Thursday, December 20, 2012

Little Apocalypse

My daily commute includes three choices on the car radio:  NPR for news, ESPN for sports, and a public broadcasting rock station (a unique genre, by the way).

I have avoided the NPR button of late.  The primary news item is the killing of 20 school children in a Connecticut elementary school.  Such news only weighs on my shoulders and creates pain in my chest.

There is no rational explanation for such an act.  Plenty of people are postulating theories, but the young man who pulled the trigger, and the mother who raised him, are both dead.  They have each left pieces of evidence behind – all of us leave trails of some sort in our lives – but the scraps may never equal a clean accurate picture.  We humans are too obtuse and complex for that.

But the event itself is not the only reason for my aversion to broadcast news.  Ingesting this news every morning, at the same time, from the same source, spoken by the same voices, can become overwhelming.  Or repetitive.  Or numbing.  Or all of the above.

I am reading Jan Richardson’s book “Through the Advent Door” during this season.  She writes of the ‘little apocalypse’ events that occur frequently in the Bible – events or actions that either foretell something much larger, or that lead to social upheaval, or that represent a new sign from God.  Richardson notes that the Greek word apokalupsis, from which we derive the English word, also means ‘revealing’:

            Though we most often use the word to refer to a destructive ending of momentous magnitude – namely, the end of the world – at its root, apocalypse simply means revelation: how God unhides Godself.

In the context of horrific events such as the killing of 20 young children, this presents a semantic conundrum.  I certainly view any such act as an apocalyptic one -- deadly, destructive, the end of life for so many.  It may also lead to significant social action in this country, as we reevaluate whether it makes any sense whatsoever to permit killing machines to be easily available, and whether we are truly helping individuals who suffer from emotional and mental disorders.

But what is revealed?  There are those who use this to argue that we have taken God out of the schools and if God were spoken of more often in our schools, such killings would be less prevalent.  But God isn’t so easily niched:  there are no closed doors to God’s presence, it is not as if God belongs in some places but has to avoid being in others just because we say so.

The reveal at Sandy Hook Elementary may be much more basic: God exists in all such places.  We can say Yahweh – that which could not be spoken.  We can call out that spirit in Adam Lanza, in each of those children, in the kid wielding a gun in a Denver movie theatre, in the cop or the medic who first enters such a scene.  God may be hard to find amidst the evil, but God is.  God can be revealed in all.

I may still avoid the news button on my radio.  There seem to be too many apocalyptic events, even though my rational mind tells me that such events have always occurred. Given the existence of poverty – physical and spiritual -- on one side of the human ledger and selfishness on the other side, such events in all of their forms will likely continue.

We will seek Yahweh’s spirit in all scenes, whether a ‘little celebration’ or a ‘little apocalypse’.  Advent calls us to listen and watch, to be ready.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Demographic Shift

The day after election.  Relief, rather than euphoria.  Obama’s acceptance speech could have been recited by Romney, or any other middle-of-the-spectrum politician.  No great language.  No vision spoken in rising terms. I still hope for more.

He represents change, because the picture of America has changed.  From the day-after dialogue between David Brooks and Gail Collins in today's New York Times:

David: I don’t often get things right, but last January in the middle of the South Carolina primary, I put a sentence in a column that came back to me as the results came in. It was: “I sometimes wonder if the Republican Party has become the receding roar of white America as it pines for a way of life that will never return.”
Gail: I actually quote that a lot.
David: This election was mostly about demographics or more precisely about the way demographic shifts lead to cultural and political shifts. Ronald Reagan won with an electorate that was nearly 90 percent white. Now the electorate is around 72 percent white. And the white population is different — more educated, more centered in college towns, more socially diverse, more likely to live in single-person households.
That means they are less likely to subscribe to the cowboy ethos of the rugged individual. It doesn’t mean they want to return to the New Deal, but it does mean that the old Republican narrative can no longer win a majority.
Gail: I’ve always thought the big political division was empty places versus crowded places. People who live in crowded places just naturally appreciate how useful government is. Empty-place people don’t see the point. Maybe this is the death of the empty-place vision.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Classic Insignia

The playoffs are down to four teams.  The most intriguing part for me -- aside from the fact that my lifelong team, the Giants, are still alive -- is the historic nature of the LCS.  All four teams have been part of professional baseball for over a century (the Giants having been in New York City until 1958) and still use a classic insignia on their uniforms.  The Yankees, of course, are the most successful franchise in nearly any sport, and their NY is recognized on hats around the world.  Detroit may have the most unique initial, the high-English D, of any major league team.  The Cardinal uniform is a classic, particularly the version with the cardinal balancing on a bat.

It would be nice to see at least one game in each series be played with retro uniforms.  The flannel would be warmer this time of year!

