the speeches of the presidential candidates’ wives at the convention. It actually matters little (although it does, of course) that each man is a good husband, father, religious, a nice guy. “Nice” actually was the descriptive word. Their speeches were a part of these two women’s personal experiences but had little to do with the issue bothering many of us: what is the candidate’s personal narrative? For Romney, it is the incorporation, right into his very bone marrow, of what it means to be Mormon, Joseph Smith, the trek to Utah and all. It suddenly made sense why so many persons are peculiarly concerned with where Obama was born. It isn’t a question of place of birth, but an issue of “What is his narrative?” Obama’s first book struggled with this. The choice to become both a community worker and a professor of Constitutional Law suddenly fell into place. So did their choice of wives: it helps illuminate their narratives.

The idea of narrative makes sense. It helps with an understanding of the ancient creeds some church members find difficult to voice in a worship service. They are not an intellectual acceptance of by-gone assertions countering evolving scientific world views. Joining in reciting one of those creeds is rather an affirmation that we stand within that grand narrative of Abraham, the Second Isaiah, the preaching of the Carpenter from Galilee, of Peter and St. Francis (and acknowledging the Judases, too).  To own the biblical narrative as one’s own, is not to become a literalist or to be some how “converted.” It is to deliberately falling into step with the four thousand years parade now evolving into new ethical understandings of the depths and reaches of slavery, the role of women, and – now - the protection of children.

Who do you know who might find this interesting?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Politics can be fun, even educational, so have a laugh with cartoons from American newspapers

A ‘thank you’ to those who read your blog is always in order, especially a merci, danke, and gracias. I ran out of my appropriate words early, but not out of appreciative words - thanks to my German-American wife.

First, to the American language readers’ ‘thank you.’ It is to be found by googling “Best Political Cartoon of 2012 (so far).” They are in a section of LiveCitizens, which is dedicated to thought provoking dialogue.

Now to those non-primary English speaking readers of this blog: an especial ‘thank you’ – and a referral to that same google site. In fact, this blog started out with a thought given to those whose English is a learned language . Languages don’t necessarily imply communication, particularly humor. Humor doesn’t translate readily. When I got through laughing at the cartoons it struck me that they might be helpful to those who read my blog as a way of increasing their “American” language skills. The cartoons are clever, rather than subtle, and the written lines are short and colloquial -  ideal for appreciating what Americans think is funny..We all look forward to the time when evolution makes revolution just items on a quiz in a history class. A good laugh at a political cartoonist’s satire can help that along.

English language learning discussion groups might have a problem. I mention such groups because the number of hits from countries sometimes falls in about the right number for a discussion group. The difficulty is that the theme is political and so uproariously funny that it might very well kick off questionable exchanges between individuals. Concentrating on language and the current American situation would solve that problem, though. The selection of cartoons is explicitly non-partisan.

What particularly snatched at my hopes, however, is that some teachers of English might be included in the folks who read this blog. It struck me that the cartoons would make a marvelous power-point presentation over several sessions. They would include language, culture, and current events. A lecturer would have a ‘field day’ using those cartoons with a group of students – oh, yes: I intentionally use colloquialisms for their learning value; I write as I speak. English read as literature is one thing, but conversations in a plane, train or as an exchange student is another…not to mention that we Americans would love having you come and visit.

There is another thing. Associated with the LiveCitizen is “” It encourages dialogue and particularly ideas useful for the common good. It would be worth studying the site to see how you and your friends might want to use computer networking in your own setting.
Why not forward to a good friend?