Friday, February 29, 2008

Listening to the Silence

I found out today that someone I know and have worked with in the past died. He had a sudden, massive heart attack. He left behind a wife and a daughter. He was 36.

When Baby Girl was born, I found it difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that my life had changed so completely in such a brief moment. One second I was pregnant and the next I was being taken into surgery and then she was in the world and off to the NICU.
However, that description of events is filled with misperceptions. I actually had nine months to think about how my life would change, nine months to absorb how this would change how I thought of the world.

But I find myself right now very unable to wrap my mind around this. It seems impossible that in a moment--a moment when I was probably doing nothing more extraordinary than trying to figure out how my web cam works--he was gone; he left this place.
Grief is an unremitting bastard. We live these lives of ours, and we take the presence of others for granted. Then grief brings us to that precipice of quiet desperation, and we plunge headlong.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Wrestling with the Cross

In another life, you know, one where Baby Girl doesn't want to be fed, played with, or teach me about the world, I would have written a Lenten series as I try to wrestle with Big Questions. The Hitchens debate at the 92 St Y was part of that. This is, too.

I turned on C-Span yesterday and caught the tail-end of the ninth State of the Black Union. If you want to know more about it, check out Tavis Smiley's webpage. It's a very intriguing symposium, and I am always invigorated by what Smiley puts out there in the culture because, even when I don't agree or have a context to understand, I am grateful he is having the conversation.

The astounding and prophetic Dr. Cornel West was in attendance, and I found myself riveted by his closing statement. So much so, that I went to C-Span and spent the morning transcribing this brief four minutes of gospel. It follows below:

Smiley: Doc, I raise this question in part based upon that Western formulation of the distinct difference between hope and optimism, and so you don't believe that being black means being optimistic, but it does mean always remaining hopeful and I'll pass the baton to you, sir.
West: We got to always be prisoners of hope, but I think we can learn something from the great musicians, especially being here in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Curtis Mayfield, Mary Jane Blige, Jill Scott, we can go on. What have we learned? That there's a qualitative difference between a voice and an echo. A voice is about an individual creation based on other voices that came before, an echo is about imitation, which is suicide, and emulation, which is a sign of an adolescent mind.
However you vote, don't let it be an echo. It's got to come from your heart, mind, and soul; it's got to have integrity. You've got to be able to stand for it and deal with the consequences. Why is that important? That's important precisely because somebody like myself, my calling is Socratic and prophetic, which means I have a suspicion of politicians, I don't care what color they are. My aim is to tell the truth, expose lies, and to bear witness. So, yes, I critically support Obama, I, I break my neck across the nation to support him. When he wins, I'll celebrate for a day, I'll breakdance that morning, the second day I'm his major critic; I'm his major critic. How come? Because it ain't about him, it's about those [slash] so-called everyday people. It's about the ordinary people, and not only that, Tavis, but in the end, especially what our, this, this genius right here, this brother here (referencing Dick Gregory). He has broken down, and what is at the core for me of what he's saying is how do we actually learn to love in the most deep sense; and if justice is what love looks like in public, then when you love folk you can't stand unfairness and them being treated unjustly. And if that's the case, then the question becomes, seems to me, how do we understand the catastrophic, because as a Christian that Cross is a sub-lying moment of unarmed truth and unconditional love being manifest in human action in the face of the catastrophic.
And that's a grand moment. Who has the courage to speak the truth and to love in the face of the catastrophic? That's the Cross, which means what? Don't get too wrapped up in the flag, because every flag is subordinate to the Cross. That in the end you've got to bear witness to something bigger than the flag. So all this talk about campaigning and so forth and so on, it is penultimate if it's not focused on the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew--which is the least of these, which is the most vulnerable--is still idolatrous and it still is going to run into a dead-end. So in the end the question becomes how do we learn to love each other in such a way that we can struggle for justice, and in struggling for justice we learn to disagree and still love our brothers and sisters and recognize that with our crooked hearts we've got to learn to love our crooked neighbors and our crooked neighbors got to learn how to love us with they crooked hearts and then organize, mobilize, bring power, and pressure to bear.
That's why we love you, Tavis, because you allow us to do this, you allow us to be free enough to engage in radical love and radical freedom, even as we recognize the cracked vessel status of each and every one of us, that's a beautiful thing. That's John Coltrane's Love Supreme; that's Marvin Gaye's What's Going On; that's Toni Morrison's Beloved; that's James Baldwin's Love essays; that's Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life: love and the need of love.
Smiley: Love today. Please thank the oracle, Dr. Cornel West for being here today.

I do not pretend to be a preacher: certainly when one quotes the formidable Dr. Cornel West on your blog, you don't do anything so idiotic.
But this stirs something in me that rears up from time to time, and it consumes me now. When Jason started attending seminary, I had the opportunity to think about my Faith in a very deep way. I wish everyone had that opportunity, took that opportunity, to try to wrestle with the idea of sin, the nature of despair, and the overwhelming calling we have to reckon with justice. For me, the lack of justice in the world brings about the greatest human sin, the act of despair which, of course, is when we fall short of hope of God's promise.
What I have found encouraging in this political season is that for the first time in my lifetime I am seeing a political debate that reflects my values: my liberal, justice-seeking, hope-filled, advocating-for-the-promise-of-God values. I know that to whom much is given, much is expected and within my life I see abundance and wealth beyond measure. I breathe free, therefore I must extend justice; I am full, therefore I must feed the hungry; I have security, therefore I must care for those who are vulnerable; I am filled with Grace, therefore I must extend God's Grace to others.
In this political debate, I have been quite open about my support of Barack Obama. I have waded through the arguments with friends that he is inexperienced and I have responded that I am not worried about the decisions he will make even though I may have an incomplete record by which to judge because I understand the nature of the criteria that he uses to make his decisions.
My vote for Barack Obama is my voice saying that I am wearied by hatred and I am tired of fear. I do not want my politicians or my government to tell me that my desire to love God's Creation is foolhardy. I want a government that looks like me. I want a government that reflects my values. I do believe that hope is a reasonable platform on which to run a campaign because it is a reasonable platform on which to build a faith system.
For too long has the Left labored with the idea that to invite faith to the table is to invite totalitarianism. But that gives credence to the idea alluded to by those like Christopher Hitchens, the idea that what God intends for his creation is what Man calls religion. At this time, and from here out, we must delve deeper, we must look beyond our religion, our churches, our temples, and wrestle with what God calls us to do. As a Christian, I hear the call from Dr. West: I must wrestle with the Cross because I serve something higher.

Amen.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

As If You Needed a Reason

First off, I love Flickr.
Lana introduced me to Flickr almost two years ago. I was charmed by the friendliness, easy usability, and all the pretty pictures. I quickly saw it as a way to keep our far-away family firmly in the know as Jason and I embarked upon this baby-making business.
Over time, I found more reasons to love Flickr, in large part due to all of their partnering companies. Now I have one more.
Photojojo is offering your very own Flickr time capsule.
Here's a sample of my first one.

*omg, I think I'm in heaven.*

Now if only they had a way to embed it in a webpage or to allow others to RSS subscribe, and you all could join me in all my Flickr goodness.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Does God Exist? at the 92 St Y

I will direct you to the original post, because there is more discussion happening on the 92nd Street Y's webpage (NYC), and it would be inappropriate to direct you to watch the debate between Rabbi Boteach and Christopher Hitchens without the context.

I will warn you, the full video is an hour a half long. However, I found it to be an invigorating bit of, I don't know, spewing between two unlikely fundamentalists. Though they are diametrically opposed in their beliefs, I find Hitchens to be as extremist in his atheistic tirades as I believe Boteach is in his monotheistic rants.
It is a hoot, and while Hitchens is much more entertaining to watch than Boteach (and potentially fundamentally more brilliant), I am disinfranchised by his most glaringly intellectual discrepency.

Here, I refer to the Rabbi's assertion that evolution (as put forth in Hitchens' writings) is actually a very cold exercise which would say that those who are poor--poor in body, poor in mind, and poor in soul (although that may be a bit anachronistic here)--do not deserve to be: these should be annihilated (so the logical conclusion of an evolutionary mindset believes).
However, the Rabbi contends, because Hitchens is such a defender of the rights of man (Humanism, let's call it, for a bit of shorthand), he obviously is deriving an ethical code from somewhere other than evolution (survival of the fittest), and that indeed this ethical code, which expresses ideas like charity and justice and equality, seems to be informed by the ethics of religion, long known champions since the time of Abraham of ideas like charity and justice (and equality if you were born into the right circumstances).
Hitchens is unable, however, to even acknowledge that his Humanist beliefs (my nomenclature, not his) and the society in which he lives have in any way been informed by the ethical code of religion. He is such a fundamentalist that he cannot even cope with this concession; and a concession, such as it is, that admits he lives among other human beings.

That's the problem with having such a big brain. You tend to think reductionism is your enemy. Me? Not a problem. I am firmly right in the middle (well, at least, between these two).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Know from whence you came

We just got back from a weekend in Kansas City. This last weekend was Granny Becky’s 60th birthday and also Sister Sarah’s baby shower at the church. It was a good weekend, but I must admit, it was a weird sleep weekend.
See, in January, as we were coming back from KC, the last hour and a half of the trip Baby Girl decided that she had had enough of the car and commenced alternating between crying, whimpering, and screaming as a sign of protest. I since decided that I just couldn’t cope with this again, and that it was much smarter to set off as Baby Girl was getting ready to sleep for the night. We’d put her in pajamas, read her a story and then, instead of placing her in bed, we’d strap her into her car seat and head south down I-55.
We started out at a few minutes past seven, and all was going well as she drifted off about 20 past. But we stopped for gas at about 11:30 and those beautiful baby blues popped open with that irrepressible grin. It seems she had decided that she was ready to go. Touché.
The biggest problem with this, of course, was that a) she wanted to play at 12 o'clock at night and b) we were still four hours away from Kansas City.
The fault in the plan, I think, came from talking up the weekend’s activities. We kept telling her that when she woke up on Friday (i.e. the next morning) we’d be at Granny’s and Grandpa’s. I think she honestly kept expecting Granny to pop her head around the front seat.
When we got in at 2:30, she was very excited to see we were there and joyfully tumbled into the darkened living room. She was even more excited when she discovered the toys Granny had taken out just for her visit, including the little Elmo’s World playset that when you push the buttons plays Elmo’s voice really, really loudly.
Granny got up after a minute; how could you not when she was so obviously being paged from the front room?
This laid the scene for bizarre sleep patterns all weekend, but never a terribly temperamental Baby Girl. There was never any time to dwell on being upset when there were just so many stimulating and wonderful people around itching to play with her.

As I said, it was the weekend of Sarah’s shower, and so I was thinking a lot about new babies. As I watched all of our parents play with Baby Girl, it occurred to me why being a grandparent is such an important stage in the relationship with one’s own children. Watching these four people who raised Jason and I be caregivers for Baby Girl, I got a glimpse of who they were when we began.
There is a certain frenetic boldness with a newborn: You want to do it all right, you want to do it all well, and you really, really want to do it. There is a joy which permeates and infuses what you do because you’re getting to be a new you with this little life, this little human being God has sent you. But at some point after the kids are out of diapers, and you’re doing the long goal work of making a productive member of society, you develop and become a different parent. The spontaneous nature of joy and play just ebbs and the relationship changes: children grow up, parents evolve, and there doesn’t seem to be a proper place in your world for a good game of peek-a-boo anymore.
Jason and I have each been on this earth for over 30 years, and in this time the nature of our relationships with our parents has changed, frequently. But it has been my child who has allowed me to see how my parents began as parents. I think it is all too easy to forget that your parents got into this whole business producing you because they find joy in life, because they wanted to play and laugh, because they find wonder in the Creation and wanted to share this with each other . . . you know, all of the reasons why you got into this whole gig, too.

Maybe I should file as a PAC

We were in Kansas City this past weekend, and I will have a bit more thoughtful prose on that later on. In the interim, a bit of catch-up:

Jason is having an affair with his third love (after Baby Girl and me, natch).

Baby Girl fell at daycare and hit herself in two places: at the corner of her mouth and next to her eye. When I picked her up that night, that formed an almost beautiful and perfect circle in alignment with her cheekbones. In an ironic twist, however, the bit next to her mouth is what turned a deep, relentless purple. So, we still haven't taken the family pictures I had planned for the first of the year. I mean, it's the first of the year until it's the second quarter ... right?

Obama won Illinois' Democratic Primary and, chances are, in your state, too, and has won something like the last bazillion contests. I'm so happy, I feel like I should go volunteer to be a candy striper. He appears well on his way to being a contender.
Mitt Romney dropped out of the race (excuse me, suspended his campaign), so I at least have respect for the Republican front-runner (we will not talk about Huckabee, except for two words: Fair Tax. Nuf' said).
While we were in Kansas City this weekend, we were shown this and since my first reaction was, "Why, dear God in heaven, didn't I think of this?", I knew I had to help the internet put it out there:


Since that was a moment of frivolity, let's counterpoint that with an excellent example of Michelle Obama's stump speech, given just before Super Tuesday in Delaware. There are seven parts in all, and you have to get to parts 3 and 4, because that's where the fire is. The video quality isn't great, but all you need to do is listen. Here's the first: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwkHFfO7hG8

Also, if you haven't seen the Yes, We Can video, it's embedded at the bottom of the blog. If I could figure out a way to get it to play in the background when you load the page, I would have. If you can help me on this, let me know how to trick out the YouTube scrip. If you can help me on this and are sick of Barack Obama, don't email me, and also you might not want to come back until after November, because I'm going to be a bit obsessive over the next few :-)

Oh, and last night as I was getting dinner ready, Baby Girl came up behind me, and buried her face in my legs. This was all very sweet, until I felt four little front teeth sink into the flesh of my inner thigh.
I screamed like a little girl, an angry, little girl.