Red Rock Review

Red Rock Review

I’m holding in my hot little hands the Spring 2015 issue (#35) of the Red Rock Review, a literary journal from the College of Southern Nevada. Red Rock Review is notable for publishing such luminaries as Marge Piercy and now yours truly. Check it out, page 71, “Dreams,” a short piece of what might be called fiction. Long-time readers of this blog may be intrigued to know this story/essay had its genesis back in 2006, during a two-week inner vacation which I wrote about in somewhat vague and mysterious terms. It took over eight years to bear fruit, a long gestation. This is my first time in print, I think, and certainly in a literary journal of this caliber. I’ve also got work coming out in a couple anthologies later this year. The question remains, how best to leverage this into something more? What next?

PS: You can get a copy of the Red Rock Review from their website. Copies of “Dreams” are available from the author for a song.

A Natural Extension

Corlita

I was honored to stand with over a dozen parents, teachers, and former board members, to speak in support of the Morris Jeff United Educators at the board meeting yesterday. Here’s what I said.

I’m speaking today to express my enthusiastic support for the formation, or perhaps I should say the re-formation, of a teachers’ union at Morris Jeff.

As you are all very much aware, Morris Jeff Community School as we currently know it was born, or perhaps I should say reborn, after the flooding of New Orleans, during the recovery process, as a grassroots effort toward the recovery and rebuilding of our city.

It was inspirational to bear witness to this process. Engaged citizens took on an awesome task, self-organizing for a better future, talking to one another, sharing information and taking action. This was a pattern I saw repeated again and again throughout my neighborhood, and in neighborhood after neighborhood across the city. But this effort was special, a sterling example of democracy in action. As a result, we have a fine school, and I’m proud to say that my my daughter is currently on her way to completing her third year here.

In my view, the process of teachers getting self-organized is a natural extension of the very process that gave birth to the school. A teachers’ union embodies the principles of grassroots democracy, organizing from the bottom-up, and I am fully in support of this in broad general concept, as I feel will yield many positive results for our children. I encourage the board to look favorably on recognition of the union and to enter into negotiations as appropriate.

Additional information:

Morris Jeff teacher’s union ask to enter a collective bargaining agreement with school board (Mid-City Messenger)

OWNing LCMS

Cross

I wanted to know more about the historical context of the faith in which I was raised. So I got hold of A History of Lutheranism by Eric W. Gritsch. It offered a bit more detail than I needed, so that I ended up skimming large sections, but nonetheless I found it a fascinating volume, and I think my understanding has been enriched.

The book covers the birth of a reform movement within the Roman Catholic Church in the early 16th century, its growth and consolidation in the years that followed, and the eventual emergence of a distinct Lutheran identity. The book goes on to detail Lutheran orthodoxy in the 17th century, the subsequent swing toward Pietism throughout the 18th century, the diversification of the movement, and a summation of developments in the last hundred years.

Some of the lurid details of Pietism are especially riveting; I’m making a note to myself to learn more about the Moravian Brethren and the Seitenhöhlchen-Kult. This is some weird wild stuff.

While such subjects have a certain sensationalistic appeal, the opposite end of the spectrum is much more relevant to me personally. I was particularly struck by the “quest for pure doctrine,” a driving force in Lutheran orthodoxy which continues today. It’s stunning to realize how much human time and effort have been expended on theological disputes. While many of these quarrels seem like hair-splitting, I can recognize this fervid thirst for truth and correctness in my own self even now.

This connection runs through the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (aka LCMS) which was formed in 1847 right here in North America. This is the denomination in which I was raised, noted for its “aggressive Lutheran confessional and biblicist stance,” a doctrinal conservatism which I now understand goes back for centuries. How conservative? According to Gritsch, LCMS journals have contended that “there is no development of doctrine since the Reformation.”

If contemporary Lutheranism has any image in the popular mind at all, it’s probably of a gloomy blandness derived from Garrison Keillor’s stories of Lake Wobegon. I hasten to point out that those are Scandinavian Lutherans, probably Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). Though I have Norwegian heritage and a deep affinity for Nordic culture, my sense of the LCMS is much more Germanic, and the corresponding emphasis is on precision rather than gloom.

This desire for precision manifests in the quest for pure doctrine. “By 1929,” Gritsch writes, “it had become clear that the Missouri Synod suspected all other Lutheran synods of false teaching.” The divide between ELCA and LCMS represents the biggest rift in American Lutheran tradition. ELCA is distinctly more liberal than LCMS. I gather Dr. Gritsch was ELCA, so I’m sure the LCMS is untroubled when he writes that “Lutheran unity, fifty years overdue, will come eventually because Missouri cannot forever escape the implications of its own confession.”

According to the LCMS perspective, it’s an open question whether ELCA is even a real Lutheran church. After all, the ELCA holds that the Bible may contain historical and scientific errors. They tolerate homosexuality, and they even ordain women! That would never fly in the LCMS of my youth.

That’s why it was so surprising for me to learn of a movement in the LCMS called Ordain Women Now (OWN). This is an effort to promote discussion within the LCMS about the ordination of women, and as the name suggests, they are actively advocating for the same. Female pastors — in the LCMS? My mind boggles.

