Wednesday, April 22

Earth Day 2020. Don't stop the celebration.

Thrive Global
Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Organizations have all kinds of ways for us to celebrate the Earth. Today. And yet. . .

I read a few interesting news stories today. The first from The Guardian about how we might finally, finally start recognizing the importance of taking care of and protecting the Earth, the environment.

We are at an interesting inflection point. Many of us have read or seen stories about clearing air and clearing water. New Delhi skies free of pollution. Water clearing in Venice. Sea turtles being able to nest in peace. . . as long as Florida beaches were closed. I'm sure there are dozens of similar stories.

The fact is that with the pandemic, the Earth has been able to take a break. Less noise. Less movement. The world is a lot quieter. It seems as though the lockdowns around the world have had a startling impact on many things, and mostly in a good way.

Not economically, I know. People are suffering. There are no easy choices when it comes to managing a pandemic. I cannot even imagine what state and city government personnel are going through as they weigh all of the challenges, watching state budgets crater and knowing the people in their states and in their cities are in dire situations. Not everyone will agree with Dan Patrick's assertion that "there are more important things than living and that's saving this country."

Meanwhile, in the Great Lakes region, where I live, the Environmental Protection Agency has decided that protecting the Great Lakes, specifically Lake Michigan from which thousands of people get their drinking water, isn't all that important.

The EPA, charged with protecting the environment because it's, you know, actually in the name of the agency, has loosened restrictions around "a class of cancer-linked chemicals." Nice. There are two stories on that: one from the Chicago Tribune and another from The Hill. The former bends liberal and there are a whole bunch of Democrats in Chicago.

This isn't the first rollback of the EPA rollbacks and I doubt it will be the last. It just seems so unfortunate that we have such grand opportunities to make significant positive changes on so many fronts and it seems we are likely to miss nearly every one of them.

Even so, every opportunity to celebrate the Earth is a good one. And may you sustain and maintain those celebrations for days to come.


Sunday, April 5

Wondering about "normal"

I had to laugh out loud, and literally out loud, when I skimmed this article. The one thing that stood out is that everyone wants the world to return to normal. And, to be honest, I stopped even skimming after that.

I'd jut gotten back from going to the bank and the grocery. I wiped down the ATM keyboard and screen before I used it and then wiped it down again after I used it. Not normal. I put on gloves when I went into the grocery store, made sure I had a two-cart distance between me and other shoppers, pondered those who were wearing masks or some facsimile compared to those of us who weren't, wondered if the people behind the deli counter should be wearing masks (they probably should), noted the store workers who were wearing gloves and/or masks and those who weren't, took note of what shelves are still relatively empty and those that aren't, and offered up several prayers of gratitude that most of what I wanted and needed was on the shelves and that I can easily get to the store. Most of that not normal.

I thought about how empty the streets are. Not normal.

I noted how friendly people are even as they maintain their distance and even as there distinct degrees of quiet and sombreness.

I find I think a lot about what the world will be like once we emerge on the other side of the pandemic. I wonder, too, about other parts of the world and how isolated I feel from really knowing what's happening in other parts of the world. It's as though the media is no longer able to get information from other parts of the world. So I worry about the locusts in Africa and have to go find that information myself. Did you even know about the locust plague in Africa?

In truth, the locust plague in Africa is of less concern to me than the thousands of kids who aren't eating in the United States because schools are closed. And yet I see there are school districts that have found truly creative solutions through the monster efforts of their cafeteria staffs who prepare meals and get them loaded on school buses to be distributed to families.

I do wonder about education and if we'll be able to take advantage of this situation to really rethink what education is and how we should do it. I wonder if we'll take serious notice of the depth of the digital divide and how many of our children don't have access and what we should do to ensure they do have access.

I wonder if teachers and parents and administrators will think differently about the work of teachers and what should really be their responsibilities and what should really be the responsibilities of parents and guardians.

I wonder about the future of work and the nature of work. What jobs will change? What jobs will disappear? How will the work place have to evolve and not just because we might worry about another pandemic, but because we should be less complacent about the possibility of tragedy.

I wonder how long it will take for us to become complacent again.

I wonder how long it will take for us to be noisy and raucous and focused on ourselves again. 

I wonder if we will spend so much time yearning for a return to whatever seems normal that we won't take advantage of this amazing opportunity to change and change for the better.

I wonder if having this time to think and reflect, having this time to appreciate the Earth, will get swallowed back up into the need to return to whatever we thought normal was and is.

I wonder how long it will take to get back to devastating levels of smog and pollution once industries do their best to return to whatever they think is and should be normal, though the Earth is vibrating less and pollution levels are down. . . for now.


I wonder how many of us are and will be more traumatized than we realize as we gauge the distance between us and strangers, as we find ourselves counting cars in a parking lot, as we pause for that split second if we happen to cough to assess how our lungs feel. I wonder how much our social attitudes and behaviors will change and what will really be most important.

I wonder how many of us are thinking about the nature of our relationships and, if we don't have much family, how much we counted on work colleagues and even moderately good friends with whom we used to get together periodically. I wonder how much more effort many of us are making to connect in various ways--social media, texts, email, even letters.

I wonder if we'll be able to see the world differently because the pandemic is affecting the world. I wonder if we'll be able to see beyond our borders differently, if there's a chance we can all be more compassionate or if we'll find that even more of us will be victimized by the power players who think only about the themselves and how much power and money they can grab because of other people's misery.

I want to have faith in people and our ability to connect, be empathetic, be compassionate, but too much of what I read seems to be about those who are grabbing for headlines, grabbing for power, grabbing to shape the world in whatever narrow way they see it, which is one of the reasons I read less news and tend to skim a lot of the stories I read regardless of the source.

