Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Memoriam: Daniel I. Pevar, 1976-2010

Grief hits us again.

My nephew Dan was a gentle, creative and caring man who died suddenly Monday, a victim of bipolar disorder.

I have no words for this. I am grateful that, after it looked like I would not be able to travel back east for his funeral, circumstances now make that possible.

Dan is the middle son of my sister Susan and her husband Marc. In honor of their Jewish faith, in memory of my beloved nephew, in shared sorrow with his parents and his brothers, I link to this prayer in that tradition, written by a college friend of mine.

It is called "For the Bereaved."

Last night, Dan's father told me: "Cherish your sons."

And so I say that to whoever stops by this place: Cherish your children.

Amen, and Blessed Be.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Greetings from Space

(Thanks, Will!)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Deck Us All...

I remember when this first ran. Consider it my Christmas Card to everyone.

h/t Roger Ebert.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I love this

h/t, Kay at Sunshine and Starlight

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Quote of the Day

From Presbyterian minister John Shuck:

Now that the military says gays can be soldiers, I wonder when Presbyterians will allow them to be preachers of peace?

Do tell, indeed!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

'A Church for Atheists'

The Rev. Andy Pakula explains in a very nice post how Unitarian/UU churches welcome atheists as well as theists.

It reminds me of a story I heard from an Englishman (Andy happens to be in England, too, but he is originally from the U.S.) when I was at my Church-Away-From-Home sometime last year.

My English acquaintance told me of his friend who had moved in retirement from London to a small community up in the North of England.

As the retiree got to be known in the community, someone realized his general acumen and approached him about joining the vestry of the local Anglican church.

Flattered, the retiree nonetheless demurred. "I'm an atheist," he explained, apologetically.

His inviter was unperturbed. With a shrug and a wave of his hand, he responded, "Oh, that doesn't matter!"

My Episcopalian mother, and one of the priests at her church, found this story as funny as I and the man who told it to me did.

Monday, December 13, 2010

'Do as I Do...'

DairyStateMom directs me to this post by Andrew Sullivan, which in turn links to a Weekly Standard article.

The article itself is a review of a book aimed at Christian parents (and, by context, I'd infer mostly Evangelical parents more than Mainline ones). I'll stipulate that the book's author might define the "life-changing, culture-challenging demands of the gospel" a bit differently than I would, and instead just highlight the same quote that Sullivan does:

Parents who show, by their words or their actions, that the tenets and practices of their faith are vague, unimportant, or only tenuously related to daily life, produce teenagers whose faith is vague, marginal, and unlikely to shape their actions and plans in any significant way ...

Mormons, by contrast, challenge their teenagers and require a lot of time, study, and leadership from them. Mormon parents rise at dawn to go over their church’s history and doctrine with their children. More than half of the Mormon youth in the study had given a presentation in church in the past six months. They frequently shared public testimony and felt that they were given some degree of decision-making power within their community. They shape their plans for the immediate future around strong cultural pressures toward mission trips and marriage. Whatever one thinks of the actual beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it seems obvious that both adult Mormons and the teens who follow them really, really believe.

One thing that this quote skates over is the extent to which traditional Mormon beliefs (and those of certain other high-loyalty religions) are rooted at least partly in authoritarianism -- or at least, that's my perception.

So, a question for us UUs and Progressive Christians, and those of any other faith who seek to decouple our belief system from authoritarianism:

Are there lessons that we, too, can learn from this, that we can implement in a non-authoritarian way?

Some friends yesterday explained in a talk at my church why they (he raised Catholic, she raised as a secular Jew) opted for a UU church for their children (and themselves) instead of choosing a non-religious upbringing in which they would simply learn about religion on their own and make their own choices. He said, You can't really understand religion unless you grow up in a religion of some kind. And having that structure gives you something to question and even rebel against, which is healthy.

I liked that a lot. And I think there's a connection here...

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Meditation on Politics, Part 3: Idealistic Pragmatist? Or Pragmatic Idealist?

From the late 1970s onward, in my days of working for daily newspapers, I took the ethical admonition to stay out of political activism very seriously. So I would follow political campaigns on my own time, and I would vote my hopes (and my fears), but I stayed away from any deeper involvement.

In graduate school in 1982, students were assigned to one of several teams producing a newspaper or other news product covering the November '82 elections. Since we were in New York, the lead story was the govenor's race to succeed Hugh Carey. In that extraordinarily tight race, Democrat Mario Cuomo defeated Lew Lehrman, a Reaganite Republican who, if memory serves, funded much of his campaign with his own money. I think there was little doubt that many of us in the grad school privately preferred Cuomo, but I also would argue that, for the most part, the stories we produced for our journalism "laboratory" were fair and largely unbiased. (I do recall one of our number, however, speaking disparagingly of "all the cheering from the pressbox" -- a probably accurate if a bit hyperbolic assessment. And I don't even know that that guy was anti-Cuomo -- it's as likely that he, who like me had already worked in the business, just felt his professional ethic of objectivity tainted.)

In elections that followed, my choices at the ballot box reflected an evolving and not particularly organized or disciplined political outlook. In 1984, living and working in New York State, I was intrigued by Gary Hart's desire to modernize the Democrats' image, but in the primary wound up choosing Jesse Jackson, knowing full well that the vote was symbolic. That fall I voted for Mondale, hoping against hope that he might actually win. Four years later I voted for Jackson in the primary again, admiring his effort to add struggling blue collar workers -- whose travails I was covering in my daily newspaper assignments -- to his Rainbow Coalition. Yet when I pulled the lever for the Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis that fall, I was not merely choosing some lesser of two evils or acting out of loyalty to the Democratic Party -- the practical, pragmatic, and technocratic ethos of his campaign appealed to me as well. It honestly struck an idealistic chord in me.

In 1992, after considering Tom Harkin, who had the strongest pro-labor message, I voted for Jerry Brown in the primary -- skeptical of his flat tax, but appreciating his outsider argument and his zeroing in on big money. I thought Brown had done a credible job, too, of speaking to workers and voters being displaced by the economy. It remains fascinating to me that his appeal fell flat with many blue-collar voters while capturing the interest of those of us with higher incomes and with college or professional degrees.[Here's an interesting summary, from two years ago, of Wisconsin's pivotal role in past Democratic primaries.]

Very soon after Brown narrowly lost the primary to Bill Clinton, I happened to travel to Peoria, Illinois, to cover the Caterpillar strike. While I was there that week, Clinton came in, met both with company and union officials to urge them to settle, then shook hands along a picket line and held a news conference at an airport hangar. Sometime before I'd heard on the radio some of a fairly lengthy talk Clinton had given at some sort of policy-wonkish forum and been impressed by his rhetorical skills. But I hadn't been especially impressed by him in the early rounds of the primary campaigns and was embarrassed by the emerging Gennifer Flowers scandal. All that changed in Peoria, where in just a few superficial hours -- and with no one-on-one exposure to him, just the news conference as well as a few brief opportunities to observe him close-up as he spoke with individual voters -- I had found him to be mesmerizing. The day after his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, I called up a former Democratic legislator in my community and privately asked how I might get a job with the campaign. He gave me some contacts, I faxed a resume, but I heard nothing and decided not to pursue it further. As the polls that fall showed a likely Clinton-Gore win, I started keeping track of the predictions in a file, mostly with the suspicion or fear that the Democrats might pull defeat from the jaws of victory and there might be a story to write in the aftermath about the inaccuracy of polls.

In fact, of course, the polls were largely accurate. And pretty much from then on, I've been inclined to believe them, whether I wanted to or not.

I found the Clinton presidency maddening. I admired his rhetorical skills and his gift for outwitting his ideological foes. I was frustrated by -- yet, paradoxically, I fundemantally empathized with -- his tendancy to compromise with conservatives over policies such as the admission of gays and lesbians to the military. I distrusted his free-trade economic philosophy but recoiled from the anti-foreign (in this case, meaning anti-Mexican and anti-Asian) language of some of free trade's harsher blue-collar critics. And I admired his choices for the National Labor Relations Board, for Labor Secretary (Robert Reich), and his appointment of a commission to examine labor law and policy -- a commission whose ultimate recommendations for easing the ability of unions to organize were a dead letter after the GOP takeover of Congress in the 1994 mid-terms. And don't even get me started on the Lewinsky/Starr episode.

Midway through the Clinton years I went from being a full-time newspaper employee to a full-time freelancer. Because I still wrote stuff that touched on politics at least some of the time, I continued to restrict myself from political activism. But I also continued to vote from a peculiar place of idealistic pragmatism.

When Bill Bradley sought the Democratic nomination in 2000, I found myself really excited -- and voted for him in the Wisconsin primary even though he'd already dropped out. (I had no interest in the Nader Green Party run, despite having several acquaintances who thought it was time for a real third party. I wasn't happy with the Florida outcome,of course, but I was also not as reflexively inclined to blame Nader for that as others were.)

You might think, based on the history I've already taken far too many electrons to lay out, that in 2004 I would have supported Howard Dean. Yet for reasons I'm not even sure of, he didn't really grab me. In the fall of 2003, I was far more interested in Wesley Clark, seeing him as a candidate who could more skilfully navigate the treacherous waters of an opposition presidential campaign in wartime. We all know how that worked out. But Dean? Nah. Dennis Kucinich? With sincere apologies to my dear sister, who was a Kucinich supporter that year, not a chance.

DairyStateMom and I were dating by this time, and a niece of hers (whom I'd met at Christmas 2003) was a campaign staffer in Iowa for John Kerry. But when the Wisconsin primary rolled around, John Edwards was still a contender, and I liked his economic message. As it turned out, both Edwards and Dean lost to Kerry in this state.

That fall, heartsick over the Bush presidency, I for the first time put a presidential campaign sign in my yard, for Kerry. In the days leading up to the election and election day itself, I forgot my polling lessons from 1992 and convinced myself -- along with millions of Kerry voters across the country -- that he really might win. In the personal depression that followed the outcome, I was all but immobile for days. But that, too, passed, and soon after the election I was on my way to Washington to profile an up-and-coming young member of Congress from my state.

And that is where I'll pick up the story next time.

PS: On February 26, 2011, I went through and edited the titles of this series slightly.