My mind usually goes blank the moment Joy asks, “So what do you want for Hanukah / Christmas / your birthday?” Then reminders keep popping up when all the present-shopping has been done. Just now, an article someone posted on Facebook reminded me that I have been wanting a book about how to diagram sentences. This way of teaching grammar is recalled by a few people fondly, and by most as an archaic torture device, like an oubliette, but for me it is only an artifact of times long past. It didn’t even appear in unused chapters of our grammar books, as far as I can recall; I encountered it in whichever of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books she passes her teacher’s exam (Little Town on the Prairie, I think).

Being visually inclined, I thought it looked kind of cool. I don’t know if I would really have learned grammar any more easily with such a concrete, spatial analogue of parts of speech, but I would almost certainly have found it interesting. My daughter (also a visual thinker) agrees it would be fun to see how it’s done.

So I told Joy just now that I want a book on how to diagram sentences. She advised me to go look for one myself, as she wouldn’t know where to start. So I hied over to AbeBooks, used books being preferable to new in most cases, and the very first item that popped up in my search was by a woman I know. Well, I knew her when I was a little girl; she and her then-husband were longtime friends of my parents. Both couples have since split up and I haven’t seen her in years, but she is a novelist, and her daughter, whose wedding I officiated, and I are friends on Facebook. (The daughter is not the person who posted the aforementioned article.) Her book is actually a history of sentence diagramming as well, and I think it sounds fascinating.

So, Kitty Burns Florey, I have ordered a copy of your book, Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences, and I can’t wait to read it.

 

 

 

Advertisements

It’s International Men’s Day! On the one hand, men have long had, and still have, enormous economic advantages over women. Jobs are more broadly open to men than women or people of other genders, even in areas that are supposedly less masculine, like cooking, couture,and the arts, and the men are usually paid better, even in these fields. The financial and time burdens of gender-neutral activities such as maintaining a home and rearing children are shifted disproportionately off men’s shoulders.

On the other hand, in my culture at least, men are given a drastically narrower range of emotional and expressive outlets than other people. There are so many toxic definitions of masculinity, and so few that support men in their relationships with each other or with people of other genders. Perhaps this is why men tend to have few if any close friends; to suffer physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually if they lack a female partner; and are more likely to abuse drugs and die by suicide than women. The misogyny and patriarchy that dominate our culture are a devil’s bargain, struck no doubt by men who thought they were giving themselves a leg up, but actually dealing destruction to male as well as non-male people.

Too often, this day is nothing but a slap at women; every International Women’s Day inspires thousands of resentful men to snipe on Twitter, “How about a Men’s Day, huh?” meaning only, apparently, that they see human dignity as a zero-sum game. Or is a rallying cry for so- called “men’s rights advocates” who assert that equality means they should have any woman they choose as a sexual partner, and that custody of their children should be theirs for the asking.

But men do need help and support: foremost, in shattering the lie that they don’t need help and support.

For the sake of men and those of us who love our male parents, children, grandparents, siblings, friends, cousins… What shall we do to make a society that nourishes the spirits of boys and men? What would you like to see? Who is an exemplar?

Once upon a time, the National Rifle Association was a leading voice for gun control legislation. Owners and sellers of guns had to register, all receipts had to be available to the police, and the president of the NRA testified to Congress, “I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” The argument made by gun control supporters like me, that the Second Amendment was never intended to allow citizens unrestricted access to guns, would have put us right in step with the NRA leadership.

When the NRA Supported Gun Control, Time Magazine

That was in the 1920s and 30s. Many states imposed restrictions on the carrying of weapons, but California was one that did not.

But then the Black Panther Party, concerned about police brutality, started patrolling Oakland with these arms they were legally entitled to carry, and several members of the California state legislature proposed a ban on the open carrying of loaded weapons. The Black Panthers protested the bill by showing up at the Capitol Building in Sacramento, where it so happened that Governor Ronald Reagan was on the lawn. The sight of a couple dozen black people protesting and carrying guns made restrictions on guns very compelling to white Republicans and Democrats alike, the bill passed, and he signed it.

Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” In a later press conference, Reagan said he didn’t “know of any sportsman who leaves his home with a gun to go out into the field to hunt or for target shooting who carries that gun loaded.” The Mulford Act, he said, “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.”

(The Secret History of Guns, Atlantic Magazine)

Between incidents like this, the reaction to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and conservative U. S. Americans’ anxiety about young radicals, the trend toward gun control only strengthened in the 1960s. There was just one problem with gun restrictions as a solution: white people couldn’t carry guns either. And unpleasant things happened, like an NRA member’s waving a gun in response to a raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 1971; the ATF shot him, and the NRA responded angrily, likening the ATF to the Gestapo. It was a conundrum.

I don’t know if it was unconscious or a carefully thought-out plan, but around then, the NRA began to change its tactics. It would put its resources into weakening gun laws and rest its argument on the “need” for honest individuals to protect themselves, while promoting the idea that “the honest citizen” was white and the feared predator was black.

By the 2000s, the pattern was set. The NRA’s line was that any kind of restriction was a step onto the “slippery slope” that would end in fascism and the destruction not only of the Second Amendment, but freedom. If police did not respect gun ownership, it would be the beginning of the end.

. . . if the owner was white. If the owner was black, he must be intending violence, and his summary execution by police for the mere possession of a gun would meet with no demur from the NRA. As case after case hit the news of black people who were merely suspected of holding weapons’ being killed by police or self-appointed defenders of public safety, the NRA’s true agenda became clear: not to protect gun owners from an overreaching state, but to protect white people from the black bogeyman they feared.

The Philando Castile case made it clear that even a license for a weapon would not protect a black person who wished to exercise the right the NRA called absolutely fundamental to freedom. In 2016, near St. Paul, Minnesota, Castile was pulled over by police and asked for his driver’s license and registration, at which point he sensibly informed them that he had a gun and a license for it, so that they would not think he was reaching for it in attack. This is surely the correct and cautious thing for a gun owner to do when interacting with the police–if, in the NRA’s view, one should have to explain at all. One of the officers immediately fired four bullets into Castile, killing him; his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter were in the back seat. The NRA responded with a silence that, under pressure, it finally broke to say “The reports from Minnesota are troubling and must be thoroughly investigated,” declining to comment further or even use the victim’s name.

Black people might want to arm themselves in self-defense, especially with killers like Gregory Bush and Dylann Roof gunning for them, but they have to consider the very real possibility that if they are so much as glimpsed carrying a weapon, the police will be called and they will be shot.

But to back up a few years. In the meantime, each mass shooting–now in the hundreds per year–had been met by the NRA’s claim that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” And those of us who doubted this wisdom had pointed out that among its many flaws was the question of how police, called to a scene of mayhem, would know that the “good guy with a gun” was a good guy. Wouldn’t they be facing two armed people, with no way of knowing which was the instigator of the crime and which was trying to stop it? Those of us who, furthermore, had been paying attention to the disparity between the NRA’s responses, and police forces’ responses, to black and white gun ownership, thought we knew what the cops would do: if one of the people with a gun were black, they would assume he was the villain, not the hero.

So this week, the killing of security guard Jemel Roberson, taken for a murderer when he tried to stop a crime in the course of his job, was not a surprise. It was the inevitable outcome of the plan that has been unfolding for decades:

(1) arm as many white people as wish to be armed by loosening gun restrictions;

(2) tolerate the summary execution by police (or citizens) of black people who possess a weapon (or a wallet, or a white cellphone, or a hairbrush . . . )

(3) and voila, the Black Panther problem is solved. We now have two categories of US Americans: the “honest citizens” who can–should–go about armed, and the ones for whom bearing arms is certain proof that they are criminals. The armed whites and the disarmed, terrified blacks.

It took a generation for the NRA to solve their conundrum, but they have done it.

