Thursday, December 18, 2014

Parallel Universe, Christian style

'Tis the season, and some Christians are once again complaining about the war on Christmas, which mainly seems to consists of people saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Never mind that the word holidays is a variant of holy days: they see blasphemy in it.

Well, people, suck it up. Some of us choose to make a greeting that honors all the winter holiday celebrants, not just you. Some of us are observing Hanukkah. Some of us are observing Yule. Some of us are observing Christmas. Some of us are observing other winter holidays, or maybe some combination of all of them. They are all related. They are all cousins with the same ancestry back through the ages. Everyone is worthy of having their holiday honored, not just Christians.

By insisting on using only Merry Christmas, Christians are demanding that we ignore all other winter holidays except theirs. I really didn't get the full impact of this arrogance until I spiraled out of Christianity about 13 years ago. It was not until I was not a Christian that I noticed the complete inundation with Christmas paraphernalia, the obsession with the holiday and the almost hysterical insistence on honoring Christmas and only Christmas. Try and find Hanukkah decorations or gift wrap. If you go to Michaels or some other craft store, you will find little, if any, representation of anything but Christmas in the decorations section. No Hanukkah crafts items for kids, very little blue and silver anything. I did find a blue Hanukkah teddy bear and a plush draydel in a pet supply store whose manager was Jewish.

The thing is, Christmas, Hanukkah and Yule are all festivals celebrating the return of the light as days get longer and we have more daylight. Jesus is really not the reason for the season as Christians are so fond of reminding us -- the winter solstice is. December 25 was already a Pagan holiday honoring the birth of the sun, and it was simply convenient to adopt the date -- and much of the story that went with it. According to some scholars, Jesus was born in the spring or summer because no one would make people travel for a census in the dead of winter, and because shepherds would not have been out watching their flocks in December. Various dates have been suggested by various ancients as March 28 (Clement) or November 18 or "a Wednesday" (Hippolytus). Some scholars think it was in the fall. We really don't know, but we can be very sure it wasn't December 25.

So, people, quit being jerks about it. I don't really think it's WJWD, if you know what I mean. Just enjoy your winter holiday and honor your guy by spreading a little peace on earth instead.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Parallel Universe, southwest style

We did a great disservice to the peoples who lived here before we came. We took that we their lands and drove the survivors of our genocide onto reservations. In exchange, we granted them those parcels of land, usually undesirable to the settlers, as sovereign nations. The United States Congress signed treaties and promised to honor them.

Yeah, right.

On December 4, the house of representatives passed the Defense appropriations bill, and thanks to John McCain, there is a little piece tacked onto it that neatly gives 2400 acres of San Carlos Apache sacred tribal lands to an Australian/English copper mining company. That piece of land will be sealed off to tribal use. 

Here is what the tribal chairman has to say about it: 

Since time immemorial people have gone there. That’s part of our ancestral homeland. We’ve had dancers in that area forever – sunrise dancers – and coming-of-age ceremonies for our young girls that become women. They’ll seal that off. They’ll seal us off from the acorn grounds, and the medicinal plants in the area, and our prayer areas.”
~ Terry Rambler, chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe
Imagine that was your church property, only this is more so because the entire area is considered holy. The land itself holy and the tribe's spirituality derives from the land. Imagine the government coming in and taking a chunk of your ability to worship God, or pray, or do the rituals of your faith. Not only that, to take away access to your sources of healing, your herbs and medicines. Imagine the government doing that in order to give it to a foreign company who was only interested in destroying it for profit. Wrecking the ecology. Stripping the sacred mountains, laying them flat. Imagine how that feels to a people who cherish the land and find it holy, who find God to inhabit it. 
Imagine that, then go sign this petition to the government. Please.

photo: the San Carlos reservation

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Parallel Universe

"Something's happening here -- what is is ain't exactly clear. There's a man with a gun over there telling me I got to beware... it's time we stop, children, what's that sound, everybody look what's going down..."-- For What It's Worth, Stephen Stills

"White cop shoots unarmed black teenager..." happens every single day. There seems to be an epidemic of near-genocidal police violence against black youth. I have heard people of all races say "If they didn't talk back, it wouldn't happen." Since when is a teenager talking back to authority a capital offense? Or even unusual? 

One of the developmental tasks of teenagers is to separate from the adults and become independent. Kids do this with varying degrees of effectiveness. Sometimes they are pretty cool about it and just ease into it. Sometimes they wrench themselves away with near violence and disrupt the life of the family or the community. It would be wonderful it they could just grow up gently and get on with their lives, but that's often not how it happens. They rebel. It's what they do. They're programmed for it. They talk back. They act out. It's part of the process. They grow up and get on with their lives. 

If it's a white kid, especially an affluent one, it's written off as "He's just letting off steam." If it's a black kid, especially a poor one, he can easily wind up lying dead in the street with his killer exclaiming, "He was like a demon!" The difference, beyond skin color, I think, is fear. 

There is nothing so dangerous as an armed man who is frightened, especially one with a little authority. That's why the good police departments screen for psychological fitness. A scared and nervous cop is a tragedy waiting to happen. 

I think that's what happened in Ferguson. A scared cop shot an unarmed if unruly kid because he was afraid he might get punched. What the grand jury did about it was unbelievable. It came to light afterward that they had been given the wrong instructions and were told only that the cop thought he was in danger was enough justification to use deadly force -- they left out that it had to be backed up with credible evidence of immediate, life-threatening danger. 

That was horrific, but just weeks later, another grand jury failed to indict an officer we all saw use unnecessary force and a chokehold, which was forbidden by the NYPD, on an unarmed man who was complying with police directions. There were about 5 officers present. That policeman's life was not in danger. His action caused the man's death and left his six children fatherless. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, yet the grand jury still failed to indict. A man who filmed the incident said the jury didn't even listen to him -- talking among themselves and eating lunch, not paying attention at all. The man had simply been selling a couple of loose cigarettes on the street -- so far as anyone can tell, not a death penalty offense; neither is being a smartass teenager. Neither is walking home from the store with Skittles and a cold drink. All those people are dead. So is a 12 year old child who had a toy gun in a park. So is a young unarmed man shot in a dark stairwell in Phoenix Arizona by a scared rookie. What those people all have in common is that they were black and the officers or citizens who killed them were not. 

Racism is rampant in the United States, though the Supreme Court justices think all is well. Racism is deadly in the United States, though comfortable white people prefer to turn a blind eye to it. We see it in the unreasoned hatred of our president, which crosses over into sedition, yet is ignored.  

We need to face it directly. We need to talk openly about it. We need to confront it and eliminate it. It is toxic and it is killing our children. It is also killing our country.