I Take Paul Ryan Personally

High Toned Mediocrity or I Take Paul Ryan Personally

“If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?”  James 2:15-16

On Sunday March 12, I attended Eucharist at All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA. I went especially to hear guest preacher, Reza Aslan, the Muslim scholar and author of Zealot, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. (Amazon link to book)

Mr. Aslan preached on the Letter of James (James, a First Century Saint for the Twenty-first Century) and he did not disappoint. You can watch his entire homily here.

A few excerpts:

“James’s community referred to itself collectively as “the poor”. That’s right. The very first term to designate the followers of Christ was not “Christian” it was “the poor.”

“So we shouldn’t be surprised by James’s epistle’s overwhelming focus on the poor. What is perhaps a little more surprising is its bitter condemnation of the rich and powerful.

“Now this condemnation of wealth and power may seem extreme but the truth is that James is merely echoing the words of his brother who said “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.” (Luke 6: 24-25)

Let’s be honest; this part of Jesus’s message has never been all that popular. Certainly not with the wealthy and powerful no matter how much they say the love Jesus. Not this part.

How else to explain politicians like Republican congressman Roger Marshall whose rationale for repealing the affordable care act and thus denying health care to millions who could not otherwise afford it, was to shrug and claim, “Like Jesus said, ‘the poor will always be with us.”

“How else to explain religious right leaders like Franklin Graham who justified the president’s Draconian regulations on immigration into the U. S by arguing that, ‘Well, God also does extreme vetting about who he allows to spend eternity with him, so why can’t the U. S. do the same?’ By the way I have a feeling that Franklin Graham is going to be surprised by the nature of God’s extreme vetting.”

On this point I think Pope Francis is correct when he said that “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee, or someone seeking help, or someone who is hungry or thirsty, to toss out someone who is in need of help. . . . It is better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Christian.”  (Here’s a link to Pope Francis’s homily.)

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Making the Poor Visible

“Obamacare replacement hits Trump voters hard. Some of the biggest losers in Republican plan are in counties that supported him”

Headline in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday, March 12, 2017.

In the late 1990’s someone published a business motivational book called, “Who Stole My Cheese?” It remained on the NY Times best-seller list for almost five years.

My take away was that the difference between rats and people is this. There are five tunnels; only one of them has cheese. Both rats and people will, soon, after discovering the tunnel with cheese, return to it repeatedly. However, if the cheese is moved from, say tunnel two to tunnel five, the rats will return to tunnel two a few times until they realize there is no longer any cheese down that tunnel. Then, the rats will begin to explore the other four tunnels until they find cheese. Human beings, on the other hand will go down tunnel two until they starve because it is the right tunnel.

I was reminded of this business fable several times as I read the NY Times best-seller, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture and Crisis by J. D. Vance. The book, which many critics have hailed as a key to understanding the “Trump voter,” follows Vance’s life through a harrowing boyhood and adolescence amongst his hillbilly relatives to his enlistment in the United States Marine Corps to his undergraduate studies at the University of Ohio until, finally, his graduation from the Yale University School of Law. His story is more than a little bit Dickensian.

The book is well-written, reportorial and compelling. It more than likely fulfills the criteria of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey.” I recommend it highly; like James Baldwin’s books it, too, is a guide for pilgrims who are willing to make the journey to an unfamiliar world. I underlined so many passages that it might be easier to pick out the passages that weren’t underlined.

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Confessions of an Unrepentant Out-of-the-Closet Chick Flick Lover

In the February 3, 2017 issue of the New York Times, the estimable Gloria Steinem published an Op-Ed piece called “Women Have Chic Flics; What About Men?”

I say estimable because I have long admired Ms. Steinem. I first became aware of her, not from her article about being an under-cover Playboy bunny, and my respect for her predates the publication of MS Magazine’s inaugural issue. It was her 1968 interview with Pat Nixon.

In 1968, newly transplanted from Denver Colorado to New York City, I became (and still am) a regular reader of New York magazine. Shortly before that year’s presidential election, the magazine published Ms. Steinem’s interview with the notoriously press-wary, Mrs. Nixon. After Mrs. Nixon responded to one of Steinem’s questions by saying that the woman she admired most was former first lady, Mamie Eisenhower, Steinem reports:

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Tourists, Pilgrims & Other Travelers

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“Take more time, cover less ground.”
-Thomas Merton

My father’s taste in art leaned toward landscapes of the southwestern desert, hand-woven Navajo rugs, Native-American pottery and beautifully detailed Hopi Kachina dolls.

In the late sixties when I was living in New York, my parents came to visit. I booked a room for them at the Warwick Hotel located down the street from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

My wife and I had a studio apartment on West 76th between Broadway and West End Avenue. If the light was right and you squinted and you had a properly romantic view of life, you might have described our apartment as Bohemian. It wasn’t; threadbare would have been a more accurate description. Our neighborhood, which is now completely gentrified and pricy, was at the time called Needle Park; wasted addicts prowled the streets and needles and syringes were common in the gutters of the neighborhood. On the bright side, many artists, young actors, musicians and writers lived nearby. Rents were rent-controlled and cheap.

