Sunday, January 31, 2010


The theme for what to think about today came out of the radio on a home-to-church-to-Grandma's-to-church-to home run. (Now you know why I don't look forward to Sunday mornings.)

The guy on NPR with a book to push was saying that humans and other higher primates are wired for empathy, to think along with one another, to be socially cohesive. I believe (though I'm not sure since I was calculating whether or not I'd make it through a green light at this point)--I believe he pronounced the end of the era of original sin and the beginning of an era where we would begin to understand that history should be written by the common folk who all get along with one another. Not by the powerful.

I'm oversimplifying. Big time. But never mind.

(I've really grown to dislike this short-sentence one-line paragraph transition gimmick, but that won't stop me from using it--I want to watch "Emma" on Masterpiece in 12 minutes. Masterpiece--the former Masterpiece Theater. Speaking of pretentiously short. Oh, never mind. Again.)

I don't doubt the research that says we're wired for empathy. This is how babies learn to interpret their social world. But there are so many challenges to that empathy, so many ways for it to get distorted.

Later this morning the sermon at church was called "Insider Outsider" (again, I am failing to check this for accuracy). Yes--those folks in Luke didn't like Jesus pointing out to them that God helped people from outside their community.

Empathy, which should link us to others, also locks us into thinking alike, thinking everyone in our social group thinks alike, because if they didn't think like us, they wouldn't be in our social group.

But boy, if we're all competing for the same cherries, or the same woolly mammoth meat, or the approval of someone powerful, charismatic, or mystical (i.e.,if we want that person to empathize with us), our wiring gets kinked. That distortion pulls us away from being the empathically-wired creature made by God as an image of the divine. And voila, injustice, selfishness, sin, societies at war with one another.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

. . . in a handbasket

On the downside, the Democrats have lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

On the upside, crisis means opportunity. More opportunities to point out that congressional Republicans have nothing constructive to offer whatsoever.

On the downside, health-care reform is dead.

On the upside, insurance reform may live on, and forcing insurance companies to insure everyone without mandating that everyone buys insurance will create such an expensive mess that health-care reform will come back, with a vengeance.

On the downside, the crazies control the political rhetoric in America.

On the upside, powerful corporations will now be able to spend millions to counteract the crazies, because corporations have first amendment free speech rights just like people.

On the downside, free speech does not equal sensible debate, and the crazies are unable to tell the difference between sound policy and a sound byte.

(Why didn't Madison and Hamilton consider mass media markets when they wrote The Federalist Papers?)

On the upside (which sometimes gets confused with the downside), Obama will give his State of the Union address next week. He's got an opportunity to tell off the Republicans/shame the Democrats/inspire the American people/keep hope alive.

On the downside, if all he has to talk about are hard questions and difficult solutions, who will listen?

What is a handbasket anyway?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Thy will

"Let it be done to me according to your will."

The commenter on the previous post quoted Mary's response to the angel Gabriel's news that she would bear a son. That commenter, Patte, is an actor-friend from 30 years ago. She's the other "old lady" in the picture from Arsenic and Old Lace that I posted in early November. The show may have been thirty years ago, but neither one of us is yet as old as we pretended to be back in 1978.

Back to Mary--I heard those words read at the children's Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve by a young woman who knows something about how to read a story. She made Gabriel's voice strong and forceful, Mary's gentle and yielding. She read with confidence, but formed the words as if each phrase was a new discovery. But the most glorious moment in her reading was the smile that lit up her face as she said "Jesus"--"You will call his name Jesus." That smile was not Gabriel's smile. (Do angels smile?) It was her own. You knew that she knew Jesus--yes, him! You saw entire generations of Christians recognize the name of Jesus in this. And you knew that young Mary loved her baby from the moment she heard the angel pronounce his name. You knew that the world changed in that moment--not just for Mary, but for lots of other people alive then, and infinitely more since.

That baby--that creating Word of God made lovely, loving flesh--made it possible for Mary to say "Thy will be done," made it possible for her to trust that will through nine months of waiting and wondering and not being able to explain, through the dark night of labor, through the bearing down and the bringing forth.

It was not the faith she possessed. It was the grace of God that was shown to her-the grace of God shown to me, and shown to my young friend, the reader.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Three hundred words

Three hundred words a day. Every day.

This is what makes you a writer. Writing.

It's what the books say, what writers say (disciplined ones), what experience shows. It's like exercise. You have to do it repeatedly to get in shape, to get those muscles flexible and strong. And the first minutes out of the gate are often a bit slow.

(Sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three . . .