RHYTHM METHOD

lifelessons – a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown


The poem I’ve written below is based on the “Five Principles for Getting through the Trump Years,” given by Alice Walker in her speech at a reading in La Manzanilla, Mexico two nights ago on February 20, 2017. I was fortunate enough to be at that reading where she and four other excellent writers also talked about subjugation, prejudice, inequality, poverty and the importance of kindness, open-mindedness, acceptance and education in bringing our country to a better level of fairness to all.

I’ll talk about some of the other poets and storytellers who told their tales in a later post; but for today, and since it fit in with today’s prompt, here is my take on Ms. Walker’s wonderful talk.

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Rhythm Method

You’ve got to listen to the beat.
Shake your booty, pound your feet.
If you want to survive the day,
the rhythm method is the way.
It’s been said by smarter folks than I
that it’s the way that we’ll get by
in times we think we won’t survive—
the way we stay fully alive
in spite of voters who were hazy
and voted in a man who’s crazy.

Instead of listening to his bleat,
until the time of his defeat,
first and foremost, kindness will
help us to swallow this bitter pill.
A close connection with nature might
help us stay strong in the fight.
Respect for all those elders who
just might be another hue:

native tribes or Africans
brought unwillingly as hands
to shore up our economy
and build a country for you and me
while they paid the awful fee
in poverty and slavery.
It’s time to set our people free!

Gratitude for human life,
both theirs and ours, will allay strife.
In times like these, less than enhancing,
“Hard times demand furious dancing!”
One wiser and more in the groove
than I am, says that we must “Move!”
James Cleveland sang “This too shall pass,”
Turn on his music and move your ass.

Thousands of people dance along
this wonderful old gospel song
in her mind’s eye and I agree.
While we are waiting, you and me,
for enough others to see the light
and step in line to wage the fight,
we have to keep the joy in us
in spite of this unholy fuss
that seeks to keep us frightened and
prisoners in our native land.

Instead of knives and swords and guns,
defeat the tyrant with jokes and puns.
Comedians will save the day
and keep us laughing on the way.
But in the mean time, move your feet.
Feel the rhythm. Feel the beat.
If this nation has a chance,
perhaps we’ll find it in the dance.


The quotations above are all from Alice Walker’s talk. In prose form, here again are her five principles for getting through the Trump years (or hopefully, months.)

1. Kindness, which can keep us going through these unkind times.

2. A close connection with nature.

3. Respect for our oldest biological ancestors including native Americans (specifically those at Standing Rock), Africans  (who survived the fierce physical brutality of slavery) and Europeans such as John Brown and Susan B. Anthony.

4.  ‘Move!  Hard times demand furious dancing.’ Reverend James Cleveland sang, “This too shall pass.”  Get a recording of it and dance to it! She has an image of thousands of people dancing to this wonderful gospel song.

5. Maintain gratitude for human life.

She ended by relating the importance of meditation, which she described as a means “to rediscover the blue sky that is our mind,” and by stating that one way we can overcome the constant bad news with which our oppressors drug us is to learn the bad news first from comedians. This, perhaps, is one way for us to get through this dark period in our history.

The prompt today was rhythmic.


Please read the original post on Judy Dykstra’s brilliant site: Rhythm Method

STAND UP FOR TRUTH

This the season to spread stupid rumors. It keeps coming up. I get madder each time I see it.

This is the season to spread the rumor that there’s a war against Christmas. That the same cabal consisting of “them – the unnamed conspirators that are doing bad things” want to ban the holiday. That there are movements afoot to make Christmas trees into “holiday” trees and thus ban Christ in Christmas. Worse, that people will get angry and maybe sue you if you wish them a merry Christmas.

Has that ever actually happened? To anyone? Anywhere?

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It has never happened to me. I am not a Christian, but I like Christmas. It’s a nice holiday with pretty decorations, terrific music, and great lighting. Good food and drink and friends getting together to celebrate. What’s not to like?

I am an equal opportunity greeter. I will greet friends and strangers by saying whatever comes to tongue first. I have been doing this my entire life. Not once in all these decades has anyone objected to being wished Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday. Because people are not anti-Christmas. There is no war on Christmas.

There is a Constitutional, entirely legal (obligatory) separation of church and state. It suggests putting a crèche in the middle of town might be in poor taste or outright illegal, but is not a war on anything. It’s protecting my right to not be Christian while simultaneously protecting your right to go to the church, synagogue, mosque — or none of the above — of your choice. Separation of church and state protects all religions and non-believers equally.

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If you want to a crèche in the middle of town, ask the nearest church to put one on their property — if they don’t already have one (and I bet they do). Enjoy it at the church because that’s where it belongs. It’s religious iconography and is entirely acceptable in a religious context.

The United States is not a Christian country. It is religiously unaffiliated. Even though the majority of the population may profess to be some kind of Christian, this includes millions of people who never go to church. One of the many thing that are protected is your right to say your are a Christian or anything else without actually having to do anything to prove it. Freedom of religion is a wonderful thing. It means the government has no stake in your personal belief system as long as it stays personal and doesn’t involve bombing other sects or non-believers.

Which means you can say you are a Christian, never go to church at all, complain how Christianity is being threatened by the “freedom and politically correct cabal” (who don’t exist) and no one will ever ask you to show your bona fides. It’s a great constitution we have. If we ditched everything else but kept that first amendment, we might just be okay anyhow.

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If there’s a war on anything, it is on my right to not be Christian. Enforcing the first amendment is not a war. It’s what keeps us free.

Speaking of the first amendment, there is no law anywhere against greeting anyone in any manner you choose. The first amendment also protects your right to free speech including saying Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Or nothing at all. Whatever. It’s all good. I suggest the following response to any seasonal greeting: “Thank you!” Accompanied by a smile. Because someone is being nice and you should be nice, too. Now … that wasn’t so hard, was it?

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Despite Facebook, there is no war on Christmas. No war on free speech. If you spread the rumor that this is true, who knows how much damage you can do? Unless that’s your intention, don’t do it.

No matter what you believe, it’s time to stop sharing, tweeting, and re-posting stuff that’s supposed to be true without first checking to make sure that it is true. How about we stop letting other people’s opinions substitute for facts? How about not passing rumors? How about we all make a commitment to fact-checking as a matter of course? Because the damage we do by spreading lies, rumors, and half-truths — intentional or not — is incalculable. This is something you can do to make the world better without getting out of your recliner.

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If you don’t have time to check the facts, do not repeat it, share it, re-post it, publish it, or in any way pass it along. Unless you personally have checked the facts, assume it is not true. The world will be a better place no matter what politics you favor.

This is not an “us versus them” issue. It is a true versus untrue issue, a fact versus fiction issue. It affects everyone — including your children and grandchildren. Stand up for truth!

NO VIRTUE IN VICE

I don’t have much in the way of thoughts about vice. I’m not even sure what it is any more. This morning, in one of those online chat things I do these days in lieu of actual conversations with customer service people, I discovered that “LYING” is only lying if I do it. If they tell me something that is completely untrue and I believe them, it is a misunderstanding. So when they said “We are fixing this and should have a solution soon” and they really meant “This is the way it’s going to be and we’re not going to change it. Ever.” And I believed them, it was my misunderstanding rather than their outright lie. I would normally have categorized it as “vice,” but give the state of the body politic and all the crap I see in the news, I’ve decided telling the truth versus lying is no longer meaningful. If I say something without any basis in fact and claim it’s the truth, but you later realize it is not the truth and, in fact, bears no relationship to truth as anyone understands it … it’s just a misunderstanding.

So how can there be vice if there is no truth?

Fortunately, there still is AD-vice, which is free. Sometimes, it even contains a particle of useful information. I hesitate to suggest that it might also be true because … well … you know … what IS truth?

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As the years have crept by, I have given up a lot of stuff, most of which (it turns out), I didn’t need in the first place. I gave up worrying. I gave up working. I gave up on the lottery, even though I still occasionally buy a ticket (just in case).

I gave up wanting a new car, expecting old friends to call (some of them don’t remember me any more — some don’t remember themselves). I’ve stopped hoping Hollywood will make movies I like. I’ve stopped trying to like “new” music, most new TV shows. Or hoping to remember the names of new “stars.”

Some stuff gave me up. Some people gave up on me. Other things, just slipped away. In the end, it’s the same.

So. Now. If anyone asks me how or why I have given up whatever it was, virtue, vice, or anything, I tell them it was for religious reasons. No one ever asks what I mean by that. But just so you know  …

It doesn’t mean anything.

It’s a misunderstanding. Not a lie. Just a way to end the conversation. No one wants to offend me by asking for details of my beliefs. They might turn out to be embarrassing or bizarre. Thus my all-purpose answer to everyone is “on religious grounds,” “for religious reasons,” or “on the advice of my spiritual counselor.”

These powerful words can make any conversation vanish and I never have to tell someone to shut up. It works on everyone except those who really know me. They will raise one or more eyebrows, and fall over laughing.

It’s similar to (but entirely different than) my all-purpose answer to “How are you?” With the biggest, broadest, fake smile I can muster and with heartfelt enthusiasm, I say: “I’m FINE!” 99.9% of the time, this does the job. Test drive it yourself.

I’m fine. For religious reasons.

VICE | THE DAILY POST

MY EIGHTH SIN

Remember the seven cardinal sins? I took up the gauntlet, the challenge of adding a new sin to the classics. First, I had to do a quick refresher course on the original big seven. They are:

Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride.

Seven Deadly Sins, Peter Bruegal

Seven Deadly Sins, Peter Bruegal

Really, I’m not sure we need another one. These seem entirely adequate to the task of making the world a wretched place for one and all. But hey, I’ll give it a shot. The original sins are concepts.

1 – From the top, there’s the ever-popular Lust.

Lust encompasses far more than indiscriminate sex or cheating on one’s spouse. Lust is not just for horny teenagers and men in a midlife crisis.

Lust is an intense desire. It is a general term for desire. Therefore lust could involve the intense desire (for) money, food, fame, power, or sex. In Dante’s Purgatorio, the penitent walks within flames to purge himself of lustful thoughts and feelings. 

On this earthly plane, there’s a lot of lusting going on and sex is the least of it. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say sex is the best of it. Possibly the only piece of the “lust sinology” that’s fun and might do somebody some good.\

2 – So how about Gluttony, eh? If you think it means you eat too much, you’d be right, though eating is a symptom, not the disease.

Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, gluttony (Latin, gula) is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. Gluttony can be interpreted as selfishness; essentially placing concern with one’s own interests above the well-being or interests of others.

As far as I can tell, our whole society has been doing a lot of gulping … of natural resources, of fancy cars, houses, gadgets, widgets. We also eat too much, but in the overall scheme of things, eating is the least of it. Over-consumption is a the sin and quintessentially American.


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3 – Moving along, we get to the perennial favorite: Greed. You can’t go wrong with greed. For thousands of years, greed has topped the “most popular sin” list across social boundaries. It’s probably the single most motivating of the sins. It is so popular, it has lost its evil connotations and been enshrined as something to which one ought aspire.

Greed (Latin, avaritia), also known as avarice, cupidity or covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the church) is applied to a very excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions. Scavenging, hoarding materials or objects, theft and robbery, especially by violence, trickery, or manipulation of authority are actions likely inspired by Greed.

According to Gordon Gecko, “Greed is good.” So, not to worry. Greed is not evil. It’s just business.


sloth

4 – Sloth has a certain quaint charm and in the broader scheme of things, hardly seems worthy of mention. But, it’s on the list, so …

Sloth (Latin, acedia) can entail different vices. While sloth is sometimes defined as physical laziness, spiritual laziness is emphasized. Failing to develop spiritually is key to becoming guilty of sloth. In the Christian faith, sloth rejects grace and God. Sloth has also been defined as a failure to do things that one should do. By this definition, evil exists when good men fail to act.

Sloth is not only failure to “do” stuff. It’s also failure to do the moral thing … to do nothing in the face of evil. Failure to do the right thing is a sin, even if it isn’t a crime.


5 – Wrath is a big deal, the cause for much of what ails America these days. If you don’t think wrath is a problem, spend 15 minutes cruising posts on Facebook. Watch the news. There’s a staggering amount of rage and hatred out there. I believe wrath has overtaken greed as the most popular mortal sin of the decade.

Wrath (Latin, ira), also known as “rage”, may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Wrath, in its purest form, presents with self-destructiveness, violence, and hate that may provoke feuds that can go on for centuries. Wrath can persist long after the person who committed a grievous wrong is dead. Feelings of anger can manifest in different ways, including impatience, revenge, and self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or suicide. 

We seem to be in the middle of a wrath epidemic. Politically and socially, we are an angry, hate-filled people. And it’s spreading in ever-widening circles.


6 – Ah Envy! The motivator of crime, the inciter of ambition.

Like greed and lust, Envy (Latin, invidia) is insatiable desire, is similar to jealousy in that they both feel discontent towards someone’s traits, status, abilities, or rewards. The difference is the envious also desire the entity and covet it. Envy can be directly related to the Ten Commandments, specifically, “Neither shall you desire… anything that belongs to your neighbor.” 

Envy is a major motivator of small evils that grow into bigger ones. Back-biting, gossip, eavesdropping are fueled by envy. Greed often starts with envy, as does gluttony and pride. Although it can be hard to tell which sin came before the other one.


7 – Pride is the downfall of the best and brightest. If there’s a sin to which I am addicted, pride is it. It rears its head in so many ways, both subtle and obvious. Believing one is smarter than everyone else, that one is really in control of ones fate (yeah, right!). Snobbery is born of pride, as is xenophobia. It is the sweetest, coziest sin, the beloved of the educated and ambitious.

Pride is my personal favorite. Being prideful is fun.

In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). 


So what could I possibly add to this prestigious list?

ignorance

Allow me to offer Willful Ignorance, a determined blindness to facts, reality, and knowledge. Willful Ignorance fits comfortably in with other popular sins to make up “our body politic.” It certainly should be a sin, don’t you think?

No need to thank me. You can hold the applause.

DOWN THE ROAD WITH FANATICISM AND IGNORANCE

Fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding … and we are feeding it well. 

I originally posted this four years ago. Horribly enough, it’s even more relevant now than it was then.

Inherit the Wind” (1960) was directed by Stanley KramerNot merely based on actual events, the script is substantially drawn from transcripts of the 1925 Scopes’ “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee, where teaching evolution had been banned by the Butler Act.

You would think that we would have come a long way since then … and we did. We passed some good legislation. Civil rights and all that. We eliminated the legalized part of our national evil. But then, we started doubling back.

We’re heading down a bleak, dark road. Again. Apparently we lack a national memory of having been here before and it ending badly. It always ends badly. A nation led by hatred, ignorance, and fear is not headed for a happy ending.

CHANGING THE WORLD WITH A WHISPER

The Encyclopedia Britannica provides this illuminating definitions:


Phenomenology, a philosophical movement originating in the 20th century, the primary objective of which is the direct investigation and description of phenomena as consciously experienced, without theories about their causal explanation and as free as possible from unexamined preconceptions and presuppositions.


I was a fervent, probably thoroughly obnoxious student of comparative religion in my final two years of university. It was no doubt the culmination of my search for The Whole Truth. I wanted a key that would unlock the meaning of everything. I’ve written about “The Meaning of Everything.”  It is my all-time favorite post, even if it isn’t my best post.

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This, however, isn’t about me. It’s about Mr. Wekerle (pronounced Weh-ker-lee with the emphasis on the first syllable). He was the head of the Philosophy Department at Hofstra University when I was attending. I adored him. Not because he was “hot,” but because he was so incredibly smart. He was also the only professor could tell when I was bullshitting and hadn’t actually read the books. The only teacher to give me D-/A+ as a grade for a 50-page paper.

The A+ was for style, the D- for content.


Mr. Wekerle (he was ABD having not quite finished that doctoral thesis … and I don’t know if he ever did) made me work for my grades. Made me think. Forced me to spell everything out and not assume that my reader already knew the material. Which served me very well in the larger world later in life.

He read every page of every paper submitted in class. He was harder on me than on many other students because he felt I had potential as an academic. I probably did, but life had other plans for me.

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One of his best tricks for getting students to listen attentively in class was to whisper. It was what we call a “stage whisper.” Loud enough to be heard at the back of the room if no one talked or rustled papers.

In fact, in Wekerle’s classes, no one wanted to sit in the back of the room. You never wanted to miss a single work of his lectures. Especially not during his annual “Phenomenology” lecture. Students would show up from all over campus to sit in on it, even if they’d heard it half a dozen times over the years.

We would sit there, breathless as he whispered the meaning of everything into the hushed room.

Never underestimate the power of a quiet voice, words spoken in a whisper. Shouting may get you some attention … but a whisper can change the world.

ORIGINS AND FAMILY

A few years ago, I briefly had access to Ancestry.com. I traced my family back to the census of 1910, at which point, it ended. I could have pursued it further using other Jewish ancestry sites, but I knew where they would take me.

On my father’s side, the trail would end in Minsk around the turn of the 19th century. On my mother’s side, the trail would go cold in Tarnow, Poland at approximately the same time.

Bonnie and friend on the dirt path

We were neither important nor prominent. Not rich, famous, or especially learned. Regular people, trying to stay alive and out of the Czar’s army. Put food on the table. Occasionally have a belly laugh with friends and family.

Even if I could trace back another hundred years, it wouldn’t answer the real questions about where we began.

When Genghis Khan invaded what is now Russia and eastern Europe, how many babies were left in the wake of the Golden Horde? How many were left by Crusaders as they pillaged, raped, and plundered all the way from Britain to Jerusalem?

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So many invasions, ejections, wars, migrations. How can anyone with even a trace of European or Asian ancestry think they are pure anything — other than human? Assuming current thinking on the origins of mankind are at all accurate, we all came from somewhere else in the beginning. Asia or Africa. Both, perhaps.

Or, somewhere else entirely?

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Thinking about this brings me back to the current sad state of geopolitical mass hysteria and stupidity. We are — all of us — family. If we could trace our roots far enough into the mists of time, we would find each other. Cousins, even though many times removed.

We are one people. Despite skin color, eye-shape, and other “race” and “ethnicity” surface markers, we are enormously more the same than different.

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So how come we hate each other so much? Why? What makes us want to hate one another? Why build walls instead of bridges?