I wonder if we really have an idea of what "normal" is or if what we think we want is whatever was before and that we'll consider normal to be whatever comes after, but I wonder if we realize that whatever happens after and whatever we become and do and are after will never, ever be like what was before. That normal will be different, no matter what.

Saturday, January 4

Student (and other) activism: Not for the faint-hearted

I learned about Sophie Scholl around 3:30A several mornings ago when I couldn't sleep. For some reason I decided to check Facebook and found a post about Sophie Scholl, which led to a bit of wee hours research followed by more research when I was more alert and fortified by coffee.

I've done more reading on her and reflected a bit more in light of several things. First, the response to the Christianity Today editorial by Mark Galli.

Second, the response to the policy of a school in Northern Virginia which will allow students one excused absence for activism.

Third, the groundswell of response, both negative and positive, to Greta Thunberg that soon became something of a tsunami that has now become a tiny wavelet barely lapping at the shore. Which has led me to thinking about the ebb and flow of outrage that becomes indifference or limited outrage about something else that attracts our attention. (ICE? Immigration? Children in cages? Stephen Miller? Anyone? Anyone?)

But I have to start with the kneejerk reaction that some conservatives seem to believe that everything that is not in lockstep, a word I've chosen intentionally, with their way of thinking is "far left," "liberal," and/or "snowflake," or all those combined. Good grief! The way some of the conservatives respond, they are the snowflakes--triggered by the slightest thing that seems to be outside of their slowly shrinking comfort zone.

So this young woman, Sophie Scholl, began her activism while in college. She didn't seem triggered in the way its meant as an insult. She seemed triggered in a more powerful sense: her triggered response was one of outrage and action. There are different accounts of her last words--just before she was beheaded--but we do have this:
In the People's Court before the notorious Judge Roland Freisler on February 21, 1943, Scholl was recorded as saying "Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just do not dare express themselves as we did."
"Somebody had to make a start," and she decided she would be one of those somebodies. And those somebodies chose to do so publicly. And it cost them their lives.

"What we wrote and said is also believed by many others." Yes, and we believe such things quietly in the privacy and safety of our homes and heads, where we cannot be attacked or shamed or trolled in a toxic social media environment. And that is because we often do not dare to express ourselves as others have.

That led me to think more about the editorial written by Mark Galli. He is on the brink of retirement, though some news outlets have written that he was forced to resign because twisting the facts seems to have become a journalistic norm for an opposing viewpoint. In October 2019, Mr. Galli announced his retirement effective January 3, 2020. It's possible he felt compelled to take advantage of the platform while he had it and perhaps being mindful of his own failings.

I should note that I found a piece by Julie Roys who published her own scathing article in which she seems to applaud Galli's editorial but then seems to want to take down CT, Mark Galli, and others because of their past hypocrisy, because she didn't get an apology, because she didn't get whatever it is she thinks she deserves. I followed up on her accusations and there is likely some fire among that smoke, especially with the Harvest Bible Chapel/James MacDonald connection. I don't dismiss it but I have to say that her outrage about Christians being hypocritical is disingenuous. Christians are often hypocritical. We are human and humans aren't fallible. I mean, look at so many of the evangelical right just now. They are hypocrisy writ large. Which was one of the purposes for Mr. Galli's writing in the first place, I think, And perhaps his own need to reconcile whatever is happening in his heart, which is between him and God. Or maybe he felt like his "somebody" moment is now.

So as media outlets are trying to say that Galli was forced to step down because of his editorial, on the flip side, digging through the morass of hysteria about Galli's non-resignation, I found an open letter from CT friends who affirm Mark Galli's editorial. I've also read that while CT lost about 2,000 subscribers, it gained about 5,000 subscribers; I'm not (yet) among them.

Let us now consider the school policy causing its own wave of outrage about conservatives. Starting January 27, Fairfax County Public Schools will "permit students in seventh through 12th grades one excused absence each school year for loosely defined 'civic engagement activities'" that might include marches, sit-ins, trips to lobby legislators. Here's the thing: if parents want to haul their kids out of school to take part in their civil liberties, no one can stop them. What this school district has done is acknowledge that one of the best experiences students might have is to really learn about democracy, about what it means to be a citizen, about what it means to participate in something that is bigger than themselves, about what means to stand for something. Shame on them? Nope.

This article notes that the district has already faced some "backlash online from conservative critics who charge the policy is the latest instance of the left coddling its too-liberal, too-sensitive youth." What are those conservative critics afraid of? And how dare they assume that these are the actions of "the left" and that the youth are "too liberal" and "too sensitive." Who is being triggered now?

And so to Greta Thunberg, who is going to be interviewing Sir David Attenborough. The 16-year-old climate activist says what's on her mind and for that she gets both lauded and excoriated. Thunberg is TIME magazine's 2019 Person of the Year. She seems to take that and all of the criticisms and snide remarks in stride and to continue the work about which she is sincerely passionate.

I recently had dinner with a friend and we talked about how we are reluctant to join any online conversations for fear of the herd turning on us if we dare to disagree with the crowd. That has been on my mind as I think about Sophie School, Mark Galli, Fairfax County Public Schools, and Greta Thunberg--none of whom or which are perfect, without any kind of blame, and without any degree of hypocrisy or failure in something or another--just like the rest of us.

That led me to wondering about what I'm willing to stand for and how willing I am to stand for it, which led me to, yes, the internet. I found this 2017 piece by Ken Wert: What do you stand for? It is a provocative question, and one I need to answer as I think about my willingness to express myself and perhaps be that somebody to say what others are unwilling or unable to express. As do we all.