Thanksgiving, the Basics

Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi on Gratitude
(from Discourses of Rumi, chapter 48, translated by A.J Arberry)

Gratitude for sucking the breast is a blessing. Though the breast be full, until you suck it the milk does not flow.

Someone asked: What is the cause of ingratitude, and what is it that prevents gratitude?The Master answered: The preventer of gratitude is inordinate greed. For whatever a man may get, he was greedy for more than that. It was inordinate greed that impelled him to that, so that when he got less than what he had set his heart upon his greed prevented him from being grateful. So he was heedless of his own defect, and heedless also of the defect and adulteration of the coin he proffered.
Raw and inordinate greed is like eating raw fruit and raw bread and raw meat; inevitably it generates sickness and begets ingratitude. When a man realises that he has eaten something unwholesome, a purge becomes necessary. God most High in His wisdom makes him suffer through ingratitude so that he may be purged and rid of that corrupt conceit, lest that one sickness become a hundred sicknesses.

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JFK, November 22 Again

Because it is almost November 22, still more “never seen before news footage” from Dallas, 1963, was being shown on PBS last night. It is a yearly media event as predictable as the “live reports” of people filing taxes at 11:55 p.m. on April 15 at the main post office on Interstate 30, or the footage of someone futilely trying to fry an egg on a sidewalk in Garland sometime in July on the first 100 degree day of the year.

Television people are just so predictable about some yearly events. Like expected liturgical moments in church, I guess there is comfort for some in the repetitions and rhythms of societal life. The trouble is, when it comes to reports on the assassination of President Kennedy, I’m as predictable as those producers.

moorman-thumb The black and white motorcade wends its way down Main Street, turns north toward Elm Street, then makes the short left in front of the School Book Depository, then yada, yada, yada.. So why in hell do I still watch to this point thinking it will somehow/ridiculously be different this year? Like every other American over 50 I know each moment of the next three days: from Jackie’s bloody dress at Dulles on Friday night to the snare drum cadence on Monday.

In subsequent years, conspiratorial niches were filled with Castro, Sam Giancana, the Carousel Club, David Ferrie, and a still unfolding vast cast of characters and widespread lists of places which have caused Walter Cronkite’s sonorous and also-predictable announcement to television-watching millions of the President’s death to change from a throat-clenching and yearly echo within our freshly fertilized imaginations to now-finally- after 45 years (my god, yes, 45 years!), a lulling and dulling vocal underline affirming, yet again, that nothing changed, nothing is different: JFK is dead.

We don’t know what might have been, and that inability to remember instead of surmise is what makes the memories of November 22 so discordant and troubling. Would the gaping wound of Vietnam have been torn across our country, and the world? Would the voices of King and Robert Kennedy have been able to be historically calming ones if a miscreant’s gunfire had not been shown to be so effective in wrenching history from its always-fragile course? And drugs? And 9-11? And Iraq? And, dammit, that’s why I turn the TV off or find a book to read because the “yada, yada” becomes “what if? what if” in a kaleidoscopic swirl of bloody, heart-breaking, question marks.

And, dammit again, that old news film still makes me cry a little, too: for people who shouldn’t have had to cry that day- people who I didn’t think were supposed to be able to cry: my algebra teacher, the Spanish instructor, the janitor, the bus driver, and –good heavens!- the principal of the school. Now, they’re all dead and I’m older than any of them were that day when I remember them hiding, or not, their tears.

It still feels so unrelentingly, deeply, and achingly wrong. Of course, it was. But I am surprised anew, on each of these past 44 anniversary dates, how intense some twinges of the pain still are.

first see, then look..

“It’s like if you plant something in the concrete and if it grow and the rose petal got all kinda scratches and marks, you ain’t gonna say ‘damn, look at all the scratches and marks on the rose that grew from the concrete..’ you gonna be like ‘DAMN! a ROSE grew from the CONCRETE’!”

~Tupac Shakur

sidewalk flower

Fight Club in Jerusalem: A Modern Christian Parable

From the BBC, 11/9/08:

“Israeli police have had to restore order at one of Christianity’s holiest sites after a mass brawl broke out between monks in Jerusalem’s Old City.Fighting erupted between Greek Orthodox and Armenian monks at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Christ’s crucifixion.”

Here’s a video. Now, “Get Ready to RUUMMMMBBBLLLLEEE….!”

It’s a live action parable of the abysmal silliness that so much of the world’s Institutional brand of Christianity has descended and solidified into.

(Quick note: This is is the kind of blog entry that I will get emails about, and maybe a few comments lamenting my “embrace of secular humanism.” They will prove what I am about to say. If any of those critics would ever share their names, a discussion might be possible; but- alas- they almost always are sent by “A Friend” or “Anon” or “Concerned.” Oh, well..)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is supposedly built on the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. The administration of that shrine has been historically shared by several Christian denominations, the logistics and traditions of which are of no relevance to the following points:

1. These are Christian monks fighting about space in a building. A thing. A humanly crafted and built place which may or may not be directly on top of the landmark that it purports to be.

2. The fight is not about care of the facility or its proper preservation as an historical place. The fight is about rules, egos, doctrine..religious trespassing, I guess we could call it.

3. Jesus is not visible. Which is almost always the case where people are busy buffing idols to a holy sheen.

~~

Now, back to the U.S.of A. Parables are, after all, analogies that mind-changing lessons may be drawn from for those who, as Jesus said, “have ears to hear.”

1. We Christians fight a lot in this country over space in “holy” places, too. Most people would deny that they consider government buildings and various monuments around the country to be semi-sacred, but remember the fight several years ago to remove a wrongfully placed chunk of granite with the Ten Commandments on it from the Alabama Supreme Court building? Or, take a look at these recent “prayer warriors” taking their very public prayers to God about their shrinking 401k’s to Wall Street:

wall street Yes, you are seeing correctly. They are praying, hands pressed on a golden bull. A friend of mine asked, “What could be more ironic than this? Answer: nothing.”

2. And those American fights over Christian “space” are also about rules, egos, doctrines and religious trespassing. There are those Christians among us who have a vested and institutional interest in keeping the lines between Jesus’ person and the rules and doctrines about his teachings, blurred. Very blurred. Otherwise, there is NO WAY one could move from this:

Matthew 5: 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

to this:

“Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran”                                                           

Actually, there is a way, because many “Christian” leaders have proved now that it is NOT how you live that makes you a Jesus follower, it IS what you say. If you sprinkle enough Jesus words often enough into what you say, you get a pass, no matter how outrageous what you’re saying is. That’s what gets me in a little trouble here sometimes- I am one of those who would rather see someone living the gospels, than yapping and yammering about them on their way to Christian cruise ships or as they are deciding where to shop because someone said “Season’s Greetings” to them instead of “Merry Christmas.”

3. Our American Christian idols are as shiny and silly as idols are anywhere in the world where they are hiding the God who is larger than our imaginations. (I love, by the way, historical artifacts, religious or secular. They are often beautiful, always worth preserving, and instructive about particular places and cultures.) I see God being personified in all kinds of idolatrous silliness: political platforms, national flags, religious doctrines, and even- amazingly- Bibles! Bibles- full of warning after warning and example after example of people making idols out of things “not-God” and suffering the consequences for doing so- Bibles themselves have become objects of worship for many, many people. (Wondering about that statement? Listen to a preacher who prefaces, often, his statements with the phrase, “The Bible says..” in order to give validity to whatever it is he wants to say. Watch how those same preachers often wield the Bible like a wooden stake, ready to be plunged into a vampire’s heart.)

So, yes, I laugh at the Greek and Armenian monks in their fisticuffs for Jesus. Maybe it’s a Jerusalem version of the movie Fight Club that became visible for awhile yesterday! If so, the monks should remember the words of Tyler Durden in that movie: “The things you own, end up owning you.”

I laugh at those monks, yes; even as I’m cringing at similar attitudes which could easily give rise to similar actions in myself.  So I laugh and I cringe, but I also let myself be reminded, and corrected when necessary, that it is Jesus who I follow, and not words or things or people that masquerade as him.

A Letter to My Children (and Yours)

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.” Barack Obama, Victory speech, 11/4/08

What Obama’s election means to each of us who voted for him is different, but within a shared context. We have all been participating witnesses to something far greater than the election of a new president, and each of our stories- what this election personally means to us- is important.

This two year long election process has changed many of us, and those changes have combined together and will continue to bind together in ways that will cause historians to one day mark this past year in particular as revolutionary.

(If you are one of those people so fortunate as to be frequently within range of my voice, you know I often engage in hyperbole to make a point. The word “revolutionary” in the above sentence, is not a hyperbolic statement. Just so you know.)

How this revolution will play out over time is as unknown as the future of the American Revolution was at its beginnings in 1776. That revolution, too, was undertaken in audacious, courageous but not specifically definable, hope. The colonists’ eventual victory over the British began a political, sociological, and economic process, one that continues, and which includes this revolution of 2008. The history of the War for Independence is important for us, as Americans, to know about and remember. And one of the great primary sources for written histories of that time is the personal correspondence of not only the Founding Fathers and Mothers of our country, but of the soldiers from both sides of the fight.

Those letters reveal the hopes, the dreams, the frustrations, the confusion, and the love of their writers toward those to whom they were writing. Taken together, those letters are a snapshot of a particular time in history, yes; but they also reveal human commonalities that transcend time. So, let’s jump to my point here: I think we should be writing letters to each other right now about the revolution we’ve been a part of. British or American; blue, red, or some lovely shade of purple- what we are thinking, feeling, hoping, or fearing as individuals is part of a larger context and that context is important . We all know this election has been unlike any election we’ve witnessed (don’t think that’s true? Check your emotions over the last few days. Compare them to what you felt in 2004, 1996, 1980, or 1972. See?), and there is historical importance in what we write down and enable others to know about us, and about our country, as we have experienced it.

Therefore, to my children..

Dear Joshua, Darcy, and Sarah:

Thank you for the things you did, each in your own ways using the resources you have, to make this election of Obama possible. You are part of a generation that was able to have hope and to have that hope realized. You have been part of a movement that reached its first important goal. You have done something that has far greater implications and meanings for others, than for yourselves- as lofty and high as your own ideals are.

My generation started out that way, but by the time we were your age, it seemed the whole world of politics and culture was Nixonian and white. One by one, with few exceptions, Baby Boomers turned their energies toward gross exaggerations of the very things they had at one time rebelled against. The generation that felt their hearts beat wildly with newly found passion when they heard JFK say, “Ask not what your country can do for you..”, and who listened to MLK Jr. speak, “I have a dream..”, and watched as RFK said “Some men dream dreams, and others say, ‘Why not?’ – that generation also had to hear the horrible silence that followed. And we filled that silence with illusions of happiness: drugs, debt, suburban sprawls, selfishness and all the attendant fears that accompany each of those false ideals.

From real hope for a better world we descended into “Me,Me,Me” politics, created false gods that looked and thought like us, elected superficial sound-bites to office, and lulled ourselves to a semblance of sleep with a Pandora’s box of pharmaceuticals, swelling bank accounts sucked from the national dirt and human hearts of Third World countries, and the conviction that our country was THE best, THE strongest, and the only country on earth that should not, could not, dare not be questioned about its God-given, wealth-confirming, pollution-belching, trinket-loving role in the world.

Somehow, somehow, though..somehow, in the midst of that self-absorption and between episodes of “Dallas”, “Charlie’s Angels”, and “Miami Vice”, my generation gave birth to yours. Generation X, Y, or whatever the media pundits try to reduce your names and ages to, you have not let the hope inherent in being an American dry up into an unrecognizable husk of veneer-thin words. You have gone to school with and worked with people of all colors, sexual persuasions, nationalities, and religions. And you saw them for who they really are- not as the categories your parents warned you against, nor as people who were separated by law and religion from you, but as humans, like yourselves.

Then, one of you rose high enough to ask, in a way that more and more people were able to hear, “Can we?”

And your answer spilled over into the hearts of many of your parents, because we remembered again what it was like to act out of love, rather than fear. We remembered that hope didn’t have to lie dormant under disappointment. We responded, because you responded first to the question, “Can we?” with a loud, put-your-money-and-time-where-your-mouth-is, “Yes! Yes we can!”

And- holy cow- we did.

Lead on. You’re doing a damn good job so far.

Love to you three especially, but also the millions and millions of others like you,

Daddy

What just happened..a story of the day after..

What I worked on today and have ready to post here will have to wait, because I want others to read this. It is an email which my daughter Sarah just sent to her mom, her brother and sister, and me. Travis is Sarah’s husband, and they live in  a very integrated neighborhood in Dallas. They have had Obama’s picture in their front window for months.

To: Family         11/05/08,7:05                                                                                                                       Subject: What just happened

Travis just got home and we were sitting in the living room and the doorbell rang.  It was a woman who lives down the street. 

She came to our house to thank us.  To thank…us. 

Her name is Sheryl, and she is a 57 year old black woman who grew up in times of segregation.  She told us about how she used to work at AT&T as an operator, and how people would not go into the bathroom with her, and how people would call and say they didn’t want to talk to a n***.  She said that her parents would only be allowed into a neighborhood like ours to mow the lawn or clean the house.  She said that her father supported a wife and six kids on $40 a week.  She said that she never thought that she would see this day.

She cried on our front porch.  And she thanked us.  She said that Obama is not just for black people, he is for all Americans, and she can’t believe that these times are here when we can be one nation and move forward. 

She stood on our front porch and she cried and she thanked us- for something that we did for ourselves!  But for her, this is everything.  I think I knew that.  I mean, I think I knew how momentous this is, and I think I knew that this changes everything for many different reasons for many different people…but then the woman down the street came to our house and she cried and she thanked us…and I can see it more clearly than I could before.  I won’t ever understand it the way that she does, and the way that so many Americans do, but she showed us a glimpse this evening.  She showed us her heart and it was bleeding for the past and rejoicing for the future and it was everything that I want for us.

I can’t believe we did this.  I can’t believe this time is here. 

How many hundreds of thousands of times- how many million times- are versions of this story happening around the country today? This is one lady, one young couple, one neighborhood in one American city. But it is precisely and exactly why America is different today than it was yesterday.

Hallelujah