In fact, OWN is just part of a broader movement for gender justice in a number of faith traditions, including Roman Catholicism and the Latter-Day Saints. There’s an interfaith coalition called Equal in Faith that’s gotten organized to call attention to these efforts. They are all working to transform their traditions into something more just and equitable.

I’m of a divided mind about all this. I’m absolutely in support of gender equity, which is a crucially important issue, but I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would want to stay in a tradition where they didn’t feel fully respected. Then again, I left the LCMS a long time ago; I have too many fundamental disagreements, and separation was the only option for me. I’m very happy to be a member of a local group in which gender equity is a bedrock assumption, but it’s a long way from LCMS to Lamplight Circle.

Anyhow, even though I may not fully comprehend it, I want to express my solidarity with this movement. Therefore I hope to participate in the 2015 Fast for Gender Equality, which is taking place on International Women’s Day. That’s this Sunday, 8 March, 2015. There are interfaith gatherings scheduled in at least twenty cities across three continents, and one’s right here in New Orleans. (Here’s a flyer for the local event.)

Good luck to those on the front lines of this struggle. From everything I know about patriarchy, you’ll need it. But your cause is just, and I’m pulling for you.

References

A History of Lutheranism by Eric W. Gritsch

Ordain Women Now (LCMS)

Ordain Women (LDS)

Women’s Ordination Conference (RC)

Equal in Faith (interfaith)

Authority Vested: A Story of Identity and Change in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod by Mary Todd

These Past Years

Self Collage Prototype 1

It’s 2015, and we’re halfway through this decade. My 48th birthday has come and gone. Having been born in January, my years have always lined up with the calendar. I find myself reflecting on my last five years.

sammerz.ru promokod letoile

My body has begun to show signs of wear and tear. When I turned 43, my body still felt young, but shortly thereafter the long slow decline into decrepitude began. I would still qualify myself as fairly fit, and I’m grateful for my good health. But there’s no denying that I ain’t what I used to be. My thinning hair is proof enough.

It’s been a time of spiritual reawakening for me. I’ve written about this process extensively, yet I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface. It’s also been a time of artistic renewal. I’m finally writing some long-deferred projects, and I’ve actually got three pieces coming out in print this year. I’ve also been exhibiting photography: you can see my work on the wall of Skewer Gallery at Kebab.

My favorite so far is a collage I call “Native/Non-Native.”

Native/Non-Native

The years have started to run together. Ask me about any year from 1985 to 2010 and I could tell you exactly what was going on in my life. Ask me about one of these recent years and I have to think for a moment. My memory’s changing, yes, but also it’s matter of settling into some rhythms and patterns. It’s a good thing, I think, but it confounds calendrical differentiation.

Which is kind of funny, because in fact 2014 was perhaps the most well-defined and documented year of my entire life. I started keeping a journal on the first day of 1984. On the first day of 2014, I realized I’d never been as consistent in my journal-writing as I was that first year. I’ll be damned if I let that 17-year-old punk get the better of me. I vowed to do better in 2014, and I did — 364 journal entries. I missed only one day.

Over the year of 2014 I also reviewed what I’d written on each day in past years. It was a year of intensive introspection and retrospection. I know myself better. Or perhaps I should say “myselves,” as despite my ardent desire for continuity, I can no longer deny it: I’m not the same person I was. These collages represent my multiplicity of selves.

Self Collage Prototype 2

Which do you prefer: the one at the top or the one at the bottom? (The one in the middle has a different raison d’être entirely.) Which is the better self-portrait?

It’s been an amazing journey, this life, and especially these last five years, and if it ended tomorrow I would die happy, but I certainly don’t want to die tomorrow. I’ve got a lot left to do.

Dear Stefano Pessina

Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.
108 Wilmot Road
Deerfield, IL 60015

9 January 2015

For the attention of Stefano Pessina
Executive Vice Chairman Responsible for Strategy and Mergers and Acquisitions

Dear Stefano,

Let me be amongst the first to congratulate you on the recent coup. That Wasson guy was a fly in the gravy, but now that he’s out of the way, nothing will impede your progress. They say you’re just a temp while Walgreens looks for a new CEO, but I see you hanging around awhile. It’s a global empire now, and you’re sitting on top of the world. Make it last, that’s my advice.

I’ve always admired the ruthless efficiency of your Alliance Boots outfit. I guess that’s why you have your HQ in Switzerland. Lord knows your native Italy isn’t exactly famed for this sort of thing, at least not since that Mussolini guy made the trains run on time. The Swiss do have a flair for order, don’t they? And those tax rates — so reasonable! I know the Walgreens board got a little squeamish at the prospect of relocating to the Alps, but I’m sure under your leadership they’ll come to see the light! Obama can talk about “economic patriotism” but we all know he just wants to hold corporations captive and force them to pay higher taxes to advance his socialist agenda!! It’s getting so I don’t recognize my own country any more. Switzerland is the new America!!!

