Friday, December 23, 2016

Slumber Song - A Christmas Reflection

Sleep, my baby, sleep
Beneath the stars of night;
Slumber sweet and slumber deep,
dream ‘neath their beauteous light.
Are ye born to be a pauper;
Are ye born to be a king?
Ye’re born to teach us, proper,
How to love and give and sing.
Shepherds, they rejoice;
the beasts in their stalls
—even angels send a voice
throughout the heavenly halls!
Joseph stands by me
—now, we dare not sleep;
Having been blest to raise thee,
the Lord’s own son shall we keep.
Innocent from sin,
and, too, all other harms,
all we, who watch over him,
long to hold him in our arms.
Sleep, my baby, sleep
Beneath the stars of night;
Slumber sweet and slumber deep,
sheltered by their glowing light.
© by Elisabeth T. Eliassen,
October 5, 2016; Set to music by
Angela Kraft Cross for the
San Francisco Renaissance Voices,
Katherine McKee, Director

I woke up from a dream with the refrain in my head, and that is how this carol text came about.

I have been an ardent student of biblical and other sacred texts for over thirty years and a musician for much of my life. While I cannot say that I am a scholar in these matters, I know that a few things that most people who practice Christianity don’t know or realize.

First of all, Christmas is an entirely manufactured holiday. Jesus had a birthday, of course, but it was most likely in the springtime of the year. Somewhere around the year 200 C.E., Clement of Alexandria is likely the first person to have recorded his guesses about the birth date of Jesus—none of which occur anywhere near the winter solstice. The commemorative mass could have been placed in the winter for several reasons; one of many theories is that overlaying a preexisting pagan holiday with the birth of Jesus might have been done as an means to make pagans be less suspicious of Christianity, or even entice them to join the faith. It isn’t until the 4th century C.E. that the birth of Jesus can be found listed in a Roman almanac—the date affixed at during this time is either December 25th in the Roman Church or January 6th (Epiphany Day) in the Eastern Church. 

Secondly, carols are not hymns. There is a great deal more complexity to the explanation than what I have time to write about here, but, essentially, hymns are derived from chants of the psalms and other portions of scripture, and an occasional “inspired” text, first by the church Fathers, later by others, also known as a “spiritual song.” Carols are festive, religiously themed songs that can be sung in or out of church. The word “carol” is derived from the French carole, the word for a circle dance that was accompanied reed pipes and other instruments, but also by singing. While hymns are more liturgical in nature and always appropriate for the praise of God in church, carols are the festive music of the people during any holiday season celebration, be it Advent, Christmas, Easter, or some other festive season, not necessarily to be done in church.

Thirdly, only two of the canonical gospels (those that “made the cut” into the sanctioned liturgical library we call “the Bible”) record anything like the familiar Christmas story, and these two very different (sometimes contradictory) accounts are conflated into one single story. The earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark, doesn’t record anything about the birth of Jesus. The latest of the four gospels, the Gospel of John, reflects abstractly and poetically on the presence of the Messiah as the Word before all worlds. The middle two gospels, Matthew and Luke, are where we get our bits of the birth story, and then our minds take all the bits and put them together into The Traditional Holiday Pageant Play.

So, for me, if we really need to have a credible “reason for the season,” it has to be all about the child. This story is not at all about the radical rabbi who was crucified. This is about the mother whose child came a bit early to seem legitimate; about the family who couldn’t find shelter when the mother went into labor; really, most of all, about the baby who appeared in the midst of chaos. There is chaos, as well as hope and expectation, surrounding the birth of each child. Who knows if this child will survive to adulthood, or what sort of future lies ahead. Will this child attain royalty, or will this child live a life of poverty? Only time will tell the tale. This is the story of unknown potential, like the fallow winter awaiting springtime growth.

(If I was either a seer or a theologian, I’d to say that this child will grow to be both a king and a pauper. But I'm not, and this is talking out of season.)

The best of parents will tell you that bringing children into the world and nurturing them is one of the toughest and extended lessons of humility and grace that a person can undergo. “Choice” is not a word that pops up frequently in the parental vocabulary—often, you do what you must, with what you have to hand. Sometimes the lessons that get delivered are sketchy or cranky.

No matter what religion or holiday you celebrate, inherent in all should be a simple truth: All babies are proof of the Divine Miracle of Life. All babies are born innocent; it is up to parents and community to teach and encourage, to facilitate the very best for every growing child. This is a lesson all cultures must recognize and act upon. I mention it because so many children worldwide are in grave need, right now.

But at this moment, in this story, Mary’s attention, and the attention of all who happen to be there, is on the sleeping child, illuminated by the glow of starlight.

This is meant to be a quiet celebration. It's not about angels or saviors or martyrs or gifts. It's not about loud singing and dancing or lavish meals. This story is all about a baby.

Let the baby sleep.

There’s time enough for all the rest.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

This Moment For Thanks

This moment,
just this moment—
to take this moment away
from the ballyhoo and sway,
the wind and weather fray
that seems to increasingly mark each day—

To recognize the beauty of this life,
so replete with challenges and strife,
yet manages still to overflow with vibrant
music, colors, movement and words,
and the magnificence of simple gestures,
such as light rising out of dark shadows,
called forth by throngs of singsong birds—

To remember all the many faces,
the far-flung and beautiful places
where senses were bathed in graces
formed by so many generations past,
built, with lavished, crafted care, to last,
and also remind—

To feel fully in my body and free,
even to revel in the mundane task
that could so often vex, one day in three—

To meet around the bountiful table,
with expectations and pleasurable
gusto, to bare and share as we are able,
proves a central truth: We need one another—

To be reminded all that is good
requires due diligence without fraction;
anything less threatens contraction,
and this is a humbling thought
to release from its abstraction:
Gratitude is a call to action—

This moment,
just this moment,
I’ll take this moment away,
to take in a deep breath and say,
marking the beauty of this day;
whether you, my loved ones,
being either near or far,
wherever you are,
thank you, oh, thank you, most indeed,
for bringing your life-giving beauty
to this world, to my life,
to this moment.

© 2016 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Sunday, November 13, 2016

No Double Standards; A sermon to myself

This is, as is obviously stated in the title, a sermon I have written to myself, not to you, gentle reader. It might perhaps surprise you to learn that I have written such sermons in the past, and even delivered them in public. Our lives are built on words, a fragile filigree of words on words on words, and I am offering these words to myself as an affirmation of something.

You are in no way obliged to read what I have to say, but putting it out there to you is an act of prayer.

In the days following our recent election, I have felt as if every value I had ever embraced as a building block for a better future for all, everything I had stood for, was revealed to be a house of cards, collapsed in a heap. The sense of disgust and shame, in the wake of all the “to the victor come the spoils” behavior I have seen and heard about in recent days is indeed demoralizing. The finger pointing, the blame, the reprisals, ignorance, fear and it’s obvious reactions. The ugliness of it all is disheartening, and it has quite literally sickened me. I do not know where I belong anymore.

I have been paralyzed.

Today, I went to church. I did not know if I would be able to sing, but I knew I could pray, even pray silently, for myself, and all of us.

The organ rolled off the opening play-through of the first hymn, which perhaps could only have been this hymn, on this Sunday: “In Christ there is no East or West.” I opened my mouth to start the first verse, as I’ve already stated, not knowing if any sound, at all, would come out.

But something did come out. A huge voice came out from within me, bigger, I think, than I had ever heard my voice in my own ear. My voice filled the large interior of the church, and was louder anything amplified. It was as if the architecture of the place had trained itself on me. A few heads turned my way, so it was not my imagination. What did this mean?

And all week long, I have been wondering, what do I mean—what does my life mean?

I am white, and some of my people came to this country on the Mayflower. They were looking for freedom to believe and be in a way that seemed right to them. Some of my people came to this country later from France, looking for the same thing. Some of my people hail from south of the border, in that very place a great number of people want to build a fence to keep out. And some of my people were indigenous to the Americas. But you could not know any of that by looking at me.

I have read, one of my mother’s greatest gifts to me, who had some sort of learning disability before they really talked about and knew what some of those were. She spent hours after school, unlocking the puzzle of words. And that key has been in my possession, and I have passed it on to a new generation. I have never stopped reading, because our lives are built on words, we are a fragile filigree of words on words. The only way to understand the world is to explore the forest of words. I have done that as well as I could. School has never stopped for me, but has been continuously in session, year after year.

I participated in my first act of civil disobedience probably at the age of 6, marching in protest of the Vietnam War. This was the first of many. In 1970, my family participated in the very first Earth Day Expo, and a year later, my mother kept my sister and I from school, instead taking us on the bus to the San Francisco waterfront, so that we could help with the effort to clear up a devastating oil spill and save the lives of birds. In 1981, I joined the HCI/Brady Campaign. These are but a few of the beads on the mala of my soul, a few instances of the “activist” side of my life, started as a child.

Nearly being snatched by a predator on the way home from kindergarten was a lightning bolt experience that forced me to be an aware individual at a tender age. And, oh, there was so much of which to be aware—and wary. The 1960s were a blood bath of trial and tribulation, some of which I was able to see up close, if not observe on the evening news. That people had to fight to do what was right was a mystery to me. I could see people fighting to feed children and take care of elders, because the government wasn’t doing it. I also saw people fighting just to fight, destroying just to destroy. I had been taught the difference between right and wrong; I learned on my own the difference between fighting for a just cause and “fighting” only for the sake of being destructive.

I feel fortunate to have grown up in a place where there are so many people whose backgrounds are different than mine. All the colors, all the sounds and music, all the smells of the food we can share together at the same table! I also feel fortunate to be bringing up my children here, where they can experience this.

But this world is changing, is it not? Of the many and varied jobs I’ve had over the years, one that I treasure is working for a political sociologist. His simple philosophy became a mantra for me, because it was a perfect summary for what I had learned at home, in my community, in church, in meditation, in the world I had explored through books, a perfect summation of all that I believe to be essential truth that must be lived.


The greatest danger in our world today is the notion that we cannot have enough for ourselves if we share what we have with someone else. The government has been vilified, and now taken over by those who have vilified it. But it is not that our form of government is bad, but there is a cancer in the system that must be surgically altered. This cancer is capitalism. All the money in politics comes from an entitled and largely unregulated capitalism that has been anointed “human”, and our politicians are actors in a play being written by captains of industry who worship the “human” called capitalism.

Modern people talk about sustainability, and I say this goes to the heart of the matter. Capitalism is unsustainable if it doesn’t sustain all people. And yet, the garden of consumers is being culled, daily. The rents go up, and housing becomes more and more difficult to obtain and keep. The homeless encampments grow, daily.

The ideals of the 60s stated that we could eradicate hunger and illiteracy and dawn to a new day.

That day never dawned.

What happened?

I’ll tell you, oh my soul: Identity politics happened.

In the 60s, Black leaders joined with organized labor in a broad coalition, but assassins’ bullets ended one phase of the dream. 70s the women of the Equal Rights Amendment joined with the Farm Workers and equal pay for equal work was at stake, but the ones trying to break the glass ceiling couldn’t be bothered about workers’ need for water in the fields, and that killed off another phase of the dream. There is more to the story, here, and I am painting in broad strokes.

So we are a fragmented jungle of causes, none of which stands together. Our identities are what it is about, but listen to me, oh, my soul. We are all people! In the words of the immortal authoress, Maya Angelou, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

Instead of embracing our brothers and sisters, instead of pulling everyone up, instead of opening our hands and working together to fulfill our mutual dreams, we have fallen off the train into all these little ghettos and silos. All our energy and resources of all kinds are dissipated in the striving to uphold far too many identities. Laws that should be applied equally to all, when they are applied, it is inequitable. “To each according to need” has been turned into a slur, hurled by those who have no needs, but only a desire to build unsustainable power through possession of everything. Divided into our identities, we have been objectified—and we in turn objectify!—into all kinds of different “others.” These “others” are all, now, under threat of being marginalized. I say this, oh, my soul, because I fall into some of these objectified groupings, too, yes, indeed, I do. It looks like I'll never be able to retire.

The greatest problem in our world today is that the naked truth is clothed in lies, and no one, nobody, vets the clothiers or the cloth or the thread that makes the warp and woof!

Because here’s the thing: You take away the illusory clothing, and we are people, all of us are people. That is our identity, first and foremost. As Americans, we are all American People, and we must stand up for each other, and support the least of our own and all those of our own who are in need, for they all are our own. Anything less is a disservice to individual self-respect, not to mention an assault on the world we each live in. This is what our Constitution is meant to uphold, and what we, as citizens, are meant to uphold, as our civic duty.

No Double Standards, this is social justice.

My life as an American must be meant to uphold our Constitution by demanding an end to double standards and by working toward a society that sustains everyone, in whatever way I can. As a Christian who has studied many believe systems and philosophies, I believe in something that has been called "radical inclusion"; quite simply, it means everyone is included.

What did it mean, that on a day when I thought I had no voice, I was transmitting hymns as if I was being amplified?

This was a signal to me that my voice, in this matter, is meant to be heard.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Bay-wise Byways: 1. Cartography

Some will laugh
when they see me
plotting the geography
of my heart.

Starting at Mount Tamalpais
and ending at Cold Mountain,
the footpath rounds the San Francisco Peaks,
and touches the Four Corners.

Terrains are inconclusive,
but lines are deeply drawn.

there is art
in such cartography.

To map your own heart:
open wide,
move forward on the trackless path,
follow the bird in flight,
keeping to the middle ground,
mind the gap,
and rest when the sun goes down.

Where you are now,
be fully here,
singing the song of your soul.

© 2016 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Monday, October 3, 2016

Random Acts of Generosity: Spitting in the Wind or Casting Bread on the Water?

This past Friday, I kicked off my birthday weekend. Here are some highlights of the transition into my 56th year: I baked three cakes and gave two of them away; I gave away three lunch bags, each to a homeless stranger (one was a veteran who had served in Iraq); I wrote three letters, each one to someone with whom I had not been in touch with for some time.

I seldom talk about the things I do for others; I really believe that the things you do secretly for others makes it more about them. But today is my birthday, and I have decided to make confessions.

For many months, if not the past several years, there has been a sense of unease growing inside me, mainly resulting from the quickly growing economic disparity within my community. Throughout the region, the numbers of homeless have grown. Housing for many is threatened by decreases in availability and increases in cost, while wages have been stagnant in most sectors except tech, banking, property development, and a few others. The drum is beaten against the sensibility of tying minimum wage to a cost of living index; even at a rate $15 an hour, who can survive on it?

There is unrest; there is violence; there is anger.

During the 1960s, when I was a kid, there was a “can do” attitude. There was a notion that we could tackle problems like illiteracy and hunger and solve them. Not only could they be solved here at home, but throughout the world. People were committed to this notion.

What happened?

The simple answer is greed happened. Institutions of all shapes, sizes and purposes have been carved out. Corporate stockholders are less likely to invest, more likely to sell off. Municipality, transit and utility boards have been deferring maintenance for decades, so that people at the top can make more and more money. The centralizing, commodifying, chartering and privatizing of everything is squeezing our institutions for every dime possible, while delivering their missions less sustainably and reliably. The so-called “sharing” and “gig” economies are merely code words that mean “we can’t make it with one job alone.”

Humanity bought capitalism and capitalism is failing humanity.

All of this makes me angry. My family struggles to make more and more money, and we have much, much less. And we look around and see that we are not alone in the struggle.

Of the issue of homelessness, people are quick to say that millions and millions of dollars have been applied to solve it and have not done a thing. “Spending money on homelessness is like spitting in the wind” is a sentence I have actually seen in the editorial pages of my regional newspaper. This is too frequently an excuse to do nothing, or worse, to criminalize vagrancy. “If we must have homelessness, I don’t want to see it” is the attitude.

So the can is kicked down the line to the next generation.

People, this just will not do.

But it is my birthday – this is my party. I could “cry if I want to”, as the lyrics from Lesley Gore’s 1963 song suggest, but I’m not going to do that.

I am going to live more audaciously, as the sermon I heard last night invited (thank you, Rabbi Judy Shanks!). That impulse to brazenly, if in haste, pack some food into flimsy lunch bags and hand it out my car window when encountering someone in need – I want to live like that, casting what bits of bread I have on the water, sharing it with a stranger.

The truth is that each of us has the world; we don’t need more than that. But what we possess, we must responsibility to uphold and steward. There is plenty, if we will but share. But this giving, we have to do it, we have to live that, every day.

Today is my birthday (and the birthday of the world!). It’s my party, and I declare it’s our party, and I invite you all to join me, in whatever way you can.

What you will do? How will you cast your bread on the water? What random acts of generosity will you perpetrate?

– Wait, don’t tell me. Let it be a surprise!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Greater than the sunrise seen
is the one felt by the ascendant soul.

Beyond time and place,
bound neither to noon nor night,
experience expands or contracts
only in accordance with realization.

In truth, this dawn is
a wholly different

© 2016 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Interdependence Day

The holiday is about "independence". We should all reflect on what that means. We should be thankful, yes, but also mindful of the tremendous costs of freedom, choice, relationship, unintended consequences, and war. A recognition of interdependence is necessary at this point in human history. Let us pray for that, even as we remember the costs dearly paid for our constitution, in life, in liberty and in happiness.
~ Elisabeth T. Eliassen, Facebook entry July 3, 2010 
I was reading today’s issue of the San Francisco Chronicle. Homelessness has been at the heart of all the reporting in the Chronicle, this week, culminating in the front page being complete devoted to an editorial on the issue of homelessness, in San Francisco but also everywhere.

Reading further into the paper, I struck by a comment from Willie Brown’s column. He wrote, “The goal of any movement for freedom and justice is ultimately to work itself out of business.” I think he is correct in his assertion, but frankly, the long road toward such eventualities stretches before us.

Identity politics is a thing precisely because freedom and justice are not available for all. Law is not justice when there are double standards; law is only successful when it meets the needs and situations of all. Instead, what we find, over and over again, is that law is created and applied divisively. Some have access, while others do not.

What we need to evolve beyond, as a race of beings we call “humanity,” is the notion that inhumanity is okay. Inhumanity is never okay, just like being a bully is never okay. But, while power and privilege are constantly being called into question, they are never being addressed for what they are: Deep societal deficits and ills. Is the billionaire better than the homeless person living under an overpass? That is entirely the wrong question to be considering, but laws and programs seem to lean in favor and support those who have everything but need. Programs for people in need are authored in nonsensical terms and conditions, meted out in nonsensical ways from locations not sensible to the transit needs of those without transit.

But to look deeper, we have got to see that, to echo the immortal words of Langston Hughes, the dream has been deferred for too many, and not by accident. There is been a dark and fatal intentionality about inequality and the plaque buildup of political walls, separating every single demographic that is used as a measurement. This is “divide and conquer.”  

“United we stand; divided we fall” sums it up beautifully, whether filtered through the Aesop fables, the gospel of Mark, Patrick Henry, or any other source. As Americans, we claim the first clause as our national gospel, but that is not the reality here. Division is our meat and potatoes, or at least it is food for some.

These states are united, except that they really are not. The people are united, except that they really are not. Why is it that the haves and have nots are now divided over who has a right to use a public toilet? It is as ridiculous a political ploy as any schoolyard bully’s power trip over a shy and fragile child. Ridiculous! And insulting!

If these states are to live up to the label “United,” we need to grow up. The schoolyard bully games are played in order to veil corruption, the kind of corruption that allows fewer people to have what they need, so that a few can have more than they could ever use. We need to grow up, to realize that all people are important, have a place and a vital role in our diverse society.

We are not independent. “Independence” is a lie that people use as a rhetorical tool to deny dignity and wellbeing to others. We must learn about dignity and that it is applicable everywhere. We must learn about our interdependence on each other.

We are all, whether we recognize this or not, teachers. But what are we teaching? I look around and I see some people learning anger, disappointment and deviousness; I look around and I see other people learning about value, generosity and kindness. I wish all teachers were among this later group; such are the people who understand true citizenship.

The dream can only become reality if we march forward as global citizens, but we have to become good citizens here at home; it all begins at home. Business and law need to serve human dignity, not the other way around. We need to march forward, not as individual political blocks pitted against each other, but as citizens who are for everyone’s success.

“When will we be satisfied?” Dr. King asked. I take a liberty to update the words from his immortal speech when I say that “we can never be satisfied as long as” any of our people “are stripped of their dignity. We cannot be satisfied as long as” people “are denied the vote, or believe they have nothing for which to vote.” We cannot be satisfied as long as we remain dysfunctionally disunited, as long as we fail to live out our creed that all are created equal.

We cannot be satisfied until the dream becomes a reality for every person.

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Outrage Over Gun Violence: ADDENDUM

Media discussion compelled me to more thoughts on the mass shooting at The Pulse in Orlando Florida:

Interestingly, the very highest statistical percentages of homicides fall into these two categories: white male on white male and black male on black male. This is about power and control; mostly about which alpha (or wannabe alpha) male has power over another. I would really like to see more specific research findings on this. A friend calls this alpha male aspect “toxic masculinity.”

The specious lie is that black men, "radical Muslims," or indeed members of any minority group, in possession of guns is “the greatest danger to our society.” This is completely incorrect and always has been.

White men with guns are the greatest danger to American society, by sheer demographic numbers, not to mention the stats on gun ownership. Research from 2014 found that while black men were more likely to be homicide victims, they are half as likely to have a gun in the home as non-Hispanic whites. (

In 2010, black members of our nation represented 13% of our total population; black men represented 55% of homicide by gun. Much can be inferred from this simple data.

Shockingly, 2004 national firearms survey ( reported 48% of individual gun owners have four or more guns, and suggested about two-thirds of all guns are owned by just 20% of all gun owners. Over 6 million Americans own 10 or more guns. (

Guess which demographic is most likely to own an arsenal? What a surprise: White men are more likely own guns, and also to amass an arsenal because of societal entitlements that allow greater access.

Does all this ownership of guns constitute a well-regulated militia? Only if the “enthusiasts” are members of the police, military or National Guard. A woman retired from active military service suggested that everyone who wants to own and operate an arsenal really just needs get over themselves, needs to enlist and serve. Like that will ever happen…


The greatest challenge to our world is finding an equitable balance in which all people can have a decent life, where they needn't fear others and where anger is a rare occurrence. The anger and rage that is allowed to billow like wildfire must be checked.

I believe capitalism is greatly responsible for all of this -- or, to say it in another way, I think this is a primary failing of capitalism. If you don't tend the garden of consumers wisely—providing jobs that enable them to live and buy another day—they’ll eventually morph into a raging mob you can't control unless you have a well-regulated militia. Of course, this is just precisely how the NRA likes it; the “garrison state” butters their bread.


One of my readers expressed this in response to my blog of ___ : “… the attack on the LGBTQI community, particularly at a Latinx drag night, is an attack on alternative genders as well as the right of Latinx, people of color and whites of all genders to live or express an alternative gender. Given the shooter was not white but was American it is unclear what the racial / political dynamics of this incident were. We may never know but based on the questionable coverage it seems like a massive conflict between internal struggle with sexual orientation and external machismo and militancy.”

By way of response, I must emphatically agree.

However, most to the point for me is that people of multiple race, ethnicity, gender (alt, queer, straight, trad) and even nationality are the likely to have been the complete demographic makeup of those celebrating in The Pulse on the night of the shootings.

PEOPLE were killed or critically injured: mothers, fathers, children were killed or critically injured. I think this mass shooting attack is best defined as a crime against humanity. Really, it was our entire collective, culturally diverse and ever-evolving, beautiful society that was attacked by this shooter, who ultimately did not know or care about the humanity of any of those individuals, having (for whatever reason) objectified them all—or at least having abandoned his own humanity.  

While we can and should continue lobby with and through our identity constituencies, we must also lobby as a united front of American Citizens. Identity politics is fractured politics; equal rights and justice must be for all, no matter the demographic. To quote the old left wing anthem (from the 1880s!): “The international ideal / Unites the human race.” We need all our fragments, all our identities and cultural perspectives  to come together for this to be true.

On the main, our politics has become overly fragmented and polarized, rather than holistic. Our party system is antiquated and does not serve the collective or even the constituent voice. Suffrage has been eroded by legal dirty tricks, state by state. Party conventions used to be a forum during which a policy and program platform was built from among the delegate voices representing all various constituencies (this is how we used to be represented*); now they are merely rah-rah rallies for the nominees. Votes and consensus are socially engineered by a political elite (using the divide and conquer method) and receive plebiscitary endorsement at the polls.

I firmly believe there can be no stronger coalition for freedom of speech and expression, freedom of association, equal rights, equal justice, equal protections (such as gun control) than a united movement of diverse citizens. I think our lobby will be strongest and most fully represented from that position.

© 2016 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

*See Walter F, Mondale’s essay: “Atlantic City Revisited; The Mississipi Freedom Democratic Party and the 1964 Democratic National Convention.” This is a very important read; you find out, first hand, the convention dynamics that contributed to the Civil Rights Act and LBJ’s reelection. I contend that the kinds of compromise toward political change that took place at the 1964 and 1968 conventions can no longer happen in the party conventions of today. This link leads you to a version that includes interesting commentary in italics:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Outrage Over Gun Violence – Asking the Wrong Questions, Reacting to the Wrong Issues

In the very short time since the mass shooting at The Pulse in Orlando, Florida, there has been renewed outrage and heated debate about gun violence, much of it vicious and based on assumptions and clues that have yet to be properly sifted and sorted. The investigation is likely to be ongoing for some time.

And yet, there are people out there who have all the answers. “Terror!” “Hate!” “Let’s Wall Ourselves Off!” “Let’s Lock Them All Up!” “Bomb Them!”  “Round them Up!” There is a flowing river of fear, hatred, and nastiness that is infecting the entire nation. Our political leaders do nothing to ease the situation, because the common denominator is a sacred cow: “MY GUNS! MY RIGHT!”

While some say “Muslims! Militant Muslims!” Others bend over backwards with “Christians! Militant Christians!” These latter cries attempt to make the point that while in this particular instance, the alleged perpetrator was a seemingly devout Muslim, there have been many more cases in which the perpetrator was a declared Christian, perhaps in a fundamentalist sect.

These two discussion trends (“MY GUNS! MY RIGHT!” and “Religious Affiliation/Militant Radicalized Extremist posing Imminent Danger”) serve only as tools to divide people, not as tools toward societal healing and reconciliation, or safety.

You can’t tell me these discussions are not intended to be ugly. There are too many people invested in the chaos the ugly discussions fuel. Money and political power are at stake. Those who have will win, at all costs. The small amount of democracy our republic yet retains hangs in the balance.

However, programmed chaos is not what I intend to discuss here; such discussion is too deep to dive into for the purposes of this essay. What I want to suggest, in these few lines, is that we need to reframe the entire discussion. We are not digging toward the heart of the issue, but talking around it, by scapegoating specific groups of people.

Fundamentally, we are afraid of what we will have to face, if indeed we really want to find solutions.

“How many gun deaths were done by __(fill in the blank)__?!”
“How many gun deaths were done by people associated with __(fill in the blank)__?!”

I believe these are the wrong questions to be asking, if indeed we want to find solutions. If they are not the wrong questions, they certainly should not be the only questions we ask. The knee-jerk reaction is always skewed toward a particular brand of religion or race, but I'm afraid the truth goes much, much deeper than this.

Here are some other questions that need to be part of this discussion:

How many gun deaths were committed by men (against women and/or children or other men)?
How many were committed by disturbed/afflicted/medicated individuals undergoing treatment?
How many were committed by militant/radicalized individuals?
How many gun deaths ended a domestic dispute?

Gun violence is very closely related to domestic and/or workplace violence – raising the issue of anger management, respect for women and children, authority figures, power struggles. Here is one statistic:

Nationwide in 2013, out of the 1,615 female homicide victims, 1,086 were white, 453 were black, 36 were Asian or Pacific Islander, 21 were American Indian or Alaskan Native, and in 19 cases the race of the victim was not identified.

And here is another:

Considering mass shooting alone ([by legal definition, at least] four people shot dead in a public place), nearly all were male in 2015. About 67% are white, 16% black, and 9% Asian.

Even just these two sets of statistics could be indicative of a trend. These statistics show, far and away, that most murders are committed by white men. While these facts do not provide complete context, the implications should give everyone pause.

More to the point, these bits of information prove we must dig deeper for answers.

I may be out of line, but here’s the thing: Guns are primarily a white male symbol of privilege and control. The point has been made over and over again, for years, even as far back as the signing of the Declaration. When the local NRA folk came through my local 4th of July parade, riding horses and shooting blanks from their weapons (causing babies and dogs to howl all along the parade route), there were a couple of women (white), but was there a black person among them, or any ethnicity other than white? Have you ever seen a black person at an NRA rally, openly carrying? You know the answer to these rhetorical questions; I don’t have to spell it out.

This latest, most horrifying incident was committed by an AMERICAN. Period. His ethnic and religious heritage may be among the factors, but this person was born on our shores. He was likely profoundly disturbed and conflicted (Could it be over sexual identity? Could it be over religious doctrine? Could he have been radicalized? We don’t yet know – we may never really know), but the story is being spun into an international terrorist action, mostly in order to promote inflammatory, racist and politically manipulative rhetoric that obscures one of the biggest problems we face in modern society, and more so here than most anywhere else on the planet. The discussion needs to be reframed around issues even more basic than race and religion: Control issues (along with anger/aggression), often tied to mental illness combined with ready access to high-powered assault rifles and other types of guns.

In most cases, armed robbery aside, the issue is one of control – who has “control”, by what means “control” is exerted, and against whom, particularly when the "control" is directly related to possession of a deadly weapon (gun or other).

Reframed, here is a different description of what happened in Orlando: An angry and desperate American man killed and injured a lot of other American people (of various ethnic, gender and sexual identities, yes, but foremost, they were people, with families and friends and jobs and lives of worth in their community) because he didn’t know how to break through his mental anguish/anger, because he couldn’t connect with people in a meaningful/fulfilling way. Time may tell the tale, but it won’t bring back those American lives that were cut short.

How do we go about insuring such things don’t happen again? We certainly can’t do anything from the knee-jerk discussion angle. So, perhaps more pertinent questions to ask and discuss might include these:

How do we become more accepting of people, who, what and where they are?
How do we support, uplift and include people in all walks of life and work?
How does our society train/enable psyches to be angry, violent or murderous? How can we mitigate underlying causes?
How can we better identify, diagnose and treat people struggling with mental illness?
How can we come to terms with an archaic constitutional right with regard to weapons possession and legislate toward a safe society.
What all must we do to stem the tide of violence and anger, in ways that promote peace, health and justice in our communities?
How can we remove prejudice, judgment, labels and stigma from the picture, and just be people, living cooperatively in community?
Are there economic mitigations that could be brought into the picture?
How do we teach people to be good to one another?
How do we dispel ignorance?

Age old questions, these are. But we need to keep asking them, and commit to finding and working toward real solutions, all the while holding our elected officials accountable to We The People for codifying and instituting solutions that benefit the public good, not bowing to well heeled lobbyists and their masters.

We can take the moment of silence,
kneeling in sorrow or in prayer,
but then all bodies, all voices must rise up,
uniting for the sake of humanity, for sanity,
blending and weaving, moving and smoothing
our differences into loves and strengths,
our weaknesses into meaningful work,
uniting toward the only real song there is:
People, all people, together, one people.

© 2016 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Another Waiting

ever present
in this issue
of living,
as it cannot help but do,
the elegant enigma life,
from birth,
and expansion,
through experience
and arrival at the passage
through which death
may be an another emergence,
if not a healing.

Certainly this life,
this is an exploration,
if you will,
of the complexity
of the soul;
where we are
in each moment,
we think and feel
in a language of
fluidly visible emotion,
on a landscape
of shifting times
and trials,
and waiting,
suspended in either
joy or grief.

For what do we wait?
Will time tell the tale?

Perhaps we’ll never realize
the moment in which we
slip into that possibility
that goes against the
grey grip of fate,
into unforeseen,
because unimagined,

© Elisabeth T. Eliassen 2016

Sunday, April 24, 2016

In Mortality

By its four corners, something like a large sheet was gently lowered,
and a voice was heard by one, some, or perhaps many,
“It is good, all is good;
no worries.”

There, on a blooming field of goodness, a fading into night,
the beginning of an end setting forth a next start;
if darkness before dawn is an eye
to a different sort of tomorrow,
surely there is a fluttering of beating wings.

And in the melting of granulation into a murmur of revelation,
wondering about all that came before this gaping emptiness,
great thirst, and heaviness of light,
was all possible done?
Is the stove off or on?

Something echoes as through a corridor,
can it be music?
So unlike any remembered sonic partaking
or moment of music-making,
it seems unlikely.

This may be a dream that is not
(though so many have thought)
or perhaps a movement in the planetary cycle,
pitting every ounce of strength
against every pound of relaxation
to power the stars of night
and set the moon toward reflection.

“We love you, we love you!”
is heard, perhaps not by word,
or perhaps it is a bird,
chirping on the ledge,
in song or pledge.

Here, on this blooming field of goodness,
is the healing place and time;
as She said, “All will be well.”

What a thing it is,
oh, what a thing,
this on, honored one,
on, onward on,
onward on,

© 2016 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Flower in the Garden of Delight

My Master hath a garden
Full-filled with diverse flowers,
Where thou may'st gather posies gay
All times and hours.
Where nought is heard but paradise bird,
Harp, dulcimer and lute,
With cymbal and timbrel,
And the gentle sounding flute.

O Jesus, Lord, my heal and weal,
My bliss complete,
Make thou my heart thy garden plot,
True, fair and neat,
That I may hear this music clear,
Harp, dulcimer and lute,
With cymbal and timbrel,
And the gentle sounding flute.

~ Anonymous

While I have been trying to process the passing of my friend, Raymond Martinez, the words of this anonymous Elizabethan poem sang themselves through my head, and suddenly the enormity this sorrow became clear to me, even dear to me –

But, of course, I must explain. (You knew that was coming.)

I don’t quite remember what year it was that I first met Raymond, but it was at a concert of French Baroque music in West Marin; other singer friends had invited me to come hear the program. I remember that when Raymond sang his solos, it was spine-tinglingly beautiful. And the inevitable duet, trio and choruses. I was introduced to Raymond after the concert, and we chatted for a while and then I was swept along to the reception. Before long, Raymond said, “You know, you should come sing with us.” And that was that.

That was that. For years and years and years, I would show up and it was “Oh, goodie!! I get to sing with Raymond, again!” And it was always a delightful time, whether it was sublime or ridiculous. We shared so many musical experiences that were sublime [Purcell: I was Queen Dido and Raymond was Aeneas, and it was exquisite!] or ridiculous [if you weren't there to see Raymond, dressed in a toga-esque costume with breastplates, head topped with a ten-gallon hat, make his grand entrance for "Oedipus Tex" roaring in on a forklift at Toby's Feed Barn in Point Reyes Station, you missed a singularly triumphant moment of ridiculousness in the annals of chamber opera], or even a somewhat disconcerting mixture of both, I can’t begin to catalogue them. But Raymond remembered all of them, and as the catalogue of your history with him expanded through time, so did a small, highly personal language develop between you and he. Heaven help you if you sat or stood near him during rehearsals, because he was a merciless sotto voce jester to whatever comedies evolved in the rehearsal process. He had the most deliciously wicked sense of humor, and he was always pushing the envelope of what he could successfully pitch into the room. Many were the times when I could feel my face burning red, as I struggled to keep myself from exploding with inappropriate laughter. Raymond would toss a cue word, a code phrase or a little sound from the personal language over his shoulder toward you; each of these was a golden thread woven, by means of the shared history, into the ever-unrolling carpet of fun and music.

One might think, reading this, that Raymond was frivolous, but no. Raymond took everything seriously, though he might not always be willing for people to see his serious side. There were glimpses of it, and it was revealed through intimate conversations.

Seasons came and went. Flowers of all kinds came in and out of season. But singing was always in season. We sang church services, memorial services, sunrise services for Easter, and midnight services at Christmas. Summer festivals; winter concerts; Sunday afternoon salons; the odd pick-up gig, here and there; and weddings. Raymond sang at my wedding, along with three other beloved colleagues. Someone else has written about how welcoming Raymond was to everyone he made music with in ensembles; music was never about competition, always about collaboration. Singing and musicking, the moveable musical feast, always and ever in season. And where there was music, there was Raymond, your colleague, confidant, collaborator, even co-conspirator in and of beauty—and fun! And when he wasn’t singing, he was taking in the opera, the symphony, friends giving recitals or concerts, edifying trips to museums of every kind [one day, as I was heading into the Legion of Honor, I heard my name calledthere was Raymond! He'd already seen the exhibit and was waiting for a friend to come meet him for lunch. "Come this way— I know a terrific spot for getting pictures with the bridge in the background" So, I followed him. Indeed, it was a breathtaking spot, and he pulled out a film camera and snapped me with the bridge. Then his friend arrived, and after introductions, they went on their way, and I went on in to see the exhibit].

He loved nature; hiking; places of both cultivated and uncultivated beauty. God only knows how many miles he walked during his lifetime. He loved architecture. Life was all about being immersed in the ever transforming and informing experience of beauty. The back garden at Crescent Avenue was his hortus conclusus, a personal cloister of shade and green. He tended that garden, for as long as he was able, like it was a shrine, and shared it with friends as often as he could. As much as he loved this private sanctuary, he loved to happen upon beauty everywhere, and I truly mean everywhere.

Raymond may not have been all that handy with a computer, but his favorite piece of technology was the digital camera a singer friend gave to him. The right size to shove in a pocket, he was always prepared to experience and record his random encounters with beauty. Many of the subjects of the resulting photos were transformed into his superlative artwork, known to most of us through his business, Watercolors of the World. The last time I saw him, he told me about the condition of his health, asked me to pray for him, and then sought to soften this horrible blow by pulling out his camera and showing me the snap of an unbelievably gorgeous spray of flowers on a tree and a photograph of his latest painting, a giant succulent or cactus he saw in Golden Gate Park. “Do you know what species this is?” He asked me. I didn’t know. He knew far more formal names of plants than I did; he had to tell me that white flowers I’d photographed were freesias, not crocuses. But knowing the proper name doesn’t make the aroma of blooms sweet; they manage that on their own, whether we name them or not.

So, this brings me back to the Elizabethan poem. Those words were positively singing themselves through my head this morning, and I realized that Raymond, colleague and confidant, collaborator and co-conspirator, had also been the master cultivator, and of a garden much larger than the one at Crescent Avenue. Raymond spent his life cultivating a very great garden of friends. You and I, dear friends, each of us is a unique flower in Raymond’s garden; family, singers, poets and instrumentalists, all of us are in that great garden!

I think we can honor our friend Raymond’s memory best by being continually in season, blooming to bursting, and spreading, far and wide, our joyful noise of sweet and ever sweeter music.

© 2016 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen