Saturday, November 18, 2006

About me

It’s all about me. While I can rejoice with others or cry with others, I’m usually end up thinking about how this will affect me, why I’m not like that, why I am like that or why I’m not as good as the other person. So, no matter how much I empathize with you, it’s all about me.

I begin too many sentences with I because what I think and how I feel is really the topic of this blog. Events, incidents and other people are merely carriers for talking about me. I like to see my name in lights (not that it has ever happened) or in the stars on a walkway. I don’t understand why my hometown has not recognized the wonderful things I’ve done in my life. (Never mind that they are more concerned with getting enough to eat and money to pay the electric bill since that is one of the poorest areas of Mississippi). They should properly recognize how far I have come and what a credit I am to that community. Of course, I wouldn’t go back there unless I wanted something there, and I can’t think of anything they have that I want. I sold the farm, what little bit of it I inherited. And, I can’t imagine much worse than having to live there again.

The place is like – well, I can’t think of a good comparison. But, the white kids go to private school, play sports with other white private schools, and many go on to college. The other kids (African-American, Hispanic, Asian) go to public school and many never graduate. Some never make it to high school since compulsory attendance ends at age 16. Can you imagine being in sixth grade at age 16? It happens there.

And, living conditions. In most places Section 8 Housing pays partial or entire rent for low income families so they have decent places to live. Usually a family is put on a waiting list and may have to wait a few months or maybe even a year before there is enough money to fund their housing. In Mississippi, people can wait a lifetime. There are so many people with no income whatsoever that those who have any income will never be able to get Section 8 Housing.

Not only is lack of funding a problem, finding adequate housing is an even bigger problem. My sister-in-law lived in a house where the bathtub was gradually falling through the floor. The landlord wouldn’t fix it – too much trouble, too much money. The electric wiring had caught on fire at least once, and she heated with her oven and kerosene heaters. She had a tiny disability income and SSI for her retarded daughter; so she gave up on getting Section 8 Housing or even getting Food Stamps.

So little money; so much need. So few jobs; so many untrained people. Young people with any education leave. Young people without education sell drugs and become prostitutes. Wealthier people from the large city to the north come down to hear the blues, to snort cocaine, and to have sex with the young women (and men) who stand on the street corners.

Smart farmers allot part of their acreage to growing marijuana, one of the largest cash crops in Mississippi. Of course, they must conceal this crop in the midst of another ordinary field. I suspect that elected officials and law enforcement officers still get paid to look the other way.

Recently I found among my family papers a note written on the back of a campaign card, “Mike, give this man a pint. He voted for me.” My granddaddy Mike was a bootlegger, and, although I understand he made some fine brandy and some good whiskey, I’m sure that “this man” got the lesser quality stuff. I can remember handing out campaign cards around town, but I certainly didn’t realize that I got to do that because my granddaddy was a bootlegger depended on by most of the candidates. Payola?

So, see, it’s all about me. It’s not about those hungry, homeless souls in Mississippi. It’s not about the lack of industry and jobs. It’s not about the failure of the United States to compete in the world market with agricultural products. It’s not about drug abuse, school dropouts and prostitution. It’s about me. I escaped.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Powers of Ten

Elizabeth Kaeton, in her blog Telling Secrets - Dia de los Muertos writes about time as being at once and forever, saints alive and saints before and after. Linear time is a human construct that I have never understood very well. Even as a child I can remember asking, “Why” – a million whys – and “What” and “Where” but seldom “When”. I learned about “When” as I became a writer, a journalist, telling people in words about events that had happened, were happening or were to happen. I learned to put dates and times on stories for newspapers and magazines and newsletters.

As I became more storyteller myself, I put away my watch (during Cursillo) in 1987 or so and have never put it back on. Clocks and calendars exist in my world – on my desk, in every room of the house, and sometimes they hold power over me, as long as I am willing to submit. I can say, “No, I won’t go now.” But, when I say that I must be prepared to take the consequences: paying for the doctor’s visit because my insurance won’t pay for a missed visit, rescheduling an appointment with someone who is usually busier than I am, missing a performance, disappointing a friend. I have the option of saying, “No.”

When I am most aware of the uselessness of linear time is when I am telling a story with a timeless truth, a mythical portrayal of human and/or divine nature. We are always watching people climbing Jacob’s ladder; we continue to be baptized and have our sins forgiven; we reach out to touch the hem of a garment in hopes of being healed. We translate these stories, these timeless myths, into the here and now of our lives: attending wakes and baptisms, re-membering our own baptismal vows and being forgiven for breaking them; listening with respect to our spiritual mentors in hopes of changing our lives.

As surely as Jesus healed the 10 lepers, traveling evangelists or television evangelists are healing ten times ten as they reach out with the gospel, the good word, to those who need healing or hope. Someone is offering a cup of water to an outcast. Someone is feeding five thousand. Yet, Saul continues to try to kill David, alienating his own son and eventually causing his death. Change the names – the time is then, is now, is tomorrow.

Elizabeth quotes from A Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin.
No matter, it all happened at once, in less than an instant, and time was
invented because we cannot comprehend in one glance the enormous and detailed
canvas that we have been given – so we track it, in linear fashion, piece by
piece. Time, however, can be easily overcome; not by chasing the light, but by
standing back far enough to see it all at once. The universe is still and
complete. Everything that ever was, is; everything that ever will be, is – and
so on, in all possible combinations. Though in perceiving it we imagine that it
is in motion, and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite astonishingly

Have you ever seen the slide show about Powers of Ten - a wonderful display of our universe moving from x to the plus tenth power to x to the minus tenth power. It repudiates our sense of linear time, and it is “quite astonishingly beautiful.”

I cannot imagine a God that would limit his creation to linear time or place or any dimension. I can imagine a world beyond any of our created dimensions, and it is “quite astonishingly beautiful” all the time.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A New World?

If we achieved our goal of world peace and everyone had food, clothing, shelter and health care, if all the animals were protected and loved, if the economy kept growing, if disease was conquered, what would we write about in our blogs and what would the video reports be? Reporters could still write about tornadoes, hurricanes, the weather, crop failure, unethical politicians and executives, but the media would shrink. Who wants to read about James going to the nursing home every day to feed his mother? At least, who wants to read about it more than one second?

If violence was eliminated from the world, what would we talk about? I try to imagine a world like that, and I can’t. The kingdom may be at hand, but I’m not seeing the big picture of it. Lions are still eating lambs, snakes are still biting children, and arms manufacturers are still getting rich.

Imagine this headline: Last slum lord sells apartment house to tenants. Or this: Salvation Army soup kitchen closed, no clients. ER waiting time now 20 minutes. Population growth slows. I’m sure you can write your own headlines and stories. The “what if” hopes and dreams, changing from generation to generation but still concerned with the earth, with people, with creation.

Eliminating the power struggles and the industries that feed them would produce problems also: unemployment, lack of capital, food shortages, and all the concerns that surround the shutting down of the largest industry in the world. So, how would we solve those problems? What system could be used to distribute the wealth of the world to all peoples? How could we change the attitudes of those in power and those with wealth? What about our tax structure?

Each year our legislators build more complicated legal structures and grapple with new situations and things that previously did not exist. Each year our religious leaders confront different variations of relationships and non-relationships. Each generation has increasing amounts of basic knowledge that is expected and varying ways of coping with life. And, we are living longer.

So, with all the complications, the differences, the multiple generations of the world, what would peace and plenty look like? I just can’t imagine it. Can you?