Christopher Hitchens has died.
I pause to take note of his passing because I loved him, and I love him still. I love him in the same way that I love thinkers and writers, artists and ordinary people who live their lives and who do their work with skill, integrity, determination and courage. He wrote with an authenticity of cool.
I loved him because he gave me words. Whenever I sat down to read his work, I made certain that I had my dictionary within reach so that I could look up the words I knew he would introduce to my mind. I loved his contrarianism, and I agreed with much of it. He was right to indict Henry Kissinger and by extension the approach to foreign policy that he represented. He was right to defend justice for the Palestinians. He was wrong about the Iraq War, but I understood his arguments,
I am a believer who believes that God Is. I thought his anti-theistic challenge was a good thing for those of us who believe in God. It made me ask: How deep is my Love? I believe that God is LOVE, emphasis on the LOVE. This is my confession of faith because most people who do not, who cannot believe in God or religion or this or that religious or spiritual tradition can believe in love. They themselves have loved, and they have been loved. This capacity to love and to be loved is the spiritual aspect of humanity and of creation that is not only rational but is also transrational and indestructible.
The wall that we think we build between life and death, between good and evil, dissolves into mist on All Hallows Eve.
And the shadow of death looms large over us reminding us of our earthly mortality and our complicated selves.
We wear the masks that reveal our internal Otherness. We costume ourselves in our fantasies and look our personal monsters in the face.
On All Hallows Eve we see our own all too human un-holy-ness. And we are not afraid.
#OWS and the importance of the work of worship
Like many words in any language, the word “occupation” has multiple meanings. The English word “occupation” like the word “occupy” derives from the Latin work occupare which means employ, seize and take. When we think about occupation, we think about one’s vocation, the way one earns a living. In a more negative sense of the word, we think about invasion, conquest and control of territory by a foreign force. And when we think of occupation as holding or possessing a place, we understand that the place we occupy also occupies us.
So, to occupy a place requires time and effort. It is a vocation. It is a job. If the Occupy Movement is to go forward and achieve its objectives, it will require vision, organization, commitment love and endurance for the long run. It will require spiritual strength and space to continue when cold winds blow, when icy rain and freezing snow falls. Winter cares nothing about our political economy, and winter is coming. Thus, to sustain the movement, faith communities ought to extend hospitality and commensality to people who are working for social and economic justice both in the United States and in the world. For the movement to make a measurable difference in the lives of people, it must necessarily become political.
I confess. I am an outlier.
Whenever one of the world’s bad actors is killed – Saddam Hussein and his sons Uday and Qusay, Osama bin Laden, and now Muammar el-Qaddafi – I do not feel a sense of jubilation. I am sad. All of these men whose evil acts caused suffering beyond measure are still human beings who have families who will mourn their loss.
When Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed during the Iraq War, I heard an American mother of a warrior fighting in Iraq say that she could not celebrate their deaths because she felt sympathy for their mother. This woman had lost two of her children that day. I am always sad when these monsters who made their mark on the world through violence dies because I remember that someone has lost h/er husband, father, brother, or son. I hope and pray that the violence that killed them does not lead to even more retaliatory violence.
There are times in life when a soul needs to hear Barbra Streisand singing “Avinu Malkeinu.” It needs to hear Verdi’s Requiem. It needs to hear John Coltrane’s saxophone screaming A Love Supreme. Peace Day 2011 was such a day. Peace Day, the UN International Day of Peace and Global Ceasefire falls on September 21 every year. It coincides with the opening session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The day represents a hope that a time will come when humanity will end its violent conflicts. Peace One Day.
Since 2008, I try to publish one or more short essays to honor Peace Day, and I had intended the same for this year. I thought about writing something about peace as a contagion. I had not yet decided whether to write it as fiction or as a proposal. The weekend before Peace Day, I went to see the movie Contagion. I thought it might give me some ideas.
The movie is about a virus that spreads through touch. An infected person can touch another person or a surface, leave the contagion, and someone else touching the same surface can pick-up the contagion. Panic sets in. Social order breaks down. I tried to imagine the opposite. I tried to imagine a world where humankind has the power to think peace, breathe peace, and pass the peace through touch. Imagine a world where we could leave traces of our own peace on surfaces for a complete stranger to catch with only a touch.
But, when Peace Day came, I was no longer interested in thinking about peace as a contagion. It was the opening day of the UN General Assembly, and the world awaited what President Obama would say about the Palestinian plan to apply for full UN membership as an independent state. I also was eager to hear what the president would say. In this impasse between Israel’s need for security and the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for an independent state clouds were gathering in my soul.
At the same time, for me, there was another sad cloud looming over the day – the scheduled execution of Troy Davis. The State of Georgia had scheduled Davis’ execution on Peace Day. Did not the idea of global cease fire include state executions? I felt dispirited because clearly we have much more work to do to inform people about Peace Day and its possibilities. However, more than that, I was one of more than a million people across the globe who signed petitions to sop the execution of Troy Davis.
I invite someone to create the following video and post it on YouTube.