Doctored videos are distributed for propaganda purposes;

Children and parents continue to be separated in defiance of law, kept in prison without trial or access to lawyers;

Administration initiates further illegal policy toward asylum seekers;

Appointee is fired for, according to president, not putting loyalty to him above all other concerns;

White House access is revoked for persistent reporter;

Black and Latino journalists are singled out for criticism and abuse;

Citizens are required to present identity papers at random checks or face harassment and detention by officials;

Careful, legally-mandated counting of ballots is derided as fraud;

President is revealed to have paid hush money in order to sway the election, according to alleged accomplice;

And that’s just this week.

Not the battle to win it, I don’t mean. Just the battle to understand it.

I hope we’re going to try again to repeal the Costa Hawkins Act, and when we do, we’re going to make it clear that that’s what we’re doing and what it means. I did a lot of work for Prop 10 and definitely noticed people’s misconception that it would “pass rent control,” but I didn’t realize how widespread it was until I read my FB newsfeed.

Supporters and opponents, I am sorry we didn’t get this across to you before, so I’m trying now: Proposition 10 would NOT have instituted rent control. Not for a single property anywhere in the state.

What it would have done was REMOVE the strict limits on rent control that are currently in place and keep towns and cities from making the decisions that work for them.

The response to its defeat (whether happy or sad) tells me that not only do people not know what Prop 10 was about; they didn’t know how limited their town or city’s choices are made by Costa Hawkins. Single family homes cannot be subject to rent control, which is weird because renters of single family homes have the same needs as renters of apartments. Nothing built since 1995 (the year Costa Hawkins was passed) can be subject to rent control. That’s 23 years ago, in case you’re like me and still think of everything in the 90s as approximately ten years back. (The rule in LA, under Costa Hawkins? 1978. In any building that is less than *40 years old,* there’s no limit on rent increases.)

Rent control is like fire, a powerful tool that can turn destructive if not carefully employed, and Prop 10 was smart about rent control. It would have kept the ban on rent control on new builds, because without that rent control tends to suppress development, but it would have redefined “new” as, well, new. It would have guaranteed landlords a reasonable rate of return, so that people who wanted to be decent landlords wouldn’t just quit the rental business altogether.

I don’t know if these misunderstandings are why it didn’t pass, but I have a guess. Only a minority of the state wanted statewide rent control. But I am pretty sure a much higher number would have been willing to have city-by-city rent control, instead of the statewide restrictions on local decisionmaking that we currently have.

File under: Reasons why ballot propositions are a bad way to make laws.

This very moving piece about Pittsburgh is by the son of my childhood rabbi. The son, Jonathan Berkun, was a very small boy when they left Hamden (CT, my hometown) for Pittsburgh. I did not know until the dreadful news came in from Tree of Life synagogue that that was the shul where Rabbi Alvin Berkun had served, nor that he was now their Rabbi Emeritus. Jonathan is now a rabbi as well, in Florida.

Of all the heartbreaking, soul-inspiring things he writes, the sentence about the waitress is the one that brought tears to my eyes. Shiva is the week of intense mourning that many Jews observe after a death in the family, during which the mourners do not prepare food. Serving a shiva meal in a pizza place: that’s what we will have to do for each other, white for black, non-Jews for Jews, non-Muslims for Muslims, native citizens for immigrants, hetero for LGB, cis for trans, native English speakers for English as a Second Language learners: everyone who has not been the latest salvo’s target for those who have been, because as long as we are united we cannot be defeated.

It makes me double down on my resolve to actively ally with those whose “category” I don’t share, especially African-Americans. I confess my slowness to take up their cause as passionately as my own, to respond as energetically to threats to their children as I do to threats to my own. I ask for their forgiveness, and forbearance as I work to change.

And I have an appeal to other religious leaders. Many of Pittsburgh’s Jewish leaders have told the president that he is not welcome to come to them as long as he is fomenting hate and violence. The murderer’s words were straight out of Trump’s speeches; the vicious, false fantasy of the dangerous refugee is the one Trump stoked and rode to the White House. His presence can do nothing to heal our wounds unless he accepts responsibility for his demagoguery and turns it around 180 degrees. And they are our wounds, not just Jews’ (as they were Saturday in Pittsburgh) or African-Americans’ (as they were on Wednesday in Jeffersontown, Kentucky) or Muslims’ (as they are prevented from traveling) or Mexicans’ and Central Americans’ (as they are in children’s prisons all along the border) or trans* folks’ (as their lives are redefined by the pseudoscience of bigots).

So we should all deliver the same message as those Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh: no politician who is inciting terrorism and enacting fascist policies is welcome in our communities. Trump doesn’t come to the Bay Area anyway, because he only likes to visit cheering crowds, but I’m still drafting a letter from clergy to the White House from my region because it’s what decent people do when others are threatened.

Will you do the same, dear colleagues of all faiths? Will you sign on, dear people of all faiths?

The following is the letter for our region. People of faith of the Bay Area, please “sign” in the comments, and I will compile all the names into a letter, which may be posted online as well as to the press. The names of faith communities and organizations are given for identification purposes only.

To President Trump:

We are faith community leaders and members in the San Francisco Bay Area. Like the leaders in Pittsburgh and tens of thousands of signers who asked you to stay away, we request that you not come to our region until you denounce white nationalism with both your words and your actions.

We have seen the rise of fascism before, and we recognize it in what you are doing and what you are inspiring. Demagogues whip their followers into acts of violence. These leaders need never strike a blow in order to rain down terror upon the people; indeed, many have been less explicit than you. You have urged your followers to beat members of the crowd, “Second Amendment people” to “do something” about Secretary Clinton, and police to slam suspects’ heads into cars. You have hailed as “[your] kind of guy” a thug who assaulted a journalist. Your power is built on scapegoating of the vulnerable.

Furthermore, you spread lies that feed fear and hatred. Your false, frequently-repeated claim that asylum-seekers, refugees and undocumented immigrants commit a disproportionate number of crimes was the reason the killer in Pittsburgh gave for his assault upon a synagogue that helps settle refugees.

You have consistently, repeatedly set yourself up as a threat to innocent people, due process, and democracy itself, and you have sought to enlist your followers to put your threatening words into action. When we look at our nation’s history, we see the times fascism has risen and been put down, and we vow to be this generation’s upholders of justice, democracy, and human rights. Until you uphold them as well, please do not come to the Bay Area.

In faith,


Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern
Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto
and (undersigned)

I was at an 18-inning game once. Such sweet memories. Of Mom, for instance, who was keeping score, drawing in columns in every free spot in the scorecard so she didn’t miss a thing. Of Dad looking at us, measuring the two hour drive home and the determination on our faces, and logic, and illogic, and the quirks and flashes that make a family, and staying until the end. Of Rusty Staub out in the outfield, where he hadn’t been for years, trotting from left to right to left field at each at-bat depending on whether the batter was a lefty or righty, pull hitter or not: Davey Johnson playing the percentage as always and hoping the fat kid wouldn’t have to make a catch. And then a wayward ball heading to Rusty’s side of the field, and Rusty, in the game’s greatest moment, running with all his might and his eyes on the missile, and when he got his glove under that long, slow fly ball, we felt like we’d witnessed Willie Mays leaping to make his most improbable save.

My parents aren’t married to each other any more. I don’t follow the game. But all of this returns, a drop of maple sugar on the tongue, when I open up Facebook and see a night’s worth of notes from this friend and that. “Fourteen innings!” “Someone end it.” “Top of the sixteenth. Still tied.” “I’m too old for this.”

It’ll be a rough day tomorrow for you, and a tough end of Series for two depleted teams, but baseball fans, you watched two games in one last night. And now you can tell children twenty years from now how you saw the longest World Series game ever.

Trypophobia, I have recently learned, is a fear of holes. Many people with trypophobia not only give holes in the ground a wider berth than safety demands, but they can feel quite ill at even the sight of a photo of a hole. If you are such a person, you will want to stop reading now.

I seem to be the opposite. I must have trypophilia, because I am strongly drawn to holes and images of holes. I don’t (usually) want to enter them, but I do want to gaze at them. For example, I find this photo of the Seahorse Nebula, which appeared on NASA’s Astronomy Photo of the Day earlier this week, both beautiful and compelling.

It’s a bit dizzying, a bit frightening. I am not a roller-coaster person, but when I look into a hole, I think I understand for the first time how those who love roller coasters can enjoy the thrill of fear and happiness at the same time. That’s how that image makes me feel.

Andy Goldsworthy, one of my favorite artists, has created many works based on holes over many years. Every time I see one I gasp a little, with a mix of recognition, giddiness, and wonder to which I can put no name.

Holes / Middleton Woods, Yorkshire / 1 February 1981 is inviting and also suggests that maybe someone lives in that cozy spot.

His Rowan Leaves and Hole (1987) makes me feel as if I am going to fall endlessly, harmlessly through beauty.

The holes aren’t always empty. Sweet Chestnut Leaf Hole reveals more sweet chestnut leaves, and Hanging Hole is really as much a window or door as a hole; you know what lies behind it, because you can see the tunnel. In the case of Woven Branch Circular Arch (1986), you could even step through the hole–which is a hole, even though he doesn’t call it one.

But I’m most drawn to the ones that seem to go, either nowhere, or into infinity: to suggest a depth within the object they frame that the artist intuits but that would not otherwise be visible. The sculpture he chose for the cover of his book Wood suggests an infinite passage into a tree, and Pebbles Around a Hole, one through the planet itself.

I don’t know why I love these so much, but in my own drawings I’m sometimes reaching for that same paradoxical sense of presence in the space between.

I must have some things still to learn about the basics on my new phone, because this morning it woke me, not with an annoying beep beep, but with a gutwrenching reading of the headlines. I caught something about Trump’s latest way to hate on transgender folks while three people , I among them, were yelling “what IS that?,” “where IS it?,” and “turn it OFF!”

In case we needed another wake up call: fascism is on the march. We’ve seen this before. To paraphrase a favorite protest sign, First they came for the trans people, and we said, Not this time, m—-f—ers.

We’ve never been more needed, Unitarian Universalists. We’ll be taking about exactly this on November 4. Come to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto to hear about your lifesaving superpowers.

I love this art form, which I discovered when my daughter did some in school last year. I immediately introduced it in our monthly class at church, Exploring Mind, Hands, Spirit and Heart Through Art, and then offered it as a spiritual practice at a ministers’ retreat this week.

The mix of a found- and (for lack of a better antonym) created-art approach helps me get rolling. Words on a page suggest associations, and then the associations stimulate original ideas.

Here are two I made at the retreat.

20181019_1610491894239536744286385.jpg

Beyond, more time for dreaming

For the first one, the words “an answer” and “caught” caught my eye first. I’d been pondering mystery and my own “irritable reaching after fact and reason” against which Keats counseled. Sometimes an answer prevents me from dwelling in the “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts” from which wisdom might emerge. So right away I knew I wanted to draw the bars of a cell across the part about the answer. I also wanted the piece to suggest a happier alternative, and while the words I found seem obvious now, it took some searching and thinking to figure out which ones to use, and how. When my eye lit on “beyond,” I had that second half.

The second piece ended up being about creativity itself. “A passage opened to her fingers.”

20181019_1609578251954966027660988.jpg

A sigh hollowed out the chamber of The heart

Our unwitting, but I trust not unwilling, collaborator was Lloyd Alexander, since my copy of The Black Cauldron, from his Chronicles of Prydain, was in several pieces. I hated the cover anyway, which was the poster from the forgotten, and, judging from the drawing, lamentable, Disney version. I’m going to look for the edition with the cover I remember and loved in my childhood, and buy Taran Wanderer while I’m at it: my favorite of the series, which we don’t yet have. (My sister loved them too, and our set was hers, so I’ve acquired my own set piecemeal in adulthood.)

Look at that. I started out writing about art, and ended up writing about books. That tells you why I love this kind of art.

I’d like to share the ones colleagues made as well, but I only asked their permission to put them out on a table at the retreat, not online.

Try one yourself! If you don’t have a falling-apart book or can’t bear to write on one, a photocopy works. To see lots more examples, the best search term is “blackout poetry.”

Enter your e-mail address to receive e-mail notifications of new posts on Sermons in Stones

Follow me on Twitter

Links I like

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: