Prayers for Our Broken Country

I have tried.  Lord, I have tried.

I have not wanted to fall down the rabbit hole of writing angrily about the president and his enablers. I did not want to fall into the trap of using angry language to respond to anger. But his using the 8th year anniversary of the massive earthquake in Haiti as well as the weekend we celebrate the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to call entire countries and continents “s***holes” — especially those countries where a majority of the population is made up of people of color — pushed me over the edge. No, this was not the final straw in my thinking about this individual or his enablers.  I’ve been in essentially the same place on that point since (before) day one.  It pushed me over the edge in using a personal blog where I try and look for the positive in life to call out the obvious:  we have a so-called “leader” in this country and a group of enablers who are working together every day to move us away from our nation’s aspirations and values, to divide us, to rob our shared wealth and public lands, and to give money to the rich so they can convince what’s left of the middle class to blame the poor for our problems.

Rather than rant, I’m going to direct you to three recent articles that ring with truth to me.

First, This is How Ignorant You Have to Be to Call Haiti a S***hole.

I’ve recently been reading a number of books on slavery, and what is clear is that Haiti has been both a shining example of early self-liberation and a deeply exploited country by white slaveholders and business interests that feared a country led by liberated slaves.

“To rail against poverty in countries such as Haiti and argue that it’s some naturally occurring, objective reality ignores why that poverty exists and what the United States’s role has been in creating it. And ignoring that means not only making bad and hateful decisions today but risks repeating the errors of the past.”

There is a lot in this article, but it is a piece on U.S. history that I recommend.

Second, This is the WYSIWYG Presidency.

I’ve often thought that “what you see is what you get” with our president.  Paul Musgrave says it better than I ever could.

“Since (the election), Americans have sought some hidden meaning behind the erratic actions of the man who now sits in the Oval Office. His tweet Tuesday night warning that his “Nuclear Button” is “much bigger & more powerful” than Kim Jong Un’s (and that “my Button works!”) has prompted more of the same. But nearly a year in, it turns out that the truth is hidden in plain sight: Trump’s actions appear angry and impulsive because Trump is angry and impulsive. Computer programmers use the term WYSIWYG — “what you see is what you get.” The real secret of the Trump administration is that it is the WYSIWYG presidency. There is no grand plan or veiled purpose. There is no wizard behind the curtain — just an old, irate, obnoxiously ignorant man.”

That sums it up…

…and leads me to the third article by a progressive Christian (or just Christian) pastor: “Good People Don’t Defend a Bad Man.”

Generally speaking, there are things that good people do and things good people don’t do.

Good people don’t refer to entire countries as “s***holes”—most notably countries that have given birth to our very humanity; ones that for hundreds of years have been colonized and poached and mined of their riches by powerful white men; countries whose people have been enslaved and sold and forced to come and build your country.

Good people by any measurement we might use—simply don’t say such things.

Of course good people also don’t say they could grab women by the genitalia, either. They don’t defend racists and nazis and call them “fine people,” days after murdering a young girl and terrorizing an American city. They don’t brag about their penis size during debates, or suggest protestors at campaign rallies should be roughed up, or crack jokes about captured war heroes, or make fun of the physically disabled.  They don’t.

. . .

But this President is simply not a good human being, and there’s simply no way around this truth.

. . .

No, good people don’t call countries filled with beautiful, creative, loving men and women s***holes.

And good people don’t defend people who do.

You’re going to have to make a choice here.”

We all have to make our choice.

More to come…

DJB

Farewell 2017, Hello 2018

Age of Folly

An Age of Folly Indeed! The cover photo of Lewis Lapham’s newest book on how America Abandoned Its Democracy

I was so discouraged with our country’s direction at the end of 2016, that I missed what had become an annual More to Come… year-end update.  Many commentators described 2017 as a “dumpster fire of a year.” Even Dave Barry had a hard time coming up with outrageous examples that exceeded our twisted reality.  The title of this year’s review by Barry says it all:  “2017: Did that really happen?”

My optimism for our country’s future hasn’t fully recovered in part because I find myself agreeing with Lewis Lapham when he writes:

“If the American system of government at present seems so patently at odds with its constitutional hopes and purposes, it is not because the practice of democracy no longer serves the interests of the presiding oligarchy (which it never did), but because the promise of democracy no longer inspires or exalts the citizenry lucky enough to have been born under its star. It isn’t so much that liberty stands at bay but, rather, that it has fallen into disuse, regarded as insufficient by both its enemies and its nominal friends. What is the use of free expression to people so frightened of the future that they prefer the comforts of the authoritative lie?”

Frightened by the future…that could be a theme of so much of 2017 in America.

It didn’t always seem this way.  In my 2013 year-end post, I outlined seven rules for the next third of my life, with an optimism that I could live a long and fruitful life. For four years I’ve looked at them on my computer wallpaper as I’ve logged on in the morning. Colleagues have seen them and made comments. The family has been supportive. But in thinking recently about my difficulties in keeping up with my life goals in 2017, I realized that I had lost some faith in the future.  My primary goal is to regain that faith in 2018.

25th birthday celebration

Celebrating 25 years of Claire and Andrew – one of the great achievements of 2017!

At work and in our family life, 2017 was a year of progress and celebration, of which I am proud and which gives me hope for the future.  But careful readers know that I can demonstrate some of the lighter symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which a quick trip to sunnier climates (think the Pomona College Family Weekend in February) usually fixes.  2017 felt like a year when SAD-like symptoms (or perhaps TAD-like symptoms, and you can fill in the “T”) came and went throughout the year.

Reading a recent article by David DeSento helped me focus on what may have been missing from my 2017:  that sense of gratitude for what I have been given.  A psychologist, DeSento argues that social emotions — not willpower — helps us achieve our life goals.

“What these findings show is that pride (not arrogance, but pride in the skills one has), gratitude and compassion, whether we consciously realize it or not, reduce the human mind’s tendency to discount the value of the future. In so doing, they push us not only to cooperate with other people but also to help our own future selves. Feeling pride or compassion has been shown to increase perseverance on difficult tasks by over 30 percent. Likewise, gratitude and compassion have been tied to better academic performance, a greater willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and lower levels of consumerism, impulsivity and tobacco and alcohol use.

If using willpower causes stress, using these emotions actually heals: They slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. By making us value the future more, they ease the way to patience and perseverance.”

I had recently been thinking about gratefulness and thankfulness.  Putting all this together, I realized that I needed to add an eighth life rule for 2018 and beyond.  So…here’s a quick look at that new rule plus some thoughts on how I did in 2017 with the original seven.

1. Be Grateful. Be Thankful. Be Compassionate.  Every Day.  Several years ago I made it a habit to say thank you to one person each day.  Even in 2017, I managed to maintain that habit.  Moving forward with this new rule, I want to expand that habit to being intentional about gratefulness, thankfulness, and compassion.

2.  Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life. I had a good pattern of daily exercise through 2016, resulting in weight stabilization.  Unfortunately, that didn’t continue in 2017, and my weight returned.  For 2018, I want to look with gratitude at the health I’ve had through six decades of life, and find ways to build on that outlook to maintain it.  I’m also going to keep the cartoon in mind where the doctor asks his middle-aged male patient, “Which is more inconvenient for you?  1 hour a day of exercise or 24 hours a day of dead?”

3.  Listen more than you talk.  It is always a challenge when I find myself in a place of some authority (either at work or home) not to grab the bully pulpit.  While David Isay, the founder of Story Corps, says listening is hard, he also notes that listening is an act of love…and act that one never regrets.  Both thoughts are worth remembering.

4.  Spend less than you make.  2017 was another year when I didn’t buy any new guitars!  (Although I can say that I gave it some serious thought.)  I’m continuing to adjust some of my expectations in order to live with much less regular income in the not-too-distant future.  I’m also thinking more about what to give away and how to do that to support those who have less.

5.  Quit eating crap!  Eat less of everything else.  Candice, Andrew, and Claire all support me in this effort, but I know I turned to comfort food more than I should have in 2017.  Like the rule about spending, I want to think about how eating less is an act of gratitude that what I have is enough.

6.  Play music.  The world is a better place when I play music.  My music is better when I play with others.  That’s the goal for 2018.

