News Moves On But Families Hold the Memory

From Grab a Gun Online Sales Site

After I moved from Tucson, Arizona, Senator Giffords and her legislative aides and staffers were gunned down by a lone shooter (2011). I knew them all. Gabby Giffords struggled on with major brain injury. We have watched as she has not only recovered best she can, but how she and her husband Mark Kelly have continued to lead the nation in the discussion about our imperfect gun laws and the promotion of a gun culture.

Now Kentucky. The folks in Benton, KY are just beginning the long road to recovery and five children are struggling to keep life and limb at Vanderbilt Hospital. Two suffered brain injury and one may lose his arm – a youth with special needs. And the confused kid who perpetrated the crime: what a mess his life is now. I can’t help but think they are all caught, we are all caught up, in a vortex.

But what is even more horrific, and longer lasting, will be the thousands of individuals in the community, region and even the nation who are traumatized by such an event. It does not leave the community; it becomes a part of its memory. It becomes a part of the national memory, all the devastating loss of innocent lives, over and over and over again. Meanwhile we dither in our moral fortitude.

We’ve arrived at a historical moment when all of us know someone affected by these brutal acts of violence, acts perpetrated by people with problems, with grudges, or  tangled mental states that lead them to strike out.  Most of the time they are victims too – abused, bullied, abandoned or feeling without any personal agency in their social or familial families. Somehow they find that gun or guns to carry out their plan. It’s just not hard to get a gun. Kids can kill kids.

Apparently, this is not enough to convince the National Rifle Association and all who benefit from the vast industry of gun sales, and who confuse the Bill of Rights with the basic moral imperative to do no evil, to do no harm.  It is a fact that until recent history, promotion of widespread ownership of guns was uncommon.

Let’s also examine the other entrenched social and political conditions that can be drivers of violence: poverty, alienation, social repression, and so on. Kentucky has high poverty rates and over the top opioid addiction. We can talk all day about how our prayers go out to these youth but what are we really doing to help them, to provide a secure society for all kids to thrive?  America needs a rigorous self-inventory. That includes all of us. If we espouse a religious affiliation might we not examine how we apply it in all aspects of our lives?

I recall Martin Luther King, Jr. when asked why he supported the end of  United States participation in the Vietnam War. Why didn’t he stick to just civil rights? To paraphrase, he simply pointed out the he could not divide his moral code by the issue at hand. It is a code that demands the same rigor of understanding and right action in any area of our personal and civic lives.

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) changes the brain unless it is arrested. Let’s work with the people of Benton, KY to help them heal, to provide everything they need, including our sincere prayers. But let us not stop there. We must stop easy access to guns, and implicit or explicit support for an industry that results in a gun culture, in the U.S. once and for allLET’S NOT MOVE ON.

The Schweitzer Fellows

Since I wrote my last post in which I expressed grave concern for the moral compass of our current administration, and indeed, our American culture, I returned to my own personal champion of an ethical basis for living: Dr. Albert Schweitzer.

Since age 12 when I discovered a short biography of Schweitzer (All Men Are My Brothers by Charlie May Simon, 1956), I’ve read and reread many  Schweitzer writings about Reverence for Life, which the famous doctor, religious scholar and philosopher identified as the ethical basis for living.

Only by serving every kind of life do I enter into the service of that Creative Will whence all life emanates. ~ Albert Schweitzer, in “The Ethics for Reverence for Life” (1936)

For Schweitzer, this manifests through the striving of individuals and society to achieve the perfection of the world and humankind through the ethic of reverence for all life.

He was pragmatic about it: he wrote that thinking or writing about it doesn’t count: you have to act on it. He did so by stopping mid-career to attend medical school, and then moved to a remote jungle in Africa to serve people suffering from leprosy.

In my research I came upon the Schweitzer Fellowship which is providing the means for young leaders to emulate Schweitzer and take up the torch of that grand purpose. It is gratifying to learn how this work is unfolding around the world but how there are now 14 chapters across the U.S.  where Fellows seek to empower people to create health and wellness in their family and community

Reading:

Out of My Life and Thought – Autobiography

The Ethical Mysticism of Albert Schweitzer by Henry Clark

Film:

CD with actual footage of Schweitzer in Labarene Hospital, Nobel Peace Prize, etc.

Albert Schweitzer on Prime Video Amazon an excellent new film (2009) about the man and his work; his human flaws and his genius; Barbara Hersey portrays Mrs. Schweitzer showing a much greater role in her husband’s success than in previous films.

America Untethered from Its History

As I’ve grown older, I have witnessed how the seeds of the future are planted in the present. Wise men, women, and visionaries make decisions by first looking back in history. What did we learn? Are there any similarities to the present challenges or opportunities. This is a time honored process of making careful decisions that will impact the future. Specifically, we looked for lessons learned.

Two examples are insightful. How we negotiated treaties at the end of WWI and at the end of WWII had very different outcomes. At the close of WWI, Germany was disabled by the imposition of brutal sanctions that disabled its ability to grow ties to the world nations through trade. That worked against securing a democratic course for Germany. President Woodrow Wilson tried to convince fellow world leaders to take the path of peace, to assist the perpetrators in creating democratic institutions and principles while building world peace in the process. He was ignored. The terrible hardships imposed on the German people became the forces that eventually led to the rise of Adolf Hitler.

Following WWII, the Marshall Plan reversed that tendency (to punish). Nations formed an alliance to provide a means of peaceful negotiation, and play a role as a watchdog for violations of human rights in member nations (the United Nations). Consequently, the world has not experienced a world conflagration since 1945, and Germany rose to take its place as a democratic nation in the world community. The leaders of the time had learned from history and corrected with purposeful actions.

The United States accepted a leadership role in the world as the seat of democracy. Granted we have not perfectly earned that great role, but we’ve done well over time in mediating among and working with fellow nations toward peaceful co-existence.

This has been accomplished by Republican and Democratic Presidents alike, building on each other’s accomplishment in foreign relations. It can sometimes be a reversal of a policy, but American policies always articulated with previous ideas and assumptions. Presidents have explained to the public why policies are changed or continued as should be done to gain public support through an understanding and  awareness of the nation’s place in the world. In this manner America has advanced among nations. Presidents shape our future at home and in the world.

We need to evaluate President Trump in this light. Has he knowledge about our history and that of the world? Does he explain his policies in light of that previous body of actions and principles? Can our allies depend on him, i.e. are his ideas in line with the long history of how our nation had acted in the world community?

It is a rarity to have a President ignore who we have been, and who we are, for his own personal idea of what we should be. That is not leadership. Checking off a list of the pet projects of voter groups who supported his election by destroying decades of bipartisan work and policies is not leadership but old-time cronyism.

It is a Lesser Version of a President that we have not seen in our history. Leading a nation like ours, made of a dynamic informed public, requires the Big Leader version of the Presidency–a presidency based in the knowledge of where we came from and who we are. While I often feel sorry for Trump because he is completely overwhelmed by the job, I am more terrified of what is happening to us: the dismantling of our institutions that keep and foster democratic life, and the aimless leadership he imposes in the world community. All across the world, our allies are pulling back from us. Our enemies are gaining new confidence. We are less safe.

Where is this going?

Something to think about:

 

Healers of the Land

One of the best activities of my mature life has been an association with the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the Land Ethic Leaders. In 2012 I traveled to Baraboo, Wisconsin to attend a training to become a Land Ethic Leader in my community.

Leopold’s now famous essay on The Land Ethic is excellent guidance for our time.

The Land Ethic_A Sand County Almanac

I’ve continued to learn from leaders and staff at the Foundation but mostly from my fellow Land Ethic Leaders. John Matel is one who is blogging about the restoration of the Long Leaf Pine Ecosystem on his land. He is doing the careful, long term work of bringing fire back to the land to awaken long dormant seeds for the sedges and grasses on the land, grooming the understory and the pines themselves.

Read his latest blog and explore others to appreciate that there is a man, and many others like him, who are working on the long term solutions to our environmental crises. For example, read about the Panhandle Watershed Alliance and the Bream Fisherman’s Association led by an intrepid water ecologist and friend, Barbara Albrecht in Pensacola, Florida.

