Music is Human – Day Thirty-Six

listen music is human

Some of the most popular songs in 1967 included, the Beetle’s “Penny Lane” and “All You Need is Love,” Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” “Light My Fire” – The Doors, “Soul Man” by Sam & Dave (though many will know it from the Blues Brothers), and the Tremeloes’, “Silence is Golden.” In Gospel music that same year “Oh Happy Day” resonated with its hopeful tune of deliverance and salvation in the bleak time of the Vietnam War. And “Amazing Grace” is the all time most popular hymn since the reformation.

Thomas Aquinas defined a hymn in this way: “Hymnus est laus Dei cum cantico; canticum autem exultatio mentis de aeternis habita, prorumpens in vocem.” (“A hymn is the praise of God with song; a song is the exultation of the mind dwelling on eternal things, bursting forth in the voice.” But not until 1820 was approval given to sing hymns in the Church of England. Indeed, the Wesley’s were not afforded the luxury of singing Charles’ hymns in church in their lifetime. What is more, Charles only provisionally included a single melody line with his poetic theology because he was ambivalent to the suitability of singing parts. And John and Charles did not even agree with each other on what was an appropriate level of affection in the lyrics.

Music is by far the most prevalent subject of disagreement in the church. Just yesterday Howie was cornered by someone accusing him of single-handedly ruining his church by leading with subpar, non-hymn/Wesley-prescribed music. Greer noted that in every church in which we’ve served, music has been the biggest source of criticism and venom. What is it about music that provokes such scorn, so much bitterness? Mozart was considered an apostate in his time, for heaven’s sake!

Scientists have dated flutes made from bone to 42,000 years ago, and one large collection of musical instruments dates to 7,000BCE China. Clearly, creating music is a key feature of being human. But just as each person is unique and every culture is distinctive in societal expressions, ought not a variety in music style and composition provide a greater, richer expression of devotion to the Creator God that made us creative in the first place?

Music heals. Music congregates. Music lifts the spirit and wallows with it in agony. It carries sentiments of love and strengthens the summons to revolt. Rhythms and tones are discerned in the expert thumping of hands on animal skin, carrying a message or supporting a communal dance. Music clears the mind and can clear a space, and it touches the deepest parts of us, indelible. A song can conjure the angsty, stomach-churning feeling from junior high while ice-skating with friends (and that boy I liked); or the comfort I felt when hearing my father sing How Great Thou Art beside me in church.

The power of music is indisputable. And it is incredibly fulfilling to really appreciate all types of music (well, except Country—I just really can’t appreciate Country music). It has changed throughout human history; the combinations of sounds and the sequences of chords are infinite. There is no inherent virtue in any specific sequence. One cannot determine an ethic of sounds ought or ought not to be combined. Music is art—it is an audible expression of the soul, meaningful to the composer and capable of evoking meaning for the audience. And music is to be celebrated.

We do not all appreciate the same style (or volume) of music. Why would anyone think that any community that gathers on Sunday morning would always fully appreciate all of the music all of the time? Charles Wesley wanted to put theology to music, expressions of devotion to Jesus in song, so people might carry them through the difficult week and be encouraged.

But I suspect the deeper issue is not that I think this music is unholy or that song not appropriate for church. The weightier concern is that change is uncomfortable, and listening to each other is work. It isn’t the music. It’s that I am more concerned about my well being than those in the community. And then I miss out on hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit in a new way. And sometimes, there is music even in the silence. Because it is not until I have ears ready to listen that we can grow together—in worship, in community, in Love.

Practice with me mindful listening: sound a chime or bell (the one on your phone is fine).

Listen for that space where the sound ends and the silence begins.

Listen some more.

What do you hear?

Rustling in the kitchen?   A bird chirping outside the window?   Water running on the other side of the wall?

Listen.

Be grateful.

