Friday, March 18, 2011

The Forgotten

Mother Teresa used to say that the greatest pain for the poor she fed and comforted was not the physical facts of their poverty, not the chronic hunger, the infections untreated, the million little inconveniences that complicated their lives and burdened them. No; it was that they believed themselves to be Invisible; People Who Don't Matter; The Forgotten. This was the most poignant pain they experienced.

The Forgotten.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

” ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “

Luke 16:19-31

America teems with the Forgotten; there are entire cities inhabited by no one but them. We know those cities by the names of Watts, Compton, The South Bronx, Richmond California, East Oakland, East Palo Alto, and many more.

These places are filled with suffering, but also grace; grace that not only sanctifies those who dwell in these places, but grace also waiting to sanctify those who live in more comfortable circumstances but learn to remember these places, and have the courage to go and serve Christ there.

And make no mistake; Christ is there waiting for you.

I lived until I was 14 in Richmond, California.

Richmond consists of The Flats - that portion of the city west of Interstate 80 and on the coastal plain next to San Francisco Bay, where the poor people live, and The Hills, which overlook the flats.
I lived in The Flats.

My great friend Sertha grew up down the street from me, and he, my late older brother Mark, Sertha's younger brother Ray, and I used to hang out together. I have great memories of playing street football with them, building forts in our back yards; kid stuff.

I also have more troubling memories of fleeing a park with Ray when we saw guns being drawn and a murder gathering, but also Ray comforting me when one of the neighborhood thugs singled me out for persecution.

Sertha was murdered about 20 years ago, in a minor drug deal gone wrong. Ray saw the aftermath, and 20 years later is still so devastated that he still lives with his mother. He needs your prayers. I look at the 11th station of the cross, and think of Ray:

Christ Speaks:

Can you imagine what a crucifixion is?

My executioners stretch my arms;
They hold my hand and wrist against the wood
and press the nail
until is stabs my flesh.
Then, with one heavy hammer smash,
they drive it through --
and pain
Bursts like a bomb of fire in my brain.

They seize the other arm;
and agony again explodes.

Then raising up my knees
so that my feet are flat against the wood,
they hammer them fast, too.


My next door neighbors were an old couple, the Penders. Mrs Pender had a stroke, and so she walked with a walker, but her heart was as warm and pure as a tropical lagoon. She had only to smile at you, and suddenly the problems you had seemed to fade into insignificance. She used to take me in sometimes when the streets got hairy, and feed me hot chocolate, and tell me that she just knew I was going to grow up and be someone really special. (She's surely long dead, and I'm sure she's praying for me. Sleep in heavenly peace, Mrs. Pender. I'm still trying to live up to your belief in me.)

From my neighborhood in Richmond, you could see, about a mile away and on the other side of the freeway, The Hills and the comparatively lavish homes of middle- and upper-middle class folks. The people in those houses, to us, seemed situated across some invisible and unbridgeable divide. On those occasions when we ventured up into those hills, we were greeted with cold stares and parents pulling their kids inside. We were Other, and a threat.

When I began middle school in the hills, I was shocked by the attitudes of the kids in my school. My dear childhood friends and neighbors lived in "Niggertown" and were dismissed as "Zulus" and worse.

My friends and neighbors were People Who Don't Matter.

That's when I got my first clear view of a deep wound in American life.

Those kids in the hills (and their parents: the kids didn't emerge from the womb with those attitudes) were immeasurably poorer for not knowing the people I knew; they were deprived of the joy of being held by Mrs. Pender; they never met the kind police woman who probably did more than anyone to keep me from entering a life of crime; they never sat on the porch with my down-the-street neighbor - an older boy who'd had polio - and had the experience of basking in the warm generosity of his overflowing heart; they never walked my friend Ray's bike home for him after a spectacular bicycle wreck.

The violence and the tattered social fabric in Richmond is a poignant expression of the outrage -- more than that, the the unutterable pain -- of priceless children of God who have been told, with words and the bleeding wounds of a million injustices large and small, that they are the Forgotten, the People Who Don't Matter.

These are the kinds of people Christ described as "the last [who] will be first."

The gulf between the flats and the hills is replicated all across the United States, and this is a terribly diminished country for it.

Richmond, and the many places like it, stand as monuments to a deep sickness and sinfulness in American life. They are searing indictments of our greed and selfishness.

May the God Who made us all, break our hearts. May we all be reunited across the gulf that divides us. May we not only come to understand one another, but may God so reconcile us with one another that we truly, deeply realize our brother- and sisterhood, and then weep tears of joy in each others' arms, flooded with gratitude that our long separation from our brothers and sisters is at an end.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Andy Williams and Middle Age

I remember watching this show about a billion years ago, cuddled in my father's arms in my PJs. Dad loved this show, and I enjoyed his enjoyment as much as I enjoyed the show itself.

It is sad to think that a show like this - sophisticated (Andy Williams practically invented the concept of "suave") and soothing - would probably be impossible today. In a world where Lady Gaga crawls around in her panties on MTV on a regular basis, maybe we've lost something important.

But then, maybe this is just middle age nostalgia talking.

Japan Nuclear Plant Situation looking Very Ominous

It appears that a massive release of nuclear contamination may be coming. Prayers and thoughts with the Japanese. Yeesh.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

THIS is what I'm talking about: The PEOPLES PARTY

Courtesy of Dr. Robert Reich, this is from a flyer being passed around in Wisconsin:

It's emerging from the heartland - from Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, and Iowa -- and it is spreading across the nation. It doesn't have a formal organization or Washington lobbyists beyond it, but it's gaining strength nonetheless. Like the Tea Party did with Republicans in 2010, the People's Party will pressure Democrats in primaries and general elections leading up to 2012 and beyond to have the courage of the party's core convictions. But unlike the Tea Party, which has been co-opted by the super-rich, the People's Party represents the needs and aspirations of America's vast working middle class, along with the less fortunate.

The People's Party is dedicated to the truth that America is a rich nation - richer by far than any other, richer than it's ever been. The People's Party rejects the claims of plutocrats who want us to believe we can no longer afford to live decently - who are cutting the wages and benefits of most people, attacking unions, and squeezing public budgets. The People's Party will not allow them to turn us against one another - unionized against non-unionized, public employee against private employee, immigrant against native born. Nor will the People's Party allow the privileged and powerful to distract us from the explosive concentration of income and wealth at the top, the decline in taxes paid by the top, and their increasing and untrammeled political power.

We have joined together to reverse these trends and to promote a working people's bill of rights. We are committed to:

1. Increasing the pay and bargaining power of average working people. We'll stop efforts to destroy unions and collective bargaining rights. Protect workers who try to form unions from being fired. Make it easier for workers to form unions through simple up-or-down votes at the workplace.

2. Requiring America's super-rich to pay their fair share. Increase top marginal tax rates and the number of tax brackets at the top. Treat income from capital gains the same as ordinary income. Restore the estate tax. Revoke the citizenship of anyone found to be sheltering income abroad.

3. Protecting and expanding government programs vital to the working middle class and the poor. These include Social Security, K-12 education, Pell Grants for disadvantaged students, public transportation, Medicare and Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

4. Ending corporate welfare and cutting military outlays. Trim defense spending. End special tax subsidies for specific corporations or industries - at both state and federal levels. Cut agricultural subsidies.

5. Saving Social Security while making it more progressive. Exempt the first $20,000 of income from Social Security taxes. Make up the difference - and any need for additional Social Security revenues - by raising the ceiling on income subject to the Social Security payroll tax.

6. Ending Wall Street's dominance of the economy and preventing any future taxpayer-funded bailout. Break up Wall Street's largest banks and put a cap their size. Link pay on the Street to long-term profits rather than short-term speculation. Subject all financial transactions to a one-tenth of one percent transactions tax.

7. Fully enforcing regulations that protect workers, consumers, small investors, and the environment. Raise penalties on corporations that violate them. Expand enforcement staffs. Provide more private rights of action.

8. Providing affordable health care to all Americans. The new health law isn't enough. We'll fight for a single payer - making Medicare available to all. End fee-for-service and create "accountable-care" organizations that focus on healthy outcomes.

9. Slowing and eventually reversing climate change. We'll fight to limit carbon emissions. Impose a ceiling on emissions or a carbon tax on polluters. Return the revenues from these to the American people, in the form of tax cuts for the working middle class.

10. Getting big money out of politics. We'll fight to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overrule Citizens United v. FEC. Require full disclosure of all contributions for or against any candidate. Provide full public financing for all presidential, gubernatorial, and legislative candidates in all general elections.

A few of the places it's happening:

* Madison (ongoing).

* Des Moines (ongoing).

* March 10: Indianapolis. Gather at 10am and rally at 11:30am at Statehouse, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis. Rallies will continue at the capitol until the impasse is over.

* March 11: St. Louis. Downtown at 3:30 pm at Kiener Plaza. SB 1 is expected to be voted on in the Senate the week of 3/7 or 3/14.

* April 4: In cities across America. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - Demonstrations to show that "We Are One."

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Spaghetti Sacramental

Grateful Face of Christ
Showing Yourself in the faces
In the stories
In the Sacred vulnerability
Of the Holy Homeless
Breaking my heart and
Filling my heart
I give them noodles
And in return you give me You
I am not worthy, not nearly,
But you forgive, and more
You show me what it is
To be you:
Your other Self.

How to Rock

The Kinks' guitar playing is pretty primitive, and it sounds like they recorded this using mono equipment...inside a metal shipping container...with a microphone they accidentally ran over in the parking lot...but the lack of polish is more than made up for by the sheer manic, propulsive animal *energy* of the thing. One of the great rock songs.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Sixties Berkeley

Kodachrome and orange and bouffant
Gloves and perfume and jaunty pillbox
Mommy's hand at Woolworths
Gentle hippies wearing blankets,
They are smiling and sullen at once
The smell of teargas,
Running freaks and soldier's jeeps and then
Mom's rage-grip on the steering wheel
She's Cursing Nixon and napalm
And afraid for her children,
Who sing "Up up and away
In my beautiful balloon."

Friday, March 04, 2011

Wisconsin and Ohio: The Place Where We Began the Counter-offensive?

Looks like the unions and their supporters in Ohio may face a challenge of their union-busting legislation at the ballot box. Progressives in Wisconsin are planning to gather signatures for a recall election for the Republican lawmakers who support the stripping of collective bargaining rights from Wisconsin state workers.

On a side note, I'm reminded of all the "progressives" who've whined over my years of blogging that "street protests will do no good/are just soooo 'sixties'/are ineffective in the era of [insert title of currently popular and brainless TV show here] blah blah blah."

What the union members and supporters are doing in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere is doing their jobs as citizens by involving themselves in the process.

They do enough of that, and all the bread and circuses in the world won't hold back progress.

On the other hand, if all you do is whine about what hopeless dolts your fellow citizens are while sitting on your hands, well then yeah, things will continue to suck.


Robert Reich Gives a Nice Summary

Conservative economists have it wrong. The underlying problem isn’t that so many Americans have priced themselves out of the global/high-tech labor market. It’s that they’re getting a smaller and smaller share of the pie.

Yes indeed.

Today's unemployment news is good only in the sense that the raw numbers are moving in the right direction; unemployment decreased from 9.0 to 8.9 percent.

But, as Reich says, the new jobs ain't like the old ones:

The National Employment Law Project did just that. Its new data brief shows that most of the new jobs created since February 2010 (about 1.26 million) pay significantly lower wages than the jobs lost (8.4 million) between January 2008 and February 2010.
While the biggest losses were higher-wage jobs paying an average of $19.05 to $31.40 an hour, the biggest gains have been lower-wage jobs paying an average of $9.03 to $12.91 an hour.

This is not a recipe for sustainable prosperity and broadly-rising standards of living. It's a recipe for an America where there are a few oligarchs doing just great, while the bulk of us shop at dollar stores and barely get by.

The thing is, most people alive right now remember a different economic reality; one where prosperity was broadly shared and Americans were proud of having the world's highest standard of living.

They and I won't accept an America where there are a few people at the top making obscene heaps of money, while the vast bulk of the population lives one paycheck away from penury. Such an America is one that cries out to the heavens for justice. Such an America is a nation where social stability will begin to seriously degrade.

There seems to be this idea in the heads of our political elites that the United States is exempt from political instability because we're America and thus apart from history (hubris much?).

Unless our political and economic structures are reformed, our elites are going to learn that the US is solidly within the river of history, and that river will flood, and they will learn that history has neither pity nor remorse.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Cui Bono?

Kyle Cupp discusses the implications and limitations of consensus, in the context of global warming:

Consensus implies the existence of other views and, indeed, dissent. As consensus does not equal truth, truth demands that others get a hearing and that our ears remain open to the voice of dissent or what Lyotard called paralogy, the innovation of new concepts that emerge in thought oppositional to the established ways of thinking.

Of course, keeping an open ear doesn’t mean we refuse to act when consensus urges a course of action. Knowledge is never absolute, and prudence dictates that we act without perfect knowledge.

Despite what prudence dictates, no action will be forthcoming until something more compelling than the money and power available to politicians who serve the interests of the oligarchy who benefits from America's fossil fuel addiction. As I said in his commbox:

There seems to be an emerging strategy in the political organs that serve the interests of the Plutocracy: deny global warming until it is too late to act to mitigate it (such actions having the effect of limiting their ability to make as much money as possible), then break out the no-use-crying-over-spilt-milk arguments after it is safely too late to do anything about it.

Apropos of Nothing Much...

May I just say that Deepak Chopra has struck me, every time I've heard him, as a guy who's grown rich from saying reassuring and flattering things to affluent people, who then pay good money to attend his seminars to receive further flattery and aggrandizement? Sort of "spiritual anesthetic" for the NPR set.