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Christina Talbott-Clark
The world demands more love than that. More. (Sherman Alexie)
The world demands more love than that. More. (Sherman Alexie)

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This is beautiful

It's been a while since I posted anything here (I'm still active; I've just been spending most of my time commenting on other people's posts of late) but this compelled me. It's not +Brian Koberlein's usual type of post - he usually posts on astrophysics, and his posts are well worth reading as he explains fascinatingly complex ideas in a very accessible, interesting manner - but it's equally thoughtful. 
Out of the Calm

Growing up, I spent most of my summers at my Grandmother’s lake in Minnesota. One of my favorite memories is when I would take the canoe out on the lake around twilight. Usually, in that hour between light and dark, the lake would take on a glass-like calm. It was then that you could paddle out onto the lake, gliding through the water with the only sounds being the whoosh of your oar, the occasional glup of a fish eating at the surface, and the lonely calls of distant loons.

When you paddle through calm water, the water rushes in behind your oar creating vortices. This always happens. It is basic physics. But in calm water you can see these spirals of water clearly, and they can last a very long time. The interesting thing about these water spirals is how they spin through the water. You can watch one form, drift slowly, and die as if it is a single entity. But in reality, these spirals are a form the water takes. The spiral is made of water, but not the same water for its whole existence. Water molecules are caught up by the spiral, make a swirling dance within it, and then return to the stillness of the lake. The spiral moves on, flowing through the calm.

Humans, as with all living things, are much the same. Our bodies are a dance of atoms forged in stars. We move through the world as a single pattern. But the physical world flows through us. The air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, becomes a part of us for a time. They join us in our dance only to leave after a time.

We borrow our existence from the cosmos. We flow on until, like spirals of water, we fade back into the calm.
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Striving for justice and peace

The article is an excellent discussion of the ethics of protest in general and how this applies to the three groups in its title in particular. In a nutshell, it says that details matter - that we need to examine both a group's ends and its means, and weigh both in determining its ethics and validity.

+John Wehrle's comments are a thoughtful response to the article and bring up further items for discussion, and suggest a useful way to evaluate the means and ends of a group.

Both are well worth reading.
"Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?"*

Peace without justice is a misnomer. At most, it is a calm, a ceasefire, a cessation of hostilities. A home rife with domestic abuse will be quiet most of the time. The intermittent, sudden and capricious violence (physical and/or emotional) enforces that artificial calm. But such a home can never be peaceful.

Similarly, no community that systematically fails to respect the dignity of every human being is just. Hence no such community can actually be at peace until those systems that crush the dignity of human beings are dismantled.

So there is a difference between breaking a false peace for the sake of respecting the dignity of all and attacking those whose dignity you do not respect in order to keep them quiet and obedient. The first may seem like the second in that both upset the calm status quo but actually they are opposing actions - the one seeking justice, dignity, and peace, the other seeking dominance, subjugation, and obedience.

The means employed are important but Conor Friedersdorf's clean distinctions between ends and means are not always easy to make. Our ends can determine the means we use. If we seek justice and peace and to respect the dignity of all human beings then we can hardly expect to achieve those aims by degrading each other. And if our aims are domination and subjugation, it makes no sense to care about the lives and dignity of those who stand in our way. So a person's means are at least evidence of their aims.

But there's more. Means become ends when achieving those ends are codified into character traits or duties. So respecting the dignity of others becomes an end in and of itself when we internalize the goals of justice and peace. And violently dominating others becomes an end in and of itself when the goal of realizing a racist, misogynistic, authoritarian state as an end is internalized.

The questions I would ask in order to differentiate these groups ethically would be:

Who do they value? and What principles guide their actions?

* From the Book of Common Prayer - I don't think there is anything particularly religious about this quote.
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Racism is real. Race isn't.

A recent discussion about the nature of religious identity - whether it is an individual choice, as we believe in the U.S., or considered to be an unchangeable part of one's identity, as is the case in Middle Eastern cultures - led me back to a post I read three years ago on the subject of race and how we define it, and the social ramifications of those definitions.

The short version: Race is not real. It's an idea that we have created. It has no objective meaning.

That may sound really stupid, and it is an idea that takes some getting used to, particularly because, yes, skin color and other physical characteristics are inherited and can't be changed in the way that, for example, someone in the U.S. can convert from one religion to another.

But how we decide what the "races" are, and who is in them, is an entirely socially created set of rules. There is an excellent example and explanation in the linked post, but it boils down to this: Barack Obama is black, correct?

But why is Barack Obama black?

That probably sounds like another really stupid thing to say. Because his dad was from Kenya, right? Duh.

But think about what that means. Barack Obama's mom was a white woman from the Midwest. He's 50% Caucasian and 50% Kenyan. So why do we define his race by the 50% that is Kenyan and not the 50% that is Caucasian? We call some people of mixed ancestry "half-Japanese" or "half-Irish". So why is Obama just plain black?

It's because in my country, in my culture, the "one-drop rule" - as codified, for example, in Virginia's 1924 Racial Integrity Act - determined that any person with ANY African ancestry was legally black. So when we see someone with brown skin and African-American features or hair, we don't really see any other characteristics they may have; we just see them as black.

That's not logical. It's not based on the person's actual heritage. It's totally subjective. And that subjective determination is precisely how we define race. Even the aforementioned "half-Japanese" person, while not considered completely Japanese, is being defined by the Japanese half - not whatever the other half happens to be.

The Wikipedia article on the one-drop rule ( has a lot of background about what's called hypodescent - classifying people of mixed ancestry as the lowest-status portion of their heritage. The section "Other countries of the Americas" gives some examples of how race is defined differently in Latin America than in the U.S. (I was not familiar with this and found it fascinating), as well as some of the historical reasons for the differences between that region's and the U.S.' definitions of race. The post I've linked to below also has a great explanation of the social role of religious heritage in the Middle East and how it functions in essentially the same way as racial heritage does in U.S. society (while, in turn, racial heritage is secondary or even disregarded).

But what it boils down to is that racial identity is not an objective reality. It is entirely determined by society.
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This needs to be the face of Christianity in the United States - now, and in the future. We who are Christians need to stop letting bigotry and hatred speak more loudly in the name of Christ than we do.
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Lot going on in my country these days.

I am still trying to get more involved in activism and equal rights work, and specifically in working to help dismantle the structures that support bigotry in my country. I haven't been super active - mostly I've been focusing on taking care of some very active kids who are all home all day for the summer. But my church is working on some listening groups to facilitate discussion with other churches and groups we have disagreements with, which is exactly the kind of thing I think white Christians need to be doing right now, so I'm excited about getting involved with that. And today we all went downtown to join in an anti-racism rally.

The best part - after seeing so many smiling faces, many of whom we knew - was that one woman got up with her kids and sang. Well. She didn't just sing. She led us in singing. We sang "This Little Light of Mine" and "We Shall Overcome". And I remembered what Libby Rodrick (a local singer/songwriter) said in a keynote speech I attended years ago about how, in order to be successful, a social movement needs singing. Today, we sang. And after all the speaking and drumming and singing and rapping was done, we stood there under the Stars and Stripes and sang our national anthem together.

It felt good.

There is work to be done here. It's work we must do together. It's all too easy to feel demoralized, overwhelmed, powerless. We must remember that our power does not lie in our individual selves, but in what we can do together. Together we raise each other up. Together we make change. Together we shape the future - not just for ourselves, but for our children, and our children's children.

We can do it. Emphasis on the WE.
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This is an interesting piece in which the author argues that Australia should abandon the Gregorian calendar-based, three-month seasonal cycle and instead adopt a seasonal calendar more in tune with the actual seasonal variations in Australia. This would also be closer to the seasonal divisions observed by Australia's indigenous people, who (the author explains) traditionally divide the year into as few as two and as many as seven seasons, according to their region.

Have grown up and lived in sub-Arctic Alaska most of my life, I am very familiar with the inadequacies of the European calendar's definition of the seasons. "Spring" begins almost two months before we can expect to see leaves on our trees, and we can get snow in September, before the calendar's "autumn" has even officially begun. Winter, even in my relatively temperate part of the state, takes up more than half the year. Autumn is a brief flurry of wind and rain before the snow flies, winter is followed not by spring but by "breakup" - the melting season, named for the breaking up of solidly frozen river (or sea) ice into huge ice chunks as the river (or sea) transitions back to a fully liquid state - and many of us prefer to give "spring" a miss entirely in an attempt to convince ourselves that "summer" - late May to late August or, if we're lucky, early September - really isn't as short as it seems.

As a result, calendar seasons have always been, to me, a curiosity describing life in some pastoral Other Place. At least one of the Alaska Native peoples (Iñupiaq) has names for the months that describe the specific seasonal activities or changes of that month, and while they may also use longer seasonal distinctions - I'm rather woefully uninformed about many aspects of Alaska Native cultures - breaking the year up into monthly divisions rather than arbitrarily imposed quarters seems eminently sensible, especially in a climate where what we Westerners simply call "winter" stretches on for six to eight months of the year. In the Iñupiaq calendar, what we'd call "winter" starts with "freeze-up time" in October and goes until "ice break-up time" in May, passing through "the month where there is no sun" (December), "the month of longer sunshine" (February), and "time of preparation for the whaling season" (April), among others, along the way. As non-native inhabitants of this land, we feel the changes in the seasons - for me, February has always been the month of warm winds and temporary thaws, and we all track the fading and returning daylight with something approaching obsession - but we don't mark them in any formal or communal way, and I think that's very much to our loss.

I know other regions also have little real connection with the seasons as they are presented on our calendars; I am given to understand, for example, that California's seasonal variations, at least in the southern part of the state, can be summed up as "wet" and "dry" (or "green" and "brown"), with maybe a third windy season. Perhaps it's time we took a look at the cycles in our own regions and started to talk about our seasons more consciously, describing not what the calendar tells us ought to be happening in accordance with some outdated ideal based on a climate or culture far from our own, but what we actually see and feel happening all around us.
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This is short (I think my comments here may be almost as long), but important. I think the author is absolutely right. His argument is based on his own experience and speaks for itself, but studies have borne his observations out on a broader scale as well (this example immediately came to mind:

I do think we have made some progress in including minorities in the stories - on TV, in the movies, in books, and so on - we tell each other as a nation, the stories that perhaps most strongly shape who our heroes are and who we want to emulate - but we have a long way to go yet. As long as minorities - Blacks, Asians, American Indians, Hispanics, women, the disabled, whichever minorities - are included in stories mostly as cute/smart/wise/brave/disposable sidekicks to the (white, male) hero, we are still teaching our kids - who are, from 2015 statistics, about 48% non-white - that they just aren't as good, and the best they can hope for is that they'll be included favorably in some white person's story.

I don't want that for my own kids, and I don't want that for the close to half the kids in the country who have to look really hard to find heroes who look like them (and sometimes can't find any at all). We need to do better. I intend to start by finding and sharing stories with my kids that have heroes of all colors, genders, shapes, and sizes. It won't always be easy to find these stories. But it's getting easier, thank goodness; and it's worth it.
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Who we are, what we stand for

This was written by a friend of mine. We are a country of strong and virtuous principles. But all the virtue in the Constitution cannot save us if we turn our backs on our ideals. Our ideals are nothing, are less than nothing, if we do not live them out.
These are my daughters. If you attack Middle Easterners fleeing persecution, you attack them. Their mother came here from Iran after the revolution, looking for a safer life. America let her in despite our conflict with Iran, because American principles are more important than our fears and disputes. If you don't believe our principles always come first, then you don't believe in America.

Make no mistake. When you attack immigrants, you're attacking America. We're a nation of immigrants. Of all races. Of all creeds. Anyone who doesn't believe that, is welcome to leave and find another country. Because if you turn your back on immigrants in need, if you turn your back on freedom of religion, you understand less about what it means to be an American than every immigrant who ever stepped onto our soil.

Being born an American is nothing to be proud of. Being born an American is easy; any idiot can get born here. Immigrants and refugees earned the right to come here. Nobody is more American than the person who came here fleeing repression and seeking freedom.

If you want to be proud of being an American, then you have to support American ideals. Speak out against those who seek to limit speech, limit religion, or turn away people in need. Don't mute what they say. Don't let it go for the sake of friendship or family. Speak out.

Silence isn't just death. Silence is blood on our hands. The blood of those we turned away. And the blood of a country that fell, not because of war or terrorism, but because we were afraid to trust the very principles that made it strong.

#syria #refugees #freedom #wearebetterthanthis
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Slow down

I live on the West Coast, in a cold-winter city. While we do have more parks and trails than the average city of our population, we are also very sprawling and very definitely designed around the automobile. New developments in particular follow the plan described in the article pretty closely, though there are efforts to increase multi-use development.

Fifteen years ago, I lived for six months in a small town in northeastern France. It was laid out before cars, so all but the suburban areas were dense and very walkable. It also had better public transit than my own, much larger city. I grew accustomed to walking everywhere, and I know for a fact that local businesses benefitted from my passing their shop windows several times a week (or day). One purchase in particular stands out in my memory: that of an item I initially scoffed at, but which, after near-daily viewings as I passed the shop on my way to buy groceries, I eventually decided I could not do without.

This kind of gradual salemanship is simply not possible when development is approached from an automotive focus. With a car, you decide beforehand what you want and where to get it, except in cases of impulse purchase - which, for a car driver, will be mostly low-value items such as fast food. And indeed, the bulk of these new developments are either fast food, or "destination" centers, shops "anchored" by a large store (or several), a movie theater, and the like. One might choose to visit more than one business in such places, but one never simply passes through them on the way to somewhere else.

I miss walking, I miss the storefronts, and I would love to see slower traffic take design precedence over cars.
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President Obama's farewell speech

My fellow Americans, this is a moving farewell from a President who has clearly been inspired by his country and fellow citizens every bit as much as we have been inspired by him; and a powerful call to action in the service of that country, its ideals, and its people. Take the time, if you can, to listen (I listened while washing dishes), and then take up your work, whatever it may be, in the service of the country we call home.
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