Saturday, May 14, 2022
Sunday, May 8, 2022
For years now, we’ve been discussing different aspects how to manage broken relationships, especially relationships strained by the increasing polarization of American society. More and more people speak with me about feelings of isolation and loneliness. Even before the pandemic, more than 40% of Americans reported feeling that their relationships weren’t meaningful, and 20% said that they “rarely or never feel close to people”. (https://www.welcomingpath.com/2019/09/loneliness-listening-and-gift-of.html )
Sunday, May 1, 2022
I grew up in a working class family, with a father who worked in a factory my whole life. Most of those years, he worked second shift, which was great in the summer. We were able to go to the school lot and play some version of baseball several times a week. It was a pick-up game if enough people were available, using ghost runners if we were short. And if only a few of us were there, it would be fly-knocker or hot-box. Other days, we were out in the community, maybe mowing grass together for folks who couldn't manage their lawns or picking up groceries. During the school year, I mainly saw him on the weekends, except for those nights I managed to stay up late, and we'd catch the late news or reruns of M*A*S*H*.
In our home, there was never a question of the dignity and importance of manual labor. My dad considered other careers, but the factory had better pay and benefits than the options available to him after university, so he stayed at the factory. I grew up understanding that his work wasn’t less important than the work he might have done if he had chosen a different career path. There was also never a question about the importance of labor rights and union organizing. Even though my dad worked at a non-union factory, he always emphasized that the benefits he enjoyed were also because of the power of unions.
At the heart of all of this were some very basic principles. I couldn’t put them into words as a child, but I could give a short list now:
- a healthy economy cannot be separated from equity and equality;
- everyone should have access to a safe, stable, and healthy economic and social life;
- discrimination and disparities are signs of social sickness;
- the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain should always be protected and prioritized;
- all work and workers should be treated with dignity and gratitude.
Sunday, April 17, 2022
In the late 1990s, Holly and I taught English classes during the summer semesters at a small university outside of St. Petersburg, Russia. One year, a professor joined our classes, to brush up on conversational English. Over those weeks, made longer by the famous White Nights, we had the delight of getting to know Vladimir a little more. We traded stories, and he shared books with us by his wife, who translated Russian poetry into English, and vice versa. We went mushroom hunting with his family in the grand forests north of the city, where I learned there are mosquitos that can bite through denim. But the most memorable time we spent with Vladimir was during a visit in March 2000 when he took us on a guided tour of St. Petersburg and shared stories of his youth during the siege of Leningrad during World War II.
Saturday, March 26, 2022
Friday, March 18, 2022
Buddhism has long enjoyed a reputation, at least in the West, for being one of the more flexible and tolerant religions. There are good reasons for that, and my focus today is on one of those strengths. But it is also important to point out that Buddhism has been subject to the same limitations as any other cultural or religious system, including fundamentalist violence. Buddhist societies have struggled with war, economic injustice, patriarchal and gender violence, racism, and genocide.
Saturday, February 26, 2022
I don’t remember the exact words he used, but something I learned from my father was the link between history and current events. If you want to understand the world, to be able to read current events with insight, take the time to understand the history. This sounds so obvious, but it is a necessary reminder in a society that has struggled to learn how to remember and tell its history in a meaningful, truthful, and transformative way. No where is this more obvious in the US experience then in its observance of Black History Month.
Since Thursday, I’ve kept a tab open in a web browser for updates on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The main feeling I had, and still have, is grief accompanied by powerlessness. Perhaps you have felt it, too.
Saturday, February 12, 2022
A topic of conversation that comes up more and more in my circles is that of grief, especially complicated and collective grief. In particular, most of us have not had much of a break to recognize and grieve the loss we’ve experienced over the last several years. The litany is long. The pandemic brought us into contact with loss both intimate, with experiences unique to each of us, and unfathomably global, with at least six million deaths (https://covid19.who.int/ ), a number that is already likely much greater (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00104-8 ). We also need to take into account all the other losses we’ve experienced along the way, from a deterioration of democratic ideals; to the terrible strain on our education, health, and caregiving systems; to the shocking and deadly ignorance and disregard of public health; and more.
Friday, January 21, 2022
I have been quite critical of my religious upbringing in other talks, and all of that is quite true. Of utmost significance to me was that, rather than having access to quality mental health and medical care, I had to rely on religious books and ideas to help me cope with and try to recover from the abuse I experienced as a child. So I want to be clear that I am not erasing any of those criticisms when I say that it is also true that I don’t know if I would have survived adolescence without the powerful vision of peace and justice that I found in the lives and teachings of Jesus and the prophets.
I was probably around 12 years old when I first began reading and studying the Hebrew Bible and the Christian scriptures. I encountered plenty of confusing stuff, but there was also this persistent, insistent plea for us to make things right, to create a world where we could live without exploitation, injustice, or oppression. And it felt realistic to me; these values were often aspirations, a vision of how things could be. Only false prophets lied and said everything was okay when it wasn’t okay. I appreciated that honesty, because the world I grew up in was certainly not safe, just, or particularly kind – but I wanted it to be, and these readings helped me hold on to the vision that this was possible. One of these passages that happens to be the lectionary text for this Sunday, when Jesus goes to a synagogue in Nazareth and reads from a scroll from the prophet Isaiah:
Friday, January 14, 2022
"Until Everyone Is Safe": Reimagining Social and Community Well-Being through the Lens of Vaccine Equity
“650 Million Doses Short”
Like many people whose community work involved being in close contact with vulnerable populations, I can’t adequately describe the relief, gratitude, and hope I felt when I received my first injection of a covid-19 vaccine in February 2021. In fact, not a day goes by that I don’t feel grateful, and with good reason. Natalie Musumeci reported this week on a recent research letter in JAMA Network Open that revealed, from December 2020 through June 2021, these vaccinations “prevented more than 14 million” covid cases and saved approximately 241,000 lives in the USA alone, cutting hospitalizations and deaths “by nearly half”. (https://www.businessinsider.com/covid-vaccines-saved-more-than-240000-lives-us-research-says-2022-1 ) The vaccines have been both life-saving and life-changing. As a fully vaccinated and boosted person, I don’t have to live with the stress of life before the vaccines and I can’t imagine facing the Omicron variant without it. Tragically, I am one of the lucky ones with this option. While the main obstacles to an adequate vaccination rate we face in the Ozarks have been related to vaccine hesitancy and conspiracy theories, many places in the world have not had that luxury.