Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saint Mary's Kansas City

The very first Episcopal church I ever attended was Saint Mary's in Kansas City MO on Easter Sunday, 1980.  It remains among the most beautiful Episcopal churches I've ever prayed in; a wooden vaulted ceiling, splendid brick arcades, a wrought iron rood screen, and a Tiffany altar.  It was definitely the church of the local Establishment at one time.  Now it is marooned among parking lots and freeway interchanges next to downtown.

When I visited there on Easter, I was hooked.  I loved the liturgy and music.  For the first time in my life, I heard a sermon that spoke to me as an adult and not as a child.  After a few more visits, and some visits to some other congregations, I decided that this was the break I was looking for with the bland suburban Protestantism in a fundamentalist evangelical culture that I grew up in.  I was a secular agnostic at the time, and I so wanted a religious life again, and a specifically Christian religious life.  But, just about everything I grew up with was too anodyne or repulsive to consider returning to.  Rome and its authoritarian hierarchy wasn't an option either.  I wanted to keep my own mind and conscience, to remain myself doubts and all, and remain free.  Having grown up in a culture where hellfire is a constant terror, I became convinced that salvation must be something more than simply being spared an eternal torture chamber.  Nor did I believe that a truly loving God would create such a place, though hateful mortals just might.  God was not a monster or an extortionist.  God is Love in every sense of that word.

I've been going to Episcopal churches now for 38 years, and I am so very grateful for this non-confessional church that makes no claim beyond what's proclaimed in the Gospel and the Nicene Creed.  I remember hearing Neil Alexander (long before he became a bishop) describe the Episcopal Church as a place where a motley group of pilgrims ended up and found each other on the way to the Celestial City.  We make no claims to have The One True Answer.  We don't own any copyright on the Gospel or the Truth. We are pilgrims on the way, deeply flawed human beings, sinners like everyone else, trying to live out the Gospel as best we understand it individually and collectively.  Our mission is not to be the exclusive club of the Saved set over and against the Not-Saved, but to be Tikkun to use a Hebrew word, healing.   The Cross is not judgment, but the healing and reconciling medicine for a torn and  bloodied world.  The Gospel is not another calamity piled onto the backs of suffering humankind, but Good News -- liberation, freedom, compassion, God with us always.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Nicene Creed

Filled to the brim with Prosperity Gospel and white nationalism, it looks like white evangelicals want to trade away the Christian faith altogether for the sake of being white. Instead of some Jew telling them that they are part of one human family, that they should love their neighbors as themselves, now they want to be told that the world is divided between “winners” and “losers,” and that God predestined them to win. White evangelicals want to hear that as white people they are set apart, that indeed they are the only people who really matter.  Their messiah is a winner, a successful rich white American; not some Palestinian Jew executed for blasphemy and sedition. They believe that a white American man like themselves sits at the right hand of God. He will judge the (inferior) nations of the world at the coming Apocalypse, so their oracles tell them.  White evangelicals believe themselves to be the betrayed and persecuted masters of the earth, chosen by God to rule over all the lesser mortals given into their tutelage.

Against this backdrop, I appreciate more and more the Nicene Creed. Saying it every Sunday becomes ever more meaningful; a human God in solidarity with us, all of us, a single human family. Not bad work for a 4th century crowd of quarrelsome clerics and officious government bureaucrats.

Icon of the Nicene Creed

I should point out that I am a very agnostic believer.  I think most of the narratives in the Bible are folk tales.  I don't think anything in the Christian faith is provable or demonstrable, nor do I think that proof matters.  However, I can say this creed every Sunday without crossing any fingers.  

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Michael and the Cats

Michael with Bonkers and Willy in 2013

They are now on their way to South Carolina where I will be joining them for the summer in June.
I will return to New York to teach in August.

Uncle Michael yesterday with his nephew Cole Brock who will turn 2 on June 1st in McGolrick Park in Brooklyn near our home.


Michael and the cats arrived safely in Bluffton last night.

Friday, April 13, 2018

New Living Arrangements

Willy and Bonks in the sunlight in our Brooklyn apartment about 4 years ago.

On Sunday, they will be leaving with Michael as he starts a new job in Bluffton, South Carolina just across the channel from Hilton Head.  I will be joining them in the first week of June, and then returning to New York in the middle of August to teach the Fall Semester back at Bronx Community College.

I am not looking forward to this temporary separation.  I haven't lived alone in many years.

If Michael's new job in Bluffton turns out to be a big success (which it probably will be), then I will be spending part of my time there and part of the time back in New York teaching until I retire.

Last summer, we joined the ranks of property owners when we bought a nice condo in Bluffton that's about 10 minutes from the beach at Hilton Head, and about a half hour away from Savannah.  The new condo is over twice as large as our Brooklyn apartment and with all new appliances.

Here are a few pictures of it that I took last Thanksgiving.  Since then, the carpet was replaced with a new hardwood floor, and there's a little more furniture.  But, it still looks a little bare.  It's a second floor condo with its own staircase to the ground floor, and a small balcony from the living room.  There are two bedrooms with walk-in closets, and two baths.  After more than 2 decades of depending on laundries in New York, we finally have our own washer/dryer.  I will be using my bedroom as a studio.  It's actually a little bigger than the studio space I occupy now.

We are very lucky to have this condo.  If we had waited even another week, we would have been priced out of the market.  It looks like this is where I will be spending my summers (thank God for central AC!).

Our dreams of owning property either in New York or the San Francisco Bay Area ran into the hard wall of the high cost/ low wage economy.  And even then, we are lucky to get this.  Michael has an old friend who lives in Bluffton who persuaded him to buy property there.  It turns out that the area is full of transplants from New York with the same idea we had.  There's no way we could afford to buy anything within a 300 mile radius of the city these days. 

I think this will be the nicest place that I've lived in since I left home in 1977.  I look forward to spending my summer there and working on my art in a studio I don't have to walk 3 miles to get to.

I will be traveling back and forth between Bluffton and New York until I retire.
It's going to be hard.

A picture I took in Savannah last Thanksgiving.  Spanish moss everywhere.

Michael with Yours Truly on the beach at Hilton Head.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Paul Ryan Retires

Franz Von Lenbach, Otto Von Bismarck

As Paul Ryan announced this week his coming retirement from Congress, I remember the creator of the modern welfare state, Otto Von Bismarck. The Iron Chancellor was not really interested in improving the lives of the poor and working class so much as he was in preserving the Prussian monarchy and forging a German empire. He decided to look after the welfare of the general population in order to head off the growing power of the German labor movement. "When the cottage is unhappy, the palace is in peril," said Disraeli. Bismarck thought it necessary to keep all the German cottages well if not quite happy in order to keep the Kaiser in the Stadtschloss. 

It was only later after World War II that the welfare state became an article of faith with left and center-left parties in Europe. After the War, the nation states of Western Europe created welfare states to end the economic insecurity that drove the rise of totalitarian movements.   Those movements that started the War came out of the misery and desperation created by boom and bust cycles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And now over 75 years later, Europe still enjoys the longest peace it has ever known. Its populations enjoy mass prosperity for the first time ever. 

American Social Darwinists like Ryan consider welfare states to be moral failures, encouraging dependency and sapping people of their initiative. But when compared to the USA, the results of 75 years of the European welfare state speak for themselves. The German economy is the most powerful in Europe, and one of the most powerful in the world; and that was achieved with universal healthcare coverage, housing subsidies, and free public education from pre-K to post-doc. Populations in Germany, the Low Countries, France, Scandinavia, and elsewhere are healthier and better educated than their American counterparts.  All of these countries have paid family leave time with free or affordable pregnancy and early child care, along with very good free public education all the way to graduate school.  In contrast, one in every five children in the USA is born into poverty. Life expectancy is shortening here. The USA has the highest infant mortality rate in the Developed World and also the highest maternal death rate. The quality of your education in this country depends on the zip code you live in; everything from the best in the world to practice for jail.  In the USA, wealthy communities spend lavishly on the education of their own children, while those who live in poor communities with no real tax base make do with constant cutbacks in education spending; 4 day school weeks, out of date and ragged textbooks, crumbling school buildings, and unqualified teachers presiding over classes of 35 students or more. While the Dutch are closing prisons in their country, the USA still has the highest prison population in the world. While right wing social Darwinists dismiss France's generous healthcare system, ours is the most expensive in the world for the least results.

So many people in the Developed World enjoy liberal democracy that tries to provide work and a decent life for all citizens.  The USA by contrast, is a plutocratic oligarchy with democratic pretensions that divides its people into "winners" and "losers;" that keeps people divided against themselves so that they don't notice those who really exploit them.  The Land of the Free treats most of its citizens as a vast pool of cheap labor to be pacified with vague promises of scraps from the tables of their Betters ("trickle down").
What kind of a country do you want to live in?  One that punishes you and your children for not being billionaires, that treats you like just so much expendable cheap labor and a tenant in your own country?  Or one that treats you like the sovereign citizen that you are with rights, dignity, and a legitimate claim upon your country and its fortunes?

I know my Social Security account and future Medicare coverage are more secure with Paul Ryan gone from politics, even if only temporarily. As far as I'm concerned, he can spend the rest of his days marking his place in his copy of Atlas Shrugged with his rosary.

Margaret Bourke-White, Flood Victims Lined Up for Relief Supplies, Louisville, KY, 1937