So, take heart that there are these menders and planters, stewards of land and the human spirit OUT THERE working against the tide of destruction.

Future Home of the Living God: A Masterpiece

Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God is a masterpiece of contemporary  American literature. After 16 novels, books of poetry, and memoir, and nominations for the Pulitzer, and winner of the National Book Award, this novel is a culmination of her storytelling, use of language, and imagination.

I’ve read and studied Erdrich’s works for at least 15 years, eagerly awaiting each new novel. Some have exceeded my expectations, others have not but are still excellent reads. But this one, THIS is an achievement — not just for her as a writer and artist — but for our times.

The writing is beautiful and flows with such ease, concise yet vivid description, that reading is seamless. The plot moves with tremendous pace and at times I was so full of suspense that I had to put my hand over the next sentence to keep myself from jumping ahead. As a woman with a daughter and sisters, and nieces, I was drawn to the main character, Cedar, who writes a diary for her unborn child — a record of a time when all that people assumed would never change was upended overnight.

If you are a woman of child-bearing age or a woman concerned about protection of women’s rights, if you are a a man who values women, a person of faith, or a citizen who wishes to understand this age, this time on earth, then you need to read this book. The earth is changing, we are changing.

In the dystopian tale, so prescient for today, she manages to still uplift the reader. She is a weaver of legend, personal destinies, and her own cultural perspective. Louise Erdrich manages to show us there is still hope, still good to be cherished and brought forward in all of us. Yet, Erdrich bravely portrays a potential future that threatens all we hold as good and right in human behavior, and the fate of the earth.

Hildegard of Bingen, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, scripture from the Bible, and Ojibwe elders all find voice in this story.

Find it at Birchbark Books, Erdrich’s independent book store; Indie Bound, or other online book vendors. Read the New York Times book review.

National Parks: Citizen Library

Carlotta Walls LaNier

In the previous post I described my joy in visiting the Central High School National Historic Site which preserves and tells the story of desegregation in Little Rock, AK. There I bought two memoirs, one by Daisy Bates (The Long Shadow of Little Rock), the other by Carlotta Walls LaNier with Lisa Frazier Page (A Mighty Long Way). [*This link includes an interview with Mrs. LaNier and an excerpt from the first chapter, and links to purchase a copy of the memoir.]

Both memoirs brought me renewed appreciation for the personal struggles of individual Americans striving for their civil rights, and the importance of parents being involved in their children’s education. Reading both books rendered a deeper understanding of historical events through the lived experiences of my fellow Americans. The NPS Interpreter was also a powerful communicator who brought history to life–another important function of our National Parks.

On my current sojourn in Kentucky, I drove to Mammoth Park –another National Park site–preserving and interpreting one of the world’s great natural wonders. In 2016 it celebrated its 200th anniversary!

Stephen Bishop Portrait

In their gift store, I headed for the books section. There I found a historical novel by Roger Brucker, about Stephen Bishop, a famous and early explorer/guide at Mammoth Park (Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar). Stephen was a slave at the time his owners assigned him the duty to serve as a guide at the privately owned wonder.  It was already a favorite travel destination for wealthy and local people. The associated hotel inn for guests owned slaves who cooked and cleaned for guests. Charlotte Brown was a slave working at the inn. It was there that she fell in love with Stephen Bishop. They would eventually marry.

The novel’s story is told through the voice of Charlotte Bishop. The narration is based in part on Charlotte’s real story. Historical documents and testimonies from people who met and knew Stephen and Charlotte guided the author in writing this delightful book. (I am about half way through.)

My point is this: if we do not know history, how can we navigate the future? Each of these National Parks sites, and the books I found there, provide citizens with living history. Our National Parks are repositories for learning and recalling great moments and individuals in history.

Thank God for Daisy Bates

Daisy Gatson Bates

Thursday morning I was blessed to join a tour group from Baltimore’s Civil Rights Movement at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. They are teachers, leaders, and powerful women traveling the civil right trail — next stop Memphis at the National Civil Right Museum at the Lorraine Hotel.

Great women have made significant contributions to democratic societies. Daisy Bates is one of these women. As our talented NPS Interpreter stated today, “If it hadn’t been for Daisy, there would not have been a Little Rock Nine or desegregation as it unfolded in Little Rock.”

Central High School, Little Rock, AR

Daisy Bates was the President of the Arkansas NAACP at the time of the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs the Board of Education which desegregated public schools in the U.S. Nine children were identified by the Little Rock School Board to integrate Central High School. At the time, Governor Orval Faubus was not supporting the federal mandate and called in the National Guard to keep out the black students. Daisy realized that the nine teenagers would need protection and help and she organized meetings and support to help them on the first and subsequent days of their trials and tribulations. This story, and the life of Daisy Bates, is chronicled in her memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, which I am currently reading. The individual stories of the nine students are each dramatic and many are told in their memoirs. What white students did inside the school to the nine black students, following integration, and the teachers who turned their backs, is horrendous and rarely told. I highly recommend that you visit this national historic site to reset your compass on American history and the long struggle of all American people for fulfillment of basic rights. As we see today, that struggle if still in progress. But, looking back to such pillars of courage and decency as Daisy Bates gives me renewed hope for a future all of us can make happen together.

This video of an interview with Rebecca Solnit, columnist with Harper’s Magazine, prolific author on climate change, environmental issues, and other culturally relevant issues, is a clear point for those of us who feel disoriented by the sweeping changes being made in D.C.

https://hot.dvlabs.com/democracynow/360/dn2017-0328.mp4?start=2758.0

From this interview on Democracy Now on March 28, 2017, this excerpt is most important for those of us who are engaged in resisting the dismantling of hard won environmental protections and action on climate change. I recommend listening to the whole interview at the link above. Solnit has a comprehensive perspective on “where we are” and what is the work now.

What concerns me, after 30 years of activism, is that a lot of people will think, “Well, we did something today, and we didn’t see results tomorrow.” So one of the things I’ve been writing about for The Guardian and elsewhere is just trying to remind people that this is a long process, that we may be in, you know, the early stages of really redefining what democracy is going to mean in this nation, reforming the systems that were already moribund and stagnant before—you know, Trump is a consequence of a dysfunctional system, not a cause of it. So we have enormous transformative work to do. And people are actually doing it. If we keep at it, if we’re smart, if we’re skillful, if we’re more passionate about solidarity than the kind of perfectionism of nitpicking small differences, I think that extraordinary things could happen, not that they’re guaranteed. It depends on what we do. But it’s an exciting and even exhilarating moment, as well as a heart-rending and terrifying one. And those things can coexist.

Into the vacuum: China

NX_whitehouseClimate change is real, advancing, and draining the world’s resources country by country–and causing tragic migrations of families across the earth in search of places where people will take them in. This is just the beginning of woes should the world’s leaders not act decisively to stem carbon dioxide emissions.

The spectacle of our times is awesome and terrifying. Anticipating the ascension of a world leader who denigrates science and promises to focus America’s interests inward, world leaders at the latest global summit to implement the Paris Climate Change Accord have already moved on without us. China quickly stepped in to realize the benefits of leading other countries toward a fossil free world community.

P.S. America: the green economy is leading in economic sectors as our new leadership prepares to dig more coal and suck more oil out of the ground.

Have we entered into a new paradigm of Selective Science? We believe in science when it comes to curing disease, or making weapons, or making us money. But, selectively we denigrate the agencies charged with studying and protecting the earth–the planet from which our lifeblood flows. Does that make sense, I ask you?

How would Americans feel if the world’s leading countries imposed trade restrictions on us for our irresponsible behavior? Tables turned? How would it feel to be the cause of suffering across the planet due to our lack of participation in reducing emissions? I hear a refrain, from another misled politician: Burn Baby, Burn. That will come back to haunt the source and us if we do not realize our responsibility to greater humanity and to our children and generations to come.

Americans must be vigilant like in no other time before in our history. We must oppose any policies that destroy the democracy and tear asunder our fragile international relations. We must recognize our responsibility to continue to be an integral member of the international community–especially now.

VITAL SIGNS OF THE PLANET

 

 

 

The Path We Choose

Paths We Trek
Paths We Trek
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.