Enough with the pleasantries. Let me get down to brass tacks. The real reason I’m writing is this silly drive-through policy at Walgreens: no pedestrians or bicycles allowed. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Anti-American, even! A man of your sophisticated European sensibilities will see that in a moment.

No Bikes or Pedestrians Allowed

You see, Stefano, I’m not a jet-setter like you. I’m a humble man of the people, just riding my bike around the streets of New Orleans. And let me tell you, these are some mean streets. That’s why I’m so aggravated about the anti-bike policy. I’m out there risking my dome daily, only to roll up at Walgreens and be denied service? On grounds of safety? Sheer madness! Never mind the streets, what about the Walgreens parking lot? You should see how these crazed Americans drive! It’s like the Indy 500 out there.

If we really want to protect the safety of the customer, there is only one sane solution, and that’s to ban automobiles from the premises. I’m sure you see the wisdom of such a scheme, Stef. Cars are dangerous. Besides which, as we all know, my fellow countrymen tend toward the hefty side these days. Americans could use a little more exercise. You’d be doing us all a favor.

So how about it, pal: Any chance you could get this policy reversed?

Sincerely and respectfully,

Bart Everson

Happy Lammas

John Barleycorn Must Die

When is Lammas anyhow? Though usually observed on August 1, I recently learned that August 6 is known as “Old Lammas.” I think that might be because the midway point between solstice and equinox tends to fall on this day, though technically this year it’s on August 7 at 9:05 AM, Central Time. Further complicating matters is the old tradition of beginning a holiday observance at sundown the night before, which means you could get started as early as July 31.

As for me, I got started even earlier than that, working on this essay: “How Lammas Changed My Life.” Please give it a read.

The confusion of dates should really present no problem. It allows a full week to celebrate. Keep trying until you get it right!

My Typical Day (five year update)

Five years ago I wrote an account of my typical day. A lot has changed since then, so I thought I’d revisit the topic. Here’s what my typical day looks like now.

We wake up to the sound of music, a long slow fade-in that starts at 5:45 AM. Sometimes I set my phone alarm even earlier so I can jog, but if not I tend to lie in bed zoning in and out of consciousness for about half an hour, listening to the morning mix. If I recall any dreams I write them down, though I don’t seem to remember many dreams these days. Meanwhile Xy has gotten up and gone downstairs. She’s usually still drinking her morning coffee and watching The Daily Show or The Colbert Report on her laptop by the time I get down there. I’d rather not see (or hear) any video in the morning, but you gotta pick your battles, people.

I’m responsible for breakfast — and lunch. I slice some bread for sandwiches, and cook up a mess of scrambled eggs with baby kale or spinach. Once Xy gets her hair in rollers, she runs back upstairs to get the girl. The three of us eat breakfast together, listening to music and talking about whatever’s in the newspaper and our plans for the day.

Eventually we’re all dressed and ready. Xy almost always departs first; the girl and I get on the bike shortly thereafter, unless it’s raining, in which case she gets a ride with a neighboring schoolmate.

As we ride through the streets of Mid-City, at some point, the girl almost always asks me the same question: “So, what do you want to play?” We might pretend to be almost anything, usually fantastical imaginary creatures of some sort.

We always greet “our” tree as we pass it along Bayou St. John. As we pass the post office, the girl often pretends to retrieve a letter, which invariably proves to be from the principal of her school, inviting her to attend a fantastical imaginary academy of some sort. It might be a school for animals of every variety, for example. Lately there’s been a big emphasis on potion classes.

Once we get to school I brush out her hair, which has gotten tangled on the ride, and install her headband. We say farewell to each other with a hug and a kiss. If the weather permits, there’s a big all-school morning meeting outside. If my schedule permits, I stick around for this. I listen to the students sing their weekly song together, as well as other announcements and awards. When they get ready to pledge the flag I take that as my cue to depart.

As I ride along the bayou toward campus, often something will catch my eye. I’ll take a photo and share it to various social networks.

Morning Bag

I make a point to stop by “our” tree as I pass it again. This is where the girl got her name back in 2008, the tree we blessed last November. I’ve been stopping here for a morning reflection for years now, as permitted by my varying routine. Sometimes I’ll do a formal meditation, but often I’ll just commune with the tree, noting its presence, noting any changes, maybe giving it a squeeze. Yes, I’m one of those “tree huggers” you’ve heard about. If there’s trash around, I pick it up.

At last I make it to campus. When I walk in the door, Olivia always asks me, “How are you?” It sounds ridiculous, but I have to remind myself that this is something humans call “small talk” and that I am not required to do a deep soul-searching analysis in response.

I have a couple floor pillows in my office which I use for a brief meditation. I’ve got iTunes rigged to play the stream from home after ten minutes.

If I’m drinking coffee, I have a cup. Generally I drink coffee only during the cold half of the year. I never make coffee these days; Olivia handles that. If I’m not drinking coffee, I’ll make myself a cup of tea.

This year I’m spending a few minutes each morning recalling and reviewing what I’ve done on this particular day in the past. I find it to be an interesting exercise.

I spend a fair amount of time sitting in front of a computer, staring at this giant monitor. Often I’ll don headphones and listen to the stream from home. Yes, it’s the same stream that started my day, but it’s hardly the same music. The program is constantly shifting. By the time I’ve left the house it’s strictly ambient. Around 10 AM it switches over to an eclectic mix. Around noon some longer pieces come on, followed by a series of programs which might be called “Anything but Pop/Rock!”, “World Folk Tribe,” and “Pop Exploration.” I’ve got this all automated now, through a combination of iTunes smart playlists, wifi, Koingo Alarm Clock Pro, and some gnarly AppleScript.

OK, but what about work itself? I’m still working the same job, in the same office, as I was five years ago, or ten years ago for that matter. I’ve been at this almost 15 years now, but a lot has changed. Over the last five years I’ve come to embrace the idea of faculty development in the broadest possible sense, rather than the more narrow approach which marked my first ten years on the job. I still do a lot of technology-related stuff, but these days I also pay a lot of attention to ideas like contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. I generally advocate for a holistic or integral approach to faculty development.

My time is mostly spent in reading, writing, meeting, talking, listening, researching, learning, and preparing for workshops or presentations. I’m not doing nearly as much production work these days as I used to once upon a time. I’d like to get back to that. Some parts of my job are a little tedious, but the drudgery tends to open up the most interesting parts of my work. For example, lately I’ve been wrapping up the final report on a recent grant and working on an application for a new grant. These documents aren’t exactly gripping, but the grants have enabled faculty here to explore contemplative practices in relation to teaching and learning. Thus they’ve enabled me to focus on the same.

I still have my same lunch — a carrot, a sandwich, an apple — the main difference being that now my sandwiches are on homemade bread. Also, for the better part of the past year I ramped up to two lunches daily in an effort to gain weight. That effort was successful, and I’m back to one lunch.

After work I might hit the gym. That’s another change. Five years ago I didn’t have a membership.

Xy usually picks the girl up on her way home from school. If it’s a nice day the girl might take a bike ride around the block, or maybe just a walk. Xy will usually have a beer or two, but I’m off the booze these days as a rule. We might visit with some neighbors. One of us will prepare dinner. These days we are generally trying to embrace a pescatarian diet. Sometimes “Uncle” James will join us. We say grace to Mother Earth together, and as we eat we talk about our day.

After dinner the girl will have a bath. I’m generally the one who tucks her in with a bedtime story. Somewhere in there I’ll usually squeeze in a bath myself. Xy and I might watch a DVD from Netflix. Xy often has homework, but she is not quite so busy these days as she used to be.

During this calendar year I’m making an effort to write in my journal every night without fail. Ninety-one days so far and counting.

And to sleep.

What’s missing from this account is the affective dimension. I should add that my days are full of beauty and meaning. For this, I am grateful.

Ten Years of b.rox

Sweetgum Buds 2

Ten years ago today I started writing here at b.rox. I didn’t give much thought to the content of that first post, in terms of setting the tone for the future. I just wrote about what was on my mind at the moment.

I’m fascinated by cycles, including the cycle of seasons.

In retrospect, however, I must say that seems uncannily prescient, foreshadowing a theme which has become so much more prominent in my thoughts, my writing, my practice, my life. Also, the emergence of spring buds as subject is a fine metaphor for beginning a new project.

I don’t really write much here anymore. A chart of the life-cycle of this blog would show a peak around 2006-2007, with some vigor continuing until the autumnal equinox of 2012, followed by a year of intentional silence. (Though I didn’t note it explicitly, that first post was very much about the vernal equinox.) These days mark a sort of senescence, I suppose, as I mostly post links to writings published elsewhere.

One of my primary impulses to write here was the same impulse that motivates my private journal writing: to mark the days as they pass and keep track of the interesting stuff that happens in my life. That. combined with the urge to share. But that act of sharing publicly has ultimately come to feel more like a limiting factor. These days I’m back to writing in my private journals more intensively than ever.

My friend David Bryan has suggested that the writings on this site might make an interesting book, which would include the flooding of the city in 2005 and the process of recovery, from a very personal angle, with the birth of my daughter as a natural ending point for the story. I appreciate this idea, thought I think a better arc might focus on our house, from our purchase in 2002, through the flooding and reconstruction, ending with the sale in 2009. I even have a title in mind: The Wizard of North Salcedo. I often felt like a wizard as I fixed kids bikes on the sidewalk in front of our house.

It’s funny to note that The Wild Hunt began one day later. What a different trajectory that site has taken.

And as a final note, I’m not sure I ever mentioned it, but the tree pictured in that first post did not survive the flood. We cut it down in November of 2005.

Sweetgum Stump

Even the stump is gone now, but we’re still here, and so is this site, even if it’s looking more like a stump itself these days. Thanks for reading, y’all.

My FOLC Tale

Hikers

I’ve got a new essay up at Friends of Lafitte Corridor.

Most if not all of the major spiritual traditions on our planet seem to embrace the path as a metaphor. Maybe that’s why I’ve found the prospect of a greenway in the Lafitte Corridor so inspiring over the years. There’s been something very compelling about imagining a trail in what is currently fallow, empty land — and treading that ground with others who share the dream each year.

You should go read the rest on the FOLC site.
Continue reading My FOLC Tale

Rest Easy, Ms. Foxworth

When I first met Ms. Foxworth, just 18 months ago, I was taken aback by her manner. She was quiet — very quiet. New Orleanians are known for many things, but being quiet is not one of them. Yet here was this woman talking so quietly I could barely hear her.

My confidence was a little shaky. This would be my daughter’s first public school teacher? Could this woman handle a room full of rambunctious pre-kindergarten children?

Another parent reassured me: “She’s great,” I was told. “They call her the Child Whisperer.”

Ready for 2013

Very quickly I learned how ungrounded my misgivings were. Without raising her voice, Ms. Foxworth commanded the attention and respect of every child in her class. Maintaining order amongst four-year-olds is no easy task, but she managed to make it look as natural as breathing. I was in awe of her.

Ms. Foxworth also welcomed me into her classroom. The kids were doing an International Baccalaureate unit on plants, and I came in to share a lesson on wheat. It went so well that I came back six more times throughout the course of that school year, to share seasonal celebrations with the children, often tying them into the larger curriculum. At every juncture Ms. Foxworth gave me encouragement and appreciation.

She even participated in the activities. One year ago today we planted a “light garden” for Candlemas.

Ms. Foxworth

My daughter’s moved on to kindergarten now, but when I saw Ms. Foxworth last week, she asked if I couldn’t come in to her class again and share a lesson with her new crop of students.

As it turns out, that was the last chance I’ll ever have to speak with her. Over the recent two-day snow outage, news came that Ms. Foxworth had passed away.


I didn’t really know Ms. Foxworth all that well, but I do know a few things.

She was a veteran teacher, at the pre-K level for two decades, and her experience clearly showed. These days there are a lot of Teach for America kids in local schools, but there is no substitute for long years of experience.

I will also say this: She wasn’t paid or respected nearly enough. I hasten to add that I was never privy to her salary information, nor was I ever aware of anyone disrespecting her. However, I know that as a rule we do not pay teachers highly in our country, and we do not accord them the deep respect that other cultures do. Let’s face it: In America respect and salary are often correlated, and teachers are not at the top of either list, but they should be. That’s one of the most troubling aspects of American society.

It makes me sad to know that Ms. Foxworth is no longer with us, that I’ll never see a child run up to hug her again. What truly breaks my heart is the knowledge that we, the American people, could have done better by her while she was alive. Some things are inevitable, but how we treat our teachers is not. Sorry to get political, but I feel this is an important point, something we must insist on at every turn.

The best way to honor a great teacher is to uplift the teaching profession.


Ms. Foxworth’s untimely death is a tremendous loss to our entire community. Ms. Foxworth didn’t just teach our kids. She taught us all by her example.

As another parent put it, she “embodied the power of gentle, calm silence.” It’s an ideal to which I still aspire. Even if you never met her, I think we can all still learn from her.

See also a far more eloquent tribute from Joie d’Eve. It’s funny how we hit the same themes.

The Yearning Need to Connect with a Larger Whole at the Time of the Winter Solstice

Goodwill $1.99

It was recently revealed that Richard Dawkins, arguably the world’s most prominent atheist, loves to sing carols at Christmas time. But the songs he loves the most are not the modern secular ones. Dawkins writes: “I recoil from such secular carols as ‘White Christmas,’ ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ and the loathsome ‘Jingle Bells,’ but I’m happy to sing real carols.” He prefers the older songs, which tend to have explicitly Christian religious themes.

This makes perfect sense to me. As a child, those old songs were one of my few direct connections to an older time and an older culture. Many of the carols I grew up singing were authored in the 1800s. The lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” go back to at least 1739. The tune to “Adeste Fideles” may well go back to the 13th century.

It’s not only the music. I was enchanted by the old customs. Bringing a tree inside the house seemed unaccountably weird and magical and very much out of character for my sedate middle-class parents in our standard-issue suburban home. I didn’t understand it — but I liked it.

Something about all this archaic stuff resonated deeply with me as a child. It filled an inner yearning which I could not identify, but which I now recognize as a need to connect to a larger whole: to previous generations of humanity, and to Mother Earth.

That yearning need remains with me as an adult. You can read more about how I’ve come to understand the meaning of this holiday season in an essay, “Solstice Connections,” which is the first installment of a regular column called A Pedagogy of Gaia which I’m writing for Humanistic Paganism.

I offer these intimate and highly personal thoughts with love and respect to people of all faiths and no faith, and hope that they will be received in the same spirit.

Wishing you a Blessed Solstice, a Joyful Yule, and a Happy New Year.

Institutionalized Insanity

Why Are We Here?

Sitting thru my employer’s mandatory benefits workshop reconfirmed my belief that health insurance is institutionalized insanity. There must be a better way.

I’ve never liked the concept of health insurance. It seems wrong to me at the very core. It feels like a perverse form of gambling. You’re putting down all this money against the possibility that you might get sick. If you stay healthy, you lose, and all that money goes to the house. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get sick, and then the house pays out.

If you win, you lose; if you lose, you win. That just seems like a cruel and unusual system.

The chief virtue of group insurance, as far as I can see, is that it helps share the cost amongst the group. That’s great. However, I fail to see how having such insurance administered by a for-profit corporation adds any value to that equation. The profit would seem to derive from either one of two sources: 1) paying employees less than their labor is worth, or 2) taking in more premiums than are actually needed to cover healthcare costs. Both seem blatantly contrary to common sense, which is why I call it institutionalized insanity. It’s better than no coverage at all, better than having to bear the costs alone, but the model seems to have fundamental flaws.

Our current system has many problems. The insurance model is one of those problems.

And that brings me to Obamacare.

I can see that Obamacare might correct some of the most egregious problems with our system. For example, it aims for universal coverage. I was glad to learn via social media that at least one old friend from Bloomington is doing well by the new law, and that makes me happy. For the record, I should note that Obamacare has had no effect whatsoever on me and my family. Thus my musings here are strictly big-picture philosophical.

My chief concern with Obamacare is that it doesn’t seem to move us any closer to sanity. It seems to only invest us deeper in the madness, by mandating insurance for all.

I hasten to add that my impression is based on my admittedly limited understanding of this very complex bundle of legislation. Like with our tax code, that complexity is part of the problem. We’ve got fixes grafted on fixes producing a monster like Frankenstein’s. Few really understand it all.

Of course, simplifying this complex situation would be truly radical, and I’m not sure we have the stomach for it. Nevertheless, let me sketch out my simple idea: I kind of think we should provide a basic level of healthcare for everyone, sharing the cost amongst taxpayers, and then have insurance for whatever is above and beyond that basic level. Insurance should not be a necessity; it should be something extra.

Does Obamacare move us toward that in any way? I don’t see how. If anything, it seems to move us in the opposite direction. We won’t ever move ahead by taking half-steps backward. We won’t replace health insurance as the basic model for healthcare by mandating it for everyone.

Some apologists for Obamacare acknowledge its limitations but say this was the only viable solution. They quote Otto von Bismarck: “Politics is the art of the possible.” True enough, but here’s another way to phrase that same idea: “Politics is the art of creating possibilities.” When people can’t manage to create desirable possibilities, it’s a political failure.

I hope I am wrong about this. Time will tell.

Tree Blessing

Nov. 16, 2013: I officiated a civic tree-blessing ceremony on the bayou. We had a real-live fire dancer and Big Chief David Montana led us in singing “Indian Red.” Still can’t believe this really happened. It seems remarkable that someone like me, without any relevant credential, would be invited to do something like this. Many thanks to Jared Zeller et al for pulling this together. And thanks to Michael Homan for taking these photos.
Continue reading Tree Blessing

Your Trip to Amherst

Red Leaves

The nearest airport is in Connecticut, so when your plane lands you still have a good long drive to get to Amherst. You talk to the shuttle driver. She has an accent you can’t place, but she’s lived in Massachusetts for at least a decade.

She drops you off at Allen House, a little bed and breakfast you found online. It proves to be a lovingly-done Victorian-era restoration, cozy and charming. The place is booked full of people from all over the world who are here for the same purpose as you. An instant and easy camaraderie springs up between you.

You’re here for the Fifth Annual Conference of the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE), which is being held at Amherst College.

You make your way up the street to a noodle shop with a couple fellow travelers for a quick dinner. It’s cold, much colder than New Orleans, but only outdoors. You’re surprised to find that it’s warm and toasty indoors wherever you go. Apparently central heating is to New England what air conditioning is to the Deep South.

Then you walk over to Amherst College campus. The conference begins this evening. After registering at Converse Hall you find your way to Stirn Auditorium.

The ACMHE conference is a little different from other conferences, and that’s evident from the start. The opening plenary begins with silent meditation. There are a couple hundred people packed into the auditorium. Though no one says a word, you feel the power of their presence all the more. You are aware of the potentialities that will unfold over the next 40 hours.

If that wasn’t enough to distinguish this conference as unique, what comes next certainly seals the deal. An extra space has been reserved on the keynote panel. An audience member is randomly selected to fill it.

Random

And so the conference begins. The theme this year is “Integrity of Practice.” The panel considers questions that revolve around this theme. Then the audience members discuss the questions amongst themselves, and finally share their thoughts with the larger group.

Integrity of Practice

The next morning you have breakfast at the Amherst Inn, owned by the same people who run Allen House. The breakfast table serves as an extension of the conference, the conversations of the night before continuing over pancakes and coffee.

Very soon, you’re back on campus for the first of the parallel sessions. There are nine sessions running at the same time, and all the topics look fascinating. How to choose? You find yourself drawn to a session by David Forbes of Brooklyn College/CUNY, with the provocative title, “Contemplative Education and Neoliberalism: A Perfect World Still Requires Radical Action.”

A Perfect World Still Calls for Radical Transformation

Forbes’ presentation is chock-full of ideas, far more than even a fast-talking New Yorker can cover in the allotted time. He is asking all the right questions. “What is the purpose of contemplative practices in education? Is it enlightenment/awakening and the elimination of greed, ill-will, and delusion for everyone and at all societal levels, or is it a relativistic technology used to improve attention, reduce stress, and gain personal success and productivity in a competitive society?” The conversation that follows is galvanizing.

The morning continues. All the sessions look so promising that you decide to take a cue from the previous night’s panel and select your next session randomly. You end up listening to Ed Sarath from the University of Michigan hold forth on “Integrity of Practice in Meditation and Improvisation Pedagogy.”

Ed Sarath

You’re stunned to realize that improvisation has been perhaps the most central musical practice throughout world history, except for a period of about 200 years in Europe. This seems to throw light on the state of the modern academy, which even in America tends to be both highly traditional and Eurocentric. But that is changing.

You’ve come here from a historically Black university, so it is with special interest that you attend your next session, “Contemplative Race Theory: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Racial Discourse.” The presenters, Seth Schoen and Rev. Christopher Carter, seem very young. In fact, they are graduate students, and this is their first such presentation.

Contemplative Race Theory

They present a “compassion practice” which they have developed together, a fairly advanced guided meditation that is grounded in critical race theory. It would seem to be a good way to prepare classes for difficult, sensitive or contentious discussions. They hope to publish on the practice soon. You make a note for future reference.

In the afternoon, there are open space sessions, organized around topics suggested by participants that very morning. You attend a discussion on race, class and gender.

Open Session on Race, Class & Gender

The conversation is heartfelt, respectful yet challenging. You are taken by one participant’s observation that contemplation disrupts her “default modes of being,” which suggests the subtle potential of such practices for subverting engrained social structures.

The theme for the conference is “Integrity of Practice.” But your own personal theme is beginning to emerge. It might be called, “The Joy of Walking Slowly.” You find yourself walking often in the company of two women who walk slowly for different reasons. Karen is walking with a cane. Eileen simply seems to be the sort of person who is never rushed. You find you must make a conscious effort to slow down and stick with their pace, but this seems entirely in keeping with the spirit of the conference.

Before dinner on Saturday evening Karen reveals she doesn’t have a sprained ankle or a broken foot. She suffered a life-threatening stroke some while ago. You listen in awe to the story of her recovery, and how her 30-year practice of meditation helped her through a very difficult time.

It’s been a full day. You’re tired. You sleep like a rock that night, for about ten hours, disturbed only by a welcome nocturnal visitation from the B&B’s resident housecat.


Sunday morning begins in much the same manner as Saturday, with conversation around the breakfast table as stimulating as any one of the formal sessions. You walk to campus with Robert-Louis Abrahamson. When learning of your fascination with seasonal progress, he bestows upon you a touching gift: a copy of his own CD and accompanying booklet, Journey Through the Seasons, a cycle of meditations on the five Chinese healing energies.

You’re excited to attend a roundtable discussion on “The Role of Teaching Centers in Introducing and Supporting Contemplative Practices,” convened by your new friend Eileen Abrams.

The Role of Teaching Centers

A nascent faculty development network seems to be emerging. You know from previous experience how powerful this can be, and the exchange of ideas is invigorating. For example, one colleague suggests exploring the connection between contemplative pedagogy and retention rates. It seems like a promising line of inquiry.

But the best has, perhaps, been saved for last. The impromptu student panel was one of the most engaging sessions at the ACMHE conference. This was, in part, an opportunity for faculty to ask students, “What do we need to know from you?”

Student Panel

A number of new connections are made for you. For example: Metacognition is enhanced by meditation. We’ve sponsored workshops on both topics but never drawn that connection. You think to yourself: We should sponsor more student panels at CAT. We have much to learn from our students.

On the ride back to the airport, you find yourself once again conversing with the shuttle driver. He hails from Morocco and is a big fan of the Boston Celtics. As you describe the conference you discover what you’ve learned.

Pedagogy must connect course content to a larger whole; otherwise, we are merely conveying disassociated tidbits of information, quickly “crammed” into short-term memory and just as quickly forgotten. Pedagogy must be meaningful, purposeful, and connected to deep values in order to be effective and transformative. You’re struck by the awe-inspiring scope of this charge. You realize that this domain — the domain of meaning, purpose and values — provides a good working definition of spirituality. These issues are the main concern of many religions. Therefore, in order to be effective, teachers must be on a spiritual path or grounded in a spiritual practice. It’s not something extra, some “value added” proposition. It’s absolutely essential. It’s the core, the foundation of what we do. And it follows that a holistic faculty development program must provide support for the spiritual development of faculty members.

The implications are staggering. However will you communicate this to the folks back home?

Cross-posted at CAT Food (for thought)

Six Long Essays

Contemplation (Green)

I’ve been doing it again: writing elsewhere.

I’ve just finished up a series of six essays for College Contemplative on the topic of “Contemplative Faculty Development.”

