Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

A Tiny Conundrum

Regular readers of this blog … are to be commended.

Recently, you’ve had to pay serious attention in order not to miss the very rare flashes of activity.

This calendar year so far, I’ve posted, on average, once a month.

This is far less than the previous rates of writing.

On top of that, while lately it’s been just about once a month, there’s a gap of exactly four months between posts, back in the spring.

So, the average doesn’t quite tell the story.

I’ve been away, seemingly.

 

Well, no. I haven’t. I’ve been right here. And very very often, in spite of the evidence to the contrary, I’ve been ready to write.

And I’ve taken my hands off the keyboard.

If you’ve read the Editorial License blog in the last three years at least, but especially since June 2015, you know that I marinate in politics. I keep up with the news. There are plenty of people in this country who, for various sometimes legitimate reasons, don’t follow the workings of the government well enough to know who the Secretary of Commerce is, or how the 25th Amendment works. They’re working multiple jobs, they’ve got kids, they’re keeping their heads above water.

But I follow, and I know. I make it a point to follow, and know.

Which sounds pretty arrogant, or at least very very confident. But here, “I make the effort” doesn’t automatically lead to “…and you don’t”. My goal is not to be self-inflating. Current events happen to be an interest of mine — and has been since it was part of sixth-grade social studies class.

There have been good reasons to keep up with the news, and to know who’s who and what they stand for and what policies they support, and even how they behave.

Through all the waves of legitimate news stories about legitimately awful or corrupt or mean behavior perpetrated by the federal government in the last couple of years or so, there has of course been one guy … That Guy … who is known by everybody, who is commented upon or joked about or railed against by everybody.

That Guy, the person currently occupying the Oval Office, is of course that guy.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, I worked hard to make sure people knew who That Guy was, why I didn’t care for him in the slightest, and why you shouldn’t either. In the first few months of his occupation of the Oval Office, I kept after him. It wasn’t just your average case of executive branch mischief; I felt like it was important to highlight his behaviors, actions, and beliefs which directly contradicted the patterns of proper and decent and humane behavior, action, and belief that my parents and teachers taught me, and which I (and my friends who became teachers) have turned around and tried to instill in the students we were lucky enough to have in our classrooms.

 

I didn’t want to suffer news fatigue.

For all this time, I’ve suggested to people that one single individual can’t possibly keep track of all the news; can’t possibly be the point person for activism against all the wrongs. There are lots of people in the world; there’s a history of division of labor in our civilization; so let’s take advantage of that. Pass the baton; catch your breath; get ready to take the baton back when it comes around again.

Equally, it’s important to step away from anything, occasionally. It’s a great reason for the existence of vacations. It’s the purpose of sleep — because none of us can go full-tilt, 24/7, all the time.

Actually I don’t think I’ve suffered news fatigue: yes, the news is fatiguing.  But I continue to keep up with current events, and grind my teeth firmly about every new piece of stupid, arrogant, cruel behavior that emerges from our current version of the Executive Branch. I download my political podcasts and listen to them all the way through. I engage in conversation with anyone who also seems interested in discussing the news of the day.

So why haven’t I written about it all here at the rate that I used to? I may have fallen victim to the “frog in boiling water” effect. There is SO much going on, so many things to keep track of, so many examples of terrible corruption and awful behavior and inhumane policies … that it’s only the really seriously over-the-top egregious ones that cause me to leap to the blog and write. Children in cages, as an example. #Metoo, for another.

So with regard to all the important issues of the day, I suppose I’ve not got much of an excuse. Just at the moment, as a straight middle-class Christian white guy, I live every day in an environment of the kind of privilege that allows me to check out. Not many of my rights are in immediate jeopardy. The various demographics of whom I am a member allow me the privilege of stepping back, exhaling heavily, and contemplating my toes for an afternoon, or a day, or longer … before gathering myself and hurling myself back into the fray.

But specifically as regards That Guy, the fellow currently occupying the West Wing? For the last year or so, I certainly could have leapt to the keyboard and blogged, vociferously, about each of the four or five latest outrages perpetrated by That Guy. I detest just about every single thing about him. Hate is a strong word, and I’m going to work really hard to reserve it for things that really rate it. But it’s been a rare thing for me to come upon a human being about whom I can find nothing to admire, and everything to loathe. So congratulations, Toddler-in-Chief, Orange Muppet Hitler, Vulgar Talking Yam, Cadet Bone Spurs … I guess you’re the best in one category, after all.

But — and I didn’t say this to myself consciously, but looking back, it was definitely the case — I haven’t felt like constantly, weekly, even daily, railing against That Guy in this space.  And I could have.  There’s lots of raw material; lots of fodder for this particular cannon.  After a year of the campaign and a year of this hideous Administration, it’s not so much a case of “what more is there to say?” because there’s ALWAYS something more to point to and say, kids, don’t be like that.  It’s more a case of “do I want to flog my readers with yet another rant about Cheeto Mussolini?”

The solution might have been, “well, write about happy things instead. Make the blog into a respite from the stupid.” Again, subconsciously, I was recognizing that this would’ve come off as either willfully turning away from the flood of awful, when enough of our institutions and our mores had been under assault and really deserved propping up, and why would I not write about THAT instead of about unicorns and rainbows?

So. A tiny conundrum.

 

A blog doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Or, ideally, it shouldn’t. There are readers — there are subscribers who actually aren’t Russian bots! — to consider, and to respect.

At least they’re not paying readers and subscribers. Dodged that bullet.

But … do I flood my readers with unPresidential rants and tire them out and drive them away? Do I write about subjects that, in the current climate, seem trivial and unimportant? Or do I restrain myself, write far less, and cause my readers to drift away?

I appear to have chosen Option 3. If you’re reading this now, you are, again, to be commended.

Let me see if I can get back to honoring your commitment to this.

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September 25, 2018 Posted by | blogging, current events, government, news, politics, writing | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Decline and Fall of What, Exactly?

Just read an intriguing article that addresses the subject of “why are fewer and fewer people attending church regularly?!” The author, a Lutheran pastor based in western Canada, challenges the notion that we’re witnessing the decline and fall of Christianity. Rather, he suggests that it may actually be more of a course correction.

The Rev. Erik Parker suggests that the so-called “Golden Era of Church” in 1950s America, where (it was at least perceived) everybody who was anybody attended services religiously (ha!) on Sunday mornings, etc etc, was itself an extreme. Or at least anybody who called themselves Christian did. (Can’t speak for the Jewish folk, for example.)

The church I attended as a little kid in the 1970s seemed to me to be Huge And Active. Of course, I was very short, so everything seemed bigger than me; but Active was undeniable. Or maybe my folks just made sure I was there a lot. But it seemed also as if everyone else’s folks made sure of that too. It was, of course, easier because for a good long while, things like sports practices weren’t scheduled anywhere near Sunday morning, so where else to go but church? Seemingly. Other than “right back to bed”.

Years later, I got smart and started to think, what must the Jewish people think of all those college football games etc etc etc on a Saturday? That’s their Sabbath, after all …

At least during the 20th century, the people in charge of organizing and scheduling (and sanctioning!) activities within American society were not of many faiths other than Christianity, as it worked out. As we push on into the 21st century, a lot of us are recognizing that there are lots of other religious faiths out there … actually not so much “out there” as “in here”, alongside us – this country being famously put up as a melting pot, or a tossed salad, or a “give me your tired, your poor, your anyone-who-thinks-that-coming-here-will-make-their-lives-better” sort of place.

Goodness, not everyone you pass on the street now’days is Guaranteed Judeo-Christian anymore; whatever shall we do?

Rev. Parker supposes that this might be described more properly as the decline of “cultural Christianity” in North America. (One could argue that this is hogwash, since the months of November and December are saturated by media messages and commercials addressing Merry Christmas! and such. On the other hand, I don’t see an equivalent March or May full of mass-media encouragement to get my Easter or Pentecost shopping done. But on the other other hand, isn’t gift-giving and Christmas trees derived from Pagan tradition?)

Which could be what bugs people who are tied to Christianity in ways that focus more on the Retention Of Power And Influence, and the Increasing The Numbers Because Numbers Mean Majorities And Majorities Make The Rules … than they focus on the Spreading Of (or even the Living Of Your Life According To) The Good Word.

And for the first time in a while, while reading this article and considering the group of people whose goal is maintaining a Christian majority in the world, as if this were one of the teachings of Christ – “go, and make fishers of as many men as possible, so as to dominate the world” [a group of people who represent just an absurdly easy target for Another Blog Post For Another Day] … I was reminded of a fortnight that I slogged my way through, while I was working at my first job, fresh out of college.

It was a biomedical technology company, and this recent journalism-degree recipient’s light-assembly manufacturing department position wasn’t going to the last stop on his lifetime employment tour. But it brought in a few bucks for me to sock away until the real thing came along.

Which is not to say that I didn’t work alongside fine people. Besides the bunch of MIT-trained chemists and other scientist types in the labs down the hall, who were borderline geniuses and yet still capable of engaging lunchtime conversation, my colleagues in the small manufacturing area were blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth types whose common sense was undeniable (even if their devotion to FM pop radio was also undeniable) (although, credit where credit is due, for the first hour of the day we did tune in public radio news).

Except for one. We’ll call him Jay. Nice enough guy. Young fella, probably not many years older than my just-out-of-college self. Relatively new to the area – moved East from the Rockies, settled in the suburbs of Boston and found this manufacturing gig. Friendly cat.

Persistent, too. Ordinarily a good characteristic.

One of my jobs in this little manufacturing enclave was to sit behind an ultrasonic welder, an amazing device that used high-frequency sound waves to weld pieces of plastic together. None of this glue stuff for us! Plus, glue or other adhesives would probably mess with the biomedical sensing devices that were being sealed into these little plastic modules. I wore a pair of earplugs that would allow me to hear conversations and the nearby radio, but would keep my eardrums from being fried within a week.

Shame the earplugs didn’t screen out more than ultra-high frequencies. Jay would wander over to the welder while I was welding the 4,000th plastic assembly of the day and start a conversation … and like clockwork, four minutes in, he’d ask me more about the church I went to. At first I was happy to vaguely describe how I sang in the choir, had grown up in that church in fact, all that good stuff. Good to make friends on the job, or at least to be friendly, since to be unfriendly in an enclosed space doesn’t help the ol’ workplace atmosphere.

Didn’t take long for me to figure out that he was really, really interested in having me come visit his church. I employed all the passive-aggressive conversational tactics I knew that would defuse dogged interest in particular topics. No luck. Very persistent indeed, he was. Trapped behind my ultrasonic welder, I was.

(If he only knew, now, that I’m the choir director of the church I grew up in. Man, talk about barking up the wrong tree!)

He let slip, at one point, the name of the church. I won’t bother to mention it here, partly because it doesn’t deserve the publicity, if it’s even still in business. The name of the organization seemed pretty standard to me – even reminiscent of a few churches I would drive past regularly; but since at the time there was no public Internet, I couldn’t go look it up.

Soon enough, a friend or colleague of mine quickly let me in on a tiny little secret:

Yeah, um, … cult. Or nearly.

Now that there IS a public Internet upon which very little remains undocumented, I can go look at a relevant webpage that dates back to 1993. The text is written by someone who was the subject of some recruitment attempts, and says, among other things:

They really pushed that their church was evangelizing far more than my church and that every member of their church lives like a disciple as the Bible commands us to. … They really pressured me into going, asking me a lot of questions about my church. I honestly felt that no matter what I would say, they would come up with something better about their church. They even put the people in my church down, especially the pastor, because my church wasn’t experiencing their enormous growth.”

Yep. Sounds familiar. … The tyranny of numbers.

I don’t remember why or how Jay gave up, finally. I hadn’t gone to my manager about it (although I should have). And Jay left the company not long afterward, anyway, without being fired! But I’m still at the church I grew up in, safe and sound.

A hundred years ago, snake-oil salesmen used to come through town, hawking their wares. A few folks bought into the scheme; and however it turned out, it turned out; and in short order the salesman moved on to the next town, local common sense recovered its equilibrium, and the whole thing was forgotten.

My personal snake-oil salesman moved on. I did too.

No harm done, except for the lingering sense that the enthusiasm of even the well-intentioned could be misinterpreted as, “well, there goes another crazy.” On top of which, there’s also the enthusiasm of the less-well-intentioned to contend with. And they’ve got technology.

