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Archive for the ‘Culture/society/politics’ Category

I used to scoff at my brother-in-law for being a vegetarian. Now I mostly eat vegan.

When Bill Clinton was elected president while I was in high school, I was afraid the world might end. In 2016 I voted for Hillary.

I’ve argued about all sorts of theological and philosophical points over the course of my life, most adamantly against some of the very things I used to believe myself.

I changed my college major three times.

I planned to not have children. Now I have two.

For a while I thought I was done with organized religion. Now I sing in my church choir.

I used to wear my hair like this:

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As Paul Simon sang, “I was wrong, and I could be wrong again.” (“Sure Don’t Feel Like Love,” from his album Surprise which that girl in the photo may not have liked but I happen to love.)

“Family” was the theme for week six of #songaweek2018. I didn’t have much interest in working with that theme, as I feel like already half my songs are family-related and it’s not even anyone’s birthday or anniversary or Mother’s or Father’s Day this week!

I built this song from the first two lines which I’ve been storing in my “scraps and starters” list for years. And now that it’s finished, I think there’s a lot of “family” going on around this song after all.

Last week the Super Bowl came to Minneapolis, and for that reason Westboro Baptist Church chose my hometown of Owatonna, which is on the freeway 70 miles south of Minneapolis, as a Sunday morning stop on their way to agitate at the big game. They demonstrated at a number of churches during Sunday morning services, including the one my in-laws attend.

I don’t agree with Westboro Baptist. I also don’t agree with my in-laws and their church on some things. But our extended family across the country joined them to pray for that morning, and my father-in-law reflected to us afterwards in a text message:

Much has happened in me spiritually through this. Pride comes so subtly. Grace comes so abundantly from God and [God] wants us to have that same grace. God is even changing me.

Do you hear that? That humble and gracious attitude? That’s the stuff that keeps extended families coming back together despite all kinds of differences.

We can always find ways we don’t see eye-to-eye with other people, including our own family and friends – and including our own past and (if we could foresee) future selves!  But if we can keep this attitude of grace, of “I could be wrong,” it’s easier to see heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul, human-to-human. And that’s where and how real change happens anyway.

It’s okay to lay our weapons down. We can still hold strongly to our beliefs and values, and even talk about them with people who disagree. We just don’t really need those weapons of pride, guilt and shame, bitterness, contempt . . . they never work well at getting the point across anyway. They become the point, and everybody loses.

And besides, that thing you think and feel so strongly today, may just end up on your future self’s cutting room floor. But better that than another person.

I used to get injured more often
back when everything had a point
I went around hammering nails into coffins
at least I think I did
at least I thought I did
but I could be wrong

I used to go throwing my lot in
with the causes I fervently felt
These days I feel lots of nothing
at least I think I do
at least I feel that’s true
but I could be wrong

How many miles must I walk in your shoes
until I can feel your soul?
How many words should I leave unsaid
so I can finally hear you?

I’m starting to sense I’ve been spinning forever
orbiting the light
Sometimes I’m stupid, but sometimes I’m clever
at least I think I am
at least I hope I am
but I might be wrong

Winning the war isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
Conquerors can’t afford love
So I’ll stand in my faith and I’ll lay down my weapons
Cause I could be wrong.

 

 

 

 

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This is a song I’ve been wanting to write for a while now. I think the desire started about the time I realized the Trump campaign, with its hatefulness toward immigrants and others, was no joke. And it’s only grown during his presidency, which has sadly, ill-advisedly, continued that tone.

While Uncle Sam points gruffly out from posters declaring “I want you!” to the fittest and finest, another American symbol, the “mighty woman with a torch,” invites the least and the last. Like my own mother, she’s confident that she can always come up with enough for anyone who shows up at her door – and that her home will be enriched by every person she welcomes into it.

Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus,” inscribed on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty, provided the lyrics for my song this week, the third week of #songaweek2018. The images in the video are all public domain or creative commons licensed, with attributions noted in the video description in case you’d like to take a closer look or see more from any of the artists or photographers.

Enjoy this video. Take a look at America the beautiful.

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So while I was writing a song a week last year and devoting my blog pretty much exclusively to that effort, I was coming across an increasing pile of articles about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), and why everyone should at least try to understand what’s going on and what may be coming down the pike.

Tim Urban at Wait But Why did some pretty substantial summing up in two posts – The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence and The AI Revolution: Our Immortality or Extinction. This two-part series is a long read but worth it if you want to get some background and do some thinking on this topic.

Which might get you scared or excited at what could happen within your lifetime. I mean, immortality or extinction?! That’s kind of a big deal.

But then for some humanizing balance, I recommend Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People. Its author, Maciej Cegłowski, points out that those espousing AI’s potential to immortalize or annihilate our species are making some pretty bold assumptions about what intelligence ultimately is, and that some of this smells a bit megalomaniacal.

A story about computers taking over the universe (and then either saving or destroying humanity as we know it) captures our imagination more than a story about technocrats gradually sucking the soul out of human society by pushing for increased levels of surveillance and invasive technologies in their quest to prepare for the anticipated AI revolution.

Ceglowski’s article includes a quote I fell in love with: “If everybody contemplates the infinite instead of fixing the drains, many of us will die of cholera.” A search for the author of the quote, John Rich, turns up that he’s a country music singer/songwriter.

Superintelligence, I would like to believe, if and when it does arise, will not be supercerebral. It won’t just encompass the intelligence of computer geeks, but also musicians and plumbers and the infinite depth and breadth of being – of which we humans have only a limited understanding and a small share.

Which spins everything back around for me. Religious and spiritual traditions tell us that a superintelligence like that has already arisen – in what we call God or whatever other name has been given to the supreme being – and that this God brought all we know into being.

So ultimate being, superintelligence – do we project this back to before life began, or forward in time? Do we give rise to it, or did it give rise to us?

Or is this all my less-than-superintelligence asking all the wrong questions, thinking in a linear timeframe, boxed in by the laws of whatever computer simulation or created universe this is?

Thinking is fun!

 

 

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I wasn’t only thinking about Aleppo when I wrote this song. Christmas doggedly returns at the darkest time of the year, and sometimes it feels nearly impossible – or insincere, or inconsiderate – to celebrate when so many people are suffering.

But I think that tears of compassion and even deep personal suffering can coexist with tidings of comfort and joy. And the longer I live, the more that is what Christmas – and life in general – is about for me.

So let’s sing and celebrate – and mourn and grieve. Let’s be fully alive and unafraid this Christmas season. True “Christmas spirit” is not a mask that must pretend everything is okay in order to start the festivities, but a wholehearted embrace of the world and the people in it, just as I find them.

I’m not saying I know much about how to do this, or can even possibly begin to understand what so many people have experienced or are going through right now. But I do know that I’d rather practice listening and opening my heart to people – and risk making mistakes – than ignore and pretend – and shrink my world down to what feels manageable.

Once more, with feeling.

Here’s my song for week 50 of #songaweek2016:

it’s an old weathered song
at the darkest time of the year
merry christmas, merry christmas once more
we raise up a toast
and we try to drum up the cheer
merry christmas, merry christmas once more

while the bombs keep on dropping
and nobody’s stopping to cry

it’s a tired refrain
that keeps proclaiming peace and good will
merry christmas, merry christmas once more
and the stars keep their watch
and the snow lies cold and still
merry christmas, merry christmas once more

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Since “Scrooge” has unfortunately become synonymous with a bad chapter of a fictional character’s life, this song is called “Ebenezer” because I think Ebenezer Scrooge actually represents all that is good and hopeful about humanity – that no matter how miserable we become, we can change. We can dance again.

Here’s my song for week 49 of #songaweek2016:

And now
I reach
the end
of me
and find a universe of joy
beyond
control
a miracle of dawning hope
Hold out your hands
and let us dance
again

 

 

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Be the love you wish to feel in the world.

I believe in the infinite power of love, and I also believe that I can’t just wait around for love to rise and save the world. Love will always rise again. And I can be one of many who give it legs. Even when it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. Especially then.

Here’s my song for week 47 of #songaweek2016. Apologies for its very rough draftiness. I wanted to finish early this past week so I could enjoy my parents’ visit for Thanksgiving (which I did!).

When the ugly words of angry men come screaming on the wind
Love’s gonna rise again
When the comfortable complacent ones keep keeping quiet
love’s gonna rise again
when you can barely believe it, keep singing anyway
love’s got to rise again
when you can’t really feel it, keep hanging on anyway
love’s got to rise again

love’s gonna rise
love’s gonna rise
love’s got to rise again
love’s gonna rise
love’s gonna rise
love’s got to rise again

out of the mud, out of the ruins
out of the rotten remains
love’s gonna rise again

when you lay her down into the ground and feel your heart stop
love’s gonna rise again
when days are dark and nights are long and cold sets in
love’s gonna rise again
when you can’t see the point, get out of bed anyway
love’s got to rise again
when all seems lost, keep reaching out anyway
love’s got to rise again

love’s gonna rise
love’s gonna rise
love’s got to rise again
love’s gonna rise
love’s gonna rise
love’s got to rise again

love paints the world in vibrant colors and sings in many voices
love’s gonna rise again

love’s gonna rise
love’s gonna rise
love’s got to rise again
love’s gonna rise
love’s gonna rise
love’s got to rise again

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These are my kids, seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time last summer.

These children are good red-blooded Americans. Which means their genetic code is a patchwork produced by immigrants. They are here because a religiously persecuted sect called the Schwenkfelders fled Germany in the 1700s and settled in Pennsylvania. And they are here because another group seeking religious freedom left Sweden and settled in Minnesota. Their immigrant ancestors also include English and Irish, French, Spanish and Scot; and one Austrian grandmother on my side who by family accounts remained an undocumented immigrant her entire life. My children also have at least one non-immigrant ancestor, from the Native American Choctaw tribe.

I don’t know what my kids are up to in this photo – I took it but I didn’t pose it and I don’t recall if I knew what they were doing (maybe trying to catch bird poop?!), but just now, I like to imagine that the immigrants who made them are rising up and reaching out through them, towards that hope of freedom, a new start, a land of opportunity. I like seeing the sun shining on their young hands, and I hold out hope that love and compassion and courage will flow through those hands as they grow up in this deeply divided nation and inevitably encounter suffering, unkindness, and injustice in many forms.

And I pray for their mother to let them inspire her, to speak up and stand up for the vulnerable, to help them make their way peacefully and bravely in this world, to not be afraid.

And for today’s immigrants, in so many ways so like my own ancestors and my husband’s, and those of my neighbors, of my friends, of so very many of my fellow Americans – I pray peace, safety, freedom, and opportunity. And I stand with them, on the legs I inherited from immigrants, their hopes and dreams still alive in me – and in these children.

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