See and be Known – Day Thirty-Four

see and be known

When I was growing up, our family lived in four different houses, but they were basically in the same school district. So, for me, I went to one elementary school, one junior high, and one high school. Then I went to university in the same state, but began a (thus far) thirty year succession of moves—out of country, different states, more education, different jobs . . . . One thing I learned quickly was that each new place harbored new bugs, and the first year is one of accepting new illnesses while my body’s immune system learned how to fight them.

When I finally discovered some of my physical pain was due to autoimmune disease, I began a life-long journey of finding a balance to supporting my immune system. Autoimmune disease is basically an internal overreaction. Certain sectors of the immune system no longer focus on disease but attack healthy cells. So, many “normal” modes of targeting a virus can trigger a heightened attack on my joints and nerves. It requires listening to my body, noticing how it responds to certain supplements and foods, exercises and activities. It is a mindfulness practice that, for me, holds some urgency.

It seems as if we do a similar psychic thing to ourselves. That is, maybe I am overreacting to an internal judgment about my inadequacy and undermine – attack – the healthy strengths I do possess, rendering myself socially or professionally infirm. Also, perhaps we do this as a society by passing judgment without thought, without real insight, and attack the whole of another’s position. In doing so, we debilitate constructive civil conversation.

Recently, I have been reading some of the musings of the German-Jewish philosopher, Hannah Arendt. She writes about that intersection of thinking and action—that both are necessary for making things right in the world. An expert on Arendt, Lyndsey Stonebridge, observes, “Thinking, [Arendt] says, is not the same as judgment, but it creates the right conditions for judgment. But also, she says, if you can’t have that inner dialogue, then you can’t speak and act with others. What she called ‘the banality of evil’ was the inability to hear another voice, the inability to have a dialogue either with oneself or the world, the moral world.”

It is this sense that is so important for our time as it was in Arendt’s, found in a concept she coined and elaborates on: “organized loneliness.” It is this experience of living in a society in which individuals are unseen and disconnected, of feeling superfluous in the world. It is certainly something that I wrestle with as I draw closer to turning 50. And it seems to be an overarching universal experience in our globalizing world—more connected and more isolated. But just as I cannot really see a truth about my capabilities until another person observes it, sees me as I am, so as a society we cannot see our system for what it is until we can understand it from another cultural perspective.

Of course, that is a very oversimplified observation. Still, though I feel like I cannot really change a political system, I can be a part of changing culture. One way is to actively open my eyes to see another person, another culture, another belief system. And when my eyes are open, they remain open for another to return that gaze. It is vulnerable. It is frightening. It is thrilling. How beautiful it is when two people extend trust and really look at one another. I am changed, and just maybe, together we can change our culture, and the world.

How do I need to change my perspectival lens so I can really see someone today?

Creative Conversation – Day Thirty-Two

Relationship changes us

When I returned home from visiting my daughter in Indonesia bands of muscle in the guise of steel ropes threaded with industrial hex nuts formed a latticework on my back. No amount of stretching, yoga, or deep breathing seemed to loosen the grip these giant pods of lactic acid had on my back. This morning, my dear husband had some extra time to finally begin work on the trellis. Thank you, God, for giving me this man! I believe my neck is a full inch longer now. (note to Howie: I think you’ve only loosened a top layer)

Message therapy can be traced back to 2800s BCE Egypt and China. Hindu practitioners perfected the Ayurveda art of healing touch through the millennia, and then a Swedish doctor (former gymnast) developed the “Swedish Movement System” in the early 1800s. This and Japanese Shiatsu seem to be the most commonly used in the western hemisphere. Interesting, recent research found that the efficacy of massage therapy has more to do with the mechanisms of DNA than squeezing out lactic acid. It actually triggers the process that turns off the inflammation-promoting gene, PGC-1alpha, and turns on the gene, NFkB, that contributes to healing muscle tissue. As one with a connective tissue disease, this information is enlightening and strengthens my resolve to appeal for regular massages. (ummm, Howie?)

There is so much more that happens when a massage is given. First, the action occurs between two human beings (massage chairs and tables notwithstanding). And when a friend or lover performs the therapy, it is an expression of compassion, an act of love. It is relationship, it is being human. Maria Popova goes so far as to ascribe this as the perpetuation of creation: “Action is therefore the most optimistic and miraculous of our faculties, for it alone gives rise to what hadn’t existed before — it is the supreme force of creation.” Because when Howie gave me a massage this morning, he was putting his declarations of love into action, and we grew to know something of each other afresh.

You see, relationships cultivate, prune and transform our truths. Adrienne Rich poignantly explains in her 1975 essay: “An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’ — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.” Our words carry the truths, but truths spring from action.

It is not enough to say, “I love you,” though often it is sufficient in the moment. To love is to act on that love. And keep on.

It is not enough to say, “That is unjust,” though many times it sparks a movement. To make things right is to act on the system that supports injustice. And keep on.

It is not enough to say, “I believe,” though frequently it reawakens the seed of trust buried deep within. To believe is to live that belief. And keep on.

Still, Popova warns, “contrary to the popular indictment that speech is the cowardly absence of action, action cannot take place without speech. Above all . . . it is through the integration of the two that we reveal ourselves to one another, as well as to ourselves.”

Speech and action. Act and being.

Another May-born, Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861–August 7, 1941) places all the weight on relationship: “Relationship is the fundamental truth in this world of appearance.” It is not as if I know precisely what I mean when I speak, articulate a position. I may not even understand precisely what I want to say about how I feel. To speak it, to say it out loud, I do not know whom I reveal when I disclose myself. But with Hannah Arendt, I must “be willing to risk the exposure.”

When we are with one another, and not necessarily for or against—actively with the other—such risks seem possible. And worth it. Throughout these 40 days of meditations on turning 50 I’ve been a bit more vulnerable, exposing some struggles and many perspectives previously hesitant to express. Yet, I have discovered a few beautiful souls who are with me, hints of what is possible after I pass through next Friday, with these people – and others along the way. I also know that I am different from when I said “yes” to Howie nearly 24 years ago. I am constantly amazed by how much we are changed when we converse, share our thoughts—it is a creative moment, creating more of ourselves, becoming more.

So how can I be with someone today – and create something more, something beautiful?

License to Commune – Day Thirty-One

vine connectedToday I spent time at the DMV to renew my driver’s license. Since I’m turning a certain age soon (in nine days, but who’s counting) they find it necessary to check my vision. Also, there is a new process in place that requires my information and photo be processed through a centralized system. To do this, I am issued a temporary printout of a provisional license until the card is sent in 2-3 weeks. This made me wonder about the history of the driver’s license and what this new change means.

So, Chicago (of course!) and New York City were the first (in 1899) to require a test of driver’s competency before granting permission to drive a motorized vehicle. Missouri and Massachusetts were first 1903) to require a license, but MO did not actually call for an exam to acquire one. Pennsylvania was first to insist the driver be at least 18 years old in 1909, and Connecticut gave permission for those who are 16 or older in 1921. But some states did not include a photo of the driver until well into the 1980s in response to activism by Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, and underage drinking.

It wasn’t until 2005 that the Department of Homeland Security instituted the Real ID Act to set a national standard all states must follow for issuing secure driver’s licenses. Since the US has no national ID card, a Federal guideline is understandable. At the same time, driver’s license protocol is within the purview of each state. Whereas the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act supported state-federal cooperation to implement the more uniform, secure protocol, Real ID circumvents state input. I certainly appreciate more secure identification, and the newer enhanced versions can be used in lieu of a passport when driving across a border country.

More people travel and work across multiple states, so a connected database is convenient. It does presage another step away from independent state governing, a large piece of the identity of the United States. But is that a bad thing? Centralized databases that encompass more of our lives and liberties do impinge on privacy. At the same time, while we are gravitating away from the mythological ideal of a 1950s era nuclear family, we are becoming still more connected to more people across a broader space—global space. When there are clever computer wizards with extra time on their hands hacking into government and financial systems across this global space, I am glad for some added security and greater recourse when said clever hackers attempt to obtain my documentation.

My daughter lives in a country that has no real traffic laws. She is also getting around on a motorcycle in this crazy land with no traffic laws. In crowded cities. With slender, winding roads. And frequent torrential rainfalls. I know—I rode on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle in this crazy traffic, on twisting roads, during a torrential rainfall! I appreciate uniform traffic laws!

As far as privacy is concerned, I wonder how much one might reasonably expect and still have access to convenient, high-tech, deftly connected services. I am absolutely not saying the government or corporations or whomever should have carte blanche access to my personal information. There is sufficient tech to securely mask my identity from necessary information. At the same time (beginning to feel a bit like Tevye’s many hands, ‘on the other hand’) it seems we are often more concerned with privacy than with the implications of how connected we actually are.

No matter how hard I might try to be alone, block others off from access to me, my existence impacts others—and others impact my life. The question is, do I want that influence to be formative or disfiguring? Today’s Ignatius meditation is from John 15:1-8, about how dwelling in the vine makes the branches produce good fruit. And all of the branches are connected to the vine. If mine is malnourished, it will affect a neighboring branch. The key principle here is ‘dwelling.’ To dwell is to live and linger, nourish and nurture, and protect. It implies relating to those with whom I dwell and impacts the confidence with which I enter this great big world—that is, the fruit I produce. Be mindful with me: How do I impact those with whom I am connected? What is beautiful about those connections?

Wiki-Relating – Day Twenty-Seven

wisdom ts eliot

When I was in primary school the only way that I might quickly find information on a particular subject was to go to one of our bookshelves lined with maroon-ish colored hardbound volumes. Carefully spelling out the key word (the Ss were two volumes!) and it would take longer if one didn’t remember “i before e,” a paragraph or three could be found, perhaps alongside a diagram or picture. And that was all the information one really needed.

The first edition of Encyclopædia Britannica was published almost 200 years before I was born in 1768 by “a society of gentlemen in Scotland.” While encyclopedias have existed for over 2000 years—Marcus Terrentius Varro’s, Nine Books of Disciplines appeared c. 30BCE—these contained mainly collections of treaties on the natural sciences, histories, etc. Later collections would include religious and philosophical compendiums.

The French Encyclopédie—the first major collection to resemble modern volumes—was perceived as more French Enlightenment driven. Scotsmen, Collin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell envisioned the more conservative Britannica as countermeasure – organizing information, cross-referencing to provide a resource more accessible and to more people.

Fast forward to 1993 when Rick Gates proposes the first on-line encyclopedia. A free-as-in-freedom concept (vs. merely open source) was outlined by Richard Stallman the end of 2000. But it was Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger who finally launch Wikipedia in 2001, using Ward Cunningham’s 1995 technology and concept of the wiki. It has become one of the most frequently visited site with a recorded 18 billion page views in the month of August 2015 alone. As of November 2015 the English version contains over 5,000,000 articles.

And all of this information—not to mention the seemingly infinite content WWW-wide—is available with a touch to a smartphone. Anytime. Anywhere (well, with cell service and/or wireless connection). And when any child can look up whatever he or she wants to know, why would kids need to defer to adults as expert of anything? What is compelling about considering those older than me as worthy of special regard or respect? When they see how these same adults put a man who reasons as a toddler in our highest office, it’s a very good question.

How do I as a leader, someone entering into her second half-century (oy vey!) acquire the respect of those younger – when they can just look up a YouTube video that demonstrates mindfulness technique or breathing exercise? Or open an app to find the sense of a Hebrew word in context? What does it matter that I hold certifications in these subjects, or MAs in those or a Doctorate in that?

Perhaps the answer to these questions is as ancient as our oldest texts: relationship. Historically, vocations and information were imparted during the relational apprenticeship. The older, (presumably) wiser individual came alongside the younger person eager to learn the trade or gain knowledge in the discipline. Respect – authentic respect, vs. fear – is only earned, cannot be demanded. And it is hard-won in the context of trust-building relationship. This takes time. And relationships are not easy. They require commitment, a sort of covenant to see this agreement through. And persisting, choosing to remain to see the process through is the worthiest aim for respect.

It is more difficult than ever to forge relationships of this sort. Most young people are more content to communicate via smartphones and computers. As I type, my youngest son is “playing” with his best friend—while he remains in our living room and his friend mere blocks away. These 40 days of meditations are ways for me to process and work through how I might enter this new phase in my life. Some ideas have come to light, and processing with my dearest friend from college has been invaluable. Still, I would love to hear from others who have thoughts, comments, ideas, encouraging words. Perhaps you might like to join me?

Create Love, Not War – Day Twenty-Six

art is nonconformity

The history of humankind as resident on this earth depicts lands riddled with the puncture wounds of markers moved and the battles fought to place them. In 1967 alone, there were 67 conflicts underway. In Saigon the Second battle of Bàu Bàng went down in March, the ongoing Vietnam War advanced, Che Guevara’s Ñancahuazú Guerrilla, the people of Portuguese Guinea fought the Guinea-Bissau War of Independence, equality was at stake in the Chicago Freedom Movement, and the War over Water (Jordan river) was only one issue behind the Six-Day War over territory Israel and Arabs claimed—to name only a few.

A common theme underpinning these clashes is a human one: recognition of identity as part of a distinct community, and a desire for basic regard—the dignity—to freely live that out. Many were fights for independence from colonizing nations that were concerned more for their own interests than that of the people whose home they entered. Others pertained to the assertion of basic rights as human beings, rights that were not afforded them based on arbitrary indicators (skin color, religion, etc). And religion, well, the number of wars justified by religion cannot be quantified. Wars motivated by religion are most heinous because it assumes a god who would prefer one human being (or ethnic group) over another—and that preference implies the other is dispensable.

I recently finished a science-fiction trilogy (my guilty pleasure) that rather purposely speaks to societal structure in relationship to religious belief. The central character commented on whether members of one powerful group were gods, stating, “They are not. Gods create. If they are anything, they are vampire kings.” His point, rulers that suck the resources out of a place (or peoples) to prolong or enrich their own lives are no different from parasites. True, it is no easy thing to be part of organizing a society that honors the social contract while keeping basic human dignity in tact. War is easy. Peace is not.

Peace is ongoing, organic, necessitates effort, is hard work. It entails collaboration, cooperation, teamwork, listening. Cooperation assumes sharing, and sharing means giving something up for the good of all, so that those who have none may have some. The issue in war is always that someone is holding on to control, to power, unwilling to yield, disinclined to take the moments necessary to really see the other. Because once I see you, know you, I begin to love you. And if I love you, oh how I want to share with you in my life.

I began this entry because I was interested in the Israel-Palestine concern regarding boundary lines and the 1967 map frequently referenced these last few years. Obviously, I got a little sidetracked when I noticed there were so many other places that suffered over similar aims, as are so many current disputes equally significant to those affected. And I am increasingly concerned about a leadership that is so self-interested and preserving while there remain dire needs worldwide – and in our own country. And it is difficult to keep from wondering how this leadership can continue to be supported.

In my (nearly) 50 years of life, I still believe in a God that creates. I believe a God who communicates that making right relationship between God and us, and among us is God’s purpose—from the very first spark of creation to the kingdom of on earth as heaven revealed in all its fullness. I believe we are created to be for one another, that we have grown as people in technologies and the insight and knowledge of each other – that I am capable of seeing God’s character reflected in you and your culture. That by knowing you I know God more, and together we can more effectively, productively lead – collaboratively, creatively, peacefully. It is possible. With God, all things are. I believe that. Jesus, help my unbelief.

 

I write about one way to lead collaboratively in my book, found here.

Ordinary Time – Day Twenty-Five

ordinary time

The first time I ever cursed out loud I was about ten or eleven. I was hurt so badly by a friend, all I could think to do was use a phrase I heard others use—it contained nearly every curse word I knew. On the walk back home I repeated it over and again as a sort of incantation to purge the muck from my friend’s betrayal that almost threatened to choke me. By the time I returned home I felt even worse and I never repeated the phrase again.

The poet Marie Howe describes the force of poetry as like a counter spell to the mean girls’ curses and disparaging discourse. It is a way to use language to speak truth, but in a way that redeems the muck and discouragement that intrudes on our day. And it makes that reality accessible to others because it is human, it is lived experience, and my experience is not unique. Not really. There are millions of other women turning 50 this year. There are still more who struggle with purpose and identity and the exasperation that comes from feeling ineffectual, blundering through the day always feeling like I’m only keeping up. Hello everyone!

Howe routinely refers to Ordinary Time, the weeks that are not between the Holy days of the church. And while we currently reside in the 4th week of Easter, ordinary time teaches us to be present, to notice in the now, and be with it. So today I employ an exercise I’ve led others in, but always need reminding to do. This, with an added instruction from Marie Howe: notice 10 things today and describe them—not with metaphor, rather, see things as they are.

Ten Things On My Trip to the Pharmacy

A wasp dips and skitters back and forth under the eave overhanging my front porch.

A pleasant breeze, slightly warm but with a hint of chill, almost, but not quite comfortable.

Lining the street are trees just turned to leaf, each a faintly different hue—50 shades of green?

A car closes in on my rear, does my speedometer really display under the speed limit?

The branches on the side of a large tree bounce and sway, circular, as the wind swirls amid the bunches.

My eyes blur, a drop or two escape and slip down my cheek. I only just did my makeup. Well, good thing I have no appointments today.

Orange cones cluster around a large truck—in the very center of the intersection through which I must turn.

A car stops further back making space for my wide turn—my coffee sloshes close to the edge of my cup.

The church on the corner displays at the parking lot’s entrance a tall, thin, purple flag with the word “Welcome” in white—it posts next to a poll that last week displayed a sign with the words, “Church parking only. Violators will be towed. Strictly enforced.”

The clouds have made space for the sun’s rays making all the newly green places brighter, almost yellow. My spirit is brighter now, and if it were a color it would be this bright green.

Howe observes, “language is almost all we have left of action in the modern world.” With a majority of our discourse occurring in the stratosphere, noses to a smartphone, what we do is often not as morally substantial as what we say. I find this heartening. It is a powerful reminder the weight or influence my words might carry. Still, when all I really have right now is language, the words that flood my heart and convictions, it reassures me to think they might amend the worldview of another, if even a little.

So, what are ten things you notice today?

Girl With a Book – Day Twenty-Three

girl with a book

Mrs. Dumas was my 6th-grade teacher. She was kind but not gushy, at once generous and restrained. She had a sort of regal quality in her posture yet I always knew she was for her students, wanted all of us to succeed. My 6th-grade teacher taught with the qualities shown in my research as most effective: gender-neutral style leadership that is accepted and best understood by the majority. It was also in my 6th grade year that my father died, and I am grateful it was in her classroom that I spent the better part of those days. Mrs. Dumas was my favorite teacher and a key motivation behind my decision to study education in college.

Today we celebrate teachers – and that we have the privilege to educate our children irrespective of family income, ethnicity, gender or aptitude. It is also an excellent time to evaluate the quality of what’s on offer in our country. Not to disparage or bash, rather, to challenge. Because if there is no challenge, the situation remains the same. And if a system remains the same, does not evolve and grow, it will decay, it is entropy.

Malala Yousafzai’s is a stunning illustration of the power education extends to all that engage it. There remain too many places where education is not extended to all children—girls, specifically. Yousafzai is an exceptional advocate for these girls, and her fight is righteous, just. In the US, all citizens are afforded education so it is easy to become placid, disengaged, to allow the more subtle nefarious features of the educational system to continue. Lazy is easy. And it is easy to be pacified in a country that doesn’t have to fight for anything, or thinks, Why bother?

But if our country can elect a man into its leadership who thinks nothing of tweeting gender prejudiced comments about women, or dismisses lewd banter with jocund indifference, equality is far from certain. When in the US test scores in STEM subjects have closed the gender gap but employ females in those roles 29% of the time. And when they do enter those jobs they leave at quadrupled speed and occupy only 11% of their executive committees.

Women comprise only:

  • 2 percent of chemists
  • 1 percent of physicists and astronomers
  • 8 percent of environmental engineers
  • 7 percent of chemical engineers
  • 5 percent of civil, architectural, and sanitary engineers
  • 1 percent of industrial engineers
  • 7 percent of electrical or computer hardware engineers
  • 9 percent of mechanical engineers

A major factor is the hostility women receive from the male counterparts. Another is, I believe, the most insidious factor: jokes and comments. We hear them. We laugh at them. We (seemingly) dismiss them. We internalize them. We MUST be more mindful of how we use our words.

Girls_Math

So, perhaps we might consider a nudge to someone who tells a sexist joke, or take a moment before relegating a certain behavior to an entire gender. Our words matter—commission. Our silence matters—omission. I believe in a God that creates, who loves all and without qualification, conditions. I believe that Jesus came to right wrongs, to elevate those laid low, and to bring back to earth the elevated. And I believe that this Trinitarian God commissioned me to be a part of that, filled me with the power to do something about it, and is with me to be in my space and time – to perfect it. But it cannot be accomplished in isolation. It is a communal enterprise. Who else believes this with me?

Concrete Cancer and Discrimination – Day Twenty-Two

concrete imperfect strength

Reinforced concrete was once called “liquid stone.” It is made of a combination of three main ingredients: 65% aggregates such as sand, gravel, crushed rock, recycled glass; 10-15% cement (calcium silicates and aluminates); and 15-20% water: and was invented in 1867 by Joseph Monier. The word “concrete” is derived from the Latin concretus that means, “grow together.” The crushed stone and gravel are mixed with the cement and water. And as the water hydrates the cement, the silicates grow and crystalize binding the strong rock powder, making it stronger than it was in the first state. By continuing to wet the mixture the binders grow further, strengthening the mass still more.

Interesting, the crystals are not crystalline as such, rather a more random structure (much like glass) that traps air pockets. In this way, this super strong concrete mass is also flexible. By adding twisted strands of steel—reinforcing bar, or rebar—the concrete already strong when compressed now maintains tension strength, reinforcing it against cracks. The composite consists of imperfect crushed debris, held together with a binder that strengthens in imperfect configurations, and needs to be watered in order to grow in strength. Insert chords of steel and it will take on pressure and stress with aplomb.

But sometimes alkalis in the cement will react to silica in the binders that cause the “crystals” to grow more slowly and leave the concrete more vulnerable to cracks. Water can more easily seep into the hardened concrete, reach the steel and promote rust. The resulting pools of rust are referred to as “concrete cancer.”

This process, as you might guess, reminds me of community, the Body of Christ. We are the imperfectly shaped crushed rock and glass that actually make the whole combination stronger. The binding agent is the relationship that builds between us, imperfect bonds, randomly formed, at once strengthened and flexible. God waters. A tri-chord rebar is Christ, or the Trinity – either works in this metaphor – supports the pressure and tension. But we react to one another and cause division, cancerous to a community. Cracks evolve and the concrete-community breaks apart, no longer useful—in fact, damaging to anything attempting to traverse it.

This week Lysander is performing his debate on the importance of Feminism. We worked on his slides this past weekend. It is just so aggravating to me that though the Equal Rights Amendment was first written in 1923, and the first feminist convention gathered 75 years before, in 1848 (initiated by two Quakers, James and Lucreia Mott), we still have no ERA to our Constitution. There is still a gendered wage gap (even after all confounding factors removed), the US is 1 of 4 countries (of 189!!!) that has no parental leave policy, and rape and sexual harassment has increased exponentially with new technologies!

paid parental leave

It only takes a tiny crack for water to seep in and begin the chain reaction that leads to concrete cancer, ultimately destroying the foundation. I believe inequality is an alkali-silica reaction that slows growth and weakens community, the Body of Christ. Whether or not you feel directly impacted by this malignance does not alter the reality of its existence.

on line harrassment

There are many things we do to promote justice, to make things right in this world. The easiest is to hashtag and tweet, share Facebook articles and heart an Instagram post. But not much of substance happens until real action takes place. One suggestion I found while helping Lysander with his research is that we need to hold our social media platforms accountable for inconsistently responding to sexual harassment complaints and failing to remove memes that champion violence against women. Another, is to just be way more involved in each other’s lives, particularly our children, and notice what they are posting, what others are posting to them on social media. Perhaps the biggest issue is that we don’t always know the extent to which harm is being done if we are not directly affected. And perhaps I do not always know how my split-second text might actually came across to the recipient.

So, here is a start: will you practice mindfulness texting (tweeting, commenting) with me?

Read the text (email, comment, tweet).

Breathe in the presence of Jesus.

Breathe out my first reactions. See it for what it is.

Breathe in the wisdom of the Spirit, the Love of God’s unending grace.

Breathe out a blessing over the sender of the note.

Write a response and maybe repeat the last four steps before sending.

Cinco de Mayo (aka, 3 weeks before I turn 50) – Day Nineteen

cinco de mayo sam

A century before I was born, a noteworthy event transpired in another part of the world. It is directly related to Mexico’s victory over the French occupying forces at the Battle of Puebla that Cinco de Mayo commemorates. Though that battle did not give Mexico decisive freedom from Napoleon IIIs occupation, it was a significant turn toward that end. The Mexican army was outnumbered 2 to 1 and under qualified; still, they crushed the French army on May 5, 1862. It is speculated that if the French did win at Puebla they would transfer forces to aid the Confederate cause in the US. Instead, Mexico held on following the win, and after the Civil War’s end, the US offered political and military aid to Mexico ensuring they would wrest a final freedom from French occupation June 5, 1867 – cinco de Junio!

These Independent-Study history lessons continue a common theme: everything changes. nothing changes. Whether it is a significant incident in the year of my birth, or 100 years before it, when society does not collectively remember its history, hubris – or despair – catalyze a repeat. Friends are only friends until the friendship is no longer useful. Or, uncomfortable. Or, becomes embarrassing. Or, horror of all horrors, costly.

But friendship is inherently costly—whether between individuals, communities, or countries—because it is only friendship when each gives up the self. Voluntarily. Out of love. In solidarity with the other. And love does not come with conditions. Anyone who has ever been to a wedding has heard 1 Corinthian 13. But love is not just for those who marry. Indeed, marriage is symbolic of our relationship with God. It is symbolic of our covenant with one another to regard the other with dignity, as one created in the image of the God of all that is created – and not yet.

cinco de mayo nik

In (nearly) 50 years, what has changed because I exist in this world? What remains the same because I lack courage? My mother gave me a Bible at an important time in my life. She included a verse on the opening page – what felt to me as a prophetic blessing: “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh1:9)

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Or dismayed. I can – and must – be a part of making things right in this world. It is what makes me human. One of those ways is to stand in solidarity with my neighbors and friends from Mexico whose dignity is disregarded. Today this is what I remember to be, and that having lived (nearly) half a century I am not finished. But the courageous are only thus when in the company of others who do the same. Are you in?