29 July 2020

Changing, Shifting, and Moving

Indeed, things are shifting and I doubt we have internalized many of the changes. Here are only a few things I think will be changed, perhaps forever.

  1. Hand shakes arose from Viking gesture which assured a person that one was not holding a sword or knife. The firmness of a handshake was once a referent to male vigor. The handshake is dying as virus transmission makes "elbow touches," and bows more and more acceptable.
  2. I think the teenage hug culture is over. Yes, hugging someone is a way of expressing caring and closeness, but in the age of Covid, it is also murderous. I think the greeting hug will never return. This will have an enduring impact on those churches where "the peace" is a thing.
  3. The cruise culture is dead. Instead of a floating palace of hedonism, the cruise ship is now thought of as a petri dish of infections. I doubt the public will re-embrace the cruise.
  4. There are other changes is in the area of worship. Luther said the church is revealed in reformation. Jesus said he would lead believers to new places. So what might be the changes?

    I am thinking that Zoom(tm) and streaming are changing how we think of community. The verb, to congregate, currently means dangerously gather. I have been having an interesting discussion on the range of a sacramental blessing. Covid has made meetings of congregations distant or electronic for months.
    I do not know where these experiences and conversations lead, but I think the altar is moving.
In a sense this is my argument with Vice President Biden. He sees as a portion of his mission bringing America back to a level of decency and community ripped apart by the racist presidency of Trump. I am not at all sure we can claw our way back to civility. And when I look at the murderous police, and the murder of George Floyd, Lashan McDonald, and many, many others, I am not sure we should want to get to a now lost, largely White Privileged place. We need a new culture. A place where Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, and especially Elizabeth Warren set the tone.

Is Biden better than Trump? Of course! He is a decent man. But we may need more radical changes.


23 June 2020

fathers day 2020

So Father's Day has past. The home improvement centers will have to find another reason for me to buy stuff I do not need. Sue and I live in an 800 square foot appartment. I had to chuckle at the adds to sell me a backup generator.

I was touched deeply by the care my sons, daughter-in-law, and grandkids showed. My younger son settled for a web greeting, pointing out that he has not been tested. When it is safe, he will buy the first Guinness, which is enough. My elder son, and daughter-in-law, wearing N95s, brought the masked grandkids, and a gluten free cheesecake. Outside, we served, ate, and cleared without going into the apartment, and without getting less than 6 feet apart. They were heartbreakingly careful.

There is a point here. My family is not afraid of Sue or me: they are afraid for us. They have a lot more contacts, carefully, but they have public contact jobs. Christal particularly, deals with children. We do not hug much now.

This Father's Day brought me to tears. Both of my sons will tell you that is rare. But this day, by caring so much, and social distancing, they did it. I don't deserve this, but I will for sure accept the love.

17 June 2020

music lives on

Yesterday was the scheduled date of a local dulcimer festivaL. There are several activities at one of these. First there are classes offered by experts, festival organizers intend to both attract new players, and provide learning to existing players which keeps them coming back. Second there is a marketplace. Especially for dulcimerists, this is a big deal. One can acquire cds of really good music, sheet music books arranged for our instruments, various accessories, and of course new instruments to add to our collections. Finally, there are jams. Groups of players with or without a leader, sit and play together.

If you have never heard a group of dulcimerists playing together, you should seek out a jam circle, Our instruments tune to the same pitch, but there things become individual: some of us use heavy thick wires, some of us more moderate ones and some like me use very thin very light wires. Yes an A sharp is always an A sharp, but the tone and especially the the shape of the note, what we call the attack and sustain are very different.

We also play instruments that are not standardized. So the material, while most instruments are wood, not all are. And even then, different woods contribute to tone, attack and sustain. You can hear some of this when a diverse group of guitarists play together. But then dulcermists are always diverse.

Our instruments are also different shapes and voices. Part of this is that two very different instruments share the name. One, the "American Dulcimer," appears to have a section of the inside of a piano mounted horizontally. Players strike strings typically group in threes, using devices called, "hammers." Thus the other name for these instruments, "hammered dulcimers." The other instrument, which I play is entirely different. Three to six strings are arranged over a fretboard reminiscent of a guitar or banjo, which on examination is very different. The body of the instrument may look like a box, a violin, or something else. The strings are plucked or strummed.

That is the basics!

Look at an orchestra. You know instantly where the violin players sit. So to the bass and oboe players. But, put twenty dulcermists together and you are not sure they are playing the same instrument. We have multiple shapes and this is important, multiple length fingerboards. Add all that up and even though we can prove we are all playing an A, we sound different."

The effect when a lot of us play together is magical. Or at least we think it is. And this year I miss it. There are no festivals as we all attempt to outlive the covid 19 pandemic.

Ah well, if there is a vaccine soon, there will be festivals next year. Perhaps even later this year in the South. I do not make a living on the ,festival circuit, but a lot of the performers do. I hope they can survive return next year.

Here is a link to a Youtube performance on the instrument. The music lives!

click here for a youtube series of performances.

09 June 2020

What does it mean?


So we have the picture of Mr. Trump holding a Bible, upside down and backwards, scowling at Lafayette Park and the White House. As the combination of smoke grenades, flash- bang grenades, rubber bullets, and, pepper gas ammo, produced an acrid, toxic vapor drifting over the park, and cameras recorded the scene not a word was spoken. We are left to ask what it means.

We also have ten days (so far) of intentionally peaceful protest punctuated by a mix of anarchist and police violence. The entire series of events began with a murder. A white Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of a handcuffed black man. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds George Floyd begged for air and then died. George Floyd died tried by no jury, guilty of no crime: he was murdered.

I recall being confronted and called a, "commie" because I wore a "peace symbol" button on my jacket during the Vietnam war. Then the war was broadcast on network news. The world changed and the same people wanted to know where they could get a button. The conscience of the of America had been awakened and confronted when they saw what I and my fellow, "peaceniks" had been saying for years. Suddenly the world was different. Anger at what was being done drove Lyndon Johnson, a consummate politician, out of office.

Social scientists have a word for moments when everything shifts, they call them "epiphanies." Epiphany is also a season of the catholic church year. The season lies directly after Christmas and before Ash Wednesday. The Greek means, "I understand!" or "I get it!" So we catholic types proclaim a season of understanding what the incarnation means. Social scientists use the word to denote a moment when reality comes together and the world is different.

When a Senator, an LDS leader, and former presidential candidate simply joins a Black Lives Matter march, the world is different. We are at an epiphany moment when most people "get it." When Americans are forced, we never volunteer, to see white privilege, and injustice, and must confront that it is being done in our names, at that epiphany moment, their worldview changed. The world changed.

When the world changes because most people have an epiphany moment, there are always those who do not get it. We have the horrible example of the current president of the Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville who defended slavery, and of course Donald Trump. These are the people for whom the old system worked. And their most common defense is, "God said so."

KKK meetings feature a burning cross, and contemporary white supremacists have something they call the Christian Identity Movement whose, "altar" background looks a lot like an SS battle flag. Here we have an answer to the photo op with Mr. Trump holding the Bible upside down and backwards. His theology is upside down and backwards too. He believes and says that wealth denotes intellect, whiteness superiority. Waving that upside down Bible is a sign a signal to the 30% (give or take) of Americans who cling to racism. And unintentionally, it is the sign that leads most of us to understand and abhor the 8 min. 46 sec. martyrdom of George Floyd.

We can also find a meaning in the scowl. For his racist followers it is a symbol that claims God for their injustices visited on George Floyd and so so many others. If Illinois does not have George Floyd, we have no boasts as we have Laquan McDonald. His scowl was intended I am sure, to be the profile of a visionary peering into the future, or at least towards it.

We can find a meaning in the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests that have now circled the world. With white faces in those crowds we see that the world has changed. Some whites got it. 8 min. 46 sec. to finally get it but the immorality and injustice has been clearly demonstrated and we got it, or at least some of us did. I am reminded of Sir Winston's observation that Americans can be relied on to do the right thing, after trying everything else. The war between the States has been over for 155 years, and now we have an epiphany.

In the pitiless faces of combat gear toting white supremacists marshaled outside Lafayette Park undisturbed by law enforcement, we see the other side. We see those who did not and indeed will not understand. We cannot change them, we probably cannot convert them albeit we must try. But we can squash them. Here then the Christian challenge: when does your polling place open?

27 May 2020


I am a white man. If a black cop murdered me by kneeling on my neck, he would be in County Jail. That is simply true and if as a white person, you even begin to get that, it is time to shut up about not seeing white privilege. The video of that murder in Minnesota, and the trivial consequences; they were fired? Why were there no arrests? Oh, white privilege, and yes blue privilege. White cops don't go to jail for murdering black men.

It is time to make justice flow like water as the Scripture has it. Indeed it is past time.

A friend quoted this article which is in Sojourners, a publication I commend to you. Here is a link. Go there, read, digest, and ACT!

I guess this needs to be said, albeit in a mature country led by a mature president, it would not have to be said. First, Justice is not revenge, although certainly consequences must come to the violent, the vicious, and the murderous. Consequences simply are. Second, leadership is not being tough. Any bully can be tough, especially if he is president. Leadership is sharing burdens, letting others know you feel the nation's anguish as we confront horrible racism in Minnesota. Leadership does not seek to ignore the posse comitatus act and impose military solutions on problems, call governors doing their best to balance the First Amendment and public order, week fools. Leadership can be strong and nonviolent.

