Category Archives: Uncategorized

To Our Macho Valentines

To Our Macho Valentines 

Dearest Valentines,

We need to talk. 

When a disturbed young man sprays death on twenty first-graders with an assault rifle, when an aging oligarch bases a political campaign on insult, intrigue, and innuendo, when an ex-student defames Valentine’s Day by gun-murdering former schoolmates, when inconclusive wars kill thousands, displace millions, cost trillions, drag on and on,
we are overdue for some serious readjustments.

Our over-reliance on competition, violence, vengeance and
warfare needs to be scaled way back.

Ages ago, marauding bands with the best available clubs and spears made sense. Settlements were sparse, beasts huge, weather harsh. Outward threats were plentiful.
Now billions of us live in cities, where we vainly pretend to manicure and
manage nature, ignoring our dependence. Most threats are manmade, but our fears and habits of protections have yet to catch up with our
changed circumstances.

Human violence has thrust out everywhere: world wars, holocausts, genocides, civil wars, mass rapes, terrorism, alongside more intimate horrors.
We may mouth misleading terms–“collateral damage”–but it doesn’t help.
Our knowledge of the desolation we inflict on each other still sticks in our throats. 

So for a few moments,
drop your swagger,
your snigger, your armor,
your weapons.
Come join our quiet circle.
Don’t bring us presents–
no flowers, no chocolates,
no well-intentioned but futile
promises to keep us safe.

Just sit. Breathe.
No words, no gestures.
Open your senses.
Experience life’s 
interweavings.

Soon we’ll finish.
Then you can go back to media sports.
But first we’ll say our piece plainly:
though we may have admired your youthful feats
of physical or mental prowess, we won’t stop loving you
when injury, illness, or old age waylays you. 

Actually, when you’re not too loud, we love you best of all when you
lie snoring peacefully beside us, just as human and vulnerable as we are,.

With deepest affection,  

Your Partners

Gardener’s Song

Gardener’s Song   —by Jinny Batterson

(In memory of Nancy Small Van Dijk on what would have been her 72nd birthday; Nancy served for several years as HOA chair of our condo complex. During her term, she spearheaded an effort to get a “Welcome Garden” of flowering shrubs at our previously clay-slope entry drive.)

This garden is overgrown, the weeds are practically choking it.
I come here and sit alone, and wonder what will become of it.
Yet we started out as gardeners, as workers in the soil,
And we reaped a bounteous harvest from our ever-loving toil.

Some cities are overgrown, with drugs and crime and pollution.
We sit in barred rooms alone, each writing a rational solution.
Yet we’ve cities full of gardeners, of players in the soil,
And the plants and herbs and flowers reward our ever-loving toil.

Our planet is overgrown, wars, strife, disease, aggravation,
We stumble our lone ways home, uncertain of continuation.
If our world should blow to pieces, not survive its own turmoil,
Would we all come back as gardeners, blessed to ever-loving toil?

"Welcome garden" planted February, 2018

“Welcome garden” with Nancy’s sign soon after planting in 2018

While We Were Away

While We Were Away    —by Jinny Batterson

While we were away, heartened by or hiding from
The tropical sun, walking the sandy beaches at dawn
Or swimming in warm waters midmorning,
While we were away, the early daffodils began
Blooming, but the tulips lured by a mild January
Got chomped to the base by browsing deer.

While we were away, the birdbath I’d emptied
To avoid having it cracked by winter ice
Was instead picked up and overturned by
March-like winds, though the bird feeders
Continued their cooler weather work of
Helping prospective parents bulk up for spring.

While we were away, a new-to-humans virus spread from
An initial center at the Chinese city of Wuhan
To most regions of the globe, engendering worry,
Research, and sales of face masks and hand sanitizer,
While the U.S. legislature continued its descent into more
And more abstruse angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin debate.

While we were away, the British government,
Having at length realized it no longer ruled the world,
Completed another step in its bid to ignore that world,
To hoard what remained of its material wealth,
Announcing to erstwhile partners that it had chosen
Instead to take its marbles and go home. 

While we were away, we played old and new games,
Each winning some, losing others. We purchased
Travel mementos from some of the tropical peoples who’d
Made both British and American empires possible.
Returning either tanned or more freckled,
We’ve brought back some adjusted mental context
That may prove useful while we are at home.

Partial Truth

Partial Truth

I joyously affirm that I
Will tell the part of the truth
I can discern at this moment,
Not trusting solely
In my own instincts,
But drawing wisdom, too,
From my fellow humans
And other creatures, also,
As we strive to move closer
To the wholeness that nature
Reestablishes again and again
Now and forever.  

Virtual Reality, Deepfakes, 1000 Hours Outside…

Virtual Reality, Deepfakes, 1000 Hours Outside…   —by Jinny Batterson

As a boomer, I notice that my faculties are slowly declining. Also, habits younger folks now have are different from the ones I grew up with. Back in the 1950’s, parents and other adults fretted that we children and teens might turn into zombies from drinking too much unhealthy milk (contaminated by radiation from atmospheric nuclear tests) and watching too much television. Most nuclear testing has by now gone underground. The media landscape has evolved considerably. 

Now we have virtual reality. According to a recent article in Forbes Magazine (https://www.forbes.com/sites/solrogers/2019/06/21/2019-the-year-virtual-reality-gets-real/#3338ad6e6ba9), this technology is rapidly gaining adherents: “Worldwide, VR market volume is expected to reach 98.4 million sales by 2023, generating an installed base of 168 million units with a worldwide population penetration of 2%. Growth is forecast across all regions and countries, with China leading the way.”  Will all of us eventually be festooned with virtual reality headsets that enable us to sense ourselves anywhere, anytime we want?  

A somewhat different concern is the use of artificial intelligence capabilities to produce digitally altered “deepfakes,” seemingly genuine online videos of fictitious scenarios.  Bloomberg News recently raised an alarm:  https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-01-06/how-deepfakes-make-disinformation-more-real-than-ever-quicktake. (It may be relevant to note, in this political season, that Bloomberg’s chair, Michael Bloomberg, is a U.S. presidential candidate.) The same day, Facebook announced that it planned to ban deepfakes from its platforms, though without a lot of detail about how it intended to accomplish this. 

My reaction to the ongoing media onslaught has been to avoid too much media exposure. A generally mild January has aided my effort, kicked off by a “First Day Hike” in a nearby state park. Such hikes started a number of years ago, and last year enticed over 55,000 individuals to take January 1 hikes in parks in all 50 states (https://www.stateparks.org/initiatives-special-programs/first-day-hikes/ ).  

The family walking behind me as I hiked were carrying on a lively conversation about a program for their school-age children called “1000 hours outside.”  Started among home schooling parents, the program is an attempt to counteract the tremendous number of hours most youngsters spend in “screen time.” According to the effort’s website blog (https://1000hoursoutside.com/index.html/), “1,000 hours outside, though daunting, is doable over the course of a calendar year… If kids can consume media through screens 1200 hours a year on average then the time is there and at least some of it can and should be shifted towards a more productive and healthy outcome.”

My childhood eons ago was not as scheduled as that of current-day youngsters, but my recollections are that we spent most of our non-school, non-chore time outside, and had to be called indoors to supper, sometimes protesting vehemently. 

As a former computer professional, I’ve spent many hours of “screen time.” I’ve also benefited from advances in transportation technology to travel widely to natural areas around the globe. Through thousands of hours outdoors in many different weathers and climates, I’ve developed a perspective shared by many farmers, fishers, and foresters: We humans are a small part of creation. 

Though we’ve developed technologies with hugely destructive potential, we’d have a much harder time surviving without the rest of nature than the rest of nature would have surviving without the human race. No advances in virtual reality or deepfakes can change that.

