Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Wish for Peace

Mikaela says:
Apologies for the re-posting here, but I was so touched by this sermon of peace that I had to share it here.

One of the messages of Christmas that gets me every year is the longing for peace on earth.

This year, Rev. Christine Robinson shared the story of a Unitarian minister who authored the carol “It Came upon the Midnight Clear.” It's not one of my favorite carols, and I'd never paid much attention to the words. It deserves our attention, though. Read on.

Here are the first 2 verses. The rest come after Christine calls for them.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold!
"Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From heaven's all gracious King!
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing.
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

"Although this is one of the beloved carols of Christians, you’ll note that this is not a carol about Christ. It is a carol about peace....

Edmund Hamilton Sears, Unitarian minister, was a man who longed for peace. His longing was very personal; that is one of the reasons he could write such a beautiful hymn. He longed for peace inside himself, he longed for peace in his community, and he longed for an end of war. He wanted those things so much because he didn’t have them.

Sears was apparently a high-strung man, verging always on a nervous breakdown, haunted by a sense of inadequacy as a minister. Indeed, he never really carried a full workload as a minister; his wife did most of what we would call the pastoral work—the calling, the meetings, the counseling. Edmund couldn’t handle those things. If he lived today, he would probably be diagnosed as clinically depressed, as having some imbalance of brain chemistry that made it hard for him to concentrate, to rest, and to work. These days, he would have medicine to help him lead a normal life, but he lived before such things. So he had to always husband his strength and tranquility by long walks in the country, by working in his garden, and by writing.

Inner peace came hard to Sears, and yet, out of a rare experience of inner peace, he wrote a beautiful carol that now the world enjoys, and enjoys all the more because it is such a peaceful song to sing in a hectic season.

Sears also longed for peace in his community, and he didn’t have much there, either. The people in his community were embroiled in arguments over two important things: over slavery and over the rights of women. Sears was an abolitionist and spoke out for women’s suffrage. His congregation did not all appreciate his stands.

Now, Sears had his own handicaps and problems to think about, and perhaps another man would have said to himself, “I am just not strong enough to argue with my neighbors about national issues.” But he didn’t. He wrote and spoke and preached his conviction that slavery degraded human beings—slaves and owners alike—and degraded nations that allowed it. Sears longed for peace, but not at any price. He was willing to argue for what he believed, even when it caused conflict in his community. Sears spent his small strength fighting for abolition of slavery, knowing, perhaps, that sweeping the conflict among people under the rug does not bring peace, and that only justice can be the basis of lasting harmony.

Finally, Sears longed for peace in his world, which is to say, for an absence of war. And he didn’t have that either, I’m afraid. The Mexican War was going on. Sears thought it was an immoral war and wrote articles trying to convince others of his convictions. If you read the third verse of “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” you can hear how discouraged he became about peace on earth.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world hath suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years,
Shall come the Age of Gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Edmund Hamilton Sears, Unitarian minister, didn’t see much peace in his time, but the Christmas hymn he wrote about peace was an important force in making peace on Earth one of the messages of Christmas. And probably, more than anything else he wrote in his life, “It Came upon the Midnight Clear” has been a force for peace in our world. For, when enough people hope for peace, then peace can come.

This longing for peace was underlined for me while listening to Performance Today yesterday. There's a classical chorale piece written in honor of the true story about the Christmas truce between German and British soldiers during World War I. From their trenches - just meters apart - the soldiers sang Christmas carols to each other.

Silent Night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright.
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Oh for a day of peace for all us all: A truce. Can you imagine it? A suspension of disagreement to feel the resonance of our similarities, the haunting familiarity of oneness, the power of our combined intention for peace: May this instinct continue to guide us toward the generosity of spirit that true calm requires.

Un-Merry Christmas Blocks

Mikaela says:
It's been a strange holiday season so far. I've been feeling the most Christmas spirit I've ever conjured up, predominantly because it's my little one's very first Christmas. (See the preview of Christmas morning present extravaganza to the left...)

At the same time, I keep tripping over the most un-Christmasy roadblocks to holiday cheer.

Example #1:
While listening to the classical radio station, which has brought so many bright holiday moments this season, an ad came on that starts with the admonition from a young woman to throw away the cookbook and just make dinner however you're inspired. You can hear the sizzling of what must be meat right about the moment the woman reveals that this is a funeral home ad. So ... cooking meat and dead bodies. Ugh. Methinks this gruesome juxtaposition is not what they intended. Perhaps the tiniest bit Dicksonian, but largely ... a Christmas spirit killer.

Example #2:
The healthcare bill rigmarole. Enough said.

Example #3:
For some reason, my husband and I, not normally horror film afficianados, cannot seem to get in or out of the holiday season without watching horror movies. Last year, we watched What Lies Beneath on Christmas morning as I finished the last of the gift wrapping before heading to my mother's for the day's main events.

This year, with a new HD television combined with Netflix instant watching, we've consumed not one, not two, but three horror movies so far, despite my request that we bar horror from our Christmas festivities this year.
  • Let the Right One In - a dark little holiday charmer about a kid vampire and her little buddy and all the hijinks they get into - killing people, infecting people, beating up bullies
  • House of Voices - a spirited morality tale about war orphans, abuse, murder, and motherhood.
  • Haunted - a Christmas classic about a haunted house and the havoc it wreaks on a weak-minded, youngish spinster.

With the majority of my Christmas gifts purchased; my first year of holiday cookie baking almost complete; our real, live Christmas tree decorated; seasonal dish towels, mugs, and appetizer plates purchased; it's time to reap the Christmas spirit I've endeavored to sew.

If only the universe would stop making that quite so difficult...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Economics & Social Justice

Mikaela says:
You've got to go listen to NPR's Planet Money blog from today, which covers both the contributions of recently-deceased Paul Samuelson and a re-situating of Adam Smith in the dialog about governments' role in advocating for the poor in world markets by Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, in his new book, The Idea of Justice.

Samuelson on PBS Newshour interviewed by Paul Solman:

INTERVIEWER: [Y]our student, Robert Merton ...said, look, innovation always brings with it certain risks. You don't kill innovation as a result.

PAUL SAMUELSON: I'm not speaking in favor of killing innovation. I'm speaking in favor of centrist use of the market, which involves necessarily a considerable degree of regulation. Markets by themselves will get themselves inevitably into inequality and into their own destruction. It will happen again and again.

INTERVIEWER: You're a lifelong Democrat.

PAUL SAMUELSON: I'm an incurable centrist.

INTERVIEWER: Do you feel that there was simply an ideological shift towards free-market fundamentalism, some people have called it, that got us inevitably onto this track?

PAUL SAMUELSON: Since 1980, yes.

INTERVIEWER: And that's your explanation for what happened?

PAUL SAMUELSON: Yes. And not only that, the economics profession, the guys I have lunch with and love, have, generally speaking, moved greatly rightward. I'm not sure that all of the fiendish stuff could have been picked up by centrist regulators, but you don't have to be perfect in anything in economic life. If you spent 70 years in economics, you'll understand that.

INTERVIEWER: So things could have been a lot less bad?


Sen on Adam Smith as the advocate of the Invisible Hand:

Sen: That's a complete caricature of Smith. [T]he invisible hand is not one of Adam Smith's theories. He uses the term three times in all of his entire corpus of work, twice as caricature. One is referring to the bloody and invisible hand, from Macbeth if I remember right. The later construction of this "story" that you have been sold from good economists is based on about 16 lines of Wealth of Nations, in which he discusses why people want exchange. For that, you don't need a big theory of morality, because they want each other's commodities.
How can you make these trades survive? Then you need mutual trust and understanding of each other. If you end up in a society with a lot of poor, what do you do? Then you need a concept of justice, you have to have transfer of rich to the poor.

This is from Wealth of Nations: Nearly all intervention in the interest of the rich, is almost invariably counterproductive, whereas all intervention of the state in the interest of the poor is almost always successful and achieves good results.