A class of school children with their hands over their hearts reciting the Pledge of Allegiance:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag,”
A group of politicians dressed in business suits with campaign sings in the background, wearing buttons that say vote for me:
“I pledge allegiance to the pledge,”
Biblical wisdom teaches: “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on the one who starts it rolling.”
Prognostications regarding the 2012 elections that predict President Obama will be a one-term president are very wide of the mark. Those who say that he is not a good leader are also mistaken. The error comes because many people, especially the Republicans, have misread the results of the 2010 elections, and many of the president’s supporters, especially among the punditocracy, do not understand the spiritual value of cool.
During and after the debate around health-care reform, Republicans mischaracterized the reform to make it seem as if there would be cuts in Medicare that would compromise patient care. There was talk of death panels. The cost saving measures in Medicare intended to cover some of the costs of health care for others were difficult to understand. Moreover, Democrats did not do a good job explaining and defending the Affordable Care Act during the campaign. They did not speak enough about the provision for preventive care for seniors. I say again: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Medicare was the pit Republicans dug to win in 2010, and it will be the pit they fall into in 2012.
For bibliophiles, people who love books, who love the shape, texture and weight of them, holy ground is found at the library and at the bookstore. I confess that for me, these places are sanctuaries. They are a refuge that calls to me and invites me to come when life gets just too crazy stupid for words. The paradox is that I go to the places that are filled with books. I run toward the words. The biographies, histories, philosophies put whatever I am going through in perspective. And when I found myself at the Borders, I also could find comfort in the new music that I would bring home to become a part of my life’s soundtrack.
Today I bit the bullet and visited my local Borders Books and Music. I was sad when I heard the news that Borders was closing all of its stores. I had not finished my grieving process for the Borders in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. My daughter told me that it did not survive the first round of cuts. It was a place I took my children when they were still children. While writing my dissertation, it was a place where I went to find yet another book by Jacques Derrida hoping that this new one would explain the one I was currently reading. After I moved away from Philadelphia, whenever I was back in town, I would go there to shop for books and to eat carrot cake at a table near the window while I watched the people passing by on Germantown Ave.
However, the visit to my local Borders was even sadder than I thought it would be. There is something shabby about going out of business sales. The place is undone. The signs of the 25% to 50% off are ugly. The yellow is too yellow, the black too black. The lettering is too bold. All sales final is too final.
At the start of the 112th Congress, with Republicans in the majority in the House of Representatives, members of the House read the Constitution of the United States out loud. The Republicans declared that every bill passed by the House ought to have a constitutional justification. They wanted to use the Constitution to proof text their work. Time has passed. And, here we are six-months into this Congress, standing at the brink of default on our national debt, and apparently the Republicans in the House have forgotten their constitutional responsibilities. Either that or they want to evade them.
According to the Constitution, the Congress has the power to raise revenues. It says: “All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.” (Article I: Section 7) The President of the United States has veto power over the legislation. Congress can override his veto with a two-third vote of both House and Senate.
The Constitution says further: “The Congress shall have power: To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States. . . To borrow money on the credit of the United States. . . ” (Article 1 Section 8)
With power comes responsibility. Congress is responsible for raising the debt limit. If the nation defaults, the people ought to hold Congress accountable. Some Republican Congress members have complained that President Obama has not publically stated, in writing, what specific combination of budget cuts and tax revenues he would support. Representative Diane Black (R-Tenn.), after a June 2nd meeting between freshmen Republicans and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, said she intended to write a letter to President Obama requesting a specific plan that could be scored by the Congressional Budget Office.(http://majorityleader.gov/blog/2011/06/gop-freshmen-call-for-specifics-reject-wh-call-for-tax-hikes.html)
It is the 4th of July, and I am taking a moment before I go outside and fire up the grill and before I start boiling the potatoes for potato salad. This is a holy day of the American Civil Religion when we light fires and offer hopefully not so burnt offerings to the gods of the nation – our Creator, Nature and Nature’s God, the Supreme Judge of the world, Divine Providence. Some of us will picnic, go to concerts and/or firework displays to celebrate the birth of our nation. Some of us will cook our summer food and feast with family and friends. However, this is also a day to pause for a moment to consider the meaning of our Declaration of Independence and the nation that it brought to birth.
I have always loved the Declaration as a piece of fine writing. The words, the ideas were so much larger than Thomas Jefferson and the men who edited it and who approved it. There is a reason that it has been a touchstone of revolutions, a template of human rights from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 18th century France to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the 20th century world. It has been a continual inspiration for people in the United States who struggle for their own human dignity from women at Seneca Falls, New York to the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement, to the radical humanism of Malcolm X and of the Black Panther Party to the new American Dream Movement. Its international children include the young people of Tiananmen Square in China to Tahrir Square in Egypt. The revolutions that partake of its spirit are colored orange and green and jasmine. Its textures are velvet and its sensibilities are poetic. The celebration of the 4th of July and of the Declaration of Independence is larger than the celebration of the birth of one nation.