And because the Internet is forever … and because first broadcast TV networks and now cable and satellite television has allowed messages to be distributed further than just half a hundred miles before the picture got all fuzzy … the problem may well be that our particular 21st century communication technologies have allowed the outliers, the crazies, the snake-oil salesmen, etc., to have far more than their Warholian fifteen minutes, and far greater than their previously limited reach.

Ah, those really loud voices (in certain corners of the mass media, por ejamplo) who love to return to the breathless and panicky “War on Christmas, Easter, etc.” meme. They’re the ones who, in their zeal to preserve the Church, and to convert everybody to their (therefore “the correct”) faith, or to get rid of them in the attempt (those are the truly extreme ones, but spend a bit of time on the local Internets and you’ll get a whiff) … may well be the ones who are paradoxically, grievously wounding the whole enterprise.

A few times, in this space, I have sarcastically thanked the people whose borderline ludicrous behavior in support of how they feel their God is telling them to behave. Thanked them for making it that much harder for me, as a choir director, to expand the choir whose welfare is at least partly my responsibility – a microcosm of local churches’ facing up to the reality that if we don’t acquire new people, we eventually die off. (Know any Shakers?)

From the frantic supporters of Tim and his Tebowing (however innocent that originally may have been) … to the judges who go to the mat in service of gettin’ those Ten Commandments up on their federal courthouse walls … to those frauds from the Westboro Baptist (Not A Really A) Church … and please don’t get me started on certain members of the Duggar family … there’s a great wealth of loudmouths whose yelling and screaming about how My Religion Is Better Than Yours Because It’s Mine quite logically turns a lot of people off. It turns them away from even wanting to check into an actual church to see what actual good works that church may be up to. Turns the whole prospect of church-seeking into a non-starter. Hence, my “thanks a heap” rhetoric.

And their fomenting gets ratcheted up, and the pushback from the foment-averse happens, and that pushback gets taken personally by the fomenters. After all, faith is a very personal thing, and if other people push back at their expressions of that faith, they take that personally – even when the original foment was phrased to seem, well, kinda personal.

Which leads a subset of people to feelings of persecution, deservedly or not. Which leads to clever wordsmiths in the right corners of the communications industry taking advantage of those feelings of persecution, and coining terms like “threats to religious liberty”, “theophobes” … and “secular progressives” as a pejorative.

(While he was replying to one of the rather startlingly civil comments that had subsequently popped up below the text of his article, Rev. Parker opined: “There is no conspiracy to limit Christian belief. However, Christian privilege is rightly being challenged. Jesus never promised us privilege. Quite the opposite.” Amen, brother.)

And it just spirals upward and out of control, to the point at which the fomenters are just so damn knee-jerk-defensive about the whole subject that they feel the need to find some way to protect their faith from those who would challenge it. And too often that method of protection could, hey!, be something written into law! Wouldn’t that solve a problem or two? Wouldn’t that protect us from all this persecution?

Which leads inexorably to: Hobby Lobby. And to “deeply-held beliefs” as an excuse to be mean to people that make you feel icky.

Because that’s what Jesus was going for, I’m sure.

Suggests Rev. Parker: “if we took a minute to really consider what that means, we are actually demanding a church that is dependent on empire, that is served by kingdoms and governments. We want a church that needs to have all other activities banned during its worship. We long for a church that needs its prayers taught in schools and that seeks power by influencing political leaders.”

A church that wants to use (in the most manipulative sense of that word) our country’s laws to build their church, to protect their particular version of the One True Faith. Aside from the fact that this is laziness (we want the law to do our heavy lifting for us – why persuade people when you can legislate them into our pews?) … humanity has tried that strategy before. Curiously, how badly it was going for certain Europeans was one motivation why they fled to the shores of North America in the first place.

Hmm. Religious gerrymandering, perhaps.

Or, as Rev. Parker puts it, “letting social structures do our evangelizing for us.”

And, he wonders: “Is it really such a bad thing to see the decline of that church?”

And I, the church staff member, am given cause for pause.

June 5, 2015 Posted by | government, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment