Thursday, April 18, 2019

No Other Gods - The Ten Commandments


I was inspired to write this service after reading the book “No Other Gods” by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons.  I highly recommend you read the book. This upcoming week is the start of the Jewish Holiday Passover. It is the story of the Jewish people escape from slavery and their journey through the wilderness to find their way home. And whether or not you believe that God personally gave these commandments  such as written in the Bible or just a way leaders of the community set the laws for their community, there is no doubt the 10 commandments have impacted our culture.

I look at the 10 commandments as a sort of mission statement for their community. Just as we have a mission and vision statement and principles that we aspire to and look to when we make our decisions. We all discern as a community what rules we will follow, what vision we point ourselves towards, what is acceptable to us.
But I think it is important as with everything to look back and see what meaning this ancient wisdom may still hold for us today. We see the commandments as static and unmoving but even in the Jewish Tradition that is not so. Interestingly in the Book of Deuteronomy which was written at least a couple of hundreds years after the book of exodus there was a second list of Ten commandments with some subtle changes that indicate the community felt it needed to adjust due to its changing circumstances.

And as our lives are very different then the lives 2,500 years ago, so to should we make new meaning and find new understanding in these commandments.
I think in general we tend to even shy away from the word commandment.
But to me this speaks to what calls to us.
What is the most important values that we claim to shape our lives around.   
The very first commandment, for me is the touchstone.
“I the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; you shall have no other gods beside me.”
This is a reminder that this story is the story of liberation.
Even after you have made it though the difficult desert of your life.
After enduring tragedy, and you are settled, living in a nice house, with two cars, cable tv, etc. we should never forget that we are a people of liberation.
That as long as there are others in bondage our work for the liberation of all people is not done. As Ralph Waldo Emerson Said.
“Truly, the gods we worship write their names on our faces. A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and character. Therefore it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming .”
So what do we worship?
Do we worship ourselves?
Do we worship consumerism?
What the commandments ask us to do is to worship liberation for all people, every day, always.

Commandment two  tells us
“You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above or on the earth below in  the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon fourth generations of those who reject Me. But showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments”
Of course in olden days they were talking about competing religions that made statues of their Gods. But the Jewish God was a God with no name, and no face. What most people do not focus on though is the word yourself.
Do not make for yourself a sculptured image of something else. This is telling us we should be our unique selves. We are often so busy keeping up with an image that our society expects of us, because we have heard it from the day we were born. But we need to be and to act based on who authentic self. When I grew up with this text I thought the part about guilt of the parent to the third or fourth generation was a little harsh, to punish a child for their parent’s sins.
But it is not punishment. We know that trauma is multi generational.
That what we do impacts our family and our community and in doing so, it will take generations to rectify the challenges we create when our are actions are in contradiction with our values.

I think this ties into the third commandment
“You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God for the lord will not clear one who swears falsely by God’s name”
Yes, if your vision of God is an angry old white man in the sky, this really does not make sense. But if we look at God as the theologian Paul Tillich does as the ground of all being, or ultimate reality, what it is saying is that when we deny reality, we take Gods name in vain. When we deny that someone else’s suffering is important we are denying reality.
When we deny that the climate is changing we are denying reality.
Every day, All day long, we hear people lying and manipulating the truth for their own personal self interest, and this is what is meant by swearing falsely. What we say matters Words matter. Truth matters.   In Genesis, the first six days of creation God spoke creation into existence. If you remember your Genesis it is God said let there be light, God said Let the water below the sky be gathered…etc. etc. and on the sixth day God Said let us create humans in our image.Very much like the Buddhist practice of right speech, being as impeccable as we can be with our words, speaking truth, is an important value for a community to healthy. This commandment tells us there is a holiness to truth, there is a holiness to reality

The fourth commandment is “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy, Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath of the lord your God.  you shall not do any work you,  your children, or your slaves, or your cattle or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them, and God rested on the seventh day therefore the lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.”
To remember to take time for yourself,
To remember who you are,
to remember that you are a free person.
To stop from the hustle and bustle of our busy lives to take time to think about our values and how we want to live our lives
to think about what it is that we worship.
I admit, I thought about editing out slavery when reading the commandment but that would be manipulating the truth.
Let it be a reminder to us today how even oppressed people who become free can often become oppressors themselves. 
Let us take time in our lives to be introspective about how we can build a more just community for all people.

The fifth commandment “Honor your father and your mother that you may long endure on the land that the Lord your God is assigning to you”
This is of course a heteronormative view of families and I recognize that is not who we are today. I also want to point out it does not say we must obey our parents. Just honor them.
I would argue its meaning is deeper then even to our biological or adoptive family.
The meaning to me is to honor our existence here.
To honor what got us to where we are today. Even congregationally to honor our ancestors who started this congregation, who built this building people probably very different from us, with different values then we have,  but without them we would not be here in this building together.
And to go a step further to honor existence itself by taking care of the planet that nourishes and feeds us.

And now we ask  you to nourish and feed the congregation as we take the offering so that Unitarian Universalism shall be here for our descendants who we  cannot even imagine today but know, will be very different from us.  Once you have had the chance to donate we invite you to come to light a candle to mark a joy or sorrow in your life.

Part II
The second five commandments are much more about how we live in the world.
Commandment #6 You shall not murder seems pretty straightforward right. Or does it. You may have heard of the ethical experiment of the trolley conductor. There are 5 people in the way of the trolley, and if the conductor pulls a switch it will change tracks and only kill one person. The experiment goes on to ask what if the one person was a relative or known to you or was a doctor who could save lives.
What would you do. Ethicist Peter Singer asked the question what if your new fancy shiny luxury car was on the other track.
Would we allow the trolley to kill the five people to save our car? 
We instinctively say no.
But we do that every day, as people in extreme poverty in the world even here in the Quad Cities are dying every day as we live with what they would consider luxurious lifestyles.  That is a conscious 
choice we make based on how we spend our money and taxes. This commandment asks us not only to actively not kill someone, but to not stand by when we know others are in danger.

Commandment #7 - You shall not commit Adultery.  This speaks to commitment and loyalty. It speaks against the commercialization of our relationships and recognizing and living with imperfection. This commandment reminds me of the 14th mindfulness training From Buddhist Monk Thich Naht Hanh which goes even further including.   
“Aware that sexual desire is not love and that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness but will create more suffering, frustration, and isolation, we are determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love, and a deep long-term commitment made known to our family and friends.”
Commandment #8 You should not steal. Stealing can take many forms. Of course in its most basic form we should not take something we do not own. But let us go a little further.  Downloading music for free or cheating on ones taxes seems victimless because we are disconnected from the individual affected. We can think how can my little act really impact anyone. If something is wrong, it is wrong. But let us go a bit further with this. If someone donates to politicians and gets laws changed to be able to shield their tax, is that just as much an afront as outright stealing.  When people stack the deck in their favor and reduce funds to help those in need, then we have broken this commandment.
What this commandment tells us that we must all do our fair share to help each other.

Commandment #9 – “You shall not you bear false witness against your neighbor.” 
And who is your neighbor. Everybody is.
This is again about manipulating the truth which I spoke of before. Bearing false witness is also about not giving full information.
When the tobacco industry hid information about the danger of smoking they broke this commandment.
When the fossil fuel company hides information about the danger of climate change they are breaking this commandment.
On an individual level it is again about the authenticity of relationships.
So when someone asks you how do I look in this dress or does this tie match my shirt, you are obligated to tell them the truth. (although if you really love them, they will always look good in that 
dress).
And yet I would argue there is a time and place to bear false witness.
If it would save lives.
I think of Christians who hid Jews during world war II in Europe.
They bore false witness to save lives. That cannot be wrong.
So all commandments have to be judged in their context. Yet on the whole we should face the truth, hard truths and deal with them.

And Lastly #10 “Do not covet your neighbor’s. house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or your neighbors slaves, their ox, their donkey or anything that is your neighbors.
So it is not enough to not commit adultery or steal or lie, you should not even think about doing it. For before action comes the thought. As the Emerson quote I read earlier said, “what we imagine will determine our lives.”   Know and understand your thoughts and you can see what is real and you can choose your actions according to what is real.
Really what this is asking us is how much is enough.
To end our desire to keep up with the Jones. (We have no members with the last name Jones in the Congregation) To reduce our desires in general. Again we see the similarity with Buddhist Mindfulness trainings that state that we need to consume mindfully and that we use excess consumption as a way to cover up the suffering in our lives.   

As I have gone through these, I am trying to make something old into something new.
To make it meaningful to us in our day and in our context.
To help us see the winding road in front of us more clearly.
To see these laws as much of Jewish history did  a call to a countercultural way of being in relationship with our consumer driven results oriented world we live in today.
I invite you to see how these 10 rules could impact our lives. I say this not ironically at all, these laws are not written in stone.
To make these laws real in the world requires a certain discipline and commitment.
There is a price to paid for worshiping liberation, truth and justice.
What price would you pay to be free?
What moves your life, your spirit to change yourself and change the world for the better.
May we each find it.


Monday, March 25, 2019

Musings after Mueller


I have to admit that when the television news came on last night I had to turn it off. I just could not bring myself to hear the President crowing about the Mueller report exonerating him, even though it specifically said it did not exonerate him.

I saw most people online express despair, and resignation that the power structure protects their own.   Since we haven’t seen the report, I will not comment on that. Clearly there have been many prosecutions and indictments already, so I think the Mueller investigation has brought much corruption to light. So I say it was worth every penny. The Mueller investigation stated irrefutably that Russia influenced our election to help get Trump elected. So let us make sure as a country that does not happen again.  I admit based on just what is public I thought there was reason for obstruction charges. Certainly campaign finance charges. Even if Trump is not charged, I do believe we should highlight and keep the pressure up about all the corruption of this administration. I do think that is an important issue. And I believe that will continue. 

But that is not enough.  The people need to speak about our values and issues and elect people who support our values. The challenge is there are so many issues. For me, the top issues based on my values are as follows :

Universal Health Care (in whatever form that takes)
Climate Change
Fair Wages
Full Funding for education.
Stop locking up children in cages and separating families.
Ending the proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Supporting individuals and families that are most vulnerable in our country and especially those that have been historically oppressed.
Free and accessible elections.  

I hear people say progressives are a threat to the Constitution. Yes, where it is corrupt we are. Progressives  were a threat to it when Conservatives allowed slavery, Progressives were a threat to it when Conservatives would not allow Blacks to vote. Progressives were threat to it when Conservatives did not allow Women to vote.  Progressives were a threat to it when Conservatives did not want people to vote for Senators. Yes Progressives are a threat because we because we are demanding change and demanding that all people be entitled to their rights. That rights should not be centered only with White Land Owners (that is what the Constitution originally allowed for).   

Yesterday in writing about the NCAA tournament I quoted journalist Daman Runyon who wrote, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that is the way to bet.”  And when I wrote that, I thought of our political predicament in our country. The truth is the people are stronger. There are more people in this country who share my values then share the current administration’s values. Those who are manipulating power today are counting on the people to be resigned, counting on people to be divided. I should hope they do not want people to be in despair, for despair leads to desperation. And desperate people will do desperate things. We do not need to be desperate. We need to be deliberate.  We need to be together. We need to organize,

To elect officials that support our values.
We need to show up at school board meetings and city council meetings.
We need to run for and support people who support our values.  
Don’t tell me you are too tired or too busy or your children have an event you have to get them to. This is the event they need to be at. Learning to be active citizens of this country. 

Let us not despair. Let us take a deep breath. Let us redouble our efforts. We need to use the rights that so many have fought and died for. Let us continue to work for the good. Together the people can make change. We took congress in 2018. We can make change. Now is not the time to step back. No one else can save us but each other.  Let us remember why we are doing this. Because we believe that each of us has inherent worth. Each of us should be given the opportunity and means to reach our potential. We believe in truth, and justice on this earth and for this earth.

If you do not agree me this is not the venue for this, and I will delete your comments. This is for all those who are struggling today.  This is to remind you that you are not alone. We are in this together. If we believe we can make change. If we are willing to sacrifice. Then and only then will change happen. When we make it happen. And we can. WE CAN.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Antisemitism


This coming week is the Jewish Holiday of Purim. The holiday is based on the Book of Esther in the Jewish Scriptures.   In 2016, I talked about Purim in a sermon entitled the toxicity of Fear speaking about the scriptures feminist heroes and the need to speak truth to power even in the face of fear and risk.  That message is even more true today. However today I raise up the story of Esther as it is one of the stories in the Hebrews Scriptures that speak to attempted extermination of the Jewish people.
Earliest in the Hebrew scriptures, In the Book of Exodus, the pharaoh orders all male children killed, and tries to drown the Hebrews as they escape bondage.
In Psalms 83 the psalmist pleas for God to be active claiming their enemies say “Let us wipe them out as a nation, Israel’s name will be mentioned no more” And in the book of Esther which was believed written during the Jewish exile after the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians in the 6th century bce in chapter 3 Haman counselor to the  Persian Kings issued a decree to all the King’s provinces stating
“ to destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, children and women”  
I point to these biblical events to show that antisemitism is very ancient and has been with the Jewish people since the beginning of Judaism. After destruction of the second Temple and the expulsion of the Jews from Israel in 70 AD by the Romans the Jewish people became a people without a country and were considered outsiders and faced violence, discrimination and often faced expulsion from countries where they lived. They were expelled from England in the 13th Century, From France in the 14th Century, Austria and Lithuania in the 15th century this just to name a few (the list is quite long) and most famously from Spain in 1492 during the inquisition. And although there had been violence all along it reached its pinnacle during WWII in Europe with Nazi Germany. But here is the interesting part in most instances except for Europe during WWII often if Jews were willing to convert to Christianity, they were allowed to live peaceably within the community. So it was not about Race, or ethnicity, but the idea of Judaism.
So why the Jews?  Why did they and do they create such hatred. It is hard for us to imagine now, but back when Judaism came to be, it was a radical idea that God could not be seen, or that God’s name could not even be spoken and that challenged the validity of other Gods who people sacrificed to and had statues of. It is interesting to read how this caused many of the ancient religions to consider the Jewish People atheists.  Another key difference were the 613 laws that the Torah required of Jews. This included dietary laws, which required to minimize pain to animals, which was really interesting to learn, that the desire to reduce pain to animals is why often Jewish people did not hunt and why it was not part of our culture. As well you could not eat meat and dairy together. So no cheeseburgers. So this as well as many other of the disciplined laws in and of itself set Jews apart from other people.
In the book of Esther, Haman originally convinced the King to kill the Jews because as it said in ch 3. V 8 “There is a certain people …whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s law”.  And that is true. And yet, even after the enlightenment when reform Judaism did away with many of the laws, Anti-semitism still persists. One reason is that Judaism proposed a radical ethical monotheism.  Believing in the oneness of the universe. The Oneness of God. And this God called for creating systems of ethics to care for the poor and the widow and the orphan. Creating a more egalitarian society.
Responding to the world with a this world moral vision for all people as God said in Isaiah ch 49
“I will make you a light of nations”  The Jewish people held themselves to a higher law and that often put them at odds with their oppressors or the countries in which they lived.
Jews refusal to acknowledge the Greek and Roman gods created ongoing conflict. Philostratus 3rd century philosopher said,
“For the Jews have long been in revolt not only against the romans, but against humanity; and a race that has made its own life apart and irreconcilable that cannot share with the rest of mankind in the pleasure of the table nor join in their libations or prayers or sacrifices, are separated from ourselves by a greater gulf than divides us from the more distant indies”.

And yes without question Christianity more so then any other religion or government laid the groundwork for much of the suffering of Jews across the millennium.  I will say it is amazing to me how many Christians do not realize that Jesus was Jewish. In the Christian scriptures it is clear that early Christians, which were a Jewish sect, their preaching to Jews did not take root and thus they proceeded to preach to and convert pagans whose origin stories of their Gods who became human died and were resurrected were similar to the story of Jesus. As well Romans and Christians  found it easier to convert pagans to Christianity then to Judaism. Christians did not require following the strict Jewish dietary laws and as well did not require circumcision. I can just imagine that circumcision does not encourage adult conversion. In order to separate themselves from the Jews in the eyes of others, Christianity demonized Judaism in an attempt to invalidate Judaism and validate themselves. Gospel of John, the last of the four gospels written well after the death of Jesus, was particularly focused on blaming the Jewish people for the death of Jesus. And that was promoted for much of Christian history. Over the millenniums church laws which were civil laws outwardly discriminated against Jews. Over time this just became part of the thought process of life. It seeped into cultural writings including Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare's’ Merchant of Venice, and even surprisingly for me, Votaire’s writing.  
With the advent of the protestant reformation in the 16th Luther had originally spoke favorably about Judaism, imagining that once they read his interpretation of the Bible they would convert. Surprise, they didn’t!!  When they didn’t, he became virulently antisemitic. In his later years he wrote a book called  “On the Jews and their lies which was truly horrid promoting violence against Jews.
I will add one last example that deeply influences Antisemitism. The protocols of the elders of zion. Some version of this book existed by the end of 18th century and it was more prevalent starting in 19th century Russia. Henry Ford printed 500,000 copies for the United States. In it,  it concocts a story of a global conspiracy by Jews to take over the world. We still hear echoes of this today when people blame George Soros and the media and Bankers, for their troubles.
I have just given you the briefest of overviews of the long hatred that has been inflicted on Jewish people and even with just a cursory glance it is easy to see how when times get hard, when there is a need to scapegoat someone, it is easy to look to the people who are different from you. Who dress differently, who have different customs. And then we attribute negative attributes to those people. Think about how we see that and experience that in our culture. Let us be grateful for the freedoms we have here and let us not take them for granted and let us have the moral vision to live out our values in the world. For Everyone.
One other attribute of Judaism includes the concept of tithing as written in the book of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. And so as prepare for our offering, I encourage you to be as generous as you can be whatever you have in your wallet, knowing that 50% of that will be shared with a group chosen by our social justice team as indicated in the order of service.  Once you have had a chance to donate I invite you go come down to light a candle to mark a joy or sorrow in your life. Let this sacred time begin.

Part II
Growing up in a Jewish Household, in the 1960s and 70s, I was required to read books on the Holocaust. I was told I had to work twice as hard and be twice as smart as Christians to get into a good school and to get a good job. And I was told at some point Christians would try to kill us because we were Jews. This is the mindset I went out into the world with.  For my parents, this was most definitely the world they lived in. They grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust.  Their job options were more limited as larger companies did not hire Jewish People.
My father was the only Jewish person in his advanced degree program at Indiana University, after numerous rejections from other schools all of which had limited enrollment for Jews.
My experience was different then my parents. When I came of age, most schools would take anyone who could pay. (and as we saw from the news this week we have to what extent parents pay to get their children in college) And although there were still certain companies where it was difficult to be hired or ascend if you were Jewish, there were many opportunities available to me. In fact in a sort of antisemitic stereotype, my Jewish background helped me as I had one business owner told me he hired me because he knew Jews were good at business. And I admit I had mixed feelings about the fact that I fulfilled that stereotype for him. There were certain country clubs I was not invited to play golf in, a reminder that there were still people who hated me for who I was, but there were enough other places to play golf and at least it singled out for me who were the people who are anti-Semitic.  
Becoming a Unitarian Universalist was an easy shift for me as our focus on the interdependent web of existence and the lack of required belief in Jesus as God, and our ethical and moral systems were aligned with the basic teachings of Judaism. In fact, in some ways I feel being a Unitarian Universalist (minister) is the most authentic Jewish thing I have done in my life. And yet I still to this day remember my mother saying to me “So you want to call yourself a Unitarian, fine. The Nazis will still consider you Jewish and kill you.”  And I think that is true.
Nazis considered someone Jewish if they had a Jewish grandparent. And the totality of the Holocaust left most Jews whether they had relatives who died in it or not with a psychic wound.
A mindset that the world will go to almost any length to kill us or look away as others do.
The united states knowing what was happening, refused to take in refugees from Europe during world war II sending them back to their death.
Just as today we refuse to take in refugees from worn torn countries and we separate families and lock up children. We as a country have lost our moral compass. The issue of anti-Semitism which in this country had died down a bit has raised its ugly head this past couple of years. In Charlottesville, a protest for white nationalism, coalescing around the issue of confederate statues, the marchers were chanting “The Jews will not replace us”  Think about that for a moment. Eric Ward, the Executive Director of Western States Center sees White Nationalism and racism predicated on antisemitism. “White Nationalists want people to imagine a conspiracy , that what we do in a democracy doesn’t really matter because it is all an illusion, and this is meant to dis-empower and divide people.”
Because the truth is, if we are together on this if we truly believe in the intersectionality of oppressions, we have the power to change the world. We saw how the women’s march this year was sabotaged because the leaders refused to acknowledge anti-Semitism as a real oppression.  That is how fascism wins. As Benjamin Franklin said “We must indeed hang together or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately”  The next major recent event was the shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. Egged on by fear of immigrants by the president, the shooter believed that the caravan of refugees was a Jewish conspiracy. Right out of the elders of zion.
It is important to have this context when I speak of what happened recently with congressperson Ilhan Omar.  She has made three statements that have been called out as anti-Semitic. First she said “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Then in talking about an Israeli Lobbying group in the US she said “its all about Benjamins” a line I think from a Puff Daddy song, referring to Benjamin Franklin who is on the $100 bill. And most recently she said “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country,”  Although I think people overreacted to the benjamins comments, the first and latest comment raised fears for me of encouraging these same stereotypes about Jewish people. Words have power. For good and bad.
            One of the 8 fold path in Buddhism to end suffering is right speech. Let us be gentle and accurate and speak truthfully without malice, avoiding gossip in our speech. In response to the Omar statements and the reaction to her Congress passed a  7 page resolution that started with:
“Condemning anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values and aspirations that define the people of the United States and condemning anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry against minorities as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contrary to the values and aspirations of the United States.”
I am glad they included Islamophobia within this statement and I am glad that Congress did not punish Omar for her statements and I hope she has used the experience to learn
I do think because Rep Omar is a black Muslim she has received harsher criticism then other white Christian members of congress including the  President have received for their bigoted and anti-Semitic statements. I don’t have enough time to list them here. This does not mean we cannot object to actions of the Israeli government. I do.
But to conflate those actions with the Jewish people and to question Jewish People’s loyalty to the United States is what is antisemitic. Just as we don’t blame every American for actions of our Government.  The blame should happen if we do not speak up against injustice in the name of our government fermenting fears of Muslims and Latinos that are directly linked to the killings in Pittsburgh and the latest killing in New Zealand.  Let us hold ourselves to a higher moral value.
I believe that only together love can overcome hate. Not a passive love from afar,
but a fierce love that will not let go.  

Let us find strength in love to overcome hatred and to find peace in the world.
A world where each person is valued for who they are,
not how they are dressed
or who they love,
or how they pray.
Let us like Esther accept ourselves for who we are and risk all for each other. May it be so.


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

True Detective Season 3 - Love can transcend suffering if we let it.


My reflection on True Detective Season 3

First a short recap of seasons 1 and 2 –
Season One was groundbreaking for its style and that it was a television series with famous movie stars. (Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) I found it more quirky and new for TV, then good, but I enjoyed Matthew McConaughey’s character philosophical diatribes and the question of good and evil. (always a favorite topic of mine)

Season 2 starred Vince Vaughn and Collin Ferrell. Critics generally panned season 2. I liked it. It was less subtle and more over the top, but it was also more real and relevant in many ways and focused on the theme of fatherhood and its different meanings, and how it impacts men. It also has the theme of bad guy trying to change for good and being  drawn back into old life. This is also a favorite theme of mine as well.  

Actually looking at all three seasons here, it is more obvious that the writers are clearly focused on men and the role of masculinity in society. Maybe because I am a man, and father of two men, I found this more interesting. However there is very little focus on women or major roles for women.
Also, whereas Season 2 focused on big city corruption and challenges, as in Season 1, season 3 brings us a fairly negative view of rural living. (Isolation, alcoholism, limited opportunities, corruption, back room deals, etc.) I have no idea of its accuracy, since I have never lived in a rural community, but it mostly focused on the negative, and not much positive.

Season 3 starred Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorf as Detectives investigating the disappearance of two children. It uses flash forwards and covers 3 time periods of time in the life of the detectives and the case. I admit at times it was hard to determine between the first two time periods and the only way I could was by the growth of Stephen Dorf’s beard and his balding hair.  
The show also includes the challenges of the detective and his family when he starts developing dementia in his old age and is trying to remember the case and just forgets how or why he is somewhere.  I appreciated this often neglected topic being an ongoing part of the show.    
Overall I liked the season. The fact that it moved me to write something about it, is a testament to it..  Everything wrapped up very quickly in the second half of the last episode, with a few twists and turns, and a feel good ending. It was logical and made sense, but it felt unsatisfying. Sort of here are the answers to all your questions now. One quip is that again, although the show did have a strong female character, (her research writing a book about the case actually helped her husband solve the case). However she was used mostly as a counterpoint to Mahershala Ali’s character and I didn’t feel she was focused on enough.  Also her death is never explained and she is not part of the show in the later time period and becomes invisible and in fact is only seen as a ghost during that time period. Also Ali’s daughter only shows up in the last 5 minutes of the last episode and it is clear throughout the show they had a strained relationship. He asked her at the end “Did I lose you?” His son stayed in town and took care of Ali. Again, women disappear, men stay and take care of things. It is a terrible message but it is part of a cultural narrative about how men are made to feel they should be.   
The show also did have a focus on the difficulties men have in relationships. How men keep their feelings internalized, and how that leads to a very lonely life. Even Mahershala Ali’s character, who we see developing a better understanding of himself through his interaction with and the deepening relationship with his wife, in the end, at the end of his life, is alone in the jungle in Vietnam. This metaphor of his being alone is used throughout the movie. His struggle to share his feelings or information, in his mind as a way to protect his wife, but really it is protecting himself from his own pain, or in his mind maybe protecting her from his pain. But in the end they decide to let go of the past, and start anew, living in a way that is not tied to the past and true to themselves. We see a glimpse that this happened, but in the end after his wife’s death, he I drawn back to his memory of this unresolved case. The theme of closing off the memory of our emotions and the pain it causes is an ongoing theme. The father of the children, says in the second time frame “Whatever it takes to stop feeling. I mean, there's no point. Ain't nobody left to feel anything for.” And Stephen Dorf’s character seems to show only immense feelings for his dogs.
 We all suffer in our lives, and the message here is that if we don’t acknowledge our suffering it will become self destructive or destructive.
 The show also touches on the redemption theme or in this case lack of redemption.  The detectives in their pursuit of the truth did a terrible deed. This negatively affected their relationship for years, until the passing of time, and memory, brought them back together. Ali’s character, in the end just as he is about to solve the case, has a bout with his dementia and never realizes he may have solved it.  
The people involved in the disappearance of (and murder of one of) the children as well suffered. One of them tried to redeem himself for his actions, but was unsuccessful. He searched to find the truth and was left unfulfilled.  At the end when confronted he said, “I cant take it anymore. Kill me or arrest me. I cant live with it anymore” The detectives let him live with his pain.  The silence of keeping secrets destroys us.
The lines of the poem read (see poem below) at the beginning of the last show were haunting for me:
“What am i now that I was then
Which I shall suffer and act again
Time is the school in which we learn 
Time is the fire in which we burn:”
The story shows that people can transcend their trauma if they are intentional. It also asks the question and makes the point that we often fall into the same traps that we make for ourselves. And in some cases by the time we learn and grow, it is too late to always appreciate the learning. It was (and as I look back on the series) it is a little depressing, only because I see some truth in it. it is a reminder to me to be intentional and to be open about my feelings and to appreciate or at least be present to every single moment of every single day, because we don’t know when it will end. We don’t every really forget until we do. So let us use our memories and learn from them. And move forward in our lives. We sometimes make terrible choices. We cant change them and their outcomes,  but we can learn to make better choices going forward.  We never really know the outcome of our actions before we do them, and as Ali’s character says “You do your best and you learn to live with the ambiguity”
So I know this all sounds dark, But the lasting message is that we can transcend our challenges and that it is Love that helps us transcend that challenge. I cant say much more without giving spoilers.
The opening of the season 3 finale of True Detective were an excerpt from the poem 
“Calmly We Walk Through This April Day” by Delmore Schwartz.
“What will become of you and me
Beside the photo and the memory

This is the school in which we learn
That time is the fire in which we burn 
What is the self amid this blaze
What am i now that I was then
Which I shall suffer and act again
The children shouting are bright as they run
This is the school in which they learn
What am I now that I was then
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day
Time is the school in which we learn 
Time is the fire in which we burn”

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

End the dictatorship.


This is some semblance of what I said at the "National Emergency Protest" Rally
I am Rev. Jay Wolin, Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, and chair of the Quad Cities Interfaith Restorative Justice Task Force. 
We have gathered here tonight in response to the President’s declaring a national emergency. Something we know is not an emergency,
something the president has himself said is not an emergency.
It is a self indulgent craven political move to act as a dictator rather then as a President.
There comes a time in history,
when we have to call out evil acts for what they are. There are  not good people on both sides of this argument.
On the one side you have The President unabashed lying and appealing to fear and racism currently being enabled by Republicans in the Senate.
I call that evil, I call it evil, because the outcome of that appeal, leads to suffering, to separating families and imprisoning children.
On the other side are people of good conscience. People who appeal to  compassion and love and justice. 
The question is what are the good people going to do?
We come together tonight find support amongst ourselves, to raise awareness of this injustice.  
But if that is all we do, then we are no better then the Germans who allowed their neighbors to be led to the gas chambers.
We are no better then the Americans  who allowed Japanese American neighbors to have their land stolen and put in camps during WWII,
and the truth is, we are no better because today we allow children to be locked in cages on our southern border.
It is not enough to be kind.
It is not enough to come to a rally.
We have to take action.
We have to organize,
we have to run for office,
we have to vote, Go to city council meetings,
go to school board meetings
make our voices heard, and if they don’t listen
we have to close the city down if necessary,
close this country down if necessary
until this evil is banished from this land. 
There comes a time when good people must make a stand and some times it takes a sacrifice on all our parts.
Now is such a time.  Now is the tipping point.
There is an old saying the most committed wins.
If we do nothing, evil will win. What will you do. There are many good organizations sponsoring this event tonight, Quad Cities Interfaith is having their task force meetings tomorrow night and I personally invite you to attend, but more so,
I ask you when you go home tonight to ask you conscience, to ask whatever God you pray to,
what are you going to do to end the evil acts of the Oligarchic Dictatorship that is currently running this country.
The future of our country is at stake.
The future for our children is at stake.
Now is the time.
If we wait much longer it will be too late.
Now is the time.  
Let me hear you say it.
Now is the time
Let us not falter in our duty to ourselves, 
To our families
To our community
To our country