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Learning to See As Another Sees

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.

 

“But there is another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.”

 

–John Berger, Ways of Seeing

When I am asked what it is exactly that I teach, I say that I teach people to see. I use archetypes, myth, metaphor, and mostly film, to teach people how to see symbolically and impersonally.

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Resilience

My favorite picture from the Women’s March; Janice Posikoff photographed by Jody Rogac for Time Magazine

My favorite picture from the Women’s March; Janice Posikoff photographed by Jody Rogac for Time Magazine

Janice Posikoff  “I’m here representing the territory of my mother, Lillian Posnikoff, from Alert Bay, Canada, and her ancestors, the Kwakwaka ‘wakw people’. “Can’t you feel what we’re getting out of this march? It’s unity, it’s solidarity, it’s everything that we all wanted. It’s sending the clear message that absolutely, absolutely, he’s not the popular president, and we’re going to fight every inch of the way, every time it looks like corruption is happening or injustice is happening, all of it.”

It seems to me that The Women’s March, January 21, 2017, which as far as I know, originated as a protest of and resistance to the policies of the president who had been inaugurated the day before, blossomed into a world-wide celebration of and call heard round-the-world to resilience.

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Resentment & Resilience: Two Faces of America

It is impossible not to contrast the mood of the presidential inaugural on January 20 with the world-wide Women’s March that took place a day later.

In Time magazine’s coverage of the inauguration, David Von Drehle wrote, “Trump’s rallying cry was resentment: resentment of foreign governments and industries, resentment of elected leaders and faceless elites, resentment of the empty factories and haunted cities that define the American landscape as rendered by its new leader. ‘American carnage,’ is how he tallied it all up . . . .”

Another Time reporter, Karl Vick, described the Women’s March differently: “(protest) signs were as bawdily exuberant as the crowds, which inevitably skewed activist but included many who had never demonstrated before, and who experienced in the gatherings both a stirring well of fellow feeling and sudden momentum. . .  Many said it was the best they’ve felt since election day.”

signisaboutyou
Conversations, e-mails and Facebook posts from friends, family and clients who attended the marches continue to confirm the exhilaration and fresh hope that were born of this event.

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Sparrows in the Windmills of my Mind

On more than one occasion, in fact on many occasions, people have remarked, not always kindly, on the way my mind works.

Several years ago, two close and treasured friends, Penny and James, both experts in language and linguistics, and I were engaged in conversation. Penny said, “Jim, James is able to connect the dots in the conversational leaps your mind makes; I’m having trouble following you. Would you mind pausing, when you make one of these leaps, and tell me what the connection is between the two thoughts so I can follow? I happily agreed and, for the next half hour or so, I would pause and explain the connections, until Penny said, Okay, you don’t need to make the connections for me anymore, I’m following you.

Here, then is, to the best of my ability, a day in the life of my mind: a beginner’s guide to how my mind works.

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Collateral Damage

Some of my Facebook friends may recognize the name Audrey Lockwood. Audrey, a self-proclaimed “male bashing lesbian avenger” and radical feminist, frequently responds to my posts with calls for the destruction of the patriarchy, the absolute rule of women, and the necessity for every woman to know how to efficiently and effectively place a man in a foolproof choke hold. But that’s not all there is to Audrey.

My good friend Audrey Lockwood (she gave me permission to share her photo)

My good friend Audrey Lockwood (she gave me permission to share her photo)

Audrey is a truly gifted poet, a tireless champion to young lesbians and a dedicated patron of the visual arts. She has an unerring eye for beauty—natural and created. She is sentimental about holidays and often wears outfits appropriate to the occasion. Aside from her rants, she posts pictures of octopuses, suffragettes, butterflies, mermaids, exotic birds, female pirates, turtles, and the 18th Century.

Audrey and her spouse, Kittredge Cherry, have been together for 41 years; they met Labor Day weekend freshman year. And that, as they say, was that. They were legally married in 2016. Kitt is an ordained priest and the accomplished author of several books, including Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ and More as well as the editor of the blog, Jesus in Love, which has just moved to qspirit.net.

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Nostalgia Really Isn’t What it Used To Be

My cousin, Michael, and I don’t have occasion to interact very often—weddings and funerals, mostly.  I saw him last summer for the first time in several years at a mini family reunion that my sister hosted in honor of my 75th birthday and in honor of Michael’s older brother, Pat, an Oblate missionary priest in Africa, who was home on vacation.

Michael is a really good man. He and sister, Jane, have been, and continue to be, pillars of strength for their immediate and extended families throughout many heartbreaks, losses and tragedies that would have broken people of frailer character.

Michael and I are casual FB friends. His FB posts mostly tend toward nostalgic pictures from websites like the Good Old Days and Do You Remember the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s? My sister Mary posts pictures from these websites, too. They are occasionally funny, but in no way give me any desire to re-live those decades. Or the 50’s either!

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Cognitive Dissonance and Conversion

st-teresa

In my last year of college (1963), Father Edward L. Maginnis S. J., the chairman of the theology department offered a seminar for seniors only. I don’t remember how the seminar was listed in the catalogue, but it was popularly known as “Can a Thinking Christian Be a Goldwater Republican.” This class had little to do with Barry Goldwater and everything to do with tweaking Edwin J. Feulner, the student body president who was a zealot and evangelist for the Goldwater brand of Republican conservatism. This was a somewhat quixotic endeavor to undertake on the campus of a Catholic men’s college during the Camelot years of John F. Kennedy’s presidency; the majority of students were resonating with Kennedy’s call to selfless service which aligned so perfectly with the principal raison d’etre of Jesuit education and formation: “to be a man for others.”

The key word in Father Magnnis’s course title is not, Christian, or Republican or even Goldwater; it is “Thinking”! Jesuits take some justified pride in teaching their students how to think thus abdicating forever the power to tell them what to think. Evidence of the Jesuits’ success and, perhaps, the mixed results can be found in the footnote.*

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Artists, Saints and Prophets

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In the days immediately following Mike Pence’s attendance at the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” a friend of mine posted an article about the elegance of actor Brandon Victor Dixon’s address to the vice-president elect.

One of her friends replied that the address was inappropriate, rude and disrespectful. Another decried the lack of hospitality toward Pence: “people pay money to attend the theatre to relax and be entertained. They don’t go there to be made to feel uncomfortable.” I have a Master’s Degree in Theatre Arts and no instructor I ever had said anything remotely like that.

I replied to her post: “In the play “Inherit the Wind” a character based on legendary journalist, H. L. Mencken says, ‘It is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’. This is also the duty of art and artists and saints and martyrs. Early in the week the same friend who posted the article about Hamilton had posted a photo of a birthday card which featured a quote from Pope Francis, “Have courage! Go Forward! Make noise!” I referred to the card in my post, adding “that it seemed to me that this is exactly what the cast of Hamilton did.”

Comfortable art! Even “The Sound of Music” reaches its climax with Captain Von Trapp singing “Edelweiss,” and thereby risking his life to sing truth to power.

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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

JEFFERSON SMITH – “Why don’t you people the truth for a change? People in this country pick up their papers and what do they read?

DIZ MOORE (a reporter) – “Well, this morning they read that an incompetent clown had arrived in Washington parading around like a member of the senate.”

JEFFERSON SMITH – “If you thought as much about being honest as you thought about being smart—“

DIZ MOORE – “Honest! We’re the only ones who can afford to be honest in what we tell the voters. We don’t have to be re-elected like politicians.”

I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old the first time my parents took me to see Frank Capra’s great film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The film was originally released in 1939, two years before I was born. We didn’t yet have television, let alone VHS, DVRs or Turner Classic Movies, but each year The Rocky Mountain News in collaboration with the Vogue, a small theatre in South Denver, sponsored a sort of film festival. The newspaper published ballots and readers could vote for the films they most wanted to see: the Marx Brothers, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, W. C. Fields (with Mae West) and Frank Capra’s movies (Mr. Smith, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and You Can’t Take it with You) always received enough votes to be screened. And my parents took me to see them.

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Hightlights For Children, Melania Trump and my Sister Judie

highlightsThe magazine, Highlights for Children was ever-present in the doctors’ and dentists’ offices of my childhood. The magazine was filled with games and puzzles. One of my favorites was a puzzle called “What doesn’t belong?” There would be, for example, pictures of a car, a boat, a giraffe, a train and a plane. Which one doesn’t belong? Easy, the giraffe! This wasn’t a condemnation about the giraffe, simply recognition that a giraffe wasn’t a suitable vehicle for long-distance travel.

Shortly after the election, I re-posted another puzzle I saw on Facebook: Who doesn’t belong?” which showed pictures of three previous First Ladies—Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy and Nancy Reagan, a picture of the current First Lady, Michelle Obama, and the next First Lady, Melania Trump. The photo of Mrs. Trump was a nude photo. This was a judgment of Mrs. Trump, meant to ridicule and shame her and her husband and call attention to her unsuitability for the responsibilities of First Lady.

Almost immediately, I received this FB message from my middle sister, Judie. Judie, like Mary Poppins, is practically perfect in every way. (That’s neither a joke nor sarcasm, Judie really is practically perfect in every way; anyone who is lucky enough to know her will vouch for this.) Among her talents is an uncanny ability to channel our late mother. She wrote:

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Finding God in All Things (Even this election)

This message was originally sent out to my newsletter subscribers but I was asked to post it as a blog as an introduction to this new section of my blog. 


A long overdue message in two parts.

finding-god-in-all-things

 

 

PART 1

I was fortunate to have an appointment scheduled with my spiritual director, on the afternoon of November 9, the day after the election. I had lost my grounding. I told my director that I needed guidance in how to accept and respond to what I view as a national tragedy.

I was a mess of feelings: heartbreak, disbelief, grief, anger, fear and disillusionment, to name a few.

My spiritual director is Jesuit-trained, as am I; St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, guides his followers to see God in all things. A profound spiritual experience I had in the 1980’s showed me without doubt that everything is a gift, everything is grace.

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