29 April 2020

Life questions

Sometimes one is confronted with a question that is potentially difficult, but deceptively simple. I believe in elections. Do you? What are you willing to do for that belief?

Yesterday, I deposited a small check drawn on Cook County. The check was my salary for the Illinois primary election. I served as a judge of elections. By the time one attends class, does the necessary reading, and serves from 5: AM to about 10: PM, one is lucky to make $7.50 an hour. In fact I made less. There is however coffee and pizza. And by serving I help make elections happen. Judges in my experience believe in elections.

I serve because the State has to run elections and that means judges of elections. What we do, you probably have seen us, is greet the voter, verify the registration, if necessary either register the voter (here in Illinois,) or sometimes authorize provisional ballots. Very occasionally, we say, "no." We supervise use, and in the age of Covid 19, disinfect the County's equipment. We assure that ballots find their way into the appropriate container. We are professional and this is important, we are fair. We also, and this is very important, hand out the, "I voted" stickers. People care about those stickers!

The check stub text thanked me, and ended, "see you in November." Now there is a problem. I will be 74 in November. Given the way some idiots are treating the shelter in place and testing regimes, I might easily be in danger. Let's face it, working on the primary was a risk. I believe in elections, and so did the others. We did what the voters needed.

At 74, diabetic, with three stents in my heart; I am high risk for death if I contract Covid 19. But I believe in elections and the coming one is particularly important, there is a rare constitutional amendment on the ballot. So what do I do? The primary judges were desperately short staff. We got things done, but it was a near thing. November generally draws more voters. Morevoters means more possible sources of virus transmission.

If I contract Covid 19, I will likely die. Is it worth it? Judges of elections have immense power. Deciding if a person may vote is an exercise in government power.

Do I tell myself I believe in elections. Do I take the pollyanna-ish approach that by then we should be past the curve? Do I trust in an N95 mask? Or do I mail in a ballot, and watch the returns?

A person needs to know when something is worth dying for. Is my little part of the Republic in this election, worth it? After all, I might not be infected and people do recover. Ok, old men with multiple pre-existing issues do not recover often, but some few do.

In the age of civil rights demonstrations, and anti-VietNam war marches, I knew I could be arrested, injured, or killed: I risked it. But I am a husband, father, and grandfather now. And I know Covid kills old men.

I believe in elections. I shall be interested to see what I decide.

19 April 2020

testing, and social distancing

Sometimes things are so obvious it is utterly amazing that doubters can happen. This seems to be one of those times. As of this evening (18 April) 38,732 Americans are known to have died from Covid 19 and some people are still disputing the value of the lockdowns.

In Florida, defying all logic, the governor modified his rather weak lockdown order to make professional wrestling, "essential," and open the beaches. In South Dakota, there are emerging hotspots, and a governor who dismisses fears. In Michigan, California, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, white nationalist gun advocates demonstrate against lockdowns.

And in the chaos, the president calls for white nationalists to "liberate" their States. If there is one thing this president and administration can be known for, it is releasing the anti-science racist portion of the society from any social restraint.

I think some people simply do not want reality. They will act as though the fantasy they want is what the universe supplies, or will if the, "liberals" stop interfering. When these delusional folk are voters, any republic is in danger. When the president is one of the delusioned, the republic is in mortal danger. That is where I fear we are. If as I fear, South Dakota and Florida become breeding grounds for the virus, all of us may become subject to a second wave.

Looking around the world it is clear what works. Breaking the path of the pandemic requires aggressive testing, extensive contact tracing and intense quarantine discipline. Beginning this regime is a problem because we lack adequate testing. President Trump does not want it. We actually need two tests: one to identify infected persons, the other, an antibody test to identify persons who have had the disease and survived. Quality quick tests exist, Germany, Iceland and South Korea have them in use.

We have been here before. We broke epidemic transmissions of polio and yes influenza. In both cases what finally made the difference was an effective vaccine. Until we have one, isolation and social distancing are the weapons we have. New York has experienced a lower than feared death toll not because the estimates were wrong but because the State government acted effectively in spite of Federal incompetence. And as "good" as the numbers are, many died who did not have to die: deaths that lie on the doorstep of the president.

We will survive this. Our scientific community will create a vaccine that can be widely distributed. Even in our culture, the scars of moral failure may run very deep. When we finally understand the death we have inflicted on our country, guilt will be a reasonable reaction. I pray the republic will survive.
St Laika's

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