Smith is one of the heroes of my book - the real Smith not the manufactured Smith put together, totally different from the caricature of Smith.

Interviewer: So you're saying the Wealth of Nations was a tract advocating the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor?


Sen: His criticism is always in the interest of the underdogs of society. ... The thing implied about racism ... In one state, he's very angry with Italy about the white supremacy argument. ... He says there isn't a negro anywhere in the North of Africa, with which he's familiar, who does not have a superior concept of justice which his sordid master is scarcely cable of understanding. He was a totally radical figure.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

m-pyre birthday: recession edition

Mikaela says:
The m's thought it would be fun -- okay, bad word choice -- to write about how the recession has affected us as our birthday reflection this year.

So with my daughter screaming herself to sleep in the next room, heaters blaring in all the rooms, typing with fear of breaking a circuit any minute, I'll share a bit of what this recession has meant to me.

The biggest effect by far has been the impetus to quit my job. That's right, quit my full-time with great benefits job for an uncertain future as a consultant doing all manner of odd, small jobs.

You know the saying, "It's always darkest before dawn?" Here in the balloon fiesta city, we all know it's also the coldest right before dawn. It also translates into screaming baby, actually. The biggest scream is often the last one, right before she drifts away to sleep, oddly and miraculously enough.

And so it was that it took the biggest recession of my lifetime to push me to do the thing I knew I was supposed to do all along, which is ... not get pigeon-holed into a job for the sake of security. I'm a virgo and not a big risk-taker anyway. I don't like being out on a limb, but I also know that my skills will support a number of endeavors, and so I should assemble the odd jobs that make up a life that supports me, challenges me, and makes me happy. Did I mention they also need to be flexible enough to allow time to raise a little girl? Well, there's that, too.

My mom worked from the time I was two. She was a realtor, and her work was never done. She struggled to make ends meet, so there was little she could do to make time for extra commitments with us - organized sports, concerts, etc.? Not so much. But she raised us, and we never went hungry. And her efforts were enough.

Here I am, a generation later, and I can see that I may have chosen a path that allows me to take her to daycare and pick her up every day, but it's also the path that means I'm checking my email all hours of the day, and working late and once even pulling an all-nighter to shoehorn the work I need to get done into the shrinking available time to do it.

This recession has simultaneously given me the biggest freedom since going to school full-time (which most of us remember was not all that "free" to begin with) and the most stress I've ever had about work. I have five jobs at the moment - one of them full-time with flex hours and the rest very sporadic but still time-consuming. I'm lucky to have them all, even if I honestly don't know how I will find the time to complete them all.

In the meantime, Eric's job at UNM is looking increasingly grim, even as he personally struggles more and more to find meaning in his efforts there. He's been "keeping an eye out" for a while now, with no good options revealing themselves. Even with all his good connections and friends in high places, there's no positions to be had. If he can't find work, I really worry about everyone else in the job market. Yikes.

We can pay our bills for one more month on our savings, and then I pray that my consulting gigs start paying. It will be close, but I'm sure it will all be fine.

As the people who have coached me about money in my life say to do, I'm focusing on the abundance in the universe and the feeling of being buoyed by all the gifts and blessings I know to be my life. Life will provide.

In the meantime, I work, listen to NPR, drink coffee, and do yoga -- chanting T.S. Eliot's invocation (quoting an English mystic Julian of Norwich, author of the first book written in English by a woman): "All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well."

Maybe in the next year, I can add blogging to that daily list.

Maybe in the spring...

A little more from my pal T.S. Eliot, excerpting (and updating, where needed) from his fourth Quartet, Little Gidding:

In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers.
[W]hat you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.

In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending

... I said: 'The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder.
[L]ast year's words belong to last year's language And next year's words await another voice.
I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit

All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
...I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of no immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them

The only hope, or else despair Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre— To be redeemed from fire by fire
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.

A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded [website]
History is now and [the Internet].

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well