All posts filed under: The Times We Live In

Addressing the challenges of our polarized times

The lens is not the landscape

How did you respond when you first discovered the many ways there are to view the world? For some, this isn’t a problem. From an early age they have looked at the world through a particular set of glasses, assuming that their view is the correct one. They learn how to describe what they see in terms that others who wear the same glasses understand. And unless they have some life-changing jolt — perhaps a worldwide pandemic that doesn’t care about their nationality, religion or political ideology; or an especially graphic picture of systemic racism that refuses to be ignored — they never ask questions about the things that are not clear. But for those who see another perspective or choose to try on different pairs of glasses, all of a sudden they realize that their world view is not the only one. They have to choose how to respond. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh describes this broader existence when he notes, “While living the life of a wave, the wave also lives the life …

Saturday Music: This Land is Your Land

Happy July 4th! In the spirit of the day, let’s celebrate the Woody Guthrie 1940 classic This Land is Your Land. Many of us believe, for a variety of reasons, that it should be the national anthem. No less an authority than Bruce Springsteen has said, it is “one of the most beautiful songs ever written about America.” Guthrie wrote This Land is Your Land during the Great Depression in response to Irving Berlin’s God Bless America. There’s a wonderful book by John Shaw entitled This Land That I Love: Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and the Story of Two American Anthems. As Shaw describes it, Guthrie was hitchhiking his way to New York City when he became upset over hearing the Kate Smith version of Berlin’s song over and over again during the trip. Guthrie sat down and wrote a song in anger, but his revisions over time turned it into one of the most shared and beloved songs in our nation’s history. Here’s the unvarnished recording from Woody, with the bonus of a picture …

A Little Help from My Friends

It doesn’t get any better than the Muppets – with help from the Beatles (the song) and Joe Cocker (the arrangement) and Reggie Watts (the singer) and the Late Late Show Band (the music) and James Corden (the show). At this time we live in, we all definitely need a little help from our friends. Here’s a Saturday Music bonus! Enjoy! More to come… DJB

Places and perspectives

Are you afraid? It was an era when those protesting for civil rights had moved from nonviolent techniques to more confrontational stances, and the nightly news carried stories and photos of clashes in cities across the country between the police and protesters. The tribal nature of our communities was coming into focus for everyone to see. While we lived on Main Street, our neighborhood was mixed both economically and racially. And here I was, playing pickup basketball on a local court, when a player on the opposing team asked me that question. He wanted me to acknowledge that I was the only person scuffling around on the asphalt, shooting at hoops with torn nets and battered backboards, who was not African American. The question insinuated that I should feel out of place and uncomfortable and was followed by another: Don’t you feel scared? Playing on the local courts as a young teenager with whatever group of neighborhood kids came along was just what I did. “No,” I replied. I knew most of these guys, and …

A Wizard of Oz Trifecta

What if you held a comeback rally and nobody came? Or, to be more specific, what if you selected a venue that holds 19,200 people for that rally to “kick off” your campaign, and slightly less than 6,200 people — or just under one-third capacity — show up? A political satirist I enjoy recently said, “You’re like a Wizard of Oz trifecta. If you only had a brain…and a heart…and courage.” Guess who she was talking about. And yes, it is the same person who held that anemic comeback rally. There are so many actions from the president and his enablers where one can turn for illustrations to fit that Wizard of Oz description. The botched coronavirus response now resulting in the deaths of more than 120,000 Americans; the unconstitutional reaching out to foreign governments for help in meddling with our elections; the economic recession; and the tone-deaf response to racial injustice and the murder of black men, women, and children at the hands of police officers around the country are just the most recent. …

Saturday Music: Lift Every Voice and Sing

In honor of Juneteenth (+ 1), I want to use my Saturday Music post to celebrate the song known as the “Black National Anthem” — none other than the soul-stirring Lift Every Voice and Sing. With words by James Weldon Johnson and music by his brother John, Lift Every Voice and Sing was written at the turn of the 20th century, a time when Jim Crow laws were beginning to take hold across the South and Blacks were looking for an identity. In a way that was both gloriously uplifting and starkly realistic, it spoke to the history of the dark journey of African Americans. “It allows us to acknowledge all of the brutalities and inhumanities and dispossession that came with enslavement, that came with Jim Crow, that comes still today with disenfranchisement, police brutality, dispossession of education and resources,” Shana Redmond — author of Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora — says. “It continues to announce that we see this brighter future, that we believe that something will …

Finding Your Potential: Aging in a Time of Turmoil

I recently dove into two books on aging. It wasn’t because I felt old, aged, infirmed, or any of those descriptors we often use when talking about the elderly. However, I can read a calendar, and I recognize that I can’t claim to be middle age when no one lives to be 130 years old.* My study began just as the global pandemic struck, with the coronavirus focusing so much of its potency on the vulnerable and those 60 years of age and older. I finished the second book as the nation roiled from both the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression and the injustice that was highlighted in the grotesque and brutal deaths of black men, women, and children at the hands of the police. Whether I liked it or not, I was forced to think about aging in a time of turmoil. Talk about your inauspicious timing. In light of current events, I quipped to some friends that these book choices could be interpreted as: a sign of naiveté, a sign of …

Listen, learn, love…and act.

This past week the nation reached an important inflection point in our 400-year-old history with race and racism. The horrific murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while he was lying face down handcuffed on the street, touched off nationwide protests and confrontations with the police and the Trump administration. The photo showing Chauvin on Floyd’s neck while casually looking away, hand in his pocket, hit like a punch in the country’s collective gut. Pictures can both reflect and change history. The iconic May 1963 photographs of Bull Connor’s police dogs and officers with fire hoses attacking peaceful protesters in Birmingham depicted savage assaults that, in civil rights historian Taylor Branch’s words, “struck like lightning in the American mind.” The 1968 photos of sanitation workers, with their “I Am A Man” signs, remind us of why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis on that fateful April day. While I have no idea if …

Saturday Music: The Old Songs

I’ve found myself drawn to several musical performances online this week during our troubled times. Most are covers — where musicians perform works by other musicians — and while the date of the originals range across centuries, most of the versions that have touched me were recently recorded. While some are instrumentals, knowing the lyrics to the songs has given me a context to hear the music in new ways. I want to share with you a few of my favorites from this music for troubled times. “We’re not doing my original songs,” Rhiannon Giddens says in her recent NPR Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, before she and her partner, Francesco Turrisi, launch into an old spiritual, “’cause with these kinds of emotions, the old songs say it best.” The set list for the 20 minute mini-concert, filmed at Turrisi’s home in Ireland in late May, goes back to “the origins” as Giddens says, and includes Black As Crow, Spiritual, and the tune set Carolina Gals / Last Chance. While all are wonderful, the haunting vocals and …

Observations from…

It is not surprising that two women and two African American men have been the most effective religious leaders speaking truth to power to Donald Trump over the past few days. My “Observations from” series usually includes a location. But this one doesn’t because, well, I don’t know where we are at this moment in this country. One of our most amoral presidents in history is walking and driving around the nation’s capitol looking for religious props for photo ops while he orders peaceful protesters tear-gassed and forcibly removed from his sight. Protesters who are, by the way, angry over yet another senseless and grotesque murder of a black man by a white police officer. Oh, and at the same time, his Secretary of State is tweeting about Chinese authoritarianism and meeting with Tiananmen Square survivors. Rightwing religious extremists are saying of the president’s use of the sacred symbols of Christendom, “Well, at least he’s pro-life.” Irony is apparently something that the modern-day Republican party doesn’t understand or at least doesn’t do anymore. So just …