I’ve been thinking this week about vocation — from the Latin vocare, callings. Somewhere along the way in this culture a person’s vocation became synonymous with their job title, but I think of vocation as the full range of our callings as human beings. Yes, as professional people but also as family members and neighbors, parents and friends, and members of a body politic. Vocation is not so much about goals and accomplishments. It’s about how we orient our lives and our attention and our passions. At different stages in life, different callings emerge and take primacy — what we focus on and pay homage to with our presence, and what we fight for from the ground of what we love.
To pick up the question of what is calling me and you is one way to begin to walk, each with our own offering, towards a new kind of wholeness in our life together. For there are callings in a time as in a life.
Some of us — many of us — are called right now primarily to get safe and fed and warm, to keep those we love safe and fed and warm. Some of us are called to place our bodies between other bodies and danger. Some of us are called to be bridge people, staking out the vast ground at the heart of our life together where there is meaningful difference but no desire for animosity.
And some of us are called to be calmers of fear. This calling is so tender, and so urgent, if what we truly want is to coax our own best selves, and the best selves of others, into the light. Fear is the primitive, powerful place our brains go when they perceive threat. It collapses imagination, closing down a sense of the possible. It looks for an “other” to blame, and it finds one. The anger that has consumed our life together on every side is fueled by pain and fear.
This is an uncomfortable truth to take in, a fact not about life as we wish it to be but about life as it is. One of the most painful things for me to watch in the frenzy of our life together in recent years was the loss of any capacity to remember that essential contradictions run wild in each of us and are real, too, in whoever our “others” have become. There is a terrible but also a beautiful, and potentially redemptive, complexity at play whenever human beings are involved.
I wonder if now, more of us who are safe enough might feel ourselves called — to invoke Bryan Stevenson — to walk towards the reality that those who confuse and vex us are more than the worst thing we believe they are or have done. We might be called — to invoke an image Frances Kissling once gave me that has shaped my sense of calling ever since — to populate and build up “that crack in the middle where people on both sides absolutely refuse to see each other as evil.” We spend so much time and energy in this culture, so much fierce creativity, wishing to change other people’s minds. But in life as it is lived, we know that’s not how it works. Hearts soften, and then minds open. Pragmatic possibilities appear that our bodies and brains literally could not fathom before.
The show we’re offering up this week is another kind of nod to our complexity — and to how hard a time we continue to inhabit. Even as I write this with passion I feel my body clenching, exhausted by the idea of greater callings. On some level, I’m just trying to get through the days. Katherine May, who I learned about when I asked people on Twitter what was helping them get through their days, reminds me that heeding my clenching and exhaustion is also part of the way forward. She meditatively explores “wintering” as a season of the natural world but also as a place our bodies and psyches need to go, a season that recurs again and again across a life. We cheat and dismiss this in life as we’ve been living it, but it has presented itself insistently in a pandemic year we might reimagine as one long communal wintering.
We can’t move forward without grieving all we’ve lost in the past year. Closer to the ground, this means we have to let in the fact of sadness — a precursor to pain and fear — with some reverence. If happiness is a skill, Katherine May says, so is unhappiness. Winter embodies the strange complexity of reality. It is the bitterest season, we blithely say. And all the while it manages not to be the death of the life cycle, as Katherine May reminds, but its crucible.
Katherine May helps me, and I hope she offers some restorative grace to you.
Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes, Center for Action & Contemplation:
…the American dream of freedom and equality could be made real through courageous action in a spirit of love, in pursuit of human dignity for all. This dignity includes all who suffer from homelessness, joblessness, purposelessness, carelessness, hopelessness.
Because our needs are so great today, and your care so constant, we know that you are rebuilding the network of compassion around new visionaries who you have assembled for this hour. Surprise us with the discovery of how much power we have to make a difference in our day:
—A difference in the way citizens meet, greet, respect, and protect the rights of each other.
—A difference in the breadth of our vision of what is possible in humanization, reconciliation, and equalization of results in our great city.
—A difference in the way government, business, and labor can work together, for justice and social enrichment.’
Washington National Cathedral is hosting a new art exhibit showcasing thousands of paper doves suspended from the Cathedral’s vaulted, 100-foot-high ceiling through May 2021. The “Les Colombes” exhibit is by German artist Michael Pendry, who has created similar works at Cathedrals around the world, and symbolizes the Biblical theme of hope and optimism heading into the new year after a very challenging 2020.
Every moment and every event of every woman’s life on earth plants something in her soul. -Thomas Merton [changes to gender, mine.]
More from Merton:
Prayer is freedom and affirmation growing out of nothingness into love. It is the elevation of our limited freedom into the infinite freedom of the divine spirit and of the divine love. Prayer is an emergence into this area of infinite freedom.
Keep your eyes clean your ears quiet and your mind serene. Breathe Gaia’s air. Work, if you can, under her sky.
I’ve always called myself a lover of language and of the limits of language. But this week I take no pleasure in how tongue-tied I feel, standing before the disarray and fragility of our life together. It’s hard to put words out into the world right now for so many reasons. That they’re not big enough. That they never tell the whole truth. That we live in a moment so on edge and reactive that someone will take offense, or be wounded by my words, and that feels harder than ever before to risk and to bear.
There is an insanity to our life together right now that is directly related to the tenuous hold on sanity so many of us feel after surviving this past year.
That does not justify hatred or violence.
It does mean that we’re called to be as gentle with ourselves and others as we can possibly, reasonably muster. That sounds like such a modest contribution to the tumult all around and on our screens, but it is not.
I keep coming back in memory, and feeling in my body, to my experience of election night 2020. I observed it as someone who sees our political life together as a reflection of the human condition in all its complexity, contradiction, and mess. But I was also watching as a person who grew up in one of the “reddest” states, who now lives in one of the “bluest.” I felt a panicked sadness — this has remained my primary emotion through everything that has followed — as the cameras zoomed in and out on those maps of our country.
I saw visually what I know in life as it is lived: those maps marked up with definitive reds and blues don’t tell the truth of our alienation and its unsustainable intimacy. The fractures that actually define our nation right now do not run state to state or county to county, but neighborhood to neighborhood, family to family. They run through our dreams for our children on every side. They run through our hearts, and through our lives.
I am so grateful to have received, as I was struggling to write this, an email from Whitney Kimball Coe of the Rural Assembly and the Center for Rural Strategies. There is a whole epic story of our time in what is being gathered and created in the world she’s part of. It is in no way described or contained in a red-blue demographic lens of the “urban-rural divide.” She gave me permission to share this part of her email with you:
“I’m at home nursing my youngest, Susannah, who had a scary fall on Monday night and is now recuperating from surgery. She’s going to be fine, but my goodness, 2021 came in hard. Stream of consciousness moment:You know, our hospital experience put us directly in the path of so many wonderful East Tennesseans. Nurses and technicians and doctors, the other parents waiting in the ER, the parking attendant, the security guard. I’m sure many of them didn’t vote as I did in the last election and probably believe the events of Jan 6 were mere protests, but they responded to our trauma with their full humanity. I’d forgotten what it feels like to really see people beyond their tribe/ideology. It broke something open in me. I’ve been living in a castle of isolation these many months and it’s rotted and blotted my insides. I’m aware of contempt, anger, and maybe even paranoia coursing through my veins, and I wonder if that’s just a snippet of where we are as a nation.
Why is our righteous indignation and disgust so much easier to flame than our compassion?
It makes me realize that there is no substitute for coming into the presence of one another. No meme nor Twitter post nor op-ed nor breaking news nor TED talk can soften and strengthen our hearts like actually tending to one another. We don’t have to ignore/excuse the darkness we all carry, but we have to keep showing up so we don’t lose ourselves to bitterness.”
We cannot conjure up something so aspirational as “unity” by wishing it, and we are in fact impoverished when it comes to “common ground” between our societal trenches.
But if I’ve heard one thing most insistently, with an infinite variety of circumstance and struggle, from absolutely every beautiful and wise human I’ve ever met, it is this: We are creatures made, again and again, by what would break us. Yet only if we open to the fullness of the reality of what goes wrong for us, and walk ourselves with and through it, are we able to integrate it into a new kind of wholeness on the other side.
Our collective need for a new kind of wholeness might be the only aspiration we can share across all of our chasms right now.
Longings, too, can be common ground. A shared desire not to be lost to bitterness. A clear-eyed commitment that what divides us now does not have to define what can become possible between us. Questions, honestly asked, about how to make that real.
[Krista Tippett is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, a National Humanities Medalist, a New York Times bestselling author, and founder of On Being.]
Image credit: Basket and Tree Root (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University.
Like the exposed roots of a tree, reality unveiled can be many things at the same time: sharp, smooth, ugly, beautiful, painful, and healing.
Fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation:
A Time of Unveiling
The future, however, is finer than any past. —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Making of a Mind
If you are anything like me, there is some part of you that was relieved to turn the calendar over to 2021. The new year puts at least some symbolic distance between ourselves and 2020, a year that brought so much chaos, heartbreak, and uncertainty to so many people throughout the world. I dare say that no one lived through the past year without experiencing some level of disruption and loss of freedom, of health, of loved ones, and especially our cherished notions of how things “ought” to be.
The Daily Meditations theme for 2021 is “A Time of Unveiling.” I’m convinced we are living in such a time—when reality is being revealed as it is. Systems of evil have become both more brazen and banal, our sense of “normal” has been upended, and yet in the midst of it, God continues to invite us to deeper transformation.
A few weeks into the pandemic, some people even began to use the word “apocalyptic” to describe what was taking place. Often, this word is used to scare people into some kind of fearful, exclusive, or reactionary behavior, all in expectation of the “end times.”
But the word “apocalyptic,” from the Greek apokálupsis, really just means “unveiling.”
The beginning of the new year seems like a good time to pause, “pull back the veil,” and ask, “Where is this all going? What is the end goal for all of us, and—for that matter—for the cosmos itself?” Is our “late, great planet Earth” really headed toward Armageddon? In these fractious, unmoored, and disillusioned times, I can hardly think of more relevant concerns.
No matter what is going on around us, it’s important to remember that God keeps transforming creation into something both good and new. Instead of hurtling us towards catastrophe, God always wants to bring us somewhere even better. A helpful word here is “evolution.” God keeps creating things from the inside out, so they are forever yearning, developing, growing, and changing for the good. That might be hard to see sometimes in the moment, but it’s nevertheless true.
While more and more people seem to believe that that the universe has no form, direction, or final purpose, as Christians, we can be confident that the final goal does have shape and meaning. The biblical symbol of the Universal and Eternal Christ (Consciousness)
A L P H A ~ O M E G A
stands at both ends of cosmic time. This assures us that the clear and full trajectory of the world we know is an unfolding of consciousness with “all creation groaning in this one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:22).
Why do I think this is such an important image to remember? Frankly, because without it we become very impatient with ourselves and others, particularly when we encounter setbacks (both personal and communal).
🤎 I love this image, especially because not only does he embody hate, I am reminded hate is born of fear and fragmentation, threading in and out of our existence on this plane. Somehow, we, this country, allowed him to be celebrated after decades of his darkness…his evil energy. May he always be a reminder for what we don’t want to be and stay diligent against these dark forces. May he be dissolved, and fade from our public platforms and consciousness. May those who supported him be awakened to his destructive energies and dark heart. May their eyes be opened. And may they want to unite with all of us to be one people, to know what is true, justified, equal…for all beings…especially the oppressed and marginalized. Let us, together, be reminded of what it means to reside in the heart of democracy and fix what has been broken since this country was born.
And then, may we heal.
From Joe Biden, the 46th President of the United States:
“For all those of you who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment tonight. I’ve lost a couple of times myself. But now, let’s give each other a chance. It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again. And to make progress we have to stop treating our opponents as enemies.”
Alluding to scripture, he added: “This is the time to heal in America.”
From the Vice-President Elect, Kamala Harris, the first woman, a woman of color, Black and Southern Asian woman, to be elected to this office.
“Protecting our democracy takes struggle. It takes sacrifice. But there is joy in it. And there is progress. Because we, the people, have the power to build a better future.”
We The People
For those who voted, again, for the current president, please answer, ‘Why’? What did he do for you? During a pandemic? Employment? Opportunity? Fairness? Equality? Or, is it deeper? Fear? Nationalism? Culture? Bias? Concerns over race? Majorities? Disinformation? Social media platforms?
May we heal. And unite. Not half of us…all of us. We. The. People.
W.E.B. Du Bois:
Strive for that greatness of spirit that measure life not by its disappointments, but by its possibilities.
My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.
The collective heart of humankind’s suffering.
The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another and all involved in one another.
Today, we celebrate our democracy, our common humanity, and a glass ceiling shattered once and for all.
With nearly 160 million votes cast, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have won a decisive victory. They received more than 75 million votes, a greater number than any ticket in history, with a remarkable breadth of support from across the nation.
And they shattered several glass ceilings—it will be a joy to watch Vice President-elect Kamala inspire generations of future leaders and active citizens!
Across the Collective, we have seen so many give so much over these past four years, using a range of tools to fight for justice, equality, and our democracy. I am thankful and full of admiration.
We now have the opportunity to work for the systemic solutions we know we need—solutions that can remake the calcified systems in our country, from immigration and education to race and reconciliation, criminal justice and climate. And it will require each of us to bring spirit of ingenuity and hard work to support and accelerate America’s rebuilding and renewal.
We will let out the breath we have been holding in for so long. As celebratory as we feel, we also know that much work lies ahead—the work of healing the wounds and repairing the breaches.
So, we will get to work, and usher in the America we know is possible.
With relief and gratitude,
Laurene, Emerson Collective
Empathy + Sympahty = Compassion
We are a progressive being.
There is nothing at a standstill in nature.
Only God is motionless for (S)He was, is and will be the same yesterday,
today and tomorrow,
and yet, is ever moving.
I will never understand how 70,000,000+ people could vote for him again. Never. Perhaps, maybe, hopefully, some will evolve to understand his destructive and immoral behaviors. He has shown us who he is for decades. Some of us (me) gave him no mind. And then, he was elected to serve. He did not serve. He lied. He divided. And he hated. Hate is born of fear. What was feared?
Perhaps, we have always been this divided, but the ugly part was given platform and verbalized. Democracy, we have learned, is not passive, but active. We can not simply turn out the vote every two, or four years.
We must edify and protect the marginalized and oppressed. The government serves us, we don’t serve it.
A true democracy is messy and necessary. And it requires ‘good trouble.’
Now, let’s work to balance the scales and bring Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock to the U.S. Senate in Georgia. The shadow president, Senator Mitch McConnell, will continue to strangle democracy and refuse to move policy forward if we do not achieve balance. Please donate or volunteer:
James Martin, SJ:
It is, and always has been, possible to speak respectfully about someone with whom you disagree. Here’s how: “Though we have political differences, I know Joe Biden to be a good man who has won his opportunity to lead and unify our country.”
Krista Tippett, journalist and author:
What is the story of “us”? How do we learn it, how do we tell it, and how to shift it, across dehumanizing divides, in enduring ways?
Padraig O’ Tuama, poet:
In all the waiting of your week — for results from elections, for different news, for finality, for certitude — the work of the past is calling for attention. A new future will only be built on courageous moments, and those are happening now, and now and now. In the waiting, we are with you, considering history, paradise and conflict, considering how these patterns of time are inviting us to new actions.
What do you notice about how you behave in times of conflict? Do you tend toward avoidance? Or compromise? Or collaboration? Or competition? Or accommodation?
This poem describes a conflict between neighbors: a tree hangs over a fence. The owners love this tree; their neighbors don’t. Somebody responds directly, somebody else avoids, a chainsaw appears. Suddenly this conflict becomes a parable for all conflicts, illustrating how deep they can go and how often they cannot be resolved with a question about what to do.
From Fr Richard Rohr, Center for Action & Contemplation
When we agree to live simply, we put ourselves outside of others’ ability to buy us off, reward us falsely, or control us by money, status, salary, punishment, and loss or gain of anything. This is the most *radical level of freedom, but, of course, it is not easy to come by. It might be called foundational restorative justice, or primal solidarity with the mass of humanity and the earth. Francis and Clare created a life in which they had little to lose, no desire for gain, no loans or debts to pay off, and no luxuries that they needed or wanted.
When we agree to live simply, we have little to protect and no desire for acquisition, even for acquisition of any “moral capital.” When we imagine that we are better, holier, higher, more important to God than others, it is a very short step to “justified” arrogance or violence toward those others. It is almost inevitable, in fact, and we are witnessing today how it manifests itself at every level of our societies. If we could eliminate such manufactured and desired superiority, religion might finally become nonviolent in thought, word, and deed.
When we agree to live simply, we no longer consider immigrants, refugees, people in poverty, or anyone else on the margins of society as a threat. When we choose to relinquish our privileges, whatever they are, we have freely and consciously chosen to become “visitors and pilgrims” in this world, as St. Francis puts it. A simple lifestyle is quite simply an act of solidarity with the way most people have had to live since the beginnings of humanity.
When we agree to live simply, we have time for spiritual and corporal works of mercy, like prayer, service, and justice work, because we have renegotiated in our minds and hearts our understanding of time and its purposes. Time is not money anymore, despite the common aphorism! Time is life itself and we want to give our lives away freely.
When we agree to live simply, we have little energy to defend or protect our group, our ethnicity, our country, our money, and our religion. Our circle is no longer defined by these external and accidental qualities, because we now find the joy and beauty of the real essentials and the actual center which is God.
*Radical, from the Latin word radix meaning ‘root.’
Drawing of Thomas Merton done for The Catholic Worker by Fritz Eichenberg.
The mystic and the spiritual men who in our day remain indifferent to the problems of their fellowmen, who are not fully capable of facing these problems will find themselves inevitably involved in the same ruin. They will suffer the same deceptions be implicated in the same crimes. They will go down to ruin with the same blindness and with the same insensitivity to the person of evil. They will be deaf to the voice crying in the wilderness, for they will have listened to some other, more comforting, voice of their own contrivance.
“There was always just enough virtue in this republic to save it; sometimes none to spare, but still enough to meet the emergency.”
—Sec. of State William Seward during the Civil War
Fr Richard Rohr, Center for Action & Contemplation:
The desert ascetics’ [ammas and abbas] relationships were nonpossessive: They cared for others while leaving them free. Concern for reputation was discarded. Feelings were acknowledged and listened to for their wisdom but were subjected to the discipline of the heart’s goal to seek God. The desert ascetics sought to mortify disordered passions that distracted them from their deepening relationship with God..Gaia…the Universe.
These were people who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster. -The Wisdom of the Desert
One of the greatest needs of humanity today is to transcend the cultural limitations of the great religions and to find a wisdom, a philosophy, which can reconcile their differences and reveal the unity which underlies all their diversities.
Professional wrestling isn’t about wrestling, of course. It’s about who’s up and who’s down. The stated rules are there to be broken by some of the participants, and it’s not professional in any useful sense related to the sport of wrestling.
And the metaphor is powerful in many areas of life.
But we can’t understand the metaphor without understanding the forms of status that are on offer.
There is the status of affiliation. This is about belonging, about knowing and living with the rules. It’s about weaving together the culture and this affiliation leads to a form of popularity.
And then there is the status of dominance. This is about winning at any cost, cheating and subjugating. It’s about unraveling the culture in service of just one aim–victory over the others.
Professional wrestling creates tension between the two forms of status. We know that we all benefit from affiliation, but often are swayed by the avenging dominator if we see ourselves in them.
The theater of status happens in our daily lives. It’s who sits where at the meeting, or who gets to announce that the Zoom session is over. It’s the insurgent and that the status quo.
It’s the dramatic back and forth between someone who seeks power and someone who is tired of being told what to do.
The successful affiliator doesn’t seek to out-dominate the dominator. Instead, affiliators weave together enough persistent community pressure to get things back on track.
And sooner or later, people realize that the triumph of the dominator, while it can be painful, is short-lived.
Story from Our Community: Nearly every day since we started quarantine, I sit outside for my morning prayer time. As part of this, following reading the daily meditation, I play the “Prayer for Our Community” at the conclusion where Fr. Rohr reads the prayer. When he pauses after the words, “Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world,” I quietly bring those to the energy of the space: my parents, my students, those suffering with Covid, our country’s reckoning with its systemic racism, our climate emergency.
‘This restoration of a climate of relative sanity is perhaps more important than specific decisions regarding the morality of this or that strategy, this or that pragmatic policy.’
-Seeds of Destruction
An outspoken proponent of the antiwar and civil rights movements, Thomas Merton was both hailed as a prophet and castigated for his social criticism. He was also unique among religious leaders in his embrace of Eastern mysticism, positing it as complementary to the Western sacred tradition.
‘The real violence exerted by propaganda is this: by means of apparent truth and apparent reason, it induces us to surrender our freedom and self-possession. It predetermines us to certain conclusions, and does so in such a way that we imagine that we are fully free in reaching them by our own judgment and our own thought. Propaganda makes up our mindfor us, but in such a way that it leaves us the sense of pride and satisfaction of men who have made up their own minds. And, in the last analysis, propaganda achieves this effect because we want it to. This is one of the few real pleasures left to modern man: this illusion that he is thinking for himself when, in fact, someone else is doing his thinking for him. And this someone else is not a personal authority, the great mind of a genial thinker, it is the mass mind, the general “they,” the anonymous whole. One is left, therefore, not only with the sense that one has thought things out for himself, but that he has also reached the correct answer without difficulty – the answer which is shown to be correct because it is the answer of everybody. Since it is at once my answer and the answer of everybody, how should I resist it?’
‘There is only one true flight from the world: it is not an escape from conflict anguish, and suffering, but the flight from dignity and separation, to unity and peace in the love of other [people].’
-Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation
What Dorothy Day called ‘a revolution of the heart’ is blossoming in our streets, where revolutionaries seem confident America can spend less on war and police, make the 1% and corporations pay their fare share and ensure healthcare, living wages, etc., for all. -Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II
Frederick Douglass’ Descendants Deliver His ‘Fourth Of July’ Speech
How can you watch and not weep? 4th of July belongs to all of us. It must.
‘In this short film, five young descendants of Frederick Douglass read and respond to excerpts of his famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” which asks all of us to consider America’s long history of denying equal rights to Black Americans.’
Douglass Washington Morris II, 20 (he/him) Isidore Dharma Douglass Skinner, 15 (they/their) Zoë Douglass Skinner, 12 (she/her) Alexa Anne Watson, 19 (she/her) Haley Rose Watson, 17 (she/her)
From Father Richard Rohr, Barbara Holmes, and Bill McKibbon:
Goodness is a first principle of the universe. God declares it on the first page of the story of creation. —Barbara Holmes
Creation is the first Bible, as I (and others) like to say , and it existed for 13.7 billion years before the second Bible was written. Natural things like animals, plants, rocks, and clouds give glory to God just by being themselves, just what God created them to be. It is only we humans who have been given the free will to choose not to be what God created us to be. Surprisingly, the environmentalist and author Bill McKibben finds hope in this unique freedom. He writes:
The most curious of all . . . lives are the human ones, because we can destroy, but also because we can decide not to destroy. The turtle does what she does, and magnificently. She can’t not do it, though, any more than the beaver can decide to take a break from building dams or the bee from making honey. But if the bird’s special gift is flight, ours is the possibility of restraint.
We’re the only creature who can decide not to do something we’re capable of doing. That’s our superpower, even if we exercise it too rarely.
So, yes, we can wreck the Earth as we’ve known it, killing vast numbers of ourselves and wiping out entire swaths of other life—in fact . . . we’re doing that right now. But we can also not do that. . . .
We have the tools (nonviolence chief among them) to allow us to stand up to the powerful and the reckless, and we have the fundamental idea of human solidarity that we could take as our guide. . . .
While the lives of our elders, our vulnerable, and essential workers are at stake during the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions of us across the globe have been restraining ourselves at home, choosing not to do many things for many weeks in order to protect those we love (and those others love as well). Surely the earth is breathing a sigh of relief for our reduction in pollution and fossil fuel use. This “Great Pause,” as some are calling it, gives me hope that we will soon find it within ourselves to protect our shared home, not only for our own sake, but for our neighbors across the globe, and future generations.
How is a huge part of the world organised under a system that has different meanings country-to-country, and could even mean something different to you, and the person standing behind you in the line to vote?
How do we know democracy is broken if we don’t know what it is?
by Patrick Chalmers.
“To my mind, there seems no better starting point for understanding politics than to grapple with the word “democracy”. What does it mean and how should it work?
The word is easy enough to define. It comes from the Greek for people (demos) and power (kratos), translating as people power, or government by the people. Most of us know democracy as something like that. But things quickly get more complicated when we ask what exactly that means in everyday life.
‘…there’s ubuntu, Watch South African Anglican cleric and human rights activist Desmond Mpilo Tutu describe ubuntu in this video clip.the Nguni language word for a humanist philosophy and way of living from southern Africa. It’s most often translated as “I am, because you are”, a profoundly political concept which evokes the connectedness that exists, or should exist, between all people and the planet – a manifesto for inclusive government.’
The distorting – if not corrupting – influence of money helps to explain why elected representatives rarely reflect the societies they are meant to represent but rather their richer members. Consider the representation of women in government. Though their share of seats in legislatures worldwide is growing, they still represent fewer than a quarter of deputies. The same goes for minorities – whatever they may be, wherever they may be. So while, for example, western countries are becoming more ethnically, racially and religiously diverse, their legislators generally haven’t kept pace with these changes. If the current US presidential race is anything to go by, the face of democracy is still pale, male and stale. In parts of the world where people of colour are the majority, male and stale usually covers it.”
As the arrow endures the bowstring’s tension so that, released, it travels farther. For there is nowhere to remain.
Concentrate on seeing all the beauty your soul can absorb but turn away from what is ugly and vile and degrading. The higher your sights, the better your spirits. Everything we do requires us to reveal our inner longings. Identify them clearly and make productive use of them.
There is nothing more tragic in the modern world than the misuse of power and action to which men are driven by their own Faustian misunderstandings and misapprehensions. We have more power at our disposal today that we have ever had, and yet we are the more alienated and estranged from the inner ground of meaning and love than we have ever been. -Contemplation in a World of Action, 1965
A Democratic Pledge
I would like to
become more selective in what I watch and read
become more critically aware of the messages I receive
find new sources information about the things I care about most
participate in local media
create interactions in my community
Living Democracy is emerging within the human services, focusing not solely on individual self-reliance but also on the capacities of people to work together for mutual healing and problem solving. Society’s obligation to help support citizens with specific needs does not have to mean top-down governmental control; self-help and society’s help are mutually enhancing and mutually beneficial.
Towards a Moral Revolution
Moral reckonings are being driven to the surface of our life together: What are politics for? What is an economy for? Jacqueline Novogratz says the simplistic ways we take up such questions — if we take them up at all — is inadequate. Novogratz is an innovator in creative, human-centered capitalism. She has described her recent book, Manifesto for a Moral Revolution, as a love letter to the next generation.
‘I think, in this moment of such peril & possibility, we really could build a world like the world has never seen before. If there was ever a decade to do it, it’s this decade. I want future generations to say, “Look how hard they tried,” not “Look at how blind they were.”’
The medieval English anchoress Julian of Norwich bequeathed us a radically optimistic theology. She had no problem admitting that human beings have a tendency to go astray. We rupture relationships, dishonor the Divine, make unfortunate choices, and try to hide our faults. And yet, Julian insists, “All will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.”
She squarely faces the inevitability that we will miss the mark [what Julian calls “sin”] and that there is wickedness in this world. Even so, she is convinced that the nature of the Divine is loving-kindness, and she wants us to absorb this into every fiber of our being. -Fr. Richard Rohr
‘I urge you to avoid those who cause dissension and offenses contrary to what you have learned. Avoid them.’
I am certainly no judge of television, since I have never watch it. All I know is that there is a sufficiently general agreement, among men who judgment I respect, that commercial television is degraded, meretricious, and absurd. Certainly, it would seem that TV could become a kind of unnatural surrogate for contemplation: a completely inter subjection to vulgar images, a descent to a sub natural passivity rather than an ascent to a supremely active passivity in understanding and love. It would seem that television should be used with extreme care and discrimination by anyone who might hope to take interior life seriously.
-New Seeds of Contemplation, 1949
His thoughts on the Internet, we can only imagine, would be the same. -dayle
This is a new form of propaganda tailored to the digital age and it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t possible. And it’s all the more difficult because even the most scrupulous, well-intentioned coverage can easily fall into the trap of flooding the zone.
The press, admittedly, has a difficult job to do, especially in this information landscape. But that’s the thing: The landscape has changed. The digital media ecosystem overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is true, some of it is false, and much of it is deliberately diversionary. Trying to cover every crazy story, every batshit claim, is a fool’s errand. The end result of so much noise is what I’ve called “manufactured nihilism,” a situation in which people are so skeptical about the possibility of truth that they give up the search.
The role of “gatekeeping” institutions has also changed significantly. Before the internet and social media, most people got their news from a handful of newspapers and TV networks. These institutions functioned like referees, calling out lies, fact-checking claims, and so on. And they had the ability to control the flow of information and set the terms of the conversation.
Today, gatekeepers still matter in terms of setting a baseline for political knowledge, but there’s much more competition for clicks and audiences, and that alters the incentives for what’s declared newsworthy in the first place. At the same time, traditional media outlets remain committed to a set of norms that are ill adapted to the modern environment.
So now we find ourselves engaged in an endless game of whack-a-mole, debunking and explaining one false claim after another. And false claims, if they’re repeated enough, become more plausible the more often they’re shared, something psychologists have called the “illusory truth” effect.
The prevailing norms of journalism and the political economy of media are driving these dynamics.
‘Everything happens as if a “STOP! had been given on a planetary level. Of course, it was not this summary and unconscious entity of the infinitely small, the coronavirus, which gave this order. This order seems to emanate from the cosmic movement itself disturbed by the mad dream of the human being to dominate and manipulate Nature.
Everything stopped suddenly for half the countries of the world. This immobility did not fail to reveal to us all the flaws of globalization centered on profit and money. But which of the world’s politicians and leaders will be the ones to see? We are plunged into the blindness of the darkness of our habits of thought and the ideologies of progress, totally out of step with reality. How do you open your eyes to what’s going on? In my opinion, the only solution is the spiritual evolution of the whole of humanity. It alone could take into account all the levels of Reality and the Hidden Third.
It also happens as if a “STOP! had been given on an individual basis. We are suddenly in front of ourselves, before the mystery of our being, thus giving the exceptional opportunity of a spiritual evolution for each of us. This spiritual evolution of each human being conditions that of humanity.
We thus discover that the spiritual underdevelopment of the human being and humanity is the real cause of the crisis that we are going through and that we are going to go through.
But what spirituality is it? It is a radically new, transreligious and transcultural spirituality. Transdisciplinarity offers the tools for the establishment of such a spirituality, based on the community of destiny of all beings on earth. Two thousand years ago, the greatest visionary of all time, Jesus, asked “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
Without love nothing is possible to act on our destiny.
The world at the time refused such a message and preferred to kill Jesus. Two thousand years later, we are in exactly the same situation, on the brink of self-destruction of the species, a danger increased since by technological development and the immense means of destruction. The anthropocene without spiritual dimension will lead us to the brink of the abyss.
We must make, with great humility, a new pact of partnership with Nature and with all beings on earth – humans, animals, birds, trees, plants. We must stop defiling Nature with our excessive pride and our desire for omnipotence. All war should be declared a crime against humanity and all means of destruction should be destroyed.
All this can be understood as a utopia which goes against the principle of reality.
One possible answer is that of Michel Houellebecq: “I don’t believe in statements like” nothing will ever be the same again “. We will not wake up, after confinement, to a new world; it will be the same, only a little worse ”. If we contemplate the behavior of political leaders and public opinion in this period of crisis, it is to be feared that Michel Houellebecq is right. Politicians are returning to their usual language of mutual hostility and this will cause considerable social tension.
The media bombardment plunges us into an anxiety-provoking climate where, paradoxically, even death takes an abstract dimension: a dead person is just a number in a statistic. Nothing of the suffering of the one who dies, alone, suffocated by the coronavirus, reaches our place. This is glaring evidence of our spiritual underdevelopment.
The hidden hypothesis of Michel Houellebecq’s reasoning is the impossibility that human beings can evolve.
But another solution exists. Man must be born again if he wants to live.
Our task is immense. Let’s try not to be hypnotized by the multitude of doomsayers and apocalyptic thinkers of all kinds who predict the fall of the West and the demise of our world.
The word “Apocalypse” does not mean “end” or “destruction”, but “Revelation”. We are fortunate to have before our eyes, here and now, an extraordinary Revelation which can allow us to access Life and Meaning. I suggest reading, in these difficult times, the extraordinary book of Paule Amblard Saint John – The Apocalypse, illustrated by the tapestry of Angers . Paule Amblard offers us a coherent interpretation of The Apocalypse of John by the necessity of the spiritual evolution of man. The appalling plagues which cross the text of The Apocalypse are, in truth, the torments of the human soul separated from what founds it. The Apocalypse of John is a message of longing and hope.’
 Paule Amblard, Saint Jean – L’Apocalypse, illustrée par la tapisserie d’Angers, Diane de Selliers Éditeur, Paris, 2017.
* Text translated from French by Gerardo del Cerro Santamaria.
Marketers used to have little choice. The only marketing was local. The local neighborhood, the local community.
Mass marketing changed that. Now, the goal was to flip the culture, all at once. Hit records, hit TV shows, products on the end cap at Target and national TV ads to support it all.
With few exceptions, that’s being replaced by a return to clusters.
The cluster might be geographic (they eat different potato chips in Tucscon than they do in Milwaukee) but they’re much more likely to be psychographic instead. What a group of people believe, who they connect with, what they hope for…
The minimal viable audience concept requires that you find your cluster and overwhelm them with delight. Choose the right cluster, show up with the right permission and sufficient magic and generosity and the idea will spread.
We’re all connected, but the future is local.
Footprints might be a fine compass, but they’re not much of a map. That’s on us.
More from Seth:
Mathematicians don’t need to check in with the head of math to find out what the talking points about fractions are this week.
That’s because fractions are fractions. Anyone can choose to do the math, and everyone will find the same truth.
Most of the progress in our culture of the last 200 years has come from using truth as a force for forward motion. Centralized proclamations are not nearly as resilient or effective as the work of countless individuals, aligned in their intention, engaging with the world.
We amplified this organizing principle when we began reporting on progress. If you’re able to encounter not just local truth but the reality as experienced by many others, collated honestly, then progress moves forward exponentially faster.
Show your work.
One of the dangers of our wide-open media culture of the last ten years has been that the signals aren’t getting through the noise.
Loud voices are drowning out useful ones. It’s difficult to determine, sometimes, who is accurately collating and correlating experience and reality and who is simply making stuff up as a way to distract us, to cause confusion and to gain influence.
I’m betting that in the long run, reality wins out. That the practical resilience that comes from experimentation produces more effective forward motion.
In the words attributed to Galileo, “Eppur si muove.”
It pays to curate the incoming, to ignore the noise and to engage with voices that are willing to show their work.
The question arises: is modern man…confused and exhausted by a multitude of words, opinions, doctrines, and slogans…psychologically capable of the clarity and confidence necessary for valid prayer? Is he not so frustrated and deafened by conflicting propagandas that he has lost his capacity for deep and simple trust?
-Life and Holiness
Where men live huddled together without true communication, there seems to be greater sharing and a more genuine communion. But this is not communion, only immersion in the general meaninglessness of countless slogans and cliches related over and over again so that in the end one listens without hearing and responds without thinking. The content din of empty words and machine noises, the endless booming of loudspeakers end by making true communication and true communion almost impossible.
Each individual in the mass in insulated by thick layers of insensibility. He doesn’t hear, he doesn’t think. He does not act, he is pushed. He does not talk, he produces conventional sounds when stimulated by the appropriate noises. he does not think, he secretes cliches.
-New Seeds of Contemplation
Culture and Clichés correspondent Lynn Berger
We’re constantly told to try something new. ‘Innovate, don’t stagnate.’ But doing things two, three or 30 times creates space for reflection – and innovation. And it can even bring unexpected joy.
‘Politicians know that there are votes to be won with an appeal to what is old and familiar. And they know that this message is most effective when it is repeated endlessly: repetition is the foundation beneath propaganda.
So here’s the paradox: in order to appreciate repetition for what it is, we actually need a new sort of attention.
It’s probably impossible to achieve the level of attentiveness we bring to first times the tenth or hundredth time we do something. But it’s entirely feasible to look more attentively at repetition, not to see it as a stumbling block but as a goal in itself. Not as a copy but as a variation. I suspect that the routines and rituals that make up daily life, the “grind” we’ve learned to fear, would feel less like a slap in the face to the zeitgeist, and more like something worthwhile all on its own.
Repetition is the norm: we’re constantly repeating things, whether we want to or not. But there’s a difference between inattentively doing things again and doing things again by choice. Conscious, attentive, deliberate. With the full awareness that this matters just as much, and with the willingness to see, hear and feel different things when you feel, hear and see them again.’
A certain level of fatigue sets in. The media landscape has fragmented so much that consumers can filter their information diet to those outlets that reflect their worldview.
The answer is nothing less than a political terminus after years of economic policies which have degraded democracy.
The decline traces the erosion of the public sphere, and the instrumentalisation of identity by powerful actors unwilling to share their power.
In this new landscape, political choices are loyalties – akin to picking a football team and sticking with it through triumph, relegation and internal scandal. Whether a football team or a president, the avatar gives voice to its supporters’ sense of tribalism.
These impulses may be relatively harmless when confined to sports, but when they are extended to politics, they effectively underwrite authoritarianism.
The term “post-democracy”, coined by political scientist Colin Crouch, describes a state where electoral politics is restricted to a limited number of issues, while the crucial needs of the citizenry are addressed by the private sector. These companies lobby politicians, who may be in hock to them. Corporate agenda enacted by elected representatives might look like ideology – the right to own firearms, for example, or not to pay tax for someone else’s healthcare – but they are in fact determined by commercial interest.
We need an entirely new politics: one that shifts us from an economic to a humanitarian bottom line, from a war economy to a peace economy, from a dirty economy to a clean economy, and from who we’ve been to who we’re ready to be. #repairamerica
Change starts with us as individuals. If one individual becomes more compassionate it will influence others and so we will change the world.
We can not stand by and be only witness to the cataclysm…we must be active participants. (Thomas Merton)
“We didn’t need a pandemic to remember how filthy America has been left by racism and the laws that uphold it.”
Ahmaud Arbery Should Be Alive
[Remember his name.]
Convicting his killers is the start. But the family of this modern lynching victim can’t have justice in a country with laws that protect white people who kill black people.
by Jamil Smith
Ahmaud Arbery was 25. A former high school football player who reportedly was passionate about staying in shape, Arbery was out for a run in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, Georgia. That’s a little more than an hour north of Jacksonville, Florida, if you need to get your bearings on a map. So that you can spare yourself the horror of actually watching the video, I’ll briefly describe what happened in broad daylight on the afternoon of Sunday, February 23rd.
I’m going to word this carefully, because I don’t necessarily believe any part of the story Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William Bryan are telling. Gregory, a retired investigator for the Brunswick County district attorney, told police that he first saw Arbery “hauling ass” that day down Satilla Drive, according to the police report. That is what a young, athletic man might be doing on a jog, first of all. But that sight provoked him to tell his son Travis that he suspected Arbery was involved in two recent burglaries in the area, even though neither of the alleged incidents had been reported to police and no official description was on record. Gregory made that assessment, despite the guy “hauling ass” past him. Was a black man running away in this predominantly white community all the probable cause that he needed?
The men loaded themselves up with a .357 Magnum and a shotgun before pursuing Arbery in a white pickup truck. Bryan joined them in the pursuit. Gregory told police that they were packing because “‘the other night’ he saw the same male and he stuck his hand down his pants which lead [sp] them to believe the male was armed.”
If we are to understand Gregory McMichael correctly, he claims he believed Arbery to be armed because — and this is his deduction, based upon his career as an investigator for the local district attorney — he saw a person who he thinks was Arbery the previous night stick his hand down his pants. Because heaven knows, no man in American history has ever done so for any reason other than procuring a handgun. (That he keeps there at all times. Even while supposedly “hauling ass.”)
That is the best story that he could devise for what appears on the video to be the deliberate stalking of a human being. Sure, there’s the audible, “Stop, stop, we want to talk to you,” yelled by the McMichael boys, but what black man in America with a survival instinct stops when a bunch of white men with guns, without badges, hollers this at them?
The police report and full video, photographed by an as-yet unknown driver trailing the McMichaels’ truck, both detail what happens next. The McMichaels cut off Arbery’s path and then we see people getting out of the vehicle and hear yelling. As the car pulls up, per the police report account, the video depicts Arbery struggling over a firearm with Travis, the son. A man is perched in the bed of the truck overlooking. Shots are ringing out. By the end of it all, three shots are fired. At least two struck Arbery, who falls dead to the ground with a visibly bloody shirt. He was unarmed.
Arbery family attorney Lee Merritt, who last October secured a conviction of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger for the murder of Botham Jean, told me Thursday morning that Bryan was the person that recorded the video and that he believes Bryan coordinated with the McMichaels in committing the murder. “We are demanding that all three of these men be arrested immediately,” Merritt said to me via text.
However, it is the video of this incident, emerging earlier this week, that has both seemingly secured the nation’s attention and an eventual grand jury in Brunswick County.
The killing happened more than two months ago, and a series of prosecutors have recused themselves from the case because they’re connected professionally to McMichael.
One prosecutor — Waycross, Georgia district attorney George Barnhill — wrote a letter that candidly stated why he felt that the McMichaels should escape accountability for the incident, citing Georgia’s open-carry and stand-your-ground laws, as well as its state code for grounds for arrest: “A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.”
I want these men put away, but this is why the solution to incidents like this cannot be sought primarily through the courts. We need lawmakers to get busy. Open-carry must be abolished. Stand-your-ground has to go. State codes that allow citizens to arrest people? Those are golden tickets for lynchings. They should be relics of an America that should embarrass us.
Why should these be the priority? Given that racism has such permanence, it only makes sense that Americans must do away with any law or standard that empowers those who embrace that ideology. First, there is too much money in it. Those who seek to maintain power invest heavily in seeding it amongst the poorest, whitest Americans, and frankly, a lot of rich folks believe it themselves. So especially in this pandemic age, I’m even more about survival than ever. If black folks want to vent about the racism of the individuals involved here, I don’t begrudge them, especially if it helps assuage their anger and grief. But another reason why Arbery is dead today is that the laws of the land, along with those who enforce them, have long ensured that people like the McMichaels don’t have to think twice about picking up that .357 and that shotgun before running off to harass or even kill someone like Ahmaud Arbery.
With laws that made sense, at the worst we’re talking about a young man with some viral tweets about white guys who confronted him about burglaries while he was out for a jog. Maybe he even takes cellphone video of it, and laughs to keep from crying as he runs off. A lot of people will be doing the same as they run Friday in tribute of Arbery on what would have been his 26th birthday. I’ll join them. It will help sate the pain, for now, and demonstrate that we should be able to do what he was doing that Sunday afternoon without threat of losing our lives.
Arbery’s death didn’t get much media attention until now, in part because it happened right as COVID-19 began scaring us into submission. But even long before the coronavirus, there has always seemed to be some reason for us to look away from black death of this kind. The era that birthed Black Lives Matter is several years past, yet we keep needing to repeat those words to a largely white America that seems exhausted by them. The shock of Arbery’s limp body slumping to the ground after very real gunshots is here to once again wake up the “woke,” I guess. Saying their names over and over again to people who don’t hear them until we eventually lose our voices has to end. We cannot afford, as citizens, to continue propagating memes and other forms of online absolution without concrete action. Until there are severe and inescapable consequences for killing black people, anyone who isn’t fully antiracist will continue to do just that.
We didn’t need a pandemic to remember how filthy America has been left by racism and the laws that uphold it. However, we cannot baptize ourselves in the blood of the slain and leave feeling clean. We can no longer accept facsimiles. We must have actual justice.
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light,” Carl Jung wrote, “but by making the darkness conscious.” Reading this, I realize that in a whole lifetime spent with seekers of enlightenment, I have never once heard anyone speak in hushed tones about the value of endarkenment. -Barbara Taylor Brown, author & Episcopal priest
And so even now, as light gives way to darkness, I know that once again light is born from darkness. Those who read out to help strangers are living out the oneness that is part of our spiritual DNA. -Science of Mind
What are we only now coming “to know” through this time of not-knowing?
Either we will love and help one another or we will hate and attack one another, in which latter case we will all be one another’s hell. Perhaps Sartre was not far wrong in saying that where freedom is abused, society itself turns into heel.. (L’enfer c’est les autres.”) -Thomas Merton
Yuval Noah Harari: the world after coronavirus
This storm will pass. But the choices we make now could change our lives for years to come.
Humankind is now facing a global crisis. Perhaps the biggest crisis of our generation. The decisions people and governments take in the next few weeks will probably shape the world for years to come. They will shape not just our healthcare systems but also our economy, politics and culture. We must act quickly and decisively. We should also take into account the long-term consequences of our actions. When choosing between alternatives, we should ask ourselves not only how to overcome the immediate threat, but also what kind of world we will inhabit once the storm passes. Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive — but we will inhabit a different world.
Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours. Immature and even dangerous technologies are pressed into service, because the risks of doing nothing are bigger. Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments. What happens when everybody works from home and communicates only at a distance? What happens when entire schools and universities go online? In normal times, governments, businesses and educational boards would never agree to conduct such experiments. But these aren’t normal times.
The coronavirus epidemic is thus a major test of citizenship. In the days ahead, each one of us should choose to trust scientific data and healthcare experts over unfounded conspiracy theories and self-serving politicians. If we fail to make the right choice, we might find ourselves signing away our most precious freedoms, thinking that this is the only way to safeguard our health.
The testing fiasco was the original sin of America’s pandemic failure, the single flaw that undermined every other countermeasure. If the country could have accurately tracked the spread of the virus, hospitals could have executed their pandemic plans, girding themselves by allocating treatment rooms, ordering extra supplies, tagging in personnel, or assigning specific facilities to deal with COVID-19 cases. None of that happened. Instead, a health-care system that already runs close to full capacity, and that was already challenged by a severe flu season, was suddenly faced with a virus that had been left to spread, untracked, through communities around the country. Overstretched hospitals became overwhelmed. Basic protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and gloves, began to run out. Beds will soon follow, as will the ventilators that provide oxygen to patients whose lungs are besieged by the virus.
The White House is a ghost town of scientific expertise. A pandemic-preparedness office that was part of the National Security Council was dissolved in 2018. On January 28, Luciana Borio, who was part of that team, urged the government to “act now to prevent an American epidemic,” and specifically to work with the private sector to develop fast, easy diagnostic tests. But with the office shuttered, those warnings were published in The Wall Street Journal, rather than spoken into the president’s ear. Instead of springing into action, America sat idle.
After 9/11, the world focused on counterterrorism. After COVID-19, attention may shift to public health. Expect to see a spike in funding for virology and vaccinology, a surge in students applying to public-health programs, and more domestic production of medical supplies. Expect pandemics to top the agenda at the United Nations General Assembly. Anthony Fauci is now a household name. “Regular people who think easily about what a policewoman or firefighter does finally get what an epidemiologist does,” says Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
The lessons that America draws from this experience are hard to predict, especially at a time when online algorithms and partisan broadcasters only serve news that aligns with their audience’s preconceptions. Such dynamics will be pivotal in the coming months, says Ilan Goldenberg, a foreign-policy expert at the Center for a New American Security. “The transitions after World War II or 9/11 were not about a bunch of new ideas,” he says. “The ideas are out there, but the debates will be more acute over the next few months because of the fluidity of the moment and willingness of the American public to accept big, massive changes.”
7 Resources for Reliable Information About Coronavirus
1. The World Health Organization
The World Health Organization (WHO) is publishing rolling updates on the coronavirus situation as well as useful infographics and explainers, and should be your first port of call for new assessments of what is going on.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has launched a Coronavirus Global Update podcast, which includes a daily round-up on the spread of coronavirus.
It also includes reports from affected areas, details of the latest medical information, and the impact on health, business, and travel.
4. COVID-19 Facts
The COVID-19 Facts website works to collate information from sources including the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the World Health Organization, and the Economist Intelligence Unit.
It also features a series covering myths around coronavirus, including analysis by the Economist Intelligence Unit of where the myth came from, and what experts say about it.
5. The New Scientist Podcast
The New Scientist podcast is becoming increasingly focused on COVID-19 — including episodes and pandemic preparations; the spread of COVID-19 and the importance of hand washing; the coronavirus vaccine; and a coronavirus special on disaster preparation and environmental change.
6. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The content platform of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Optimist, is sharing stories, research, and news stories about coronavirus from the Foundation.
The platform works to convene expert voices from across the global health sector, including sharing expert perspectives and updates on the response to COVID-19 — and you can also sign up for the Optimist’s news digest.
7. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
The LSHTM launched its new podcastLSHTM Viral in January 2020, in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, and is releasing a new episode every week. It specifically focuses on the science behind outbreaks and how we respond to them.
Meanwhile, the LSHTM is also launching an online short course, for those who want to better understand the emergence of COVID-19, and how we respond to it moving forward.
The free-of-charge course launches on March 23, and will cover topics like: how COVID-19 emerged and was identified; public health measures worldwide; and what’s needed to address COVID-19 in the future.
Given that everything is going to be the way it’s going to be, we’re left with an actually useful and productive question instead: “What are you going to do about it?”
Stocking up on compassion.
That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief
Harvard Business Review
by Scott Berinato
Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.We’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.
Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst. To calm yourself, you want to come into the present.
Finally, it’s a good time to stock up on compassion. Everyone will have different levels of fear and grief and it manifests in different ways. A coworker got very snippy with me the other day and I thought, That’s not like this person; that’s how they’re dealing with this.I’m seeing their fear and anxiety. So be patient. Think about who someone usually is and not who they seem to be in this moment.
When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through.
It’s absurd to think we shouldn’t feel grief right now. Let yourself feel the grief and keep going.
Sharing a message from one of the spiritual leaders in our valley, Sun Valley, Idaho.
Viral Hopes by Sara Gorham
Well. Here we are, friends, living in interesting times. Every day the ground shifts beneath our feet, while the news assures us that even more disruption lies ahead. The invitations to fear are everywhere, and seldom has the unknown felt so unknowable. That said, though I do not wish to diminish the pain and loss brought on by the current pandemic, I actually have some high hopes for that little scrap of DNA we call the coronavirus. I have high hopes for the potential of what it might be able to teach us. My apologies to the virus if such expectations are too much to pin on the shoulders of so small a microbe.
I think this virus and the disruption it’s causing have the potential to bring us together and to help us see each other as we truly are – a unity, an interconnected family. I see it reminding us of the inherent uncertainty of life and how helping each other in hard times is the best way to deal with that uncertainty. I am hopeful it will remind us of the blessings of the present moment, so we all learn to spend more time there. I think it can and has placed us in a deeper appreciation of all that truly matters in our lives – including an appreciation of community and a deep gratitude for our loved ones everywhere, in particular those we shelter with, whether they have two legs or four.
I see our little coronavirus as here to remind us of our kinship to the greater biology of the planet, reminding us that we are a species like any other and subject to the same natural balances and controls as other populations. I see it as a welcome chink in our hubris, our assumption that we live apart from and by different rules than the rest of life on earth.
Perhaps we might see this virus as a notice nailed to our door, sent to us from the planet letting us know she needs a break, that we all need a break, from the constant taking and despoiling. Empty smokestacks and grounded jets may cause economic pain, but they also create breathing room and put blue back in the sky.
As business as usual grinds to a halt, we busy modern humans suddenly find ourselves gifted with the unfamiliar phenomena of unscheduled time. In that collective pregnant pause, I hope we might be reminded of the fine art of being which, in turn, might allow us to stand down a bit from our constant doing. And while we pause, I hope we listen – to the voice within, to the needs of our neighbors, and to the chorus of unity that hums in our hearts, waiting to be heard.
So yes, this virus has caused real pain, and yes, it’s probably not done. The planet has raised her voice at us, as mothers and teachers sometimes do, but I pin my hopes on all of us that we are open and capable of learning from all that this tiny virus might have to teach us as it works its way around the globe.
May we be reminded of this: that we are all One within a greater Oneness – within our common humanity, within the web of life on this planet, and most fundamentally, within the Divine Infinite. It is a simple and profound truth, claimed around the world and throughout the ages, and now taught to us once again, this time by the tiniest of teachers. The opportunity now is for all of us, individually and collectively, to listen and learn and, from that place of realization, to create a more thoughtful, compassionate and interconnected tomorrow.
’Those who love their own noise are impatient of everything
else. They constantly defile the silence of the forests and the mountains and the sea.
They for through silent nature in very direction with their machines, for fear that the
calm world might accuse them of their own emptiness. The urgency of
their swift movement seems to ignore the tranquility of nature by
pretending to have a purpose. The loud plane seems for a moment to deny the reality
of the clouds and of the sky by its direction, its noise, and its pretended
strength. The silence of the sky remains when the plane has gone. The
tranquility of the clouds will remain when the plane has fallen apart. It is the
silence of the world that is real. Our noise, our business, and all our fatuous statements
about our purposes—these are the illusions.’
-No Man Is an Island 
From Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark, A Paradise Built in Hell
“For me, is not optimism, that everything’s going to be fine and we can just sit back. And that’s too much like pessimism, which is that everything’s going to suck and we can just sit back. Hope, for me, just means a Buddhist sense of uncertainty, of coming to terms with the fact that we don’t know what will happen and that there’s maybe room for us to intervene. And that we have to let go of the certainty people seem to love more than hope and know that we don’t know what’s going to happen. We live in a very surprising world where nobody anticipated the way the Berlin Wall would fall or the Arab Spring would rise up, the impact of Occupy Wall Street. Obama was unelectable six months before he was elected.
It’s as though in some violent gift you’ve been given a kind of spiritual awakening where you’re close to mortality in a way that makes you feel more alive; you’re deeply in the present and can let go of past and future and your personal narrative, in some ways. You have shared an experience with everyone around you, and you often find very direct, but also metaphysical senses of connection to the people you suddenly have something in common with.”
“We survive…and then we die.” -Ojibway Elder
Please read this article from Donald G. McNeil Jr., a science and health reporter specializing in plagues and pestilences. He covers diseases of the world’s poor, including AIDS, Ebola, malaria, swine and bird flu, mad cow disease, SARS, and so on.
The Virus Can Be Stopped, but Only With Harsh Steps, Experts Say
Terrifying though the coronavirus may be, it can be turned back. China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan have demonstrated that, with furious efforts, the contagion can be brought to heel.
Whether they can keep it suppressed remains to be seen. But for the United States to repeat their successes will take extraordinary levels of coordination and money from the country’s leaders, and extraordinary levels of trust and cooperation from citizens. It will also require international partnerships in an interconnected world.
There is a chance to stop the coronavirus. This contagion has a weakness.
Although there are incidents of rampant spread, as happened on the cruise ship Diamond Princess, the coronavirus more often infects clusters of family members, friends and work colleagues, said Dr. David L. Heymann, who chairs an expert panel advising the World Health Organization on emergencies.
No one is certain why the virus travels in this way, but experts see an opening nonetheless. “You can contain clusters,” Dr. Heymann said. “You need to identify and stop discrete outbreaks, and then do rigorous contact tracing.”
But doing so takes intelligent, rapidly adaptive work by health officials, and near-total cooperation from the populace. Containment becomes realistic only when Americans realize that working together is the only way to protect themselves and their loved ones.
In interviews with a dozen of the world’s leading experts on fighting epidemics, there was wide agreement on the steps that must be taken immediately.
Those experts included international public health officials who have fought AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, flu and Ebola; scientists and epidemiologists; and former health officials who led major American global health programs in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Americans must be persuaded to stay home, they said, and a system put in place to isolate the infected and care for them outside the home. Travel restrictions should be extended, they said; productions of masks and ventilators must be accelerated, and testing problems must be resolved.
Just as generals take the lead in giving daily briefings in wartime — as Gen. Norman Schwarzkopfdid during the Persian Gulf war — medical experts should be at the microphone now to explain complex ideas like epidemic curves, social distancing and off-label use of drugs.
The microphone should not even be at the White House, scientists said, so that briefings of historic importance do not dissolve into angry, politically charged exchanges with the press corps, as happened again on Friday.
Instead, leaders must describe the looming crisis and the possible solutions in ways that will win the trust of Americans.
Above all, the experts said, briefings should focus on saving lives and making sure that average wage earners survive the coming hard times — not on the stock market, the tourism industry or the president’s health. There is no time left to point fingers and assign blame.
The next priority, experts said, is extreme social distancing.
If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt.
The world of our time is in confusion. It is reaching the peak of the greatest crisis in history. Never before has there been such a total upheaval of the whole human race. Tremendous forces are at work: spiritual, sociological, economic, technological and, least of all, political. Mankind stands on the brink of a new barbarism, yet at the same time there remain possibilities for an unexpected and almost unbelievable solution, the creation of a new world and a new civilization, the like of which has never been seen. We are face to face with Antichrist, or the Millennium (Millennials!), no one knows which.
‘If a man has to be pleasing to me, conforming, reassuring, before I can love him, then I cannot truly love him. Not that love cannot console or reassure! But if I demand first to be reassured, I will never dare to begin loving. If a man has to be a Jew or a Christian before I can love him, then I cannot love him. If he has to be black or white before I can love him, then I cannot love him. If he has to belong to my political party or social group before I can love him, if he has to wear any kind of uniform, then my love is no longer love because it is not free: it is dictated by something outside itself. It is dominated by an appetite other than love. I love not the person but his classification, and in that event I love him not as a person but as a thing. In this way I remain at the mercy of forces outside myself, and those who seem to me to be neighbors are indeed strangers; for I am, first of all, a stranger to myself.’
-Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration, 1965
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith on the purpose and power of poetry
The two-time American poet laureate joins The Ezra Klein Show for a powerful conversation on love, language, and more.
‘It’s the rare podcast conversation on The Ezra Klein Show where, as it’s happening, I’m making notes to go back and listen again so I can fully absorb what I heard. But this is that kind of episode.
Tracy K. Smith is the chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton and a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, and was the two-time poet laureate of the United States from 2017 to 2019. But I’ll be honest: she was an intimidating interview for me. I often find myself frustrated by poetry, yearning for it to simply tell me what it wants to say, aggravated that I can’t seem to crack its code.
Preparing for this conversation, and even more so, talking to Smith, was a revelation. Poetry, she argues, is about expressing “the feelings that defy language.” The struggle is part of the point: you’re going where language stumbles, where literalism fails. Developing a comfort and ease in those spaces isn’t something we’re taught to do, but it’s something we need to do. And so, on one level, this conversation is simply about poetry: what it is, what it does, how to read it.
But on another level, this conversation is also about the ideas and tensions that Smith uses poetry to capture: what it means to be a descendent of slaves, a human in love, a nation divided. Laced through our conversation is readings of poems from her most recent book Wade in the Water, and discussions of some of the hardest questions in the American, and even human, canon. Hearing Smith read her erasure poem, “Declaration” is, without doubt, one of the most powerful moments I’ve had on the podcast.
There is more to this conversation than I can capture here, but to say it simply: this isn’t one to miss, and that’s particularly true if, like me, poetry intimidates you.’
‘Human nature is not evil. All pleasure is not wrong. All spontaneous desires not selfish. The doctrine of original sin does not mean that human nature has been completely corrupted and that man’s freedom is always inclined to sin.
Man is neither a devil nor an angel. He is not pure spirit, but a being of flesh and spirit, subject to error and malice, but basically inclined to seek truth and goodness. He is, indeed, a sinner: but their hearts respond to love and grace. It also responds to the goodness and to the need of his fellowman.’
-Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness 
If we over-use the intellectual center, then our work lies in bringing the emotional and moving centers fully online and integrating them.Wisdom is a way of knowing that goes beyond one’s mind, one’s rational understanding, and embraces the whole of a person: mind, heart, and body. These three centers must all be working, and working in harmony, as the first prerequisite to the Wisdom way of knowing.
O water, voice of my heart, crying in the sand, All night long crying with a mournful cry, As I lie and listen, and cannot understand The voice of my heart in my side or the voice of the sea, O water, crying for rest, is it I, is it I? All night long the water is crying to me.
Unresting water, there shall never be rest Till the last moon droop and the last tide fail, And the fire of the end begin to burn in the west; And the heart shall be weary and wonder and cry like the sea, All life long crying without avail, As the water all night long is crying to me. — Arthur Symons
“Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.
And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,—peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys’ and girls’ heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards—ten cents a package—and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card,—refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination-time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stringy heads. Alas, with the years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the worlds I longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest from them. Just how I would do it I could never decide: by reading law, by healing the sick, by telling the wonderful tales that swam in my head,—some way. With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above.
After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian,
the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.
One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.
This, then, is the end of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his best powers and his latent genius. These powers of body and mind have in the past been strangely wasted, dispersed, or forgotten.
The shadow of a mighty Negro past flits through the tale of Ethiopia the Shadowy and of Egypt the Sphinx. Throughout history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness. Here in America, in the few days since Emancipation, the black man’s turning hither and thither in hesitant and doubtful striving has often made his very strength to lose effectiveness, to seem like absence of power, like weakness. And yet it is not weakness,—it is the contradiction of double aims. The double-aimed struggle of the black artisan—on the one hand to escape white contempt for a nation of mere hewers of wood and drawers of water, and on the other hand to plough and nail and dig for a poverty-stricken horde—could only result in making him a poor craftsman, for he had but half a heart in either cause. By the poverty and ignorance of his people, the Negro minister or doctor was tempted toward quackery and demagogy; and by the criticism of the other world, toward ideals that made him ashamed of his lowly tasks. The would-be black savant was confronted by the paradox that the knowledge his people needed was a twice-told tale to his white neighbors, while the knowledge which would teach the white world was Greek to his own flesh and blood. The innate love of harmony and beauty that set the ruder souls of his people a-dancing and a-singing raised but confusion and doubt in the soul of the black artist; for the beauty revealed to him was the soul-beauty of a race which his larger audience despised, and he could not articulate the message of another people. This waste of double aims, this seeking to satisfy two unreconciled ideals, has wrought sad havoc with the courage and faith and deeds of ten thousand thousand people,—has sent them often wooing false gods and invoking false means of salvation, and at times has even seemed about to make them ashamed of themselves.
Away back in the days of bondage they thought to see in one divine event the end of all doubt and disappointment; few men ever worshipped Freedom with half such unquestioning faith as did the American Negro for two centuries. To him, so far as he thought and dreamed, slavery was indeed the sum of all villainies, the cause of all sorrow, the root of all prejudice; Emancipation was the key to a promised land of sweeter beauty than ever stretched before the eyes of wearied Israelites. In song and exhortation swelled one refrain—Liberty; in his tears and curses the God he implored had Freedom in his right hand. At last it came,—suddenly, fearfully, like a dream. With one wild carnival of blood and passion came the message in his own plaintive cadences:—
“Shout, O children!
Shout, you’re free!
For God has bought your liberty!”
Years have passed away since then,—ten, twenty, forty; forty years of national life, forty years of renewal and development, and yet the swarthy spectre sits in its accustomed seat at the Nation’s feast. In vain do we cry to this our vastest social problem:—
“Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves
Shall never tremble!”
The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land. Whatever of good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people,—a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal was unbounded save by the simple ignorance of a lowly people.
The first decade was merely a prolongation of the vain search for freedom, the boon that seemed ever barely to elude their grasp,—like a tantalizing will-o’-the-wisp, maddening and misleading the headless host.
The holocaust of war, the terrors of the Ku-Klux Klan, the lies of carpet-baggers, the disorganization of industry, and the contradictory advice of friends and foes, left the bewildered serf with no new watchword beyond the old cry for freedom. As the time flew, however, he began to grasp a new idea. The ideal of liberty demanded for its attainment powerful means, and these the Fifteenth Amendment gave him. The ballot, which before he had looked upon as a visible sign of freedom, he now regarded as the chief means of gaining and perfecting the liberty with which war had partially endowed him.
And why not? Had not votes made war and emancipated millions? Had not votes enfranchised the freedmen? Was anything impossible to a power that had done all this? A million black men started with renewed zeal to vote themselves into the kingdom. So the decade flew away, the revolution of 1876 came, and left the half-free serf weary, wondering, but still inspired. Slowly but steadily, in the following years, a new vision began gradually to replace the dream of political power,—a powerful movement, the rise of another ideal to guide the unguided, another pillar of fire by night after a clouded day. It was the ideal of “book-learning”; the curiosity, born of compulsory ignorance, to know and test the power of the cabalistic letters of the white man, the longing to know. Here at last seemed to have been discovered the mountain path to Canaan; longer than the highway of Emancipation and law, steep and rugged, but straight, leading to heights high enough to overlook life.
Up the new path the advance guard toiled, slowly, heavily, doggedly; only those who have watched and guided the faltering feet, the misty minds, the dull understandings, of the dark pupils of these schools know how faithfully, how piteously, this people strove to learn. It was weary work. The cold statistician wrote down the inches of progress here and there, noted also where here and there a foot had slipped or some one had fallen. To the tired climbers, the horizon was ever dark, the mists were often cold, the Canaan was always dim and far away. If, however, the vistas disclosed as yet no goal, no resting-place, little but flattery and criticism, the journey at least gave leisure for reflection and self-examination; it changed the child of Emancipation to the youth with dawning self-consciousness, self-realization, self-respect. In those sombre forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself,—darkly as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission. He began to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another. For the first time he sought to analyze the burden he bore upon his back, that dead-weight of social degradation partially masked behind a half-named Negro problem. He felt his poverty; without a cent, without a home, without land, tools, or savings, he had entered into competition with rich, landed, skilled neighbors. To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships. He felt the weight of his ignorance,—not simply of letters, but of life, of business, of the humanities; the accumulated sloth and shirking and awkwardness of decades and centuries shackled his hands and feet. Nor was his burden all poverty and ignorance. The red stain of bastardy, which two centuries of systematic legal defilement of Negro women had stamped upon his race, meant not only the loss of ancient African chastity, but also the hereditary weight of a mass of corruption from white adulterers, threatening almost the obliteration of the Negro home.
A people thus handicapped ought not to be asked to race with the world, but rather allowed to give all its time and thought to its own social problems. But alas! while sociologists gleefully count his bastards and his prostitutes, the very soul of the toiling, sweating black man is darkened by the shadow of a vast despair. Men call the shadow prejudice, and learnedly explain it as the natural defence of culture against barbarism, learning against ignorance, purity against crime, the “higher” against the “lower” races. To which the Negro cries Amen! and swears that to so much of this strange prejudice as is founded on just homage to civilization, culture, righteousness, and progress, he humbly bows and meekly does obeisance. But before that nameless prejudice that leaps beyond all this he stands helpless, dismayed, and well-nigh speechless; before that personal disrespect and mockery, the ridicule and systematic humiliation, the distortion of fact and wanton license of fancy, the cynical ignoring of the better and the boisterous welcoming of the worse, the all-pervading desire to inculcate disdain for everything black, from Toussaint to the devil,—before this there rises a sickening despair that would disarm and discourage any nation save that black host to whom “discouragement” is an unwritten word.
But the facing of so vast a prejudice could not but bring the inevitable self-questioning, self-disparagement, and lowering of ideals which ever accompany repression and breed in an atmosphere of contempt and hate. Whisperings and portents came borne upon the four winds: Lo! we are diseased and dying, cried the dark hosts; we cannot write, our voting is vain; what need of education, since we must always cook and serve? And the Nation echoed and enforced this self-criticism, saying: Be content to be servants, and nothing more; what need of higher culture for half-men? Away with the black man’s ballot, by force or fraud,—and behold the suicide of a race! Nevertheless, out of the evil came something of good,—the more careful adjustment of education to real life, the clearer perception of the Negroes’ social responsibilities, and the sobering realization of the meaning of progress.
So dawned the time of Sturm und Drang: storm and stress to-day rocks our little boat on the mad waters of the world-sea; there is within and without the sound of conflict, the burning of body and rending of soul; inspiration strives with doubt, and faith with vain questionings. The bright ideals of the past,—physical freedom, political power, the training of brains and the training of hands,—all these in turn have waxed and waned, until even the last grows dim and overcast. Are they all wrong,—all false? No, not that, but each alone was over-simple and incomplete,—the dreams of a credulous race-childhood, or the fond imaginings of the other world which does not know and does not want to know our power. To be really true, all these ideals must be melted and welded into one. The training of the schools we need to-day more than ever,—the training of deft hands, quick eyes and ears, and above all the broader, deeper, higher culture of gifted minds and pure hearts. The power of the ballot we need in sheer self-defence,—else what shall save us from a second slavery? Freedom, too, the long-sought, we still seek,—the freedom of life and limb, the freedom to work and think, the freedom to love and aspire.
Work, culture, liberty,—all these we need, not singly but together, not successively but together, each growing and aiding each, and all striving toward that vaster ideal that swims before the Negro people, the ideal of human brotherhood, gained through the unifying ideal of Race; the ideal of fostering and developing the traits and talents of the Negro, not in opposition to or contempt for other races, but rather in large conformity to the greater ideals of the American Republic, in order that some day on American soil two world-races may give each to each those characteristics both so sadly lack.
We the darker ones come even now not altogether empty-handed: there are to-day no truer exponents of the pure human spirit of the Declaration of Independence than the American Negroes; there is no true American music but the wild sweet melodies of the Negro slave; the American fairy tales and folk-lore are Indian and African; and, all in all, we black men seem the sole oasis of simple faith and reverence in a dusty desert of dollars and smartness. Will America be poorer if she replace her brutal dyspeptic blundering with light-hearted but determined Negro humility? or her coarse and cruel wit with loving jovial good-humor? or her vulgar music with the soul of the Sorrow Songs?
Merely a concrete test of the underlying principles of the great republic is the Negro Problem, and the spiritual striving of the freedmen’s sons is the travail of souls whose burden is almost beyond the measure of their strength, but who bear it in the name of an historic race, in the name of this the land of their fathers’ fathers, and in the name of human opportunity.
And now what I have briefly sketched in large outline let me on coming pages tell again in many ways, with loving emphasis and deeper detail, that men may listen to the striving in the souls of black folk.”
As Rebecca Solnit explains, hope is “coming to terms with the fact that we don’t know what will happen and that there’s maybe room for us to intervene, and that we have to let go of the certainty people seem to love more than hope and know that we don’t know what’s going to happen.” To practice hope as Solnit describes it requires acknowledging a similar incompleteness to the one that Consolmagno speaks about.
Perhaps embracing the inherent incompleteness of what we know of the world is a form of hope, allowing us to remember that there’s always something left to unfold or be discovered — and not always in the way we might’ve been conditioned to expect it. May we allow ourselves to listen, and even delight in its surprises, as we work alongside the richness of this incompleteness.
Fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action & Contemplation:
‘The good, the true, and the beautiful are their own best argument for themselves, by themselves, and in themselves. Such deep inner knowing evokes the soul and pulls the soul into All Oneness. Incarnation is beauty, and beauty needs to be incarnate—that is specific, concrete, particular. We need to experience very particular, soul-evoking goodness in order to be shaken into what many call “realization.” It is often a momentary shock where we know we have been moved to a different plane of awareness.’
‘The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutter our minds and makes of all political and social life a mass illness. Without this housecleaning we cannot begin to see. Unless we see, we cannot think. The purification must begin with the mass media. How?
-Thomas Merton, conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 1968
Jay Rosen, NYU:
I am waiting for the first newsroom that declares a state of emergency. Susan Glasser, staff writer at The New Yorker:
“Is this time any different from other episodes where he has ranted about his unchecked right to do unconstitutional things?” Read her reply:
It sometimes happens in diplomacy that one country has to say to another: “This is extreme. We cannot accept this. You have gone too far.” And so it suspends diplomatic relations.
In 2012 the government of Canada announced that it would suspend diplomatic relations with Iran. “Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” said the foreign minister.
Journalists charged with covering him should suspend normal relations with the presidency of Donald Trump, which is the most significant threat to an informed public in the United States today.
That is my recommendation.
I began making this point on the third day of his presidency, January 22, 2017, when I said the press should send interns to the White House briefing room. Normal practice would not be able to cope with the political style of Donald Trump, which incorporates a hate movementagainst journalists.
“Send the interns” means our major news organizations don’t have to cooperate with this. They don’t have to lend talent or prestige to it. They don’t have to be props. They need not televise the spectacle live (CNN didn’t carry Spicer’s rant) and they don’t have to send their top people. They can “switch” systems: from inside-out, where access to the White House starts the story engines, to outside-in, where the action begins on the rim, in the agencies, around the committees, with the people who are supposed to obey Trump but have doubts… The press has to become less predictable. It has to stop functioning as a hate object. This means giving something up.
So that’s one way to suspend normal relations: send the interns. On MSNBC June 12, Rachel Maddow described another. She said that frequent viewers of her show may have noticed a pattern:
I don’t go out of my way to play tape of the president speaking. Nor do I tend to spend too much time parsing whatever the latest quote is from him. That is not out of any animus on my part, it’s just that the president very frequently says things that aren’t true. He admits that he says things that aren’t true. He calls it, you know, hyperbole, but he lies. And I feel like on this show I’d like you to be able to trust me to give you true information. Because I generally feel like I can’t trust what purports to be information from this president, I just try to do the news without words from him, most of the time.
Normally, the president is quoted more than any other public figure, and clips of him speaking are ubiquitous in television news. Maddow told her viewers that she had suspended this practice because, more likely than not, the president’s words would only misinform them. Every president needs to be fact-checked. This one doesn’t care if what he says is true. That’s extreme, and it calls for a response.
“Anything that a president would say — even if it was libelous or scandalous — it’s the president talking, and I think you report it,” said Chris Wallace, the “Fox News Sunday” host who moderated this year’s third presidential debate. “Under any definition, it’s news, whether it’s sensible or not, factual or not, productive or not.”
A middle-ground would be this: what the president says is neither automatically newsworthy nor automatically suspect. Rather, it has to be judged in context. Which sounds super-reasonable. Who can be against “context” and case-by-case judgment? But here’s the context: bad actor, cannot be given the benefit of the doubt, no matter what the case is.
“How,” asked Chuck Todd on Meet the Press June 17, “can we believe a president who routinely says things that are provably false?” Instead of treating these questions as unsolvable riddles, Chuck Todd could… suspend normal relations. For Meet the Press, that might mean: don’t accept as guests the people the White House sends out as defenders of the provably false (especially Kellyanne Conway.) If Trump himself is willing to sit down with Chuck Todd, fine. Take him on over his many falsehoods. But no surrogates or fog machines unless they are willing to correct the president.
The American press corps is not like the government of Canada, which can speak with a single voice. Thousands of people working for hundreds of newsrooms cannot change their practices in synch with one another. But they can all decide, “This is extreme. We cannot accept this. This has gone too far.” And then make a break with normal practice.
For the Washington Post it might be declining to participate in so-called background briefings. For NPR, it might be refusing to report false claims by the President unless they are served as a “truth sandwich,” a suggestion recently made by Brian Stelter and Margaret Sullivan, interpreting the work of George Lakoff. For CNN, never going live to a Trump event — on the grounds that you will inevitably broadcast falsehoods if you do — would be a good start.
Suspend normal relations. It’s up to the journalists who cover Trump to decide how they will do it. The important thing is that they do it. And then announce what they did, to get others thinking about their own steps. In this way the sovereign state of journalism can take action, and show, as the Canadian prime minister said recently, that it will “not be pushed around.”
‘As a nation, we have begun to float off into a moral void, and all the sermons of all the priests in the country (if they preach at all) are not going to help much.
We have got to the point where the promulgation of any kind of moral standard automatically releases an anti-moral response in a whole lot of people. It is not with them, above all, that I am concerned but with the ‘good’ people, the right-thinking people, who stick to principle, all right, except where it conflicts with the chance to make money.
It seems to me that there are very dangerous ambiguities about our democracy in its actual present condition. I wonder to what extent our ideals are not a front for organized selfishness and systematic irresponsibility.
If our affluent society ever breaks down and the facade is taken away, what are we going to have left?
-Thomas Merton, 1961
Image credit: Anna Washington Derry (detail), Laura Wheeler Waring, 1927, Smithsonian American Art Museum
The vast majority of people throughout history have been poor, disabled, or oppressed in some way (i.e., “on the bottom”) and would have read history in terms of a need for change, but most of history has been written and interpreted from the side of the winners.
Every viewpoint is a view from a point.
We must be able to critique our own perspective if we are to see a fuller truth.
Liberation theology—which focuses on freeing people from religious, political, social, and economic oppression—is mostly ignored by Western Christianity. Perhaps that’s not surprising when we consider who interpreted the Scriptures for the last seventeen hundred years. The empowered clergy class enforced their own perspective instead of that of the marginalized, who first received the message with such excitement and hope. Once Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire (after 313), we largely stopped reading the Bible from the side of the poor and the oppressed. We read it from the side of the political establishment and the usually comfortable priesthood instead of from the side of people hungry for justice and truth. Shifting our priorities to make room for the powerless instead of accommodating the powerful is the only way to detach religion from its common marriage to power, money, and self-importance.
When Scripture is read through the eyes of vulnerability—what we call the “preferential option for the poor” or the “bias from the bottom”—it will always be liberating and transformative. Scripture will not be used to oppress or impress. The question is no longer, “How can I maintain the status quo?” (which just happens to benefit me), but “How can we all grow and change together?” Now we would have no top to protect, and the so-called “bottom” becomes the place of education, real change, and transformation for all.
Dorothy Day (1897–1980): “The only way to live in any true security is to live so close to the bottom that when you fall you do not have far to drop, you do not have much to lose.”  From that place, where few would expect or choose to be, we can be used as instruments of transformation and liberation for the rest of the world.
-Fr Richard Rohr
Dorothy Day, Loaves and Fishes: The Inspiring Story of the Catholic Worker Movement (Orbis Books: 1997), 86.