Not the Band

One of my favorite weekend treats involves black-eyed peas.  With a father from South Carolina, some of my earliest memories involve soul food.  As a present-day vegan, I eat a lot of beans.  That’s why I was disappointed to learn that Goya’s CEO, Robert Unanue, continues to be a big Trump supporter.  Shame on you, Goya!  Lest you get the wrong idea, we generally buy the store brand beans.  Of all the legumes, however, it seems the humble black-eyed pea is difficult to get right.  The generic brands always end up with the bottom part of the can being a kind of beige sludge where the beans have broken down and lost, as it were, their individuality.  The dish I make (one of my own invention, also featuring grits and hot sauce) requires that the beans maintain their integrity—take note, Goya!  Said brand seems to be the one that understands this aspect of canning beans.

For many years I avoided Bush beans for fear that they might be enriching the other *ahem* Bushes.  Right now, however, I’d rather have W run for a third term than the specter of Goya-supported Trump.  When did legumes become politicized?  Why can’t I sit down to a peaceful Saturday morning breakfast without a hideous four-year nightmare coming to mind?  The perils of being vegan!  In any case, I recently tried Bush black-eyed peas.  They weren’t as good as Goya, but I think I need to make the switch.  I’ve never had my somewhat simple culinary tastes disrupted by a president before.  Generic would be fine, but why, o why can’t they get the black-eyed pea right?

Image credit: Jud McCranie, via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps somewhat oddly, I really like beans.  There are about 400 varieties and each has its own personality from sassy edamame to staid kidney beans.  I’ve even reconciled myself to the childhood nightmare of the lima bean (alien, without a hint of lime).  Now, I’m no foodie.  I eat to live rather than the other way around.  Whatever I do, however, I search my conscience.  Raised evangelical I know no way around it.  My conscience is the main reason for becoming vegan—I can’t support animal cruelty, especially for an industry that is the largest environmental polluter in the world.  So when I’m standing in front of the bean shelf, thinking ahead to Saturday’s breakfast, I’m struck with qualms.  I stare at the black-eyed peas and they stare back at me.  It’s a kind of test of the wills.  I see the Goya and decide to try something better for the world.  


J-Horror

J-Horror better move over.  There’s a new kid on the block.

For many years those of us strange fans of horror have used “J-Horror” as shorthand for Japanese Horror.  With two highly successful films (eventually series) of the mid-nineties (Ju-On and Ringu) the Japanese contribution stormed back into American consciousness.  Those of us who grew up on Godzilla knew that J-Horror had been around for decades already, but these new movies were distinctly creepy.  So much so that English-language versions were remade for both original films (The Grudge and The Ring, respectively—rather like Let the Right One In and Let Me In).  So far, so good.  So why does J-Horror need to move over?

At least three separate friends have pointed me to another emerging J-Horror trend: Jewish horror movies.  These used to be rare.  With cases of early antisemitic themes in horror, and the real life horror of the Holocaust, this is certainly understandable.  “Christian” producers or directors delving into Jewish themes would seem to be in bad taste.  Still, some notable Jewish-themed horror has begun to emerge.  (I addressed one such film in my recent Horror Homeroom piece.)  The Possession (discussed in both of my most recent books) centers around the need for a Jewish exorcist in the case of a dybbuk problem.  For more information, you know where to look!  It seemed to me that the dybbuk box contents were reminiscent of the Holocaust, but that may not have been intentional.

I recently wrote a post about The Golem.  This is a recent Israeli movie that builds on the traditional Jewish monster.  Although set before the Holocaust, the fact that there’s a pogrom in the film shows that the concept is not far off.  The movie that people have recently been pointing me toward is The Vigil.  I’ve not had an opportunity to see it yet, but the press it’s received suggests it too will be another classic based on lived experience in Judaism.  I’m not sure if Jewish horror will eventually rival the numbers of Japanese horror films, but the offerings thus far have been noteworthy.  Horror often addresses the problem of human suffering.  With all the oppressions in “white” society, it’s no wonder that, along with Black horror, Jewish horror is beginning to garner attention.  Although it’s clearly not to everyone’s taste, horror is often a genre with a conscience.  It becomes a screen on which we can see our worst behaviors projected.  And if we’re wise, we’ll take steps to make such suffering become merely an unfortunate memory.


Women’s History

March is Women’s History Month.  My reading of actual history as of late has focused on the ancient Celts, so I confess to falling behind on modern women’s history.  Nevertheless, I came across an often forgotten piece in an unexpected way.  For quite some time I’ve wanted to read some work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  Her story “The Yellow Wallpaper” is known as a gothic classic.  Since a short story isn’t enough to make up an entire book, publishers have arranged different combinations of her tales into thin books that can be sold as a unit.  I purchased the Dover Thrift Editions’ version of The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories.  It was there that I learned Gilman was an early feminist who seems to have become unsung in more recent times.  Her fiction, at least as reflected in this particular edition, demonstrates the truth of the assertion.

Most of the tales in this little book require only a few minutes to read.  Although written around the turn of the nineteenth century, her stories anticipated many modern developments for women.  Her protagonists see the inequalities between the genders and work to overcome them.  They prove themselves successful at business and setting up their own houses.  There’s a gentleness to these stories that suggests quiet confidence may eventually wear down the often inflated male ego.  I found myself captivated even after finishing “The Yellow Wallpaper” itself.  Gilman isn’t judgmental, but she does note how unfairly the system operates.  She also offers solutions.

In this month of women’s history, it seems appropriate to rediscover one of the female writers who personally worked for women’s rights and expressed herself so fluently in fiction.  Her “If I Were a Man,” although clearly a period piece, takes a woman into her husband’s body.  She walks in his shoes, literally, and sees what “the world of men” is like.  This leads to both understanding and, above all, learning.  This would seem to be the very heart of history.  We read to learn both from what we did correctly to what we did wrong.  We have done so terribly much wrong.  The historical oppression of women is one of the greatest examples of our inability to catch up with our own ideals of justice and fairness.  There were historical reasons for this, yes, but we have moved beyond those times.  If only we’d act like it.  Although my reading doesn’t always keep in sync with the seasons, discovering Charlotte Perkins Gilman at this point in time was somehow more appropriate than anticipated.


Come People and Consider

“Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible.  This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.”  So Daniel answered the megalomanic king Nebuchadnezzar, according to chapter 2.  This is some Scripture that CPAC has chosen to ignore, or at least not bothered to read to the end.  In truth I was always bothered when Daniel said “Thou art this head of gold”—which seems to be more brass-kissery, if you get my drift, than prophecy.  But dear CPAC, the statue of Nebuchadnezzar crumbles when the kingdom of God arrives, unable to stand on its feet of clay and iron.

Image in public domain, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

I’m not one to tout Daniel as prophecy, but seldom have we seen such things come true so literally.  If we turn to the other testament, in a somewhat politically incorrect aphorism a personage of the gospel of Matthew quoth, “they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”  Funnily, those who claim to support a “Christian” America have failed to read even the surface of the Good Book.  Without the Bible what is fundamentalism?  That image in Daniel 2 is considered an idol.  After all, when the Trump of antiquity built a statue all were required to fall down before and worship it.  Those who didn’t were thrown into the fiery furnace.

The Conservative Political Action Conference has sent shivers down the collective spine of our nation.  Even as it was going on I was standing in the rain signing petitions for local Democratic candidates because going inside meant being potentially infected by the Republican disease known as Covid-19.  Apparently half-a-million dead is never enough for those who believe in a social darwinism although they claim to base their lives on the book that says all this took a mere seven days.  Although Daniel gained great fame and wealth by telling the king what he wanted to hear, during a party a few short chapters later he saw a hand writing on the wall.  “And this is the writing that was written, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.”  And although given a third of Belshazzar’s kingdom that very night it was all lost to Darius.  “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”


Politically Incorrect

We’ve been dwelling so long in the materialist worldview that we’ve come to doubt evil.  Oh, we still use the word, but we don’t really believe it manifests itself in any real way.  I wonder, however, about it’s association with power.  Lord Acton’s adage is appropriately apt, but when the word “corrupt” enters in one has to wonder about whether evil is lurking.  I’m thinking about these things because some friends were recently telling me about “political” machinations of the Republican Party right here in Pennsylvania.  Initiatives that rank and file Republicans object to as being unfair, but are trying to be ramrodded through because they will keep one party in power forever.  Trump, a man with a staggering number of lawsuits against him before he even received the “grand old” party’s nomination, made it acceptable to bring blatant cheating into the political arena.

Credit: Elkanah Tisdale (1771-1835), via Wikimedia Commons

A recent story in the New York Times discussed how the Republican Party has been focusing on winning despite what the people want.  Its own people.  In other words, a planned destruction of democracy.  A hostile takeover bid for the nation.  Here in Pennsylvania, those who understand the legislation say, a variety of bills and propositions are being put forward—particularly gerrymandering—to ensure that the losers of the popular vote will nevertheless win.  We’ve seen this on the national level when the electoral college has elected a couple of Republican presidents who’ve clearly lost the popular vote.  It never elects Democrats that way—they win both popular and electoral votes when they win.  The fact that Republicans are actively trying to make it harder to vote so they can maintain minority(!) rule would be ironic if it weren’t so, well, evil.

I remember my first civics course (which most Republicans, it seems, never took) in middle school.  I remember my teacher—who was a smart man—saying that voters never elect someone who will hurt their financial interests.  This was before Reagan was elected and every Republican president since has favored the rich over their own poor and working class supporters.  I’m not a political scientist.  I find politics boring and I resent having to try to have to learn an entire new discipline just to keep living in the country where I was born.  We would find, I expect, widespread agreement that taking a country by force of arms is evil.  Taking it by shady lawmaking that is the very definition of corruption, apparently, is not.  The Trump administration took corruption to new heights, right in the eye of the public.  Could a Democrat make such a showing in an election after stating outright on television that Republicans can only win by cheating?   And when he lost fairly and squarely to try to overturn that result and still be the favored candidate for a party that’s lost its moral bearings?  We put the word “evil” to bed a little too soon, I fear.


Plants Will Lead

The world just keeps getting weirder.  Although I very much appreciate—“believe in,” if you will—science, sometimes the technology aspect of STEM leaves me scratching my primate cranium.  What’s got the fingers going this morning is spinach.  Not just any spinach.  According to a story on Euronews, “Scientists Have Taught Spinach to Send Emails.”  There are not a few Homo sapiens, it seems, who might learn something from our leafy greens.  The tech comes, not surprisingly, from MIT.   When spinach roots detect certain compounds left by landmines in the soil, it triggers sensors that send an email alert to a human being who’s probably eaten some of their (the spinach’s) very family members.  I’m not denying that this is very impressive, but it raises once again that troubling question of consciousness and our botanical cousins.

Some people live to eat.  I’m one of those who falls into the other category—those who eat to live.  In my life I’ve gone from being a picky omnivore to being a somewhat adventurous omnivore to vegetarian to vegan.  I’m not sure how much more restricted I can make my diet if I leave out plants.  I’ve watched those time-lapse videos of trees moving.  They move even more slowly than I do when my back’s acting up, but they really do move.  If they had legs and speeded up a bit we’d call it walking.  Studies into plant consciousness are finding new evidence that our brainless greens are remarkably intelligent.  Perhaps some could have made a better president than 45.  I wonder if spinach can tweet?

People can be endlessly inventive.  Our thirst for information is never quenched.  Universities are among those rare places where ideas can be pursued and it can be considered work.  While I don’t think everyone necessarily needs to go on to higher education, I can see the benefits it would have for a culture.  Indeed, would we have armed mobs trying to take over because of a fact-based election loss?  I wonder if the spinach would take place in “stopping the steal.”  Hopefully it would fact-check more than those who simply follow the leader.  Consciousness and education can work together for a powerful good.  I’m not sure why Popeye’s favorite was chosen for this experiment, but it does seem to show that we can all get along if we really want to.  Maybe then we could meet in the salad aisle rather than out in the field looking for explosives.


The Land

It’s always a pleasure to find an author from whom you want to read more.  It was my wife who told me about Ernestine Hayes’ The Tao of Raven.  We were both so taken by the book that we turned to Hayes’ prior Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir.  Learning how badly the United States has treated the indigenous population of this continent is one thing.  Learning how badly we still treat them is quite another.  For all of that Hayes writes a memoir that is reflective and perhaps sad, but seldom angry.  The stories told in Tao of Raven start here—we meet the characters who will be further developed in the next installment and become even more curious about them.  The reader wants to reach out and help.  To tell the government, “enough!”

