Notre Dame, Notre Coeur, Notre Ame

Standard

556629-istock-852755038_primaryThe sight of the venerable Parisian cathedral Notre Dame on fire filled onlookers around the world with horror and sorrow. Unlike most of the disasters that make news worldwide, this one thankfully involved no loss of life. And yet the dismay so many of us felt on Monday as centuries-old treasures of art, architecture, and religion threatened to go up in flames was only too real.

Across the Seine, the crowd broke into spontaneous prayer and hymns as they watched smoke billow up from the spire of the medieval cathedral. To imagine a Paris without the iconic edifice complete with gargoyles and flying buttresses was, well, unthinkable. Notre Dame is one of the most visited landmarks in the world. Hundreds of people have been posting photos and memories of their own visits to Notre Dame since its very existence became imperiled Monday. The wealth of art and the breathtaking feat of engineering that has held up the 12th Century structure for so long are irresistible for art lovers, historians, and even casual tourists.

But Notre Dame is first and foremost a monument to the Catholic faith and the devotion of its followers who risked life and limb to build such a beautiful and imposing structure.  Catholics hold a special place in our hearts for Mary, “Our Lady.” No doubt many Catholics fervently begged Our Lady to intercede with Christ to save her namesake church.

I have nothing but admiration for the tireless efforts of firefighters to contain the blaze and limit the damage to Notre Dame. Much in the same way as the builders of Notre Dame in the Middle Ages, these courageous Parisians risked their lives to save a building. Luckily only one firefighter was injured while working to put out the flames. Still, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of divine intervention in saving the venerable cathedral.

The fire at Notre Dame has brought public awareness to three other fires that occurred in the past two weeks at historically black churches in Louisiana. The fires were no accidents, however. They were incidents of arson, and a white man has been charged with hate crimes in connection with the destruction of the three historic places of worship. A Go Fund Me campaign has since raised $1 million for reconstruction.

All of this has occurred in the midst of the Lenten season and Holy Week, the preparatory 6 days before Easter, the Christian celebration of resurrection and new life. In the past few weeks the flames of hatred and destruction have raged. On Saturday night, the flame of the Easter Candle will be lit at churches all around the world to symbolize the return of the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.

The response to the fires in Louisiana and Paris, whether religious or secular, has shown that the human spirit will always rise up to champion goodness, beauty, and hope. A fitting message for the Easter season and the arrival (finally!) of spring.

 

Advertisements

The Pendulum Swings

Standard

Unknown-2

The Waitrose candy company has had to apologize for releasing a dark chocolate Easter duck called “Ugly.” People took to Twitter to complain about the name for one of a trio of candy ducklings, the others being named “Fluffy” and “Crispy.” (Jack Guy, “Store withdraws chocolate ducklings over racism complaint,” cnn.com, April 9, 2019) Such is the state of race relations in modern society.

For literally hundreds of years, people of color have had to fight against the perception that their skin color makes them less than: less intelligent, less moral, less human. Blacks who could “pass” for white used their skin color to their advantage while at the same time feeling they were betraying their own people. In the Sixties, the slogan “Black is beautiful” began to reclaim the dignity and power of African-Americans. The Civil Rights movement made great strides towards equality for people of color, but racism continues to persist.

In recent years, the Black Lives Matter movement has shed light on continuing racial bias, particularly in the area of law enforcement. The shooting of black suspects, the mass incarceration of minorities and differential sentencing based on skin color have all rightly been the targets of vociferous protest. But increasingly, litmus tests to determine how “woke” a person is threaten to trivialize the very real threats that racism still poses in our society.

Social norms are like a pendulum that veers wildly from right to left. In the bad old days, African-Americans were called “colored,” expected to be nothing more than servants or laughable minstrels. It was considered funny, not appalling, to don blackface. I recently listened to a Malcolm Gladwell podcast about the entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr., and how he had to swallow so much casual racism just to make it in the world of entertainment. Gladwell includes a snippet of a Shriners Club roast given to Sammy. His so-called friend Dean Martin rattles off a series of horribly racist jokes at Sammy’s expense: references to watermelon-eating and even lynching. And the worst part? Sammy has to laugh at it all to be part of the club.

Today the pendulum is arcing far to the left, and every instance that might potentially be seen as racist is put under the microscope and dissected on social media. Does the hapless naming of a candy duck indicate a deep-seated prejudice towards dark skin? It might. I do think that little things – habits of speech in particular – affect the way in which we perceive the world around us. If the references to the ducks had been sexist, I would have been annoyed. But I worry that focusing on these minor issues will create a backlash and hamper progress in social justice.

Let’s hope the swinging of the pendulum begins to slow and that people of all ethnicities, social classes, and skin colors can feel equally valued and respected in our culture.

 

Come Together

Standard

ct-1554328063-rpwukrzdqm-snap-image
(photo from Chicago Tribune)

On Tuesday night, there was cause for jubilation in my hometown. Voters finally approved a major referendum to fix and modernize our old, crumbling high schools. It was the third attempt in three years to raise funds for the purpose of bringing our highly ranked high schools into the 21st Century.

What made the difference on Tuesday was the sustained, enthusiastic, and concerted effort of hundreds of citizens in our school district. My next door neighbor spearheaded the “Yes” campaign, so I had a front row seat to all her organizing and mobilizing the troops: both to win hearts and minds to the cause and to motivate people to get out and vote in a spring election, when turnout has been historically low.

The campaign was a heartening lesson in community strength and power. At campaign events I attended, there was a spirit of fun and camaraderie. Through our success, we learned that we are strongest when we work together towards a common goal. And the glow of victory remains on the faces of people I see in town every day. It’s not just the satisfaction of winning; it’s the feeling of connectedness. Without a struggle to pass the referendum, I’m not sure we would have that sense of oneness today.

Elsewhere in Chicagoland and across the country, history was being made by people who have historically been at the margins of society. Chicago elected its first black female mayor, one who also happens to be openly gay. And she was not the only gay candidate to win an election that day. Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, there has been a groundswell of activism that has resulted in the election of more women, gays, Muslims, and other minority candidates than ever before at the local, state, and federal levels. This may not seem like a big deal to the younger generation, but I remember when John F. Kennedy was considered a questionable candidate because he was Catholic!

The power of individuals coming together cannot be overestimated. Not only can people further the causes about which they feel passionate, but they can develop a sense of togetherness, a feeling that we can depend on each other and bring out the best in each other. That has certainly happened in my own small community. It gives me hope for the future.

Let’s Stop ABiden Sexist Behavior

Standard

joe-biden-stephanie-carterI believe Joe Biden when he says his touchy feely behavior with women is not sexual. To my knowledge, no one has come forward to claim Biden touched them sexually or planted an unwanted kiss on the lips. That doesn’t mean Joe Biden should get a pass for his “handsy” behavior.

Joe’s penchant for leaning over women, putting his hands on their heads or shoulders, and occasionally kissing the tops of their heads is an inappropriate and sexist tendency by a patrician male – one that no man would tolerate having done to him either in public or private.

Biden’s behavior with women is patronizing and condescending. The familiarity of touching a person in this way is a method of asserting dominance. It’s what an adult might do with a young child: squeeze her shoulders, ruffle his hair, plant a kiss on the head or cheek. Imagine Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaning over President Obama at his desk in the Oval Office and giving his shoulders a squeeze. It just wouldn’t happen.

When a man in a position of authority is overly familiar with a woman, it’s just plain sexist. He would never treat a man in his employ or in his sphere of influence that way. Men meet each other on mutual footing. They may engage in lateral back-slapping or a quick man-to-man embrace. But head-patting or shoulder rubbing from behind? Uh uh.

I have nothing against Joe Biden or his potential presidential bid. I do have something against the way he manhandles women. It displays a lack of respect for women as equals. Whatever his views on legal aspects of women’s equality, I’d like to see Biden – and all males for that matter – personally treat women as colleagues, not pets.

Jussie and Donald – Flip Sides of Same Coin

Standard

Unknown-1

Two surprising things happened this week. First of all, the completed Mueller report supposedly found no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Even more surprising, all charges were dropped against Empire cast member Jussie Smollett for faking a hate crime. While the factions of people who support either of these two men could not be more different, the wheels of justice actually turn for them in exactly the same way.

Donald Trump has gotten a pass on allegations of sexual harassment and assault, unscrupulous and fraudulent business dealings, and the use of campaign funds to pay off porn stars. His clear attempts to derail the investigation into Russian collusion have been treated as rightful exercises of executive privilege. Why has Trump gotten away with vilifying war heroes, mocking the disabled, and denigrating women? He is a powerful celebrity and has friends in high places. For heaven’s sake, he’s got an entire news organization in his corner, deflecting his misdeeds right and left like a tennis ace and redirecting the outrage at their perennial whipping post, Hillary Clinton.

Smollett also has friends in high places who worked on his behalf to help him wriggle out of detestable and criminal actions that would send ordinary people to prison. I’m sure his two days of community service were wrenching and difficult, and that $10,000 forfeit of his bond must have hurt terribly, since he reportedly only makes 6-10 times that per episode on Empire. Not even the lead prosecutor is claiming Smollett to be innocent. Still, we can’t have our celebrities do jail time, can we?

It amuses me that people are calling for the heads of Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin and other rich parents who schemed and cheated to get their kids into elite colleges and universities. They were only doing what well-connected people do: leverage their money/influence/celebrity to get ahead and, when their misdeeds become public, weasel out of them.

There have been exceptions, of course. Martha Stewart did time for lying about her financial dealings. And Bill Cosby was actually convicted and sent to prison for sexual assault. But for the most part, rich and famous people just get away with behaving badly.

There are still investigations pending about the business dealings of Trump and his children. I’m skeptical that anything will come of them. We have a different set of rules for the famous and well-connected. Until that changes, we can assume Lady Justice is peeking under that blindfold.

The Partisan Divide

Standard

images-1

At another time in history, I think it’s safe to say most Americans would have reacted with horror to a black celebrity reporting that he had been the victim of a hate crime, one in which he was beaten, taunted, and had a noose put around his neck. I think it’s also safe to say most Americans would then have been outraged to discover that the celebrity had faked the incident to help his stature in Hollywood. At another time in history, all Americans would have been horrified to discover that a member of the U.S. Coast Guard had been planning to massacre scores of civilians.

In both of these recent instances, partisanship took the place of common sense and a common humanity. On the one hand, liberals were all too ready to pounce upon the strange tale told by Jussie Smollett, a cast member on the TV series Empire. Incensed by a rise in hate crimes that is only too real, they assumed that this was another case of Trump supporters run amok. In the case of Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, President Trump and his fellow conservatives have been strangely loath to condemn this instance of domestic terrorism. Why? The supposed targets of Hasson’s rage were Democrats and members of the media.

It has come to a pretty pass when everything that happens in our country falls on one side or other of the giant partisan divide that makes Trump’s proposed “big, beautiful wall” on the Texas/Mexico border look like a puny Lego structure. Mind you, this partisanship has been around for a long time. Republicans resisted when the Nixon Administration was investigated and ultimately disgraced by the Watergate scandal. Similarly, Democrats bristled at the charges against Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

But our knee jerk reactions just seem to be worse these days. Maybe it’s the influence of social media and the widespread dissemination of stories online that is responsible for cycles of outrage and partisanship. It takes just a few clicks on a keyboard for any average Joe to become an instant pundit on Facebook or Twitter. Twitter in particular is like a loose handgun sitting around waiting for someone with a hair trigger temper to pick it up and start shooting.

What is it going to take to bring our country together? I pray that it won’t be something devastating like the 9/11 attacks. In the wake of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in our history, we were mostly just Americans, not Democrats or Republicans. Sure, there were disagreements about the incursion into Iraq that grew out of that terrorist attack. But overall, Americans of both parties came together to protect our country against further attacks.

The actions of Jussie Smollett and Lt. Hasson are alleged. Both have been charged with crimes, but in our justice system they are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law. That does not stop anyone from speculating, pontificating, or generally being a know-it-all about their motives, character, and guilt.

It would behoove all of us to get off our high horses and take the time to listen, learn and try to appreciate the nuances of an issue, to pause and get all the facts before jumping to conclusions. Yes, it’s important to speak out against injustice. But we need to view ourselves as human beings first, Americans second, and partisans dead last. Otherwise our fractured country will continue to break apart in a massive case of partisan continental drift.

The Dreaded “S” Word

Standard

ss_socialistI can tell the Republican Party is a bit desperate when they start raising the specter of their favorite bugaboo: Socialism. Ever since the midterm elections ushered in a new crop of legislators, many of them Democratic women and minorities, the GOP has characterized their ideas as socialist and pointed to Venezuela as their supposed governmental model.

It doesn’t help that Donald Trump has persisted with his wall folly despite the refusal of Congress to approve it. Or that Robert Mueller keeps getting closer and closer to the president in his investigation of collusion with the Russians in the 2016 election. Trump even has other Republicans challenging him for the nomination in 2020, something almost unheard of for a sitting president. The GOP needs a distraction.

So it’s time to start bashing Democrats for their sappy ideals of fair wages, health care for all, and saving the planet from the effects of climate change.

The problem is that Americans want a certain amount of government intervention to counter the effects of unbridled capitalism. Even my right wing husband, for instance, is in favor of anti-trust legislation. The New Deal gave Americans security after the Great Depression, and nowadays we take for granted that in our old age we will be able to rely on Medicare and Social Security to get us through. These may be “socialist” programs, but they are recognized by pretty much everyone to be necessary safety nets for our citizens.

Even Donald Trump ran for office promising to rein in prescription drug prices, a laudable goal but one that hardly smacks of free market capitalism. Yet common sense tells us that it’s not okay for Mylan to jack up the price of an EpiPen to $500. Lately the price of insulin, a common life-saving drug for diabetics, has shot up, jeopardizing people’s savings and even lives. Do we really not want the government to step in?

Another Democratic proposal that is being skewered by Republicans is the Green New Deal, which conservatives hate not only because it is “socialist” but because it is being touted by a fiery Millennial woman who is so not one of them. The Green New Deal is really a policy statement more than a proposed law. It acknowledges that without drastic reductions in carbon emissions in the next decade, our world is in for major destruction and upheaval.

As for health care, well, Republicans have been trying to take “Obamacare” away from people for the past 9 years, but the American public is not having it. Like the New Deal programs of Social Security and Medicare, health care coverage for all Americans is seen as a right, not a privilege. It’s worth some government intervention to establish a system wherein all Americans have access to affordable health care. We can debate whether the best way to go about that is Medicare for all or some private/public combination. But there is little doubt among Americans that health care should be affordable and accessible.

We are not heading in the direction of a socialist Venezuelan-style dictatorship. Ironically, Donald Trump, with his disdain for the Constitution and the free press, his propensity for befriending despots, and his need for unquestioning loyalty and adulation, veers dangerously close to a would-be dictator himself.

The role of government in a democracy will always be a subject for debate and compromise. Our freedoms are constantly being balanced against our needs for safety and well-being. Democrats and Republicans will not always agree about how best t o maintain that balance. But hurling the “S” word at Democrats is not a particularly productive way to have the necessary debates.

Republicans are trying to scare Americans in order to regain their stranglehold on power in Congress. Despite his glaring shortcomings, they continue to stand by Donald Trump and his politics of division. But today’s Democrats are not that easily cowed. Their vision for a better, more fair America is one to be proud of, not to retreat from. So call them Socialists all you want. I predict those so-called socialists are poised to do great things for our country.