“How should a Christian view Communism?”

For a while there in the spring, I was periodically blogging about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Strength to Love. Then I stopped. I’m not entirely sure why, other than that I hit a chapter that really didn’t speak to me — and as previously admitted, I sometimes have a hard time following through on projects.

Be that as it may — that’s enough of that, then! Time to get back to it. Each post about the book can be read independently, but if you’re interested, previous installments can be found here.

Chapter ten – How should a Christian view Communism?

Well. Having initially swooned, and swooned again, and then kept right on swooning over Strength to Love — I sure did hit a brick wall with chapters nine and ten.

Chapter nine was, I’m sorry to say, just a little too Christian for me — and given that Dr. King was a pastor, and that “chapter nine” was initially a sermon, well, it takes a lot of gall for me to complain that chapter nine was too Christian, frankly.

Moreover, looking back at my notes, I find great wisdom to guide even so blatant a non-Christian such as myself — for instance:

Fatalism… is based on an appalling conception of God, for everything, whether good or evil, is considered to represent the will of God. A healthy religion rises above the idea that God wills evil…. The embracing of fatalism is as tragic and dangerous a way to meet the problem of unfulfilled dreams as are bitterness and withdrawal.


We Negroes have long dreamed of freedom, but still we are confined in an oppressive prison of segregation and discrimination…. Must we, by concluding that segregation is within the will of God, resign ourselves to oppression? Of course not, for this blasphemously attributes to God that which is of the devil. To cooperate passively with an unjust system makes the oppressed as evil as the oppressor. Our most fruitful course is to stand firm with courageous determination, move forward nonviolently amid obstacles and setbacks, accept disappointments, and cling to hope.


Our refusal to be stopped, our “courage to be,” our determination to go on “in spite of,” reveal the divine image within us.

Our refusal to be stopped, our courage to be, reveal the divine image within us — that is something, right there. It is our fight, our struggle to repair the world, that demonstrates God’s mark on us. Not our habits, not our sexual interests, not our willingness to read Scripture or pray — but our willingness to wrestle with imperfection and try to bring the world in line with Divine justice.

So, chapter nine wasn’t really all that bad, even for me.

But I’m supposed to be writing about chapter ten.

How is a post-Cold War semi-socialist Jew supposed to approach a chapter entitled “How should a Christian view Communism”?

As with chapter seven, I find Dr. King too glibly rejecting of non-believers (yes, I did just call Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “glib.” I’m not comfortable with this), too contemptuous of those who are not spiritual (“…humanism thrives on the grand illusion that man, unaided by any divine power, can save himself and usher in a new society…”). Plus which, there’s a whole lot of “we need to pledge ourselves anew to the cause of Christ” — and with all the will in the world, that’s kind of a problem for me, isn’t it? As a believing Jew and the wife of a deeply moral atheist, here, finally, is a place where I just can’t get on board.

But I think I have to understand that that’s just the way it is. I think that we (I) need to learn to be more comfortable with the fact that we speak differently with different audiences. As genuine as Dr. King was being with his own congregation, he would never have exhorted me to pledge myself anew to the cause of Christ — much as I can only imagine he didn’t exhort his good friend Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the giants of American Jewish thought. I think also that we (I) need to learn to be more comfortable with the fact that, occasionally, those whom we admire greatly will say things with which we entirely disagree — that such is human experience.

And even so, even here, where I have jumped off the train for a station or two, I find words that I want to hold close and knit into my synapses:

Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and yet is not concerned with the economic and social conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is the kind the Marxist describes as “an opiate of the people.”


Destructive means cannot bring constructive ends, because the means represent the ideal-in-the-making and the-end-in-progress. Immoral means cannot bring moral ends, for the ends are pre-existent in the means.

To both, I can only say: amen, amen — and endeavor to act on humanity’s spiritual duty to engage directly with the reality of human suffering, in my life, my political activism, and my Judaism.

Surely Dr. King would not argue with that.

Open Thread anew.

Update: Now, of course, the OTAN is back, and most of us seem to have headed back home! I think I’ll put up a new Open Thread here late on Friday, though, in case people want a place to hang out over the weekend, and we’ll see what happens with it.

It doesn’t look like TNC is leaping straight into a relaunch of the OTAN, so I’ll just put a fresh Open Thread up, in case anybody’s looking for one! For explanations and rules, go here and here and here. For the Coatesian mothership, here.

Things I don’t hate.

(Looking for the Open Thread? Go here).

You would think, being that I am a social liberal, a feminist, a Jew, and an upper-middle-class suburban mother, that you might be able to draw a pretty crunchy-granola circle around me and fairly easily determine what I will and will not allow in my house. And in many cases, you would probably be right.

But I have a confession to make:

I don’t hate everything that I’m supposed to.

My affection for Disney has already made itself known, and right there, I’m already in trouble. “But the princesses!” I hear my feminist sisters crying. “And the culturally insensitive movie representations!” I hear from my Mid East crowd. “Not to mention fucking Epcot!” I hear from nearly every wanna-be international intellectual I have ever met.

But the princesses are not one-dimensional; they reflect a Western reality with which your children will have to grapple whether you want them to or not; the stories often have genuinely good messages or solid entertainment value — and if you actually talk with your kids, hey presto! You can use the more problematic aspects in the Disney oeuvre as teaching tools.

And stop with Aladdin all ready. You don’t have to like every single character in every single made-up story for that story to be a net good. And Epcot? God in heaven people! The folks who visit Epcot know they’re not really in Morocco! (Or Canada). And most of them will never have the money to go to the real place — but maybe their curiosity will be piqued (really? Canadians don’t all look like Celine Dion?) and they will choose to study up on the subject!

Oy, I get so sick of people demanding that every single moment of our entertainment reflect only that which we want to see in the world!

Which brings me to another couple of things I don’t hate (also part of Disney World Domination, Corp., now that I think of it): the High School Musical movies (be they # 1, 2, or 3), and Disney television’s Witches of Waverly Place.

Neither is likely to make a permanent entry into our cultural canon. Both have moments of annoyingly stereotypical assumptions about boys and girls and what matters to each respective group of humanity. The former has some songs that I would really rather not have to hear again.

But both are also fun and occasionally funny. Both also undermine a good number of stereotypes, and do so in ways that are neither dogmatic nor cloying. Both feature decent acting more often than not. And the former boasts a small handful of really good pop and/or big musical numbers that I’m not going to mind hearing for the rest of my daughter’s childhood.

It matters that in High School Musical, Troy chooses to follow both of his dreams as far as they’ll take him, and follows his girl, rather than her following him, or either of them denying their true passions. It matters that he’s white and she’s Latino. It matters that a secondary story line has an African American basketball player confess that he loves to bake — and that he and a white girl become a couple. I may never forget the pleasant shock of seeing the Barbie version of that black basketball player and that white girl side by side in the same box (they’re a couple! Of course they’re not sold separately!), combined with the even sweeter shock of knowing that my daughter will never be shocked by such a thing (though I did take the time to bring our shopping trip to a screaming halt so that I could tell her that when I was a kid, you would never have seen such a thing — ever. Because you wouldn’t have. I’m sure she appreciated the lecture).

It also matters that in Witches of Waverly Place, the goof-off, gets-in-trouble-all-the-time-but-ultimately-comes-through-for-the-family kid is the girl. It matters that her brother is the goody-two-shoes, the one who couldn’t be cool if his life depended on it — and the one who, ultimately, she can always count on. It matters that the parents appear to genuinely enjoy and respect each other, and that they, too are an intercultural family (nonwizard-wizard, but perhaps more importantly, white-Latino). It matters that a recent story arc involved Asian kids, the brother an even better student and goody-ier-two-shoes than the main boy character, and the sister an even worse student and bigger goof-off than the main girl character. Because a) Oh, hey! Asians aren’t invisible! and b) some of them are lousy students!

Is any of this enough? No. I would in particular be a lot happier if a broader spectrum of human (particularly female) body types were represented in Disney products and generally in Hollywood. (Why can’t the not-stick-thin girls ever find love? Or, come to that: the gay boy? [Say what you like, HSM’s Ryan is as gay as Ken Mehlman]).

Nothing will ever be enough, frankly. We are going to be fighting these kinds of social battles, and people are going to be trying to make money on the back of our social battles, until the Kingdom comes. And I don’t believe that the Kingdom will ever come. So.

But I grow weary of having to hate everything that isn’t perfect, of having to pick apart everything that isn’t fully evolved, of having to apologize, if only to some stupid high-brow portion of my Super Ego, for letting my kids enjoy simple, mass-production pleasures. Not to mention occasionally getting a kick out of them myself.

I also don’t hate the onslaught of Christmas (TM) every November, Jew though I may be. So sue me.

And anyway, my 11 year old has already read Gilgamesh and Beowulf, and my 7 year old knows who Harvey Milk is. So back off!

Friday again, so fast! Open Thread.

Right, so having confessed my complete ignorance as to workings of the Open Threads, that last one was pretty lively! It’s near the unwieldy 50 mark, though, and very nearly Friday, so I’m starting a new one.

I have a feeling that when Mr. Coates comes back online next week, he’ll reopen the OTANs. I’m not sure what that will mean for the OTs here. Several people have said they’d like to see them continue, one person said that they’d like a place for margin-bait conversations, and I’m happy to give it a try, but if the tumbleweeds start to blow through, I’ll just bow to the superior fire-power of Mr. Coates and The Atlantic. In short: We’ll just wait and see!

In the meantime, have at it! For explanations and rules, go here and here and here. For the Coatesian mothership, here.

Good stuff: Nothin’.

Having promised to try to be more jointed today, so far, I got nothin’.

But that’s ok, because I also got Nothin’, a Townes Van Zandt tune that I just discovered today, though I’ve surely heard it before. It’s track #11 on the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss collaboration Raising Sand, which I really, really love (one might even say it’s awesome!) — but the later tracks on albums often go somewhat neglected in a home with young kids in it. You put on a CD, you think you’ll be spending quality time with the whole thing, and then – well, something or other happens.

But this morning, on my way home from an overnight visit with a friend, I really heard the track. And then I listened again. And again. And probably again.

Almost burned out my eyes/Threw my ears down to the floor/I didn’t see nothin’/I didn’t hear nothin’/I stood there like a block of stone/Knowing all I need to know/And nothin’ more/Man, that’s nothin’

With fuzzy, screamy guitars, and Alison Krauss’s bluegrass violin – man alive…. I wish I could see them perform this live. I saw Robert Plant once and he was, indeed, absolutely awesome.

Anyway, now I want you to hear it, too:

Uh… about the post….

Ok, so as a daily blogger, I have really fallen down on the job this week! Having not posted since very late Sunday night.

There are some good reasons for this! Here’s what I emailed to my poor neglected sister just this morning:

Monday was the last day before school and though I managed to keep the morning relaxing and very nice, the afternoon was JAMMED with pre-school must-do stuff, and then I got a rush writing job to do and was up until 2:45 in the blessed a.m. doing it, and then up at 6:45 getting the kids to their first 1/2 day of school, and then brought the girl to a friend, had lunch with our new middle schooler and his dad, then brought him home and picked up the girl, who I then took to her annual physical. Then I came home and promptly developed a g-i thing that was not pleasant. And then I went to bed.

Indeed, it’s been crazy for the past week and a half! In the span of nine days, the boy came home from camp, we spent three days in Galena, I celebrated my mother’s retirement with family, the boy has been to the doctor twice (allergies), we threw the boy a birthday party, the girl and I have both been to the dentist, she’s been to the doctor, AND we got ready for, and started school. Nothing is unpacked, everything is in an uproar in every room of the house, but every single thing that has had to happen, has happened — other than posting to my own wee blog.

Sorry about that.

I keep kind of meaning to write about two things, though.

The first: Names. Having just abandoned my internet handle of two years, “ellaesther,” I’ve been considering the many ways in which we are named and name ourselves, and why. Ella Esther is actually my Hebrew name, so I’ll always be Ella Esther, even if not always ellaesther, which I have abandoned for purely mercenary reasons (I want it to be easier for people to find this blog, so I’m now Emily L. Hauser wherever I go — and why, as long as we’re talking about names, do I insist on that damn “L.”?). I remember once reading this absolutely wonderful Anna Quindlen column in which she wrote about the struggle to work and be a professional person separate from her existence as a mother, about the magnet on her fridge that read “My name is not Mom,” about watching those kids grow and go, and finally ending with the line “My name is Mom. It is. It is.” About how I tear up every time I even think about that piece, because I feel down to my cellular level exactly what she meant — about how my name is, above and beyond anything else, Mom.

I’ve also been thinking about this blog post by Eboo Patel, an American Muslim, author, interfaith activist, NPR contributor (etc):

Can you believe that, at one point, women couldn’t vote in America? That Japanese American citizens were put in detention camps because of the actions of the Imperial Japanese Navy? That Jackie Robinson was spat upon on the baseball diamond because of the color of his skin? That there were quotas on Jews at Ivy League Universities? That mosques were opposed across the country and a shocking number of people suggested a Muslim should be disqualified from the Supreme Court or the Presidency because of his religion?

Oh yeah, that last one is still happening. But one day, I promise you, we will be as ashamed of the way American Muslims are viewed and treated in 2010 as we are of Japanese internment and Jim Crow. America’s promise is meant for everyone or we are not America.

You should read the whole thing (you should always read anything Eboo writes. He’s a good writer, and a wise man), but I want to get to the end, which is what I’m particularly thinking about:

We are entering into the second ten days of Ramadan – the days devoted to forgiveness.

Will America be America to its Muslim inhabitants? I have no doubt.

Will any of the members of the hate machine against Muslims one day have a change of heart and seek our forgiveness? I believe in God, so I believe in miracles.

Will Muslims forgive? I begin my spiritual preparation for that possibility now.

Will Muslims forgive? It’s worthwhile to remember this, as we non-Muslim Americans look at what’s being done to our Muslim compatriots in this ugly season of hate and fear — when we come to our senses, this country will need to ask forgiveness. I hope we’ll be able to, and that our Muslim brothers and sisters will be able to forgive.

Ok, that’s what I got for now! Sort of disjointed, as far as posts go, but “disjointed” is a pretty good description of the scene In My Head right now, so perhaps that’s apt.

I’ll try to be a bit more jointed tomorrow!

New Open Thread?

As I’ve intimated in the past, I am particularly stupid when it comes to reading the tea leaves re: the Open Threads — the last one appears to have died on the vine (other than dmf! Bless dmf! Thank you dmf!), but I don’t know if that’s because folks have lost interest, or if everyone thinks its closed because it says “Monday” on it, or if it’s just so far below the fold that people don’t realize it’s still a viable item.

So, I’m going to cautiously open a new one to the elements, and see who and what the winds blow in! For explanations and rules, go here and here and here. For the Coatesian mothership, here.

Good stuff: “A home for all God’s children, that’s America to me.”

(Looking for the Open Thread? Go here).

Monday is the last day of summer vacation, so I am going to be largely absent from anything even resembling professional activity, but, as luck would have it, I stumbled on something really wonderful, absolutely worth sharing, and easily posted.

To wit! The House I Live In.

First, here’s Frank Sinatra in a short film by that name, teaching the value of mutual tolerance, in a way that seems… hmmm… oddly resonant for today’s America! My favorite line: “Look fellas, religion makes no difference, except maybe to a Nazi or somebody as stupid” — followed very closely by “Use your good American heads. Don’t let anybody make suckers out of you.”

At the very end you’ll notice an odd edit — apparently the song with which Sinatra treated the boys was taken out of the clip for copyright reasons. But it can be heard here! And the lyrics are below.

The House I Live In

What is America to me?
A name, a map, or a flag I see;
A certain word, democracy.
What is America to me?

The house I live in,
A plot of earth, a street,
The grocer and the butcher,
Or the people that I meet;
The children in the playground,
The faces that I see,
All races and religions,
That’s America to me.

The place I work in,
The worker by my side,
The little town or city
Where my people lived and died.
The howdy and the handshake,
The air and feeling free,
And the right to speak my mind out,
That’s America to me.

The things I see about me,
The big things and the small,
The little corner newsstand,
And the house a mile tall;
The wedding and the churchyard,
The laughter and the tears,
And the dream that’s been a growing
For a hundred-fifty years.

The town I live in,
The street, the house, the room,
The pavement of the city,
And the garden all in bloom;
The church, the school, the clubhouse,
The million lights I see,
But especially the people;
That’s America to me.

The house I live in,
My neighbors white and black,
The people who just came here,
Or from generations back;
The town hall and the soapbox,
The torch of liberty,
A home for all God’s children;
That’s America to me.

The words of old Abe Lincoln,
Of Jefferson and Paine,
Of Washington and Jackson
And the tasks that still remain;
The little bridge at Concord,
Where Freedom’s fight began,
Our Gettysburg and Midway
And the story of Bataan.

The house I live in,
The goodness everywhere,
A land of wealth and beauty,
With enough for all to share;
A house that we call Freedom,
The home of Liberty,
But especially the people
That’s America to me.

(Thanks to complete stranger Bejay, who left the lyrics in comment #11 on Nick Kristof’s excellent Sunday column, Taking Bin Laden’s Side).

So. What’s this all about then?

A few new folks appear to be dropping by, via a comment I left on a Nick Kristof column at the New York Times, so I thought I might introduce myself, and show y’all around the place!

I tend to write a lot about Israel/Palestine and the contemporary Middle East, broadly speaking — hence my comment at the Times re: Cordoba House — but that’s not all I think about (indeed, if that were all I thought about, I might lose my mind). To find out who I am, go here; to find out what makes me think I can write about Israel/Palestine or the Middle East, go here, here, and/or here.

If that’s what interests you, here are some recent posts that you might find worth a read: “I say to you therefore: Choose life,” an essay about the various tensions that exist in the Abrahamic faiths, between the sometimes very angry and even ugly rhetoric, and the more soaring, better-angels type of words that peacemakers like to lean on as they seek peace; “Abir Aramin – loss and justice,” the story of a 10 year old Palestinian girl shot and killed by Israeli troops — initially, Israel tried to blame the death on Abir herself, but last week an Israeli court found Israel responsible for her death. Very soon after she was killed, her father ran a piece in the Forward about his pain, his ongoing peace advocacy, and his hope that Abir’s death might somehow help lead us all to peace; “Pakistan and repairing the world,” in which I look at just how awful the catastrophe in Pakistan is, and express the hope that Americans (Jews and non-) might reach out to Pakistan’s Muslims this Ramadan with our offers of help. You might also look at “Israel/Palestine: the basics,” “Israel/Palestine peace advocacy – places to start,” and “Israel/Palestine – a reading list.” (There’s also “Islam – a reading list” and “Middle East reading list” if you really want to read!)

If you’re interested in whatever else might come up around these parts, you can meander through the categories to your right, take a look at one of the Open Threads (latest one here), or take a look other posts that have gone up recently: “A loss for words,” wherein I wonder what the hell has happened to my vocabulary, or “The luckiest day of my life,” a reflection on raising a little boy in the real world, not the world as his dad and I would have it, or “Good stuff: Colors past, ghosts present,” wherein I goggle at some amazing color photographs from a time in which, hey presto, color photography pretty much didn’t exist! (What, you mean the world wasn’t in black and white back then?) — and many others!

I’d love to have you comment, if you’re so moved! Here’s an introduction to commenting around In My Head. I’d love to hear what you think!

Because it’s Friday (& now it’s Monday) Open Thread.

Ok, I’mma call it! That other Open Thread there needs to be folded up and put away, and a fresh new one laid out for Friday. For explanations and rules, go here and here and here. For the Coatesian mothership, here.

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