.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Monday, March 31, 2008

Clue Number Two:

Where in the World are Tom and Julie?
Posted Saturday, March 28, 2009.

Photo #1 is the outside of our "palace." It is actually called "The Palace Tower," and it's also seen in the opening slide of this set at the Hilton site. Or in this map of where we are.

Photo #2 is inside.

#3 is where we ate dinner last night (look closely at the
right of the photo and you'll see a steak house).

#4 Tom and Julie at dinner.

#5 is sunset from the opposite direction. It was delicious meal and view!

Additional photos of this 2009 trip may be posted in this 2008 slot after March 31, 2009.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Welcome to a "New Soul" (featuring Yael Naim)

In recent years, my daughters have begun to influence my taste in music by introducing me to "lesser known" artist who have followings in little coffee houses around the world. Some of these artists "get their break" when some obscure song becomes a surprise hit in a movie soundtrack; others lend their magical quality to a well-funded ad campaign. The song may have nothing to do with the product, but it connects us emotionally to it by adding a human element.

You've probably seen the new Macintosh commercial featuring the world's thinnest laptop computer being pulled out of a flat manila envelope. That's where you've heard the song below. It has been in my head for days.

Songs do that to me sometimes. I've heard this phenomenon called "ear worms," but that sounds more like an infestation than an "inspiration." Listen to the song and read the simple words as they saunter to that irresistible rhythm. You can't help but smile. You can't help but thank God for music, for both imagination and TRUTH, for the freedom to make mistakes, for mercy, and for the hope of being a "new soul."

This post is dedicated to some friends (our vocal music teacher and her husband) who just had a new baby girl Friday! This song reminds me of her gifted, playful, artistic approach to teaching children about music and life. (In the middle of one of her classes last week, she pressed her tummy and said, "Ooooo, that was a good one [contraction] and went right on teaching, knowing it wouldn't be long before their "new soul" would be with them (and their 2-year-old daughter) in this strange world. Thanks for making the joy of new life a part of your lesson plans, Mrs. C.

New Soul by Yael Naim

I'm a new soul I came to this strange world
hoping I could learn a bit 'bout how to give and take.
But since I came here felt the joy and the fear
finding myself making every possible mistake
I'm a young soul in this very strange world
hoping I could learn a bit bout what is true and fake.
But why all this hate?
Try to communicate finding trust and love
is not always easy to make.
This is a happy end cause' you don't understand
everything you have done why's everything so wrong
this is a happy end come and give me your hand
I'll take your far away.
[Refrain]: I'm a new soul I came to this strange world
hoping I could learn a bit about how to give and take
but since I came here felt the joy and the fear
finding myself making every possible mistake

Friday, March 28, 2008

Who But He Can Help?

I'm bringing this post temporarly to the top of POI today because this incredible story aired on DATELINE NBC tonight, Friday, March 28, at 9 p.m. ET. and may be featured on Oprah this WEDNESDAY afternoon.

Through the years, we have had graduates attend Taylor University in Indiana. This story of mistaken identity affected that campus but played out here in west Michigan almost two years ago. (The Cerak family attends the church up in Gaylord that was the home church of our yearbook teacher. Her children attend our school.),
Be sure to watch Matt Lauer's special DATELINE tonight. Here are some related interviews from Thursday's Today Show:
Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Follow this link to many artilces about this story and the new book, Mistaken Identity..
Originally Posted 6-2-2006 : I sat up last night reading a surreal string of blog posts [link no longer active] by an extraordinary person named Lisa Van Ryn. If like millions who have heard this week’s story you are at a loss for how to feel, the two families can help you. Read the days as they unfolded at this blog
(Update as of 6-10-06: I noticed today that this blog can no longer be found . See additional thoughts at the end of this post. On June 5, the Cerak family began a new blog at:http://whitneycerak.blogspot.com/

A family in our school came recently from the Gaylord church that will someday welcome Whitney Cerak home. These friends of ours have their own incredible story of loss, forgiveness and healing.

As this current story of redeemed mourning unfolds, I feel unworthy to share in the grief of these souls whom God has chosen to carry an unspeakable burden of love and loss, but I sent them this today:

Who but He can help

Who but He can help
assuage the anguish
of the found and lost?
Who but He
can know the cost
of having tendered a rose
till first the blush
and then the bloom returned
in sweet awakening…
to loving strangers
who now have learned
their present nearly held has passed,
and another’s past is present?
The mind cannot undo
twists of time;
the heart cannot contain
such mingled joy and sorrow.
This budding hope
comes with a thorny stem
that who but He can help them hold?
Who but He who taught them
what they know of love…
and thorns?

© Copyright 2006, Tom Kapanka

Romans 12:15
Rejoice with them that do rejoice,
and weep with them that weep.
As mentioned above, the link to the day-to-day account written mostly by Lisa VanRyn is no longer accessible on the web. I respect their privacy and decision. If this story ever becomes a book [it did], movie, or TV special, I hope they include portions of that now-closed blog [they did]. It is a very human testament of faith and faithfulness. The changing of the blog may help pass the joy of recovery fully on to the Cerak family so the VanRyn family can move on in grief (and shared joy for a family they will be forever connected to). [On September 7, 2012, I met Lisa Van Ryn who came and speak to our high school students. She confirmed that it was for these reasons they took down that blog. I am happy to share her current new site at lisavanryn@wordpress.com.]
The two families may also be on Oprah WEDNESDAY, April 2..
The first 3 comments below are from 2006.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Words Fitly Spoken: Part IV

Damaged ETHOS, Repaired PATHOS?
and A Lighter Look at Lacking LOGOS

When I began this “Words Fitly Spoken” series, it was because I was missing my old classroom setting during the political primary season. I miss interacting with students about current events and critical thinking. I was a young teacher during the Reagan Revolution, and for eight years he was an interesting illustration of Aristotle’s elements of rhetoric: ETHOS, PATHOS, and LOGOS.

Last week Obama was recovering from the PATHOS issues of his "pastor disaster," but it seems that toothpaste has been put back in the Youtube. In part because this CBS Youtube Clip with over a million views triggered a telling ETHOS implosion for Hillary.

As mentioned in Part I, ETHOS is that intangible quality that says a speaker's character, knowledge, and judgment are worthy of respect. Had this merely been a lapse in reasoning or facts (LOGOS), the story would not have legs, but because it underscores two decades of Clintonian ETHOS issues, it has fueled a 48-hour news cycle and will likely lead to harsh hindsight like this from Dick Morris, this blast from the New York Times, this most damaging account from Slate, and kinder but not gentler critiques like this from Peggy Noonan before going away... but the damage is done. [Update 3-30-08: Then a week later this issue came up.]

But enough about this latest political pothole!

Before we take a serious look at LOGOS, I thought it might be fun to study the unending supply of “logic” from that legend of Youtube known simply as Dax Flame. This 16-year-old is one of the most watched “stars” on the internet. My daughter started showing me these clips months ago. (They appeal to the generation that made Napoleon Dynamite a hit.)

At first I wasn't sure if Dax was an outspoken savant (in the form of AS described here) or a convincing actor from the school of “random thought.” I'm introducing you to him not to make fun of muddled thinking, but as a reminder that all of us have had those moments when we've lost our train of thought or when we've been expected to listen to a speaker whose LOGOS is clearly faulty.

Some of Dax Flame's Youtube posts receive more than half a million views within weeks. Some time when not satisfied with main-stream TV, spend a night with Dax. Whether "real" or "fake," Dax is well aware of the entertainment value of his pseudo rationality as he provides the world a lighter look at lacking LOGOS :

Questionable Logic (next 5 red links)

Dax Flame teaches his knowledge

Why Dax won't eat at Chick-Fil-A

Dax does the impossible

Dax explains "global warmings"

Dax goes Christmas shopping

The Unfolding Love Saga (next 6 purple links):

Dax buys a car on Ebay and sees Annie in class

"How to win a woman's heart" Part I

"How to win a woman's heart" Part II

Asking Annie on a date Part I

Asking Annie on a date Part II

Bad Dream about Annie gets Dax grounded

Good and Bad days at school (next 5 green links)

Dax Reacts to the news that he can't major in magic

Why Dax hates "Picture Day" at school

Dax explains bathroom Safty (and a secret crush)

Dax gets banned from PE hockey

Bad day on the school bus

(Before you become sad that poor Dax is a living Charlie Brown or a troubled teen, here is some "proof" that Dax Flame is likely an act. And here's more proof that Madison Patrello does not lead the bizarre life of his Youtube character. That should relieve the guilt of laughing with him (not at him) as he shares his misguided mishaps. Here are more than 100 other vlogs with more than ten million views. [Check out this odd tribute from a talented fan: Dax painted in chocalate syrup..]

In Part V of "Words Fitly Spoken" we will look at the legitimate end of the LOGOS spectrum.

Friday, March 21, 2008

In Remembrance of Me

Yesterday was the first day of spring! And the sun rose with the promise of new life all around. Thanks, Lord. We needed that.

Today is Good Friday... when the Son was lifted up with the promise of new life all around. Thanks, Lord, we needed that even more.

I began these thoughts a week ago Monday, March 10th, the night after “Spring Ahead Sunday.” A few hours earlier, I was a few minutes late to my Monday School Board meeting, because--according to my watch--I still had an hour to get back to the school. Two nights before, when Julie and I changed all the clocks, I forgot to change my watch.

Spring ahead; fall back!” Isn’t it funny how we rely on those four words to make sure we get it right twice a year? Here are some other examples of 4-word reminders.
I know some people who say “never eat soggy waffles” to remember the clockwise order of N,S,E,W on a map. And I’ve caught myself mumbling,
lefty loosy; righty tighty” while unscrewing things. Here’s another one I use that you’ve probably never heard:
Black gold, Texas tea.”

Whenever I’m doing electrical wiring at home, I begin singing the “Beverly Hillbillies Theme.” You may know it from re-runs. Jed Clampett was “shooting at some food and up from the ground came a bubblin’ crude—oil that is, black gold, Texas tea..” That little song helps me remember that the black wire goes to the gold contact on the fixture, which leaves the white wire for the silver contact. (The green wire goes to “ground” because both words start with g-r.)
There you have it: My Guide to Basic Home Wiring.
I guess we could say God wired our minds for re-MIND-ers.

He understood the power of verbal symbols (words) and visual symbols (signs, logos, etc.) and that without them, we are prone to forget the most basic instructions of life. He plugged in symbolic reminders as the story of man’s fall and redemption unfolded. Some huge, like the rainbow, some hard as rocks beside a river, and some as small as a mustard seed, but –BAM!—the image flashes across our mind and we remember something God told us not to forget.

Some symbols are so important that our Lord himself did not share them until His last moments on Earth.

On the night he was betrayed, He sat with his disciples and imposed extraordinary meaning upon two ordinary objects: He reminded his followers that he was the “bread of life” and then he broke that bread.

Then the Vine reminded the branches that grapes must be crushed to fill the cup, and so too his life must be spilled out for the forgiveness of sins. (This symbol of the cup was still fresh on his mind a few hours later as He pleaded with His father in the garden, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”)

Jesus remembered that we would forget. He knew we were creatures in need of rainbows and rocks and seeds and sticky notes, so He left us with three symbols in his last hours on Earth. The last symbol, like the first two, was a common physical object—not the bread or cup upon the table but something made from wood like the table itself.

This Son of God whose earthly father was a carpenter knew all about wood. He taught of a Kingdom of roots and branches. He admonished us to be mindful of the sawdust and beams in our eyes. This God-man knew the touch of wood from his first to his last breath. He was the lamb whom those drawn to Him saw first in a wooden manger and last upon rugged cross. And so it was that this most common of materials was hewn into the most enduring symbol of Christendom. The Saviour knew that our minds would need re-MIND-ers, that our eyes would sometimes need a SIGN to recall His SIGNificance, and He instructed us to observe these symbols "in remembrance of me." The old hymn put it this way,
.“Lest I forget Gethsemane,
                         Lest I forget Thine agony;
Lest I forget Thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.”
May we fall back on these words as we look to the spring ahead.

Happy Easter!

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Just when we thought it was over...

Update: Friday PM.
Speaking of
re-MIND-ers, I sometimes forget that SNOW knows no calendar in Michigan's and often wears out its welcome in early spring. (It snowed last Easter, too, and that was two weeks later.)
The opening sentence of this post was true. Yesterday was a sunny day with only remnants of snow where the piles had been all winter, but today a heavy snow fell steadily from noon to night. It was still coming down as I shoveled the driveway after dinner. Six inches and counting. (Last Saturday, I put the snow blower away for the year.)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Words Fitly Spoken: Part III

PATHOS : Words that Stir
[re-posted from Saturday's version of these thoughts]

Just when I was afraid this series about Aristotle's three elements of persuasive public speaking (ETHOS, PATHOS, and LOGOS) would seem irrelevant, along came a news story that vividly illustrates the need to be cautious with PATHOS.

PATHOS is the Greek word from which we get the words pathetic, sympathetic, apathetic, etc. It refers to a speaker's ability to genuinely feel as well as the ability to inspire deep feelings in others. In Part IV, we'll be discussing LOGOS (which is Greek for "word," but Aristotle used it to mean the building blocks of LOGIC and reasoning). When PATHOS is not supported by LOGOS, the result is either sentimentality or BOMBAST (in which fervor trumps all else). Allow me to illustrate uncontrolled PATHOS with the following Youtube clips:
The first is this anti-Hillary tirade from Senator Obama's pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright (not to be confused with these more controversial clips that hit the news this week.) In fairness to Rev. Wright, let me say that the context of "clips" should always be considered; and in fairness to Obama, I'll add that we've all, at times, disagreed with the tone, opinions, and political ideas of religious leaders with whom we may otherwise hold common ground. I'm not judging Obama's church or its former pastor. I do not judge the validity of the PATHOS the reverend Mr. Wright feels. I'll let each viewer judge for themselves as to whether this sort of speaking helps or hurts the cause.
It's possible that this suddenly-retired pastor should consider the choice that all persuasive speakers face: Am I going to recklessly say what I feel entitled to say because I feel it’s right even if it hurts the cause I supposedly want to help? Or am I going to be careful with my words and feelings because they may be used to hurt the very cause I feel so deeply about? In other words, will the venum I spew in my church help or hurt my candidate beyond my church?
In any political argument, it’s not enough to “preach to the choir.” It's not enough to speak with bombastic conviction. It's not even enough to be right (when such things can be known). Stirring the feelings of those who already share them is easy. Likewise, anyone can give the world "a piece of their mind," but it takes a truly gifted speaker to change the mind of the masses.
I include the Wright video clips only to contrast his ineffectiveness when compared to Obama's PATHOS in this recent Obama clip as he attempts to calmly denounce the statements. It's not Obama's most eloquent oratory, but it's credible. In it he makes reference to this famous impromptu speech of Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy forty years ago, which is another great example of PATHOS.
[Caution: disturbing footage at the end.]
After viewing those Youtube clips, you may want to read this very interesting article that touches indirectly on why Obama may be able to bridge the gap that is at the heart of Rev. Wright's inflammatory rhetoric. It's called “American Adam,” and the author suggests that Obama is part of a recurring theme in American history.
"Obama is the candidate of ...a "new kind of politics," ... But, in emphasizing newness, Obama is actually voicing a very old theme. When he speaks of change, hope, and choosing the future over the past, when he pledges to end racial divisions ... Obama is striking chords that resonate deeply in the American psyche. He is making a promise to voters that is as old as the country itself: to wipe clean the slate of history and begin again from scratch. Looming over all of American history...is the Biblical figure of Adam, the only person, according to the West's major religions, to have lived unburdened by what came before him.... The myth of America as Adam runs through our country's literature... And it reemerges periodically in American politics--usually during times of upheaval or discontent.... Joe Lance [wrote] that he was backing Obama "because he transcends the old divides between black and white Americans. ..." Such ideas underlie enthusiastic newspaper endorsements of Obama. The Dallas Morning News wrote, "... no candidate is better equipped than Mr. Obama. His message isn't about anger and retribution. It's about moving forward." ...
If you have time, read the whole article. Even as a non-Obama supporter, I do see the "Adamic" pattern, but he is on his heels over this pastoral controversy. In a week or so we’ll see if his political skills can help coax this recent lion of March… to go out like a lamb.
[Update: Monday evening. We won't have to wait until the end of March to see if this "pastor disaster" had an effect. Obama dropped 5 points nationally over the weekend. This event has blown up more than I anticipated and has forced Obama to give the speech of his life on Tuesday, March 18, added below on March 19]
It will be interesting to see if his words will ring true enough to diffuse the parsing of each line and to de-fuse the explosive suspicions of political foes. Not to pile on, but here's an example of how Wright's harsh words taint Obama's authenticity if not his "judgment":
Last summer, Obama said in this speech at his church’s national convention, “Somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and started being used to drive us apart. Faith got hi-jacked partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian right who have been all to eager to exploit what divides us..." As a conservative person of faith, I am willing to consider the truth of those words. BUT why did Obama shirk that perfect opportunity to confess his own church's guilt for doing the same thing? Now that we've heard the divisive tirades of Obama's long-time pastor, last summer's rebuke sounds like a case of the pot calling the kettle white.
I've been one of those observers who disagree with Obama's liberal, big-govenment cure-alls, but I was impressed by his stump message of unity, so this has been a disappointing development. For the sake of the progress his candidacy represents, I do hope the senator's speech can press down this picked-at scab and let the healing begin. If so, it will live on as a powerful example of PATHOS and LOGOS working together in a time when it mattered most.
It's sad that the kind of inspirational PATHOS that inspired this poet on Youtube, has been upstaged by the words of Jeremiah Wright. Toward the end of that creative political poem she says:
“Progress and pride can’t coincide
the only way we win is unified.”
By the way, the Greek word PATHOS is also the root of the word PASSION. Later this week, I hope to post some thoughts more in keeping with Passion Week.
Update: 3-30-08: Three weeks later the "Pastor Disaster" is still fodder for talking heads and columnists. To most viewers it has "gone away," but when I read this piece in the New York Daily News, which removes the racial aspect of the story, I saw how it may be more important than it first seemed.

Text of the Obama Speech: March 18, 2008

Pre-dated to follow Part III. Here's a video clip of the text of Tuesday's speech below:

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way.

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity: “People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories tha t we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.
The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.
But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicia ns, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committ ed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.
Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.
In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.
That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.
This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.
And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat. She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

A Positive Review
A Problematic Review
A More Problematic Review
A Hateful Diatribe against Obama from a Vulgar Pastor in Harlem
who is trying to out-Wright the Rev. Wright (Caution: MA rating). But it does
illustrate the misuse of PATHOS from all sides that Obama will have to deal with.

Update 3-21-08: This intersting photo and article surfaced a few days after Obama's speech. Why it matters. President Clinton thought highly enough of The Rev. Jeremiah Wright to invite him to the White House when he needed support from "respected" religious leaders as he confessed the Lewinsky scandal. So that neutralizes Hillary's ability to point fingers at Obama for lack of judgement. But it also tells us about the character of Rev. Wright. He was eager to fly to DC to glad hand the President in the wake of the Monica mess, and then later he used his vulgar illustration [2nd clip in that link] of that incedent when it served his purposes before his home audience. Things that make you go "Hmmmmm.... "

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 09, 2008

How I Filled the Gap

from "Leap Day" to "Spring Ahead"

Wow. I have not been on-line to post since "Leap Day," ten days ago. I haven't even been on-line to read or write in over a week. Tumbling from Leap Day to "Spring Ahead Sunday" (i.e. the Daylight Savings Time switch) pretty much describes the time warp I've been in since I started editing the hours of video I shot last January in Thailand for a presentation in our church this morning.

The trick was boiling down six days of footage into a 19-minute presentation in a way that provided some history of the Acah and Lahu hill tribes as well as the ongoing story of our church sending medical teams to them annually for ten years. The trips began in 1998--about the time I got out of the video production business (back in the days of analog S-VHS video equipment).

A lot has changed since the 90's in the area of video production. For a few thousand dollars, the quick-learning amateur can have a good camera and a powerful editing studio on a high-powered PC. Those capabilities cost small video business like mine about $20,000-$30,000 just 15-20 years ago. The last time a I took on a large project (a promotional for a new retirement village), I was surrounded by a wrap-around editing station with multiple stacks and decks of all sorts of equipment. Adding titles and credits to my work back then involved a dedicated computer and "genlock" processor.

Now the whole shebang is in one PC and each step is a mouse-click away, but that mouse-click requires a level of confidence that I did not yet have a week ago when this editing project began in earnest on the eve of Leap Day at my brother Dave's house, who you may recall shot my daughter's wedding last June. Dave did not have time to help with the editing itself but he let me camp out at his computer and pester him with questions. Then I'd work alone while everyone was sleeping and have ton more questions for Dave in the morning.

I'm afraid I drove him crazy as he gradually re-taught my "analogue" mind the ways of this new digital age. I was confident that I could get the project done at his house in two days, but Monday came and there was still hours of editing and the adding of music and "voice over." So I bought a 500 Gig Mybook external hard drive, and transferred all of the digital video footage and edited compilations, and continued the work at home. The endless questions to Dave (via phone) continued, but I wrapped up the project Friday, and made the final audio adjustments Saturday after viewing the "test" copy on the big screens at church.

This morning, I ran into (Julie B. who sometimes comments here) and she jokingly said, " Still on Part II, I see."
"It's been a few days," I laughed, "I've been up to my eyeballs in that Thailand video project."
"We're looking forward to seeing it. Is today the day?" She asked.
"Yep, this is it," I smiled, as if this deadline has not preoccupied every spare minute of my life for ten days.

Until that moment, I hadn't thought about Patterns of Ink or writing for days. Have you ever had a week like that? For me it came on the heals of a very hard month (when we dropped my middle daughter off at college in Chicago; then a few days later, I headed to Thailand; then I got called home for Mom's last days; then the funeral, etc.)

It 's hard to believe six weeks passed, but my daughter is home for Spring Break so I know it's true. Having her here makes life feel a little more "normal" already. [That's her ID photo.]

Last night we set the clocks forward, repeating the phrase "spring ahead fall back" at each clock. [Those four words rank right up there with "righty tighty; lefty loosy."]

The Thai Team presentation went well in both services. My family ate at an Italian place called Johnny Carino's afterwards, and then we came home and took a "long winter's nap" before beginning the ritual of taking down winter. I confess... I've never been more ready for the spring ahead.
Part III is coming... as if anyone still cares. =) And I'll soon be posting about Thailand that have been in the works since late January. Thanks for your patience.

Offshore Jones Act
Offshore Jones Act Counter