Is It Possible?

Is It Possible   –by Jinny Batterson

Is it possible
it’s not power
that corrupts, but
merely our surface illusions
of power, and that love,
deep, abiding love,
is absolutely
incorruptible?

Some 2020 Foresight

Some 2020 Foresight  —by Jinny Batterson

As we near the end of a year, the end of a decade, our media are full of predictions for coming periods. Most of these predictions will prove either fully or partially wrong. As an aging boomer female with an incomplete grasp of current culture, climate, and politics, attempts I make to foresee the future are even more prone to error. So I have a fallback position—descending probabilities. I’m old enough to remember when weather forecasts were given as “absolutes”: “It will rain tomorrow.”  Those of us with weather-dependent tasks or assets could get thoroughly disgruntled if predicted rain failed to materialize. 

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point, weather forecasters changed the way they presented their predictions. Instead of saying it would definitely rain, they provided probabilities. Especially during summer months when rain came mainly from thunderstorms that could leave one side of a street or road soaked, the other bone dry, such probabilities were a big improvement. We might still be upset if it didn’t rain on our vegetable garden or corn crop, but we were less likely to blame the predictor who gave us a 40% chance of getting rain, thus a 60% chance of our not getting any. We might make more adjustments to cope with a possible dry spell.  

At my stage of life, I’m having to learn to cope with the increasing frequency of deaths of contemporaries. As 2019 ends, I’ve just experienced the freak accidental death of a close age-mate friend, while another completes her journey down the path of a terminal illness. So, my first, top-probability prediction: 

During 2020, some of us will die (100%). 

Another certainty: 

Those who stay alive all year will be a year older at 2020’s end. 

Then it gets dicier. So here’s a set of best guesses: 

    •     Disagreements among elected U.S. officials will continue: 99%
    • The 2020 U.S. census will occur: 95%
    •     The 2020 U.S. elections will occur: 95%
    •     Women will participate in higher numbers in elections globally: 85%
    •     Results of some elections will be disputed: 80%
    •     Globally, human populations will continue to grow: 75%
    •     Globally, populations of non-human species will continue to decline: 75%
    •     Disastrous global weather events will increase in frequency and severity: 70%
    •     The human impact of wars and civil disturbances will decline globally: 30%
    •     Earth will be destroyed by an asteroid: 10%
    •     Young people will decide their elders know best: 5%

Happy New Year, all!  

Playing for a Tie

Playing for a Tie…   —by Jinny Batterson

Most of the formal games I play are board games. Competitive athletics were pretty much out of the question for this lifelong klutz. Growing up, my brothers, sister and I got lots of gift games at Christmas to carry us through the cold weather months—classics like Monopoly, Clue, Stratego, plus other “big hits” of the time that haven’t aged as well. Once we got a little older, we were given word games like Scrabble. As my vocabulary grew, I got to be a pretty good Scrabble player in my first language, English. In high school, I played a few casual games in French, but English tile values for letters like “q” and “z” were inappropriate and we never got a French-based set, so the Scrabble fad in French club quickly died out. 

In my twenties, I started playing two-person Scrabble games with my husband, the super-competitor. It rarely mattered if I got better letters. He was much better at word placement, racking up double words and triple letters all over the place. Eventually, he’d beaten me so consistently that I decided I didn’t want to play him any more. Much later, we arranged a truce of sorts—we would still play each other, just not keep score. 

Several years ago, a mutual friend introduced us to the word game Quiddler, which can be played more quickly than Scrabble and requires less space, using playing card sized letters rather than tiles and a board. Hubby still beats me the majority of the time, but not by the lopsided proportions he used to tally up in Scrabble. I occasionally have a long enough winning streak so I’m willing to keep trying. We’ve adapted the original rules slightly: we play eight rounds per game, starting with a hand of four cards each, adding one card with each successive hand. The close games are more fun than the really lopsided ones—a hand with no vowels or