Go Giants.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

museum of americana

A new online journal, museum of americana, just posted their inaugural issue.  Started by poet and writer Justin Hamm, it focuses on the intersection of art and American historical culture.  They selected one of my poems, American Legion, 1964, for the first publication.  You can check it out, along with other prose, poems, and photographs, here.  It also includes a wonderful poem by Karen Weyant, a poet Pam and I met at the Chautauqua Institute over the past few years.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

End of the Season, 2012

So much for my baseball analysis skills.  I assumed Valentine had control over player decisions on the field, would have a say in what type of player he wanted, and told the front office to get rid of the dead weight.  Wrong.  Apparently the situation was truly chaotic, and Valentine had control over very little. He was fired less than 24 hours after the season ended.

Meanwhile, the second season has begun.  My Giants face the Reds, which will be a tall order in Cincinnati’s home bandbox, which favors their power hitters.

I’m rooting for and orange and black World Series:  San Francisco against Baltimore.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Organizational Behavior

The top leader in the organization is replaced.  The faces around you on the team begin to change.  The organization, in the words of management, is ‘going in a different direction.’  New strategies are drawn up, a new playbook is devised.  The organization begins to lose the previous players as the work load and game plans shift to new leadership, who wish to bring in their own players.  All normal organizational behavior over a period of time.

Except with the Boston Red Sox.  They have to be more dramatic.

A friend and I traveled to Fenway Park last Thursday for a game against the Anaheim Angels (sorry, can’t use the other name).  By the end of the second inning, the Sox led 6-0 and appeared in control.  The Angels scored 8 runs in the top of the third, and the roller coaster began.  The game was marked by poor fielding, lousy pitching, a questionable home run, and a ton of runs scored with two outs.  In the fifth inning, my friend opined that the game would end up 13-12; that was the score at some point in the ninth inning, but it mercifully ended after ten innings with California winning, 14-13.

This was a watershed moment for the Sox, and the final straw for management.  They are not making the playoffs this year, and wedges in the locker room have appeared as a number of players apparently met with ownership to complain about first-year manager Bobby Valentine.

So by Saturday morning, management cleaned house.  In a dramatic move (even for drama-obsessed Red Sox Nation), key components of the team were traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers – power-hitter Adrian Gonzalez, outfielder Carl Crawford, starter Josh Beckett, and backup infielder Nick Punto.

The General Manager termed the trade a salary adjustment; the three primary players represented a huge chunk of their payroll.  He determined the team was not going to win with them, so the trade gives the team more payroll to work with during the off-season.

But the true message here is about who is in charge.  Before Saturday morning, this was not Bobby Valentine’s team.  Gonzalez, Beckett, Punto (and backup catcher Kelly Stoppach, who was banished two weeks ago) were all part of the group grousing about Valentine’s methods.  I can envision Valentine going to management and saying, I can’t win with these guys.  You hired me to bring Boston back to the World Series; it won’t happen with this group.  Let me put my type of players on the field.

Basic organizational transitions happen in baseball as anywhere else.  New management, new leadership, new direction.  Out with the old.   It generally takes longer than a few days.

Of course, I could be wrong.  Someone pointed out to me that the final proof will be if Bobby is still there when the 2013 season begins next April.

If he’s not, the overhaul will take another new direction with a different team.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Wicked Problems and Health Care

The Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act.  In what has been called an act of pragmatism over ideology, Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion that allows the Act to stand.

Beyond the ideological lines that have been drawn, the existence of this Act says something dramatic about American society, and how we govern.  The rhetoric of the past dozen years has made many of us believe that the political schisms are so wide that we cannot decide any issue, no matter how minute.

The most interesting analysis comes in an article by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker.  Dr. Gawande is a physician, and has written interesting books on the medical realm, and social order in general.  His observation harks back to a social study done some decades ago:

In 1973, two social scientists, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, defined a class of problems they called “wicked problems.” Wicked problems are messy, ill-defined, more complex than we fully grasp, and open to multiple interpretations based on one’s point of view. They are problems such as poverty, obesity, where to put a new highway—or how to make sure that people have adequate health care.

Gawande also describes the process that opponents go through to rationalize opposition to health care -- or any major social/political issue.  In many cases, opponents have a basis or foundation of belief that is understandable, and I can respect those who have core belief sets.  But our social systems change, whether economic, governmental, demographic.  We need to change with them.

Grandfather Clock

As I got off the bus on a recent morning, I looked at the clock tower on Albany City Hall.  The hands were missing from the clock face.

My first thoughts were of Captain Kangeroo.  I watched that show regularly as a child.  I vividly remember the eerie feeling I got whenever Grandfather Clock, a regular talking character, was missing from his place in the corner.  Captain would explain that he was 'out for repairs', but I felt an acute sense of loss, as if Grandfather had been abducted or disappeared.  What's wrong with him? We should all be worried, Captain! What does Mr. Moose or Bunny Rabbit think, how will they act without their friend?

The missing clock left a tall section of faded paint in the corner.  It  reminded me of death, as if a favorite dog was no longer wagging its way around the house.

So it felt strange when I saw the empty clock face on the City Hall tower.  The perfect brown circle only had a dot in the middle, an analog device missing one long arm and one short, no numbers around its borders to measure against.  A lost face, no longer marking our day.