Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How To Give Thanks

Greet the morning sunlight,
both as friend and miracle.

Feel each footstep
as a handshake, as a greeting;

Know that every touch
is an engagement with All That Is.

The whole world is smiling at you;
smile back, with warmth and feeling.

Let the empty chair fill itself,
Keep your door open to opportunity.

Drink deeply from the well of possibility,
the source of the river of life.

Take a slice, accept your portion and be filled;
share with family, friends and those in need.

Respect the wonder of Earth’s vegetation,
medicine for our health and wellbeing.

Know that each conflict has built into it
an opportunity for healing and renewal;

Move beyond the frayed fabric,
find a proper loom for mending, and be glad.

The star-kissed wind blows through you;
sing praises, sing praises, sing praises!

Weave yourself into the earth;
it will be glad to accept you,

And offer you back, as a restorative gift,
to this world of wonder.

© 2013 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Thursday, November 14, 2013

First Amendment Convolutions

While reading my local paper, I came across the following letter to the editor:

It is disturbing that California's attorney general, Kamala Harris, believes that access to contraception trumps the First Amendment ("State questions corporations' religious rights," Nov. 11.). Religious business-owners should have the right to manage their own companies according to their most basic beliefs. The First Amendment does not simply guarantee the freedom to worship; it ensures "the free exercise thereof," which extends beyond Fridays at the mosque or Saturdays at the synagogue. Subtle attempts to undermine this guarantee to all Americans, masked in pernicious language like "regulatory obligations," should be what the attorney general is protecting us against, not standing up for.

This letter had been written by the pastor of a church. The name of the pastor, church and community from which this letter came are not important. It could have come from anywhere, been written by a religious leader of any denomination or faith.

This letter is clearly about denying rights to women. The pastor perhaps owns a business. Surely the church is not the business he owns, is it? Hopefully the employee in question is not a female church secretary…

What I find most interesting is the ironic twist accorded to the First Amendment. To me, it is clear that the author of the letter is unclear on the letter of the law, as well as a bit muddy on the tenets of his faith. The author of the letter seems to imply that the religious freedoms accorded by the First Amendment allow one person, in the context of practicing and keeping of their faith, to deny rights to another person.

This is, of course, not true under the letter of the law. This kind of confused thinking is what the separation of church and state is all about, and why it is essential. This is what the Women’s Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Labor Movement, the LGBQ Movement and all of the Movements since, have reared up to remind us all. We should all be equally treated under the law. It could also be argued that we should all be treated equally under divine providence.

Your beliefs and your practices are yours. You are welcome to them. You cannot impose them on others. The First Amendment applies to individual conscience, not collective consciousness. The First Amendment allows you to say you don’t like contraception, and to rail against contraception and to campaign against contraception, but it does not entitle you, because you practice a certain religion that has dogma and doctrine against it, to deny any person the right to access, have and use contraceptives. Even if you are a business owner, your business cannot deny any worker access to contraceptives, whether you pay all or part of the insurance coverage for your employee or not. To do so is to disrespect and violate the privacy and rights of your employee, which surely is not what any divine being would require of you, in order for you to be a good person, ostensibly living a life of righteousness and equity.

You are free to exercise your right to be a dogmatic doctrinaire, even a misogynist; you just cannot impose your personal will, whether or not it is informed by your religion, on others—and that means not in the work place nor in your church.

Pernicious is the language that claims the golden rule, yet excludes people from the rights and dignity they should naturally be accorded. Pernicious is the hate hidden in a convoluted, conditional and inconsistent rhetoric of love. Pernicious is the morality that counsels, “You must do as I say, or you will go to Hell!” The First Amendment is not a club to be wielded against someone else.

I am grateful that the attorney general of California is holding people, religious and not, to their regulatory obligations under the law.

Mr. Pastor, sir, if you don’t want contraceptives, the Good News is you are not required to have or to use them. The bad news is, you can’t force others to do as you would do, not even your wife. It is none of your business what other people do with their health coverage, and why should it matter to you? The sad truth is it costs you nothing that someone else can obtain and use contraceptives. While you may believe that the use of contraceptives is ungodly,     though how you would arrive at that conclusion I don't know, as the Bible does not mention them at all  you have no legal grounds by which to deny their availability to or use by anyone. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Eleven, Eleven, Eleven: a meditation

November 11th has become less a day of observance and more sort of loaf-around, generic holiday kind of day. Is it blasphemous for me to say such a thing?

How many people realize, or remember, that what we call Veteran’s Day was a day that was intended to mark the cessation of war in the world?  Armistice Day was what they called it, back then. It is known elsewhere as Remembrance Day, a day for red poppies and solemn music, for prayer.

The day commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, commemorates the end of “The War To End All Wars.”

The irony, of course, is that this treaty did not end all wars. It did not even completely end the hostilities of World War I. The armistice served to drive further political wedges that led the way to more militarism, more bloodshed and ethnic cleansing—all of this leading directly to primary causes of World War II. The reasons for this are many, not the least of which was the redrawing of borders over traditional ethnic boundaries to placate certain authoritarian leaders who were looking to an expansionist land-grab to shore up their fascist, totalitarian dominions.

What happened in Europe is nothing less that what happened to the ancient Jewish tribes in biblical times; the cultural centers of many small states were destroyed or heavily damaged, and the people were resettled to other places, so that the conquerors could have their traditional homelands to use. The economy of Europe was made unstable for generations.

But, let us set aside this observation and engage an aspect that is elusive and theoretical.

Armistice is only a temporary function; it is an agreement to ceasefire while negotiations are made for a peace that will hopefully be lasting. The unfortunate truth is that war has become an economic tool too useful to turn aside for anything so difficult as cultivating a peaceful world.

Indeed peace, as a theoretical, like infinity, it is too difficult to contemplate. Essentially, it means that people have to strive for the best of everything in a way that is cooperative rather than competitive. The human psyche is only prepared for domination, for dominating or being dominated. Our brains are preprogrammed for quick reactions, but only from the lowest part of the brain. Lashing out is the first response; it is so much easier than having a reasoned conversation.

So, this is possibly why we, in the United States, could no longer call this remembrance Armistice Day. The name had to be changed, in recognition that a lasting peace was no longer the objective. We had to pay homage to the instrument of the hegemon, by honoring the sacrifice of its pawns.

Blasphemy! (I can hear the grumbles.)

The ancients recognized the problem. If there was to be just governance, the arbiter could not very well be human, given how we are each and all preprogrammed to react from our lowest, when challenged. This is how it was expressed, by an old geezer named Isaiah:

Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—
only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil…

Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers. Daughter Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a cucumber field, like a city under siege…

If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword…

See how the faithful city has become a prostitute! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her—but now murderers! Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water.

Your rulers are rebels, with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.

Times have not changed, in several thousand years, nor has the inherent nature of people.

We do no honor, to war dead or war living, to perpetuate armed conflict! I do not agree that we need to honor bloodshed. I will never agree to that!

The spoils of war are destroying the hope that life can continue on this planet. We teach our children war games, but not how to resolve conflict from our highest selves. We teach that killing is honorable, and what is worse, we make guns available to everyone so that they can use them for that purpose—as if it is a sacred right! Children die in our streets at home and in foreign streets where our soldiers patrol. Ignorance and thoughtless waste abound in a world that is, by nature, beautiful, if only we wouldn’t pollute and profane it.

We should not honor bloodshed. I do not agree to that.

I believe we can only honor our Veterans by working toward a world without weapons, a world without war, a world without dominating bullies.

Verily, I say unto you, we have more important things to do than appease (and act as pawns for) bullies! Life, as we know it, is at stake.

The only true Armistice Day is the one where we all win, and we all become veterans to a past that is over and done.

The old geezer envisioned it this way:

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.

Honor our veterans for their service, but not their servitude to a culture of corruption and death. 

Strive for good, heal the sick, uphold the widow and the orphan, clean up the polluted planet, teach new ways to deal with conflict.

Let us not wait for the Eleventh Hour that signals our destruction; let us begin, this very moment, to build anew.



Sunday, November 3, 2013

Kind Heart

            For Janet W., and all who quietly go about the business of

Kind heart,
loving, your art,
finds each open door,
all the ways in, and more;
smiles are not sufficient,
favors and deeds not efficient,
for ‘tis the lingering hour
of connection that ignites the power
to move mountains with eyes,
to conquer despair, save lives;
Love spins its tale true
by never resisting the urge to do.