“Follow your passion” – ha. Ha! Hahahaha! No, but seriously.

Um.

Um.

It’s graduation season, and as in every graduation season, one hears a lot of successful people telling halls of not-yet-successful-people to “follow their passion.” Following one’s passion is, we are given to understand, the only real way to live a fulfilling life, a life in which work is more than mere chore, a life in which one meets one’s end with a smile on one’s face.

Coupla problems with that. Number 1 being that the people doing the talking are successful.

I know that successful role models (in graduation exercises, as in magazine editorials and TV commercials) are meant to serve as inspiration, but they wind being perceived of as the norm: If you do X (where X generally equals “work hard, believe in yourself, and most of all, follow your passion”) you can be like me.

And the thing is: No.

Most people who follow their passion, even most talented people who follow their passion, will not ever be as successful as the people invited to address graduating classes. Most really good ball players will never make it to the majors; most really good interior designers will not get their own furniture lines; most really good musicians will not go to the Grammys; most really good scientists will not land a position on the next Mars Rover team (and, it bears noting, most really good writers will not wind up at The Atlantic. Not that I’m bitter).

We don’t like to think about it, but this is what sports teams, and the Grammys, and any and all hiring practices represent: A winnowing down of the vast field of competition, ultimately to that small number who will wind up making it big.

Talent and dedication are crucial pieces of the puzzle, but much of this process is subjective, or biased, or blatantly unfair, and a lot of it comes right back to the simple and deeply troubling facts of economic disparities. It’s easier to achieve your dream if you can afford to work for free for a couple-few years; it’s easier still if you’ve spent your entire life around people who have already made it. There’s a point at which talent (or belief in oneself) has absolutely nothing to do with it.

“But Emily!” you say. “I don’t want to win a Grammy or even get my own furniture line! I just want to be able to pay middle-class bills with my passion!”

And here’s the other thing: Sometimes even that’s impossible. It’s been fairly impossible since the dawn of time, in fact.

The whole notion of following one’s passion is so steeped historic, economic, and social privilege that it fairly reeks. For the vast majority of human existence you were grateful if you and yours ate today and could know with some certainty that you would also eat tomorrow and next week. In fact, without access to actual data, I feel safe in saying that this remains true for the majority of humans alive today. Those of us who can even entertain the notion of following our passion are already living with some degree of good fortune, however uninspiring we may find it (“I get to eat tomorrow? That’s it?”).

Aside from that, though, certain fields have simply never been money-makers. I’m a writer, and I can assure you: Most writers do not pay most of their bills with their words, or at least: Not with the ones it gave them joy to write.

I think also of our beloved ex-babysitter, a talented lacrosse player who followed his passion to college and is finishing up what is more than likely going to be his last season of play even as I type. Here he is in his early 20s, a few months from graduation, and his passion is closing its doors. Can he play in an amateur league and/or coach, and would these things give him joy? Yes, and I would hope so. But pay his bills for the rest of his life? Probably not. (PS I can’t tell you how sad this makes me. You should see him talk about his sport. I wish I could pay him to play, myself).

But of perhaps greatest relevance to today’s graduating seniors is the economy that awaits them. As comic artist Matt Bors notes in his book Life Begins At Incorporation (and let’s not forget that a comic artist is more than a little likely to know about the topsy-turvy world of passion-following):

“Barely scraping by and taking what you can get is the new normal. Having 500 people show up to apply for jobs at Walmart, who pursues a strategy of paying people such low wages that they qualify for government assistance, that’s the new normal.”

So when we tell people to follow their passion, and hold fabulously successful role models up to them, we’re not only misleading them, we’re actually being kind of mean — unless we don’t stop there.

Follow your passion — for as long you possibly can, even if it doesn’t pay enough, even if it tires you out, even if it doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere, because at the end of your life, you’ll be grateful that you tried. Follow your passion — but understand that it may cost you in time and money, and that it may never be easy, even as it gives you that jolt supplied only by doing a thing you love. Follow your passion — but work hard at everything you do, try your best at everything, let others help, help them when they need it, be kind and accept kindness. Follow your passion — but know when to let go. Know that peace of mind and being able to afford to fix your car are also good, life-affirming things.

I’m following my passion. Some of the money I make comes from the words I loved writing, but most of it doesn’t, and if I had to actually support my children, I would have to stop. My passion-following is entirely dependent on my well-employed co-head-of-household, as is the passion-following of many people around the world. This is one of the ways in which we accept kindnesses.

I would never tell someone to not follow their passion — but I would tell them that it may come at a price, that it may never be easy, and that at the end of the day, sometimes letting go is a brave and life-affirming act. Try — try your best, try your hardest, try with all your heart — but don’t be cruel to yourself if it doesn’t work out.

At the end of the day, at the end of our lives, we all of us will have to look back and weigh what we did. You’re not likely to be Bill Gates, Adele, or RA Dickey, but you can make choices that are honest and satisfying. The trick, I think, lies less in following your passion, and more in making sure you listen more to yourself than to anyone else.

Which I suspect means that you should feel free to ignore every word of the above. Which is ok, too.

Re-up: The suckage of human history, on the eve of a new year.

I first ran this two years (and a day) ago, and it seems appropriate again this morning. A lot of 2012 really, really suuuucked. But then, so did a lot of 2011 and 2010 and every year before that. 

hopeOver the past week or so, as we’ve approached the second year in the second decade of this century, my Twitter feed and various other corners of the internet have been rife with statements of relief to see 2010 end. The general feeling, out their in cyberville, appears to be that this was a particularly no-good year.

And I wonder: Has it really? Or, rather: Aren’t they all bad, give or take?

Surely other years have been seen bloody wars and diplomatic failures, high unemployment and the further enrichment of the rich. This was not the only year in which a sitting President, beloved by some, lost the midterm elections, and the political class spat rancor and spewed bile. Every year, we see rank xenophobia, catastrophic ignorance, and natural disasters. It’s in the nature of things for things to suck.

Of course, it’s also in the nature of things for us to take steps to decrease the suckage. Some years we’re better at this than others; occasionally, it seems to be entirely out of our hands. But mostly, we slog along and push ahead and grunt and groan and weep and gnash our teeth and try our best and bit by bit, we chip away at the worst of things, and slowly, the world gets better.

This year, we saw it in Health Care Reform and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We saw it in crowds of Americans who stood against hatred and with their Muslim brothers and sisters. We saw it as the entire world held its breath and watched los mineros de Chile!emerge from the depths of what by rights should have been their grave. None of these events were perfect, and none of them promised a happily-ever-after to anyone. All left destruction, of one kind or another, in their wake.

But that’s the way we do. We can only be human. We can only keep trying — fucking up and trying, fucking up and trying.

In thinking about this tonight, I started to wonder what things looked like back when Americans were nearing the second decade of the last century — in part (I admit) because that’s when my house was built and I love wondering about the people who went before me, but mostly because there’s no better way to see how much things have improved, than to consider what life was like in the good old days.

So let’s start here: When my house was built, in the late 19-aughts, life expectancy for the American woman was a little better than 47 years (which is to say – I’d be nearly dead). For men, it was a touch more than 46, unless the men were African Americans, in which case, life expectancy was 33. The fourth leading cause of death was “diarrhea, enteritis, and ulceration of the intestine.”

The average worker put in nearly 60 hours a week, and much of the industrial revolution was being implemented by children. In 1909, the Cherry Mine Disaster saw 259 men and boys killed (more than half the mine’s workforce) when a massive fire trapped them underground; twelve would-be rescuers also died.

Only 97 Americans were killed in car accidents in that decade (there were only 8,000 cars), but 115 were lynched. In 1908, race riots erupted in Springfield, Illinois, stemming in part from a false accusation of rape (the accuser later admitted to lying to cover up an affair). The black business district was methodically destroyed, forty black homes burned, two black men lynched, and four whites died in days of melee — but then, “anti-black race riots in northern cities were nothing new in the first decade of the twentieth century.” After all, PBS tells us, “race [was] invoked to explain everything: individual character, the cause of criminality, and the natural superiority of ‘higher’ races.” Schools and baseball were segregated, and it goes without saying that Barack Obama would not have been able to vote, nor, indeed, allowed through the front door of the White House.

Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have been allowed to vote, either, and had she attended the first suffrage parade, in 1910, she would have likely be wearing an organ-crushing corset to define her waist. Higher education was almost unheard of for the women of the time — in 1900, 2.8% of American women attended college; twenty years later, that number had risen to 7.6%. And of course, for every 1,000 live births, six to nine women died in childbirth; about 100 of the babies would die before their first birthday.

All this, and Americans still hadn’t faced the First World War, the 1918 flu pandemic, the Great Depression, or the Second World War.

Do you know how long 100 years is? Zip. It’s the potential life-expectancy of a baby born today (and given that infant mortality rates have dropped more than 90% in the last century, those babies are already starting out with a better shot).

So, yeah: 2010 sucked.

It sucked, and we may decide ten years from now, or a hundred, that 2010 was more than sucky, it was abysmal. But then, 2020 and 2110 will likely suck, too.

Human history suggests, however, that as terrible as things always are, the suckage grows less over time — because we put our minds to making things better.

I agree: A lot about this year was nothing to write home about. I know I’m not the only blogger who failed to post now and then simply because the world was too ugly to look at.

But here’s to making 2011 [ed: and 2013!] better.

Peace out, and may you and yours have a very happy new year. May the good dreams come true, the bad dreams be buried, and friends and family hold fast and true!

“You look out the window and you see climate change in action.”

I recently wrote that we’re living through Capital H History —  what with your health care and your revolution in LGBTQ rights and your black President — and that is a delightful fact of which I remind my children frequently. “Take notes!” I say “This is what history looks like!” (I really do say that).

But over the past couple of weeks, it’s seeped into my consciousness that we’re living in another kind of Capital H History, one that is much less delightful and quite frankly terrifying: Climate change. Shit’s hit the fan, yo.

Source: That bastion of liberal reporting, The Economist http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/05/daily-chart-1

(explanation of chart, below)

As I have lately taken to bemoaning, I did not go into the real sciences. I went into the social sciences, where we use numbers to talk about things that can’t really be measured — which, ok. We all have to do something. But my not-real-science background doesn’t give me the intellectual scaffolding to get a true grasp of the heights and depths of what we’re dealing with here, and more to the point, gives me no intellectual tools with which to battle it.

I recycle. I try to drive less. I eat very little meat. And I support the party that is clearly more interested in being honest about what we’re doing to ourselves. But that’s pretty much the outer limit of what I can do to effect change. That and maybe write the occasional letter.

So though I have of course known that the shit has been rocketing toward the fan for years, I have mostly tried not to think about it. I register little bits and pieces of information (like: March 2011 to April 2012 were the warmest contiguous 12 months in the US since we started recording weather information in 1895) so that I can at least face the future with open eyes, but I don’t dwell. Because this frankly scares me in a way that nothing ever has before. Not the Great Recession, not Israel/Palestine, not the nuclear arms race, nothing.

In every other doomsday scenario that humanity has faced, we could at least hope that human wisdom would overcome human folly. We could at least hope that with enough advocacy, hearts and minds could be swayed and the doom averted.

But dude, the ball is rolling now. We set it in motion — having no idea that we were doing so at first, and then loudly denying that there was anything rolling anywhere, and if there was, it wasn’t us who pushed it — and now we have no idea where it will end up.

I mean: We have some idea — some really horrifying ideas — of what’s going to happen on the planet over the next couple of decades, but there is a massive number of variables that we just can’t reliably measure because they’re unprecedented. And there’s very, very little we can do about it, other than react.

We can act to slow the effects, and I know that all kinds of scientists and policymakers are working on that, and we can try to build useful models for our future needs, and we can do advocacy to make sure that decision-makers are on-board and making the most helpful decisions they can make.

But there’s no actual stopping it.

At a certain point, there are no hearts or minds to be won, because it’s just the climate, changed. Earth’s climate doing whatever it does now. There’s just paying for our mistakes with lives.

So, yeah. The early 21st century is a pretty enormous History Zone. I’m taking notes now. And I’ve told my kids to do the same.

I just don’t even know what to hope for as I look ahead to their futures.

h/t Mother Jones

*

The Economist’s explanation of the above chart:

How global surface temperature, ocean heat and atmospheric CO2 levels have risen since 1960

THE record of atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels started by the late Dave Keeling of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography is one of the most crucial of the data sets dealing with global warming. When the measurements started in 1959 the annual average level was 315 parts per million, and it has gone up every year since. To begin with it went up by roughly one part per million per year. Now it is more like two parts per million per year. The figure for 2011 is 391.6. More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means a stronger greenhouse effect, and various measurements speak to this. Global surface temperature records show a warming over the same period, though because of fluctuations in the climate, air pollution, volcanic eruptions and other confounding factors the rise is nothing like as smooth. A steadier rise can be seen in the heat content of the oceans, measured in terms of the energy stored, rather than the temperature.

“How to make love to a trans person.”

I left the following as a comment in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s (near-) daily open thread today, and decided to make it a post here. There are so many ways to be human. 

Amanda Simpson, senior technical adviser in the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security, is the first known transgender person appointed to a position in the US government. She was appointed by President Obama a year ago this week.

In wandering about among the blogs in my own blogrolls the other day, I found that my internet pal sara_l_r had linked to this lovely, lovely poem over at her place, Ends and Leavings, and I decided I wanted to share it, too:

How To Make Love to a Trans Person.

I know that we have a number of trans people in the community of commenters at Ta-Nehisi’s place, and I suspect there are more that I don’t know about, and I’ve recently been trying to come to grips with my sheer inability to grasp the reality of the lives lived by people who identify as trans.

I’ve long felt that you are who you tell me you are, and in whatever language you use, but there are places where it’s simply a greater challenge for my head to go to and hope to understand.

The fact of Dana International, an Israeli singer and trans woman, made a big difference for me, many years ago, but recently — because of the folks at Ta-Nehisi’s place and, like the rest of America, Chaz Bono — I’ve found myself realizing how far I had to come still. Reading about and watching interviews with Chaz helped (and I know some in the LGBTQ community have issues with him, not to mention women more generally having issue with what some see as his misogyny, but I’m working at a much, much more basic level here!), as did reading a wonderful, loving Boston Globe article about identical twins, one of whom is a boy and one of whom is a trans girl — and then the other day, this poem helped enormously.

Here’s a small piece of it:

Realize that bodies are only a fraction of who we are
They’re just oddly-shaped vessels for hearts
And honestly, they can barely contain us
We strain at their seams with every breath we take
We are all pulse and sweat,
Tissue and nerve ending
We are programmed to grope and fumble until we get it right.
Bodies have been learning each other forever.
It’s what bodies do.
They are grab bags of parts
And half the fun is figuring out
All the different ways we can fit them together

Anyway. Thought I’d share.

And for more on Amanda Simpson, click here.

The power of “I see you.”

I’ve been hitting the job hunt particularly hard this week, and also have actual paying work (“this week” is currently shaping up to be monetarily equivalent to the combined months of July and August. Ah, freelancing!), which is why you’ve been seeing so many wee, little “Good Stuff” posts. This, too, will not be long.

But for some random reason, a memory just floated across my brain pan of a post a week or so back in which Ta-Nehisi Coates mentioned, almost in passing, that he was presuming that for many of the early feminists, the threat of sexual violence was a constant.

I was struck at the time by how powerful it is to have a man simply say the very thing I was thinking, struck by the unexpected wave of gratitude that washed over me as I read it, almost a little embarrassed, like: So what, a man said it — women have been known it since forever!

I don’t know why it came to me now (it may have been jogged by this story of Occupy Nashville protesters greeting a march by counter protesters with shouts of “We love you!”), but even as I wrote about something else altogether, I tried to tease out why it is so important to me to have men talk about women’s issues.

And I realized suddenly that it’s the simple power of being seen. Of feeling invisible, maybe almost without realizing it, and suddenly hearing someone say “I see you.”

The power is much greater than just that, of course — the growing involvement of men in the efforts against sexual violence of all kinds is a crucial component of the larger battle — but those moments, those little, unexpected moments when someone who has felt invisible — battered women, say, or LGBTQ kids, or Asian Americans virtually en masse — hears a simple “I see you,” those moments are often the moments that provide the actual healing. They are a balm, and they provide far more hope than I think we realize.

If only removing our blinders weren’t such a slow business.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Twenty-one minutes to 9/12.

Twenty-one minutes until it is no longer 9/11, and I find I do not want to lose this day entirely to those who have stolen it in an endless cultivation of a cult of sorrow. It was actually Angry Black Lady who helped me finally get here, before the day was entirely gone, and I’m grateful — because I, too, lived that day, and have lived every day of the decade since. I, too, am still in mourning — and not because I am told to be, but because I am.

And so I’ve decided to re-up what I wrote two years ago, as I tried to remember that crystal-clear, blue-sky Tuesday and tried, as I will for the rest of my life, to make sense of it. Everything I wrote then is what I feel now, so here it is, again.

This day.

I want to write something today about what day it is, or, I suppose, about what day it was, 8 years ago. I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to say.

I still, eight years later, do not know what to make of the attacks on September 11, 2001 — my heart and my head and my common sense and my fears and then my heart, again, all freeze up in the face of the enormity of it, in the sense-less, makes-no-sense, nature of it. The horror of individuals falling, rag dolls thrown, from windows, the horror of men climbing stairs, loaded, heavy, with equipment and mission, to their deaths, the horror of those whose horror we will never know, the office workers, housekeeping staff, corner-office executives who had a second — did they even have a second? — to know of their deaths, or had a handful of moments to hope for their lives and then came the roar that must have come, a deafening, howling roar, as the buildings began to collapse. The people on the planes, the people on the ground looking up, the flight attendants, the thank-god-I-got-to-work-early eager beavers, the police officers, the I’ll-call-mom-when-I-get-to-the-office forgetful kids. We’re all someone’s kid, aren’t we.

In the intervening eight years, we’ve lost far more Americans to two wars predicated on that day than we lost that day — more than twice the number, in fact. Parents and brothers and wives, and probably some assholes, people who had a second to know of their deaths, or had a handful of moments to hope for their lives, were rag dolls, thrown, out windows, in the air, to the ground. People who, in a very real sense, are also casualties of 9/11. People who were, who are, someone’s kids.

There are days to question your country, days to demand and protest and rage. This is not one of them. I am proud to be American. I am grateful to be American. On this day, I’ll put my demands and my protests and my rage — the very tools of patriotism — in my pocket, to be pulled out and wielded tomorrow. Today, I’ll send my thoughts and my hopes and my prayers out for this country that I love so much, for those at memorial services on this day, for those humping across Central Asian mountains and through bomb-pocked streets, for those who won’t come home but don’t know it yet.

Jack Layton’s final words.

On an Ottawa sidewalk.

I’m not Canadian, and though I’ve recently tried to get a little bit more abreast of Canadian politics and culture (starting with the wonderful Canada! How does it work?, by Canadian extraordinaire Michelle Dean, at The Awl), I will confess that I had only the vaguest notion of who Jack Layton was before he died of cancer this week at age 61.

Who he was, was leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, but by all accounts, Jack Layton was also much more than that. I’m only beginning to learn, but I’ve learned enough to wish that I could have voted for him, and that he might still be alive and well up north of me, making the world a better, more loving place.

I say “loving” because commenter corkingiron tells us that Mr. Layton apparently advised the men with whom he worked to use words like “love” and “compassion” and “nurture” more often, and the barrage of quotes that Mr. Layton’s admirers are now sending around the internet feature the word “love” quite a lot. Love — in politics. Now that is a concept to bring tears of gratitude to my eyes.

At any rate, I wanted to share the above picture of what are being referred to as Mr. Layton’s final words — for, knowing that he was dying, he wrote a letter to Canada just this past Saturday. It was released within hours of his death on Monday — the above are the words with which he chose to close his farewell. (I’m thinking that whoever chalked those words on the sidewalk must have done so as part of the larger ad hoc memorial outside of Toronto’s City Hall, but I don’t know for sure).

The entire letter is a beautiful thing, both in the writer’s clear desire to continue to help the people and causes in which he believed as they continue to work to achieve their real-world goals, and in his simultaneous ability to transcend party and politics and appeal to all who might be reading his words, particular those who might be struggling with cancer. It made me think of Lincoln, frankly, and I urge you to read it, and I thank commenter JHarper2 for providing it in yesterday’s open thread. You might want also to read these tributes, left in today’s open thread by caoil: An open letter to my generation and A Tribute to Jack Layton (from the White Ribbon Campaign, “the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women”). Clearly, Mr. Layton was well-loved, and with good reason.

What really slays me is that as he lay dying, he wrote in the future tense.

My friends, love is better than anger.
Hope is better than fear.
Optimism is better than despair.
So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.
And we’ll change the world.

*********

Update: Please also check out this blog by the woman who brought the chalk to Toronto City Hall in the first place, and then click on this gobsmacking picture of the square in front of city hall, post-chalk (both thanks to my Twitter pal @rosefox).

h/t Paul Dewar, Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre and New Democrat Foreign Affairs Critic.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

The suckage of human history, on the eve of 2011.

Over the past week or so, as we’ve approached the second year in the second decade of this century, my Twitter feed and various other corners of the internet have been rife with statements of relief to see 2010 end. The general feeling, out their in cyberville, appears to be that this was a particularly no-good year.

And I wonder: Has it really? Or, rather: Aren’t they all bad, give or take?

Surely other years have been seen bloody wars and diplomatic failures, high unemployment and the further enrichment of the rich. This was not the only year in which a sitting President, beloved by some, lost the midterm elections, and the political class spat rancor and spewed bile. Every year, we see rank xenophobia, catastrophic ignorance, and natural disasters. It’s in the nature of things for things to suck.

Of course, it’s also in the nature of things for us to take steps to decrease the suckage. Some years we’re better at this than others; occasionally, it seems to be entirely out of our hands. But mostly, we slog along and push ahead and grunt and groan and weep and gnash our teeth and try our best and bit by bit, we chip away at the worst of things, and slowly, the world gets better.

This year, we saw it in Health Care Reform and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We saw it in crowds of Americans who stood against hatred and with their Muslim brothers and sisters. We saw it as the entire world held its breath and watched los mineros de Chile! emerge from the depths of what by rights should have been their grave. None of these events were perfect, and none of them promised a happily-ever-after to anyone. All left destruction, of one kind or another, in their wake.

But that’s the way we do. We can only be human. We can only keep trying — fucking up and trying, fucking up and trying.

In thinking about this tonight, I started to wonder what things looked like back when Americans were nearing the second decade of the last century — in part (I admit) because that’s when my house was built and I love wondering about the people who went before me, but mostly because there’s no better way to see how much things have improved, than to consider what life was like in the good old days.

So let’s start here: When my house was built, in the late 19-aughts, life expectancy for the American woman was a little better than 47 years (which is to say – I’d be nearly dead). For men, it was a touch more than 46, unless the men were African Americans, in which case, life expectancy was 33. The fourth leading cause of death was “diarrhea, enteritis, and ulceration of the intestine.”

The average worker put in nearly 60 hours a week, and much of the industrial revolution was being implemented by children. In 1909, the Cherry Mine Disaster saw 259 men and boys killed (more than half the mine’s workforce) when a massive fire trapped them underground; twelve would-be rescuers also died.

Only 97 Americans were killed in car accidents in that decade (there were only 8,000 cars), but 115 were lynched. In 1908, race riots erupted in Springfield, Illinois, stemming in part from a false accusation of rape (the accuser later admitted to lying to cover up an affair). The black business district was methodically destroyed, forty black homes burned, two black men lynched, and four whites died in days of melee — but then, “anti-black race riots in northern cities were nothing new in the first decade of the twentieth century.” After all, PBS tells us, “race [was] invoked to explain everything: individual character, the cause of criminality, and the natural superiority of ‘higher’ races.” Schools and baseball were segregated, and it goes without saying that Barack Obama would not have been able to vote, nor, indeed, allowed through the front door of the White House.

Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have been allowed to vote, either, and had she attended the first suffrage parade, in 1910, she would have likely be wearing an organ-crushing corset to define her waist. Higher education was almost unheard of for the women of the time — in 1900, 2.8% of American women attended college; twenty years later, that number had risen to 7.6%. And of course, for every 1,000 live births, six to nine women died in childbirth; about 100 of the babies would die before their first birthday.

All this, and Americans still hadn’t faced the First World War, the 1918 flu pandemic, the Great Depression, or the Second World War.

Do you know how long 100 years is? Zip. It’s the potential life-expectancy of a baby born today (and given that infant mortality rates have dropped more than 90% in the last century, those babies are already starting out with a better shot).

So, yeah: 2010 sucked.

It sucked, and we may decide ten years from now, or a hundred, that 2010 was more than sucky, it was abysmal. But then, 2020 and 2110 will likely suck, too.

Human history suggests, however, that as terrible as things always are, the suckage grows less over time — because we put our minds to making things better.

I agree: A lot about this year was nothing to write home about. I know I’m not the only blogger who failed to post now and then simply because the world was too ugly to look at.

But here’s to making 2011 better.

Peace out, and may you and yours have a very happy new year. May the good dreams come true, the bad dreams be buried, and friends and family hold fast and true!

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

I say to you therefore: Choose life.

(Looking for the Open Thread? Go here).

In all of the conversation/mud-slinging about Cordoba House, aka “the Ground Zero Mosque,” many of us have gotten heavily involved in throwing theology and holy writ at each other like so many Ginsu knives. Those opposed to the community center pick and choose the bits of the Qur’an that support their worldview, and those of us on the other side of the argument do the same. I made my contribution to this particular piece of the action here, with a small collection of the many statements made by Muslims categorically condemning terrorism.

Now, of course, I played my part in this because I believed it was the right thing to do. One cannot simply say that the Qur’an urges violence against non-Muslims and walk away — one has to take into consideration a wealth of information that goes beyond one or two carefully chosen verses. We’re fighting hate speech here, and the best way to do that is by spreading more truth.

But this does lead to a situation in which, as my Twitter pal @TheOdalisque put it, one is essentially saying: “My Muslims are more halal than your Muslims!” Which can get silly.

Moreover, it would be dishonest to say that Islam, or any religion, doesn’t have its dark moments. In fact, Professor of Islamic Law Khaled Abou El Fadl, one of the people I quoted in the afore-mentioned post, has said as much:

It would be disingenuous to deny that the Qur’an and other Islamic sources offer possibilities of intolerant interpretation. Clearly these possibilities are exploited by the contemporary puritans and supremacists.

But then he goes on to say:

But the text does not command such intolerant readings. Historically, Islamic civilization has displayed a remarkable ability to recognize possibilities of tolerance, and to act upon these possibilities.

And this is the point that interests me, and has interested me for years. What do we do with these “possibilities of intolerant interpretation” — how do we reconcile them with the possibilities for peace? How do we build faith communities, and interfaith communities, that strive ever to greater Godliess — with all this damn baggage?

Well! It’s interested me for years, and I even wrote about it once, for the Chicago Tribune — so I thought I’d post that piece here. The headline is pretty awful, but I think that the discussion is still relevant — in fact, given the Cordoba House conversation/mud-slinging, it might be more relevant than ever.

 

Washed in the blood of the lamb, etc.

Chicago Tribune
November 17, 2002
By Emily L. Hauser.

Those of us who see the struggle for peace and justice as a spiritual act often quote our Scriptures to validate our efforts. We talk about “true” Judaism, Christianity or Islam and decry how our religions have been distorted. We adorn our walls and bulletin boards with beautiful quotes, words we believe God gave to humanity: “Seek peace and pursue it,” say the Psalms. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” Jesus exhorts his followers. “Those who keep from evil will dwell amid gardens,” we read in the Koran. “In their wealth, the beggar and outcast had due share.”

God, we say, is all about peace and justice.

What, then, are we to do about the other words in our books, words we often choose not to discuss?

“As for those peoples that warred against Jerusalem,” reads Zechariah 14:12, “their flesh shall rot away while they stand on their feet.” Or this passage from John, where Jesus talks to “the Jews”: “You belong to your father, the devil. . . . The reason you do not hear [God] is because you do not belong to God.” In the fifth chapter of the Koran: “The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger . . . will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off . . . in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom.”

Usually, people like me ignore these passages. We push them aside, or counter with quotes we like better. When we do this, though, we are lying.

An individual’s understanding of the Creator comes from life experience; so it is with communities.

Each of the world’s religions–monotheist, polytheist, animist, druid–came into being in the framework of a particular culture. Many arose in response to perceived failures of another faith. Some focused on establishing a discrete community on this earth; others sought to transcend the earth; many juggled both colossal tasks.

There were political struggles and bloody battles to fight, slights to overcome, the weak-willed to encourage, traditions to establish and pass on.

So the Israelites institutionalized slavery. St. Paul made wives subordinate to husbands. The Koran recommends amputation for thieves. We can look it up chapter and verse–it’s really there, in all its sordid glory, flesh rotting, Jews being of the devil, infidels crucified.

(more…)

Dancing at Hitler’s ovens.

Update (July 16): Apparently the video was pulled because people were getting offended. Honestly — a Holocaust survivor can’t decide for himself how he’s going to celebrate his survival? I don’t understand people. I really do.not.understand.people.

Look at what I found on boing boing: A Holocaust survivor, his daughter and grandchildren traveled around Europe, camp to camp, memorial to memorial, and filmed themselves dancing to I Will Survive. I’ve just watched it twice, weeping and laughing the entire time. It’s a marvel and a gift, and possibly the best Holocaust memorial I’ve ever seen.

Among the many, many things I love about it is how flagrantly none of them are dancers.

Make sure you watch until the very end.

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