The indigenous peoples of North America (and likely South too, for that is a realm requiring further learning) feel, and have always felt, a close connection to the land.  Europeans see land as a resource for exploitation, not for living in harmony with.  We came, we took, we destroyed.  As if that weren’t bad enough, we left the original inhabitant trapped in grinding poverty, shoving them into places we wouldn’t see.  Until we discovered something we wanted on that land, and then we shoved them again.  The impetus to do this was, unfortunately, Christianity.  I doubt it’s the religion Jesus had in mind, but then he lost control of it millennia ago.  Believing in one’s divine mandate is a sure way of making unwarranted claims on what belongs to someone else.  Remember “thou shalt not steal”?

Hayes’ reflective style is an honor to read.  Feeling a part of a place is a rare privilege.  Born into a mobile society enamored of technology, the modern American has difficulty feeling too attached to any one place.  Of course, many people stay close to where they were born, but to become a “professional” you have to leave.  Blonde Indian is about returning home.  The land knows us.  Many of us don’t know it back.  It’s just a place to set our feet temporarily until a better opportunity comes along elsewhere.  Being tied to no land we lose something of our souls.  Our connection with nature.  With the planet itself.  Hayes is a gifted writer with a story that must be heard.  Wisdom comes through on every page.  We would do well to pay attention.


Leadership

After four years it finally feels safe again.  We can celebrate Presidents’ Day, although now and forever with some trepidation.  Even as Republicans still protect the insurrectionist Trump, democracy has survived his tenure of horror.  Many Americans don’t realize just how close to Nazi Germany we came.  There are many who hold party above the good of the nation, something our founders, one of whom we celebrate today, feared.  The outdated safeguards of democracy, such as the electoral college, have been used more than once to “elect” presidents the American people did not want.  One guess as to which party this has only favored.  Democracy, we’re now being told, is fragile.  It shouldn’t be.  Only the designs of a party scheming for personal enrichment makes it so.

Today we can at least take a breather and be glad that we no longer have a bigoted, sexist, classist, racist incumbent.  We have a female Vice President of color.  We are on the long, slow road to recovery.  The senate, clearly recognizing Trump’s danger to the nation, voted to acquit him because Republicans fear not being reelected if they stand up to him.  Our democracy’s not out of the woods, even this Presidents’ Day.  Until the GOP learns to grow a backbone we’ll be in constant danger of collapsing.  Anyone with back trouble knows how it can stop you in your tracks.  Of course, once you’ve made a deal with the Devil, there’s no getting out of it.  Most Republicans could benefit from just a touch of folk wisdom.

When one party sides with armed thugs who’d have happily killed them if they’d been found just a little over a month ago, our grounds for celebrating today remain on thin ice.  The GOP, which has no moral compass left, has decided that bullies and armed bandits are the way of the future they’d like to see.  Although Trump lost both popular elections they’d still vote for him a third time and support him again if he incited another insurrection.  It’s Presidents’ Day but we’re still on the edge of a precipice.  When a political party refuses to learn from its mistakes, and indeed, tries to build upon them, our celebration of democracy must, by definition, be subdued.  We do have grounds for hope.  Efforts to get the coronavirus under control are starting to take effect.  We have a sane human being in the Oval Office.  Until the GOP disavows evil, however, we’ll continue to live in fear.

 


Meanness

There’s often a meanness to literalist religions.  A sense that if they can keep their particular interpretation of God’s will, then anybody can.  No compassion.  No forgiveness.  Considering the base messages of nearly all those religions that harbor fundamentalists, that attitude is quite surprising.  Indeed, it ceases to be religion at all and becomes merely a facade of one.  The recovery of the body of Khaled al-Asaad is what brought this to mind.  Back in 2015 al-Asaad, an 82-year old archaeologist, was beheaded by the extremist Islamic State group in Syria.  Al-Asaad had spent his life excavating and attempting to understand the site of Palmyra.  The Islamic State was determined to destroy what they considered “idols” or offensive images.  When the octogenarian refused to tell them where they could find further antiquities to destroy, they beheaded him.

This isn’t finger-pointing at Islam.  Islam is a highly moral religion that values peace.  What it has in common with Christianity, apart from some shared history and theology, is that it fosters extremists.  Extremism may be fueled by religion but it’s not religious.  The adherents are often mean, hard-line individuals who have trouble distinguishing the shades of gray that make up so much of life.  As a result of the Islamic State movement, many antiquities that had survived for thousands of years were destroyed forever.  There were heroes like Khaled al-Asaad (we might even call them saints) who tried to protect these irreplaceable artifacts.  Religion has no feud with the past.  In fact, religions consciously build on their pasts.  Continuity is important to them.

Extremism of this kind is a fairly new blending of religion and politics.  As recently as the sixties it was felt that religion and politics should be compartmentalized.  Kept separate.  When the Republican Party realized in the seventies that evangelicals could be made into a voting bloc, religion became politicized.  This happened elsewhere around the world.  “True believers”—the very term suggests the rest of us believers aren’t true—tasting political power, realized they could use their meanness to make the rest of the world in their own unforgiving image.  We’ve been living with the consequences ever since.  Even now Republican lawmakers fear reprisals of Trump supporters if they dare accept the truth.  In other words, extremist religion has pitched its battle against the truth itself.  That would be ironic if it weren’t so terrifying.  No religion that I know has meanness among its central tenets.  It takes literalism to make it one.


Christian Nationalisms

Ongoing analysis of the Capitol Riots continues as footage of the event is scrutinized.  Although the press is puzzled, those who study religion—underfunded and ignored in the academy—aren’t really surprised.  A recent story from the Associated Press explores how Christian Nationalism, one of the most dangerous forces in the United States, played a large role in the event.  Christian Nationalism is one example of what I call weaponized religion.  As someone who’s spent over four decades studying religion minutely, it’s pretty clear when religion begins to slip its moorings and is becoming radicalized.  Generally it begins when adherents refuse to hear any views but their own.  They believe their version of their religion is the only “one, true faith” and this gives them the mandate to attack any who believe differently.  In the case of Christianity it’s very difficult to see what any of this has to do with a carpenter from Nazareth.

Indeed, evangelical Christians themselves are exploring what is now being called “Republican Jesus.”  This Jesus isn’t the one from the Good Book.  Far from it.  No humble shepherd saying “turn the other cheek” fits this image.  Long ago I read Stephen Prothero’s American Jesus.  In it he analyzed how the American appropriation of the Jewish rabbi became a muscular, masculine fighter.  Not the kind of guy who’d let Roman authorities nail him to a cross.  And certainly not a softie who would favor outcasts, women, and children over the rich and powerful.  This image of Jesus, who draws a hard line on certain trigger issues, is as patently false as any reconstruction can be.  And yet it drives unruly mobs into the halls of power.  Universities, meanwhile, cut religion departments.

Photo credit: David Shankbone, via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t pretend to be a prophet, but this issue isn’t going away.  Our culture has long harbored the myth of America as the “new Israel.”  The leaders of Christian Nationalism are organized and they have a clear agenda to take over the country.  Like other serious issues that don’t have to do with making money, it’s simply overlooked as irrelevant.  When the mainstream media gets a glimpse at what’s been going on in such groups, it always seems surprised.  The kind of elitism that divorces itself from the everyday simply can’t be informed of what’s actually happening.  Religion is a very powerful driving force.  It motivates many far more than money does.  We see it plainly when it becomes weaponized.  By then, however, it could be too late.


Gothic Celts?

Two separate projects lately set me on the trail of preliterate Europe.  While this isn’t the best time to celebrate white cultures (timing has never been an especial strength of mine), I have been researching the Celts as part of a longterm project.  Not only are these people part of my ancestral mix, they are also mysterious.  Having arisen in central Europe, they were pushed to the margins of the continent by invading Huns from the east.  It’s from those fringes that I came to identify my heritage.  Not only do I have Irish ancestors, but Wiggins, it seems, is a Breton name.  The Bretons were a Celtic people on the northwest coast of France.  Since the ancient Celts didn’t leave a huge written archive, we rely on what others (such as the Romans) wrote, or what archaeology reveals.  Mysterious.  At the same time another project had me reading about the Goths.

The Goths are tricky to define, and again, didn’t leave literary archives.  Also politically incorrect, they were a Germanic people—another significant piece of my ancestry—and they must’ve lived quite close by the early Celts.  Although my parents wouldn’t be born for many centuries yet, their ancestral “tribes” may have known one another.  It’s fun to think about.  There’s quite a lot of interest in the movements of peoples in ancient times.  One thing that influenced both the Celts and the Goths were large, organized forces.  The Roman Empire, with what would come to be understood as Classical style, was one source of pressure.  Another was the aforementioned Huns.  The Romans considered all of them barbarians.  One of the results of these large pressures was the eventual establishment of nations in Europe, often with contested borders.

All of this splitting eventually led to nationalism, a dangerous force.  We’ve seen some of the end results in recent years.  A single nation thinking it is the best.  I’ve always felt that travel—difficult during a pandemic—is a great form of education.  Encountering the “other” on their own territory makes it hard to stereotype and boast.  Nationalism tends to lead to excessive pride, especially when a country is as isolated as the United States is.  And then it even tries to build a wall between one of only two neighboring nations because they speak a different language.  How different this is from the situation when Celts and Goths were moving somewhat freely across the European continent where, at the time, borders were fluid.  I realize I’m idealizing what was certainly not a perfect situation, but I also think Rome may not have been the best model to emulate either.

 


Ode to Snow Days

Once upon a time there were special gifts called “snow days.”  On these special days no one was required to report to school or work.  It was a caesura to late capitalism, albeit a brief one, in which the forces of nature triumphed over making everyone “go out” to work or school.  The pandemic has, of course, eliminated snow days.  Never again will there be the excuse of “I left my laptop at the office,” or “the roads are unsafe.”  The evil monster that enslaved all mortals of a certain class had won.  No brave knight, wearing mittens or not, dared face this great beast, and so nobody lived happily ever after.

There is a moral to this story.  Well, not so much a moral as an addendum.  During snow days we had time for our civic duty of clearing sidewalks of snow.  I begin work before the sun comes up, and consequently I don’t stay awake very late.  Over the past few days we’ve had several inches of snow.  It began falling Sunday morning, and it fell through Tuesday morning.  I had to take time out of my usual work schedule to shovel in the morning.  By that point it was already six inches at least of the kind of snow that’s so heavy that it starts to turn blue beneath the surface.  I hurried back to work since I had a couple morning meetings.  The snow continued to fall.  I normally don’t take a lunch break, but I had to on Monday, just to stay ahead of the snow.  After work, just before dark, I was out in it again.

The snow day, in other words, isn’t just about time off from work.  It’s also about taking care of things that need to be done in a weather emergency.  The idea of remote work being work without ceasing has really caught on during the pandemic.  Without office walls to constrain it, capitalism is free to take over our private spaces—and our civic duties—as well.  The dearly departed snow day was more than just a lark.  For younger couples it meant being home to take care of the kids when school was cancelled.  In other words, it was a day to acknowledge that weather is still in control.  We do need that reminder once in a while.  The snow out there is pretty.  It’s also deep.  More than that, it is even a symbol.


Mittens and Circuses

Bernie Sanders, since we’re now making up our own facts, clearly won this election.  Or at least the inauguration.  An inescapable meme of Sanders, bundled up with his notable mittens, has made major media as well as pedantic punters on the web.  Thanks in part to an app created to allow users to place Bernie anywhere, I’ve seen him at all kinds of places from Oxford University Press to Dirty Dancing to the exhibit halls at the AAR/SBL annual meeting.  As someone who suffers from the cold I was initially concerned that he must feel laughed at by it all, but Bernie seems to be taking it in good humor.  The only reason I bring it up here is a meme (I think) that my wife pointed out to me of Bernie among the Fond du Lac Circus.  I can’t find any credit for the creator, but it appeared on the Episcopalians on Facebook group.  (I don’t know how Facebook works, checking above the fold once a day only.)

I’ve actually posted on the Fond du Lac Circus before.  The photo was extremely popular at Nashotah House when I taught there.  The diocese of Fond du Lac (in which I once preached) is just north a bit in Wisconsin.  The photo was a celebration of the installation of a bishop with ecclesiastical haberdashery at its finest on display.  In my mind, Nashotah House stands for all that’s conservative.  I’m certain a great deal of the population supported Trump.  A former dean had a shrine to George W. Bush in the deanery.  I kid you not.  So seeing the most progressive senator amid that crowd of backward-looking clergy, apart from being unspeakably funny, made me reflective.

Many years of my life were spent among the Episcopalians.  Too many of those years consisted of feeling oppressed by the interpretation of “orthodoxy” held at Nashotah House.  The hubris of “the only right teaching” has haunted me ever since.  Faith can be a good thing, but it can also be extremely dangerous.  The greatest danger is when it ceases to be reflective.  Faith must involve constant thought and assessment to be honest.  Unthinking compliance was something Jesus, for one, simply didn’t accept.  Challenging the way it’s always been done is a venerable part of the agenda for those who start new religions, Jesus included.  When that religion becomes ossified (or too obsessed with appearances) isn’t it time to start looking toward the future?  Bernie Sanders is popular with the young.  They have little patience for the selfishness that’s been on display in American culture for far too many decades.  Would that he really attended the Fond du Lac Circus!  Perhaps a grassroots movement to improve conditions for all might’ve actually emerged long ago.


Mothers’ Instinct

Maternity leave (not for me, but still) demonstrates just how sexist capitalism is.  This becomes very clear in publishing where schedules are reinforced by incentives (instead of paying properly) for meeting agreed-upon deadlines.  If an author gets pregnant while writing a book—not an unusual situation—it can throw shockwaves all through a book’s schedule from production all the way back up to editorial.  Why?  Because incentives are on the line.  It’s possible to counter with what if an author falls sick?  Or dies?  Yes, these happen too, but pregnancy isn’t an illness and isn’t infrequently a biologically constrained event—there is an age at which it ceases to become an issue.  So incentives, which are based on schedules drawn up before an author conceives, put the capitalist machine into a tizzy.

If employers didn’t rely on incentives, but paid better wages, this could make the issue less acute.  The entire system is devised from a male perspective.  Sickness and death do occur from time to time, but the invariability of a schedule (which ironically takes about nine months) is based on a view that doesn’t account for the somewhat likely event of a pregnancy.  I often think about this.  The corporate structure was made by men, for men.  We now give lip-service to equality while refusing to change the masculinist structure that underlies it.  By doing so the valuable contributions and improvements that women might make are kept under the standard business model.  No wonder it feels like we’re stuck in a rut.

Societal change is generally slow, and that conservative tendency preserves our property and our means of making a living.  If we gave women more prominence in leadership I would hope that this would start to change.  The male-oriented viewpoints of the capitalist entrepreneur, the stolid religious leader, and the halls of government, and even education, are reluctant to let people think differently.  We want to move forward, but we’re afraid of losing what we have.  This is why the conversation needs to widen.  Maternity leave reminds us that some things are more important than work.  Care for a helpless human being is something nearly all people would support.  It’s when they grow up that society feels it can safely ignore their needs.  We need a mother’s wisdom here.  Every time a pregnancy sets publication schedules in a frenzy I ask myself why we have to rely on incentives beyond just being the most human that we can be.


Down to the Sea in Ships

One of the first great trends of 2021 has turned out to be sea shanties.  Micro-current historians have traced the craze, at least in part, to a TikTok video released by Nathan Evans, a Scottish postal worker.  His version of “Soon May the Wellerman Come” has spawned an international cooperition of other singers and musicians who’ve added to a song that has created a sense of community among many who’ve never been to sea.  It even got the attention of the New York Times.  In the long, waning days of 45’s term in office (what a foul taste that leaves in my mouth) people were feeling isolated and largely directionless.  It isn’t so different than, I imagine, being out to sea.  I grew up away from the ocean, longing to be there.  Nevertheless, I didn’t discover Moby-Dick until seminary.

Melville’s classic is essential reading for those who want to exegete “Soon May the Wellerman Come.”  While I’m a vegan for a reason, understanding the lyrics of this particular shanty require some knowledge of whaling.  The wellerman was a supply ship that met whalers on their often multi-year voyages, to bring them provisions.  They’re not mentioned in Moby-Dick because the Weller brothers ran their operations out of Oceania.  The idea of relief being brought by others is nevertheless something we can all appreciate as we’ve been isolated from each other while being given the cold shoulder by the Republican Party.  The fact that a nineteenth-century sea shanty has the pandemic-ridden world by storm is really no surprise.  There’s a romance to the sea and those of us lubbers who spend our days on dry ground sometimes dream of the freedom the oceans represent.

Although not a shanty, a sea song that’s always spoken to me is “Sloop John B.”  A folk song from the Bahamas, it tells the tale of a homesick passenger wanting to go home.  It shares an element with sea shanties like “Wellerman.”  Both seek rescue.  Many world religions suggest humans need “salvation” of some kind—from sin in Christianity or samsara in Hinduism or Buddhism.  Songs of the sea also frequently share that hope of help.  Whether it’s the supply ship or a return home, a longing for salvation runs through the romance of the sea.  I can’t help but think that during this pandemic that need has surfaced in a viral song about the wellerman expected, but not yet arrived.  Or the trip to normalcy delayed.  However we might interpret them, songs of the sea give us some hope that the journey home will eventually come.