  1. Introduction
  2. My Story
  3. Stepping into Silence
  4. The Transformative Banquet
  5. Sustaining the Dialog
  6. What’s Next

Read at your own risk; I apologize in advance for the length.

I wrote these in preparation for the Fifth Annual Conference of the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education where I presented on this same topic. More to come.

Preacher’s Cart

How did this shopping cart full of miscellaneous hardware come to be parked in our yard for three months?

Preacher's Cart

Therein lies a tale.

One day in late May, a guy came walking down our street. He started talking to Xy and somehow convinced her to hire him to cut our grass. Before I knew it she had him in the house and she was showing him a broken window pane. Could he fix it?

I scoffed, but I guess he had a way with words because the next thing I knew we’d agreed to hire him to fix the window pane and the drainage under our kitchen sink to boot.

The guy was a bit of a character. Called himself Preacher because he’s a man of God. A fast-talker, but likeable. Charismatic. Slightly tenuous grasp of what is laughingly referred to as “reality.” Seems like I’ve known a few guys like Preacher over the years. I drove him to his house, just a few blocks away, so he could get his tools.

He did fix our drainage, and he cut our grass once or twice. But he also seemed to keep asking for more money, and between Xy and I being generous and not communicating with each other, we ended up paying him more than we should have. He was still “working” on the the window pane project when he showed up one day with this cart load of stuff he got on discount somewhere. He asked if he could stow it in our yard while he ran some other errand.

Then he disappeared.

After three months we were really getting tired of having this cart around. I took this photo with plans of posting it to Freecycle.

But lo and behold, Preacher showed up the very next day. He had been in the hospital. He took the cart with a promise to come back and trim our grass one more time. No charge. He seemed to have forgotten about the window pane entirely.

But that’s fine by me. I wish him well.

Foam

The traditional gift is china, or diamonds, but we opted for foam.

New Mattress

Let me back up.

Twenty years ago, my mom and dad bought a mattress for Xy and me, a wedding present.

This year, as an anniversary gift to each other, we got ourselves a new mattress. That’s right, we slept on the same mattress for twenty years. It served us well in its day, but that day is past, long past. There was a deep trough where my body used to lie, and we’d flipped and rotated all we could.

It was time for something new. So we got a Sleep Innovations 12-Inch SureTemp Memory Foam Mattress.

It’s awesome, and it was affordable. Many thanks to Brother O’Mara for the recommendation, and for letting us come over to his house and roll around on his bed.

Interestingly enough, this mattress comes with a twenty year warranty. So maybe this will last us until our 40th anniversary.


We promised each other that this mutual gift would fulfill our gifting obligations with regard to our anniversary, but I couldn’t resist one little surprise. I knew that Xy would check her laptop first thing in the morning. I left her a note that said “please check your email.” In her inbox she found a message that said “please watch this video.”

And then she saw this.

NSFW, probably. No one ever saw this video before. It was just sitting on a tape in a shoebox in the closet. Xy had certainly forgotten all about it. But I knew it was there, and I knew this would be the perfect time to edit it up.

I’d had some vague thought that a ten-year follow-up would interesting, but I seem to have lost interest in cocktails.

Victory

On the Friday before the equinox, I caught a ride with Daniel Samuels up to the Old Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge. It was built by Huey P. Long in 1930. There was a really cool version of the state seal carved into the fireplace in the library.

Pelican

But I wasn’t there for the architectural details. I was there for an award luncheon. It was a special honor to meet for the first time the other two finalists in the Louisiana Cox Conserves Heroes contest, Landry Camardelle and Wilma Subra.

Finalists

There were a lot of people there. Turned out it was also the culmination of the Keep Louisiana Beautiful conference. So we had a great lunch in a big fancy room and a bunch of people got a bunch of awards for a bunch of good work. Meanwhile, as they led up to the Cox Conserves Heroes Award, I was on pins and needles. Who would win?

Wilma and Landry certainly had inspiring stories of their own, but since the winner was chosen by an online vote, I knew that it would come down to who had waged the most effective internet campaign. I thought I had a good shot because understanding social media is part of my job. I’d been posting on on various networks daily, begging for votes and asking people to share the link in hopes of expanding my reach.

And, in the end, it worked. I won.

Victory

But really I should say: We won.

Sure, I got my little moment of glory, and that was sweet and euphoric and extremely gratifying to my always-hungry ego. But the big $10,000 check isn’t for me. It’s for Friends of Lafitte Corridor. Exactly how they’ll use the money, I don’t know. Perhaps it will go toward hiring an Executive Director. That would be a major boost toward FOLC’s mission of building, programming and promoting the Lafitte Greenway. The other finalists got some money for their causes as well, but they both agreed it will make an even bigger difference for FOLC.

So that’s a victory for all of us, especially for folks who live in the New Orleans area, but also for anyone who gives a damn about health, sustainability, and a greener future.

Thanks to Cox Communications and the Trust for Public Land for organizing and funding the contest.

Thank you for voting for me. And thank you for allowing me this opportunity to represent such important values as community, ecology, and good old-fashioned grassroots organizing.

For this, I am grateful.