7.  Connect and commit.  Over the years since I set these rules, we made real progress in gathering people together on a regular basis.  That slipped some in 2017.  In the list Candice and I are assembling of 50 things we want to do in 2018, we already have a number of connections identified.

8.  Don’t be a Grumpy Old Man.  Enjoy life! I tried very hard not to let my SAD or TAD symptoms show through to others…in part, because this is probably the life rule I remember every day.  But there is still progress to be made…and in addition to Ursula Le Guin’s recent book of essays on growing old, I enjoyed reading yesterday’s New York Times article entitled, Want to Be Happy? Think Like an Old PersonI laughed.  I smiled.  I saw some traits I recognized.  I saw some things to work on.

Okay 2018:  bring it on!

More to come…

DJB

Our Year in Photos – 2017

Browns at the Christmas Day Dinner

The Browns at the St. Alban’s Parish Christmas Day Dinner 2016

As we enter this season of Thanksgiving, I continue my tradition of posting family photographs from the past year on More to Come… We have much for which to be thankful in 2017.

This has been another difficult year in our country, as we break into tribes and as the growing income inequality pushes us farther apart. We forget that the American experiment is built around ideas, not tribal groups, and that a sharing of common opportunities and challenges is important to being a citizen.  That experiment survives only if we celebrate all our fellow citizens and embrace the full American story.  We have not always succeeded, but we must keep trying in the year ahead.

Candice and I were thankful that Andrew and Claire were home for the Christmas break late in 2016. Some of the errands and visits were more mundane than others—such as shopping for new glasses—but this one made for a good opportunity to take a picture of our two favorite children!

New glasses

Clarity is a pair of new glasses: Andrew and Claire, December 2016

In January, Candice and I were fortunate to spend the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend in New York City, where we saw the amazing musical Hamilton. It truly lived up to the hype.  (Our selfie-taking abilities…on the other hand…leave much to be desired.)  Andrew was also “on stage” in January as one of the three kings at St. John’s Lafayette Square’s traditional Epiphany celebration.

Hamilton Selfie

In line to see Hamilton in New York City

 

The Three Kings

Andrew (left) as one of the Magi during St. John’s Epiphany celebration

We were back in New York State not too many weeks later.  Thirty-five years ago in March, Candice and I began our life journey together.  To celebrate, we had a relaxing and restorative long weekend at Mohonk Mountain House, one of our favorite places.

35th anniversary dinner

Celebrating our 35th Anniversary at a snowy Mohonk Mountain House in March 2017

While we were in the snowy northeast, Claire was enjoying California, her home for the past six years. She has always been our lover of the great outdoors, and during the first half of the year she went hiking and camping in the beautiful Joshua Tree National Park, visited the Grand Canyon with Southern California friends, hosted Andrew during her last couple of months in Los Angeles, and gathered together for a reunion with her Episcopal Urban Intern Program housemates.

Joshua Tree at sunset

Joshua Tree at sunset (photo by Claire)

 

Claire at the Grand Canyon

Hiking the Grand Canyon

 

EUIP Housemates Reunion

Claire’s reunion with EUIP Housemates

Baseball season began in April, and that can only mean one thing:  Let’s Go Nats!  David made it to Opening Day for the first time in his life, and Andrew went along to help kick off the new season.  (Andrew ended up going to five games on both coasts, perhaps joining Dad and Claire as true-blue baseball fans.)

Old Glory at Opening Day

Old Glory at Opening Day

Celebration was in the air in May and June for all types of special family events:  Mother’s Day, weddings, Andrew and Claire’s exploration of LA, and Father’s Day.

Mother's Day

Celebrating Mother’s Day

 

The family gathers to celebrate life and love

The family gathers to celebrate life and love with Erin and Jonathan

 

Claire and Andrew in LA

Claire and Andrew explore LA

 

Father's Day at Jack Rose

Drinking whiskey at Jack Rose on Father’s Day

 

Andrew and Claire in Sarasota

Andrew and Claire look very stylish in celebrating a dear friend’s wedding in Sarasota

Claire was home for a month between July and August, as she transitioned from living in Southern California to attending graduate school at Berkeley. She took time to hang with Andrew, Mom, and Dad and attend a beach weekend with close friends from Pomona College.

DJB with ABB and CHB at Nats Park

Dad does his best to make baseball fans of the next generation

 

Pomona Friends reunion

Pomona College friends reunion at the beach in Maryland

The entire family was able to come together in August for a week in Wellfleet, Massachusetts on Cape Cod.  It was a nice time of relaxation, exploration, and—of course—eating well.

Puzzle masters

Finishing up a puzzle – a Brown vacation tradition

 

ABB with Alison Bechdel

Andrew meeting author Alison Bechdel during a book tour event in Wellfleet

Fall has been a busy season, with another family wedding, Claire beginning her new adventure in graduate school, Andrew’s singing career stepping up to a new level, celebration of holidays, and traveling across the country.

Ghattas wedding cousins

David and Emily Ghattas celebrate with their cousins from around the world

 

The Browns and Crockers

Candice and DJB enjoy Chicago with David’s sister Debbie and her husband Mark

 

First days for Claire

Claire – on the first day of kindergarten and the first day of graduate school. Time goes by much too fast.

 

DJB at Pink Martini

David at Pink Martini Headquarters in Portland, OR

 

Claire's new haircut

Claire – new glasses, new haircut, ready for a new home in the Bay Area

 

Andrew summer 2017

Andrew ready for the next move in his singing career (© 2017 | Kristina Sherk Photography | http://www.Kristinasherk.com)

 

Pumpkin carving time

Pumpkin carving time with Andrew and Candice

 

Andrew for the Mozart Requiem

Andrew sings the Mozart Requiem at the Mexican Cultural Institute for El Día de los Muertos

 

Dinner at Chez Panisse

Dinner with Claire at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse

 

Hammock view

Claire’s view from her back porch hammock in Oakland…life is good

 

Wine tasting in Sonoma

Wine tasting in Sonoma

As you can see, it has been a busy and fulfilling year. During this Thanksgiving season, we give thanks for you, our wonderful friends.

Meal at Wellfleet

Enjoying one of many wonderful meals on Cape Cod

Have a terrific Thanksgiving holiday with friends and families.

More to come…

DJB

This Explains Everything

I suspect most of us have struggled to understand all that is happening in our country at this time.  Pundits, politicians, and plain folk have all put forward explanations for the craziness afoot in our land.  Nothing that I read connected all the dots.

Then I saw that the Washington Post published Trump Goes Back to His Professional Wrestling DaysAnd suddenly, it all made sense.

Writer David Von Drehle says that too little attention has been paid to Trump’s wrestling background from when he was active in the golden age of “rassling” back in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“Trump was among the first self-promoters to hitch a ride on impresario Vince McMahon’s WWE juggernaut. He sponsored two of McMahon’s early WrestleMania extravaganzas back in the Golden Age, steering them to the Historic Atlantic City Convention Hall and promoting them through his Trump casinos…But the peak of Trump’s career came in 2007, when he was written into the script of WrestleMania 23 as one-half of the Battle of the Billionaires, facing off against McMahon. Before a crowd of 80,000 at Detroit’s Ford Field, with a million more watching on pay-per-view, Trump played his role to the hilt, clotheslining McMahon and pretending to pummel him on the floor before shaving the promoter’s head as the fruit of victory. The drama culminated with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin administering a Stunner punch to the future commander in chief.”

 So how does this explain everything?  Von Drehle continues:

“This might be a mere footnote to Trump’s story — a celebrity-age version of young Abraham Lincoln’s match against an Illinois roughneck — except for this: The Trump presidency is right out of a WWE script. His brawling news conferences, his beefs with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mika Brzezinski, the who’s-up-who’s-down chaos inside his White House, all bear the imprint of a man schooled on the melodramatic storylines of pro wrestling.”

Tojo Yamamoto

Tojo Yamamoto (credit: Wikipedia)

As someone who grew up watching Tojo Yamamoto, Jackie Fargo, and other professional ‘rassling heels and stars on local television with my grandfather and cousins long before there was a WWE, this strikes me as the perfect frame for what we’re seeing.

“You might say all politicians tell stories of conflict. But with Trump, it’s relentless. He takes us from bout to bout — Trump against China, Trump against Comey, Trump against Kim, Trump against Fake News — with a head-spinning undercard of Jared against Bannon and Spicy Spicer against The Mooch. Every policy choice, every personnel decision, every setback can be fodder for the next day’s script. ”

“At this point, many Americans would like to change the channel. And indeed, pro-wrestling ratings have been dropping for years. But as long as Trump’s core audience laps it up, there will be more — culminating, perhaps, as Bob “the G-Man” Mueller delivers a Tilt-a-Whirl Headscissors Takedown followed by a Rude Awakening.”

This. Explains. Everything.

As a sidenote, Wikipedia has a great story about Tojo Yamamoto, who took his name from two World War II enemies and played up the evil foreigner to the hilt, especially throughout the South.  I have to repeat the story here, simply because it is so perfect:

“Wrestling in Boaz, Alabama, Yamamoto gave one of the great performances in pro wrestling. Before the start of the matches, he asked to give a statement to the crowd, which booed and hissed and threw things. In broken English he said, “I wish make aporogy. Very sorry my country bomb Pear-uh Harbor.” And the crowd quiets, as he wipes away tears, and they awwww in sympathy. “It wrong thing to do, I wish not happen.” They begin to applaud. “Yes, I wish not happen, because instead I wish they BOMB BOAZ!!!” Needless to say, the arena erupted.”

More to come…

DJB

 

Observations from the Road (Or The “I’ve Been Everywhere” Edition)

Rook Coffee

Dad Hat from Rook Coffee (photo credit: Rook Coffee)

Life on the road can become a blur.  I began writing this from the Molly Pitcher Inn’s dining room which overlooks the Navesink River in Red Bank, New Jersey. Candice and I have come here to celebrate the 40th wedding anniversary of her cousin Mary Beth and husband Greg.  It is the second time we find ourselves in Red Bank in three weeks, as we were here earlier in the month to celebrate with family and friends the life of Candice’s aunt and godmother, and Mary Beth’s mother, who passed away at age 90.

June is perhaps a bit more than typical in terms of travel (16 out of the first 24 days spent on the road), but only at the margins.  Good thing that I enjoy it.  In June alone I’ve not only visited Red Bank twice, but I’ve also been to Madison, Wisconsin (one of prettiest small college cities in America…in the summer); Athens and Atlanta, Georgia (my God, they never stop building highways); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (a gem of a city with much to recommend it and work to be done); and Hampton, Virginia (home of Fort Monroe, Freedom’s Fortress). And there’s still a week to go before we hit the 4th of July weekend!

I’ve thought so many times of writing a blog post on this or that subject, only to drop the idea as I rush to a meeting or another airport.  So this “Observations from…” post will be very short (dare I say Twitter-like”) comments on several things swirling around my travel-addled mind.

Rook Rocks—The waitress at the Molly Pitcher on Friday morning commented on my big cup of Rook Coffee. I told her I just had to try any independent coffee shop with the guts to locate next to a Starbucks, as is the case with Rook in downtown Red Bank’s wonderful Main Street.  She replied, “Oh, you’re not from around here.  In these parts, Rook so out-performs Starbucks.  After a few sips, I knew why.

Independent Coffee Shops (and bookstores) are holding their own—I’ve come to seek out those independent coffee shops no matter where I go.  When in Madison, stop by Colectivo Coffee on the Square. Their baristas  rival Rook in their friendliness (and they have that Midwestern Nice vibe going for them).  Jittery Joe’s is a tasty find in Athens. And on that rare occasion when I’ve been in DC, I took the time to stop by my favorite bookstore, Politics and Prose, where Candice and I enjoyed a late-night coffee recently at The Den after stocking up at the store’s member sale.

Everyone (and every thing) needs refurbishing now and then—I have stayed in just about every type of hotel imaginable this month. Most have been great.  A couple have been a bit long in the tooth.  Just like people, hotels need the occasional refurbishment every now and again. Let’s begin with those electrical outlets. (I’m looking at you, Molly Pitcher Inn!)

If I keep up this level of travel, I’m going to have to break down and get the MLB network—In June I’ve been to the ballpark once (but have a second game next week to see the World Champion Cubs and our Nats) and have only caught about five games on television. While I have enjoyed catching up with some other teams, I miss seeing my Nats on a regular basis.  And I really like our announcers—Bob and F.P.—after sampling home team announcers in other cities.  Truth be told, however, I don’t miss the heartburn that goes with the all-too-frequent Nats bullpen meltdown.  Come on, Rizzo, please go find a closer.  Thank God for yesterday’s laugh-fest blowout against the Reds!  And I want to have a renaissance like Ryan Zimmerman!

I have to drive HOW FAR to go see the Braves—Even though I don’t need to visit the new Atlanta Braves stadium to add another one to my bucket list, I gave serious consideration to taking in a game one evening while I was in town.  Then I Googled the distance from my mid-town hotel.  Then I drove a bit in Atlanta.  Then I watched the game from the comfort of my hotel room.  What a dumb way to build a broad base of support for a sport that’s already seen as too old and white…build a new stadium way out in the northern suburbs to make sure that the city’s African-American fan base (real and potential) can’t get there.  Jeez.

If I bite my tongue any more, part of it will fall off—I try to keep politics out of my blog. For now.  But with so many things happening to endanger our American experiment in democracy, I may have to throw caution to the wind.  I’ve traveled in both red and blue states this month and I’ve spoken with people from across the political divide.  We need to face some hard facts as a nation.

Celebrate family and friends—Candice and I were talking today about all the interactions with family and friends we’ve experienced in recent months.  Funerals.  Weddings.  Wedding Anniversaries (our own and others). Birthdays.  Celebrations of Mothers and Fathers. Dinner parties. Picnics on our saint’s day at church.  We’ve traveled for as many of these as we’ve celebrated at home in Washington.  When family isn’t nearby, you lose something by not making the effort to see them on a regular basis.  And friends expand the family circle.  We are blessed on both counts.

Father's Day at Jack Rose

Drinking whiskey at Jack Rose on Father’s Day with Andrew

Is anything better than bourbon and baseball for Father’s Day—That’s a trick question.  Nope.  Well, yes there is.  It would have been even better if Claire had been here in D.C. with us.  Andrew and Candice took me to Jack Rose Dining Saloon for a Father’s Day feast and some mighty fine bourbon last Sunday. (Largest bourbon selection in the Western Hemisphere!) Claire and Andrew are buying me a Nats jacket in anticipation of those October playoff games.  What could be finer?  (Another trick question.) Woo hoo!

Even in very busy and often challenging times, it is important to remember the wonder of travel, the joy of seeing new places, the lifetime pleasures of staying connected with family, the unexpected moments of delight that come from an expanded circle of friends, and the satisfaction of seeing (and being) people living their passion.

More to come…

DJB

A Family Celebration

Erin Brown Belcher

Erin Brown Belcher on her wedding day

After three family funerals in the past eighteen months—two of which came much too early in the lives of those we lost—the Brown family was able to come together this weekend for a family celebration.

We gathered at my brother Joe’s beautiful Cripple Creek farm on a sunny and cloudless spring day to celebrate the wedding of our niece, Erin, and Jonathan Belcher.

The bride looked beautiful in the wedding gown she had made by hand (over 53 1/2 hours!). The bluegrass music for the reception covered the countryside. The children of our other nieces played games and ran through the fields and around the pond.

A good time was had by all.

It is nice to remember the cycle of life continues in a year when we’ve said goodbye too many times.  So on this Mother’s Day, which falls on the one-year anniversary of my father’s passing, here’s to Erin and Jonathan and to the resiliency of family and love.

 

Remembering those who came before

Remembering those who came before

 

The farm

The farm

 

The family gathers to celebrate life and love

The family gathers to celebrate life and love

More to come…

DJB

 

Chowing Down at the Red Rooster

Spring succotash

Spring succotash at the Red Rooster

I had two meetings yesterday in Harlem.  Fortunately, the second one was over lunch at the Red Rooster.

Oh my!

Deviled eggs to die for.  Homemade lemonade.  Cornbread that “came from heaven” according to our wonderful waitress (and her sense of direction was pretty good).  My main dish (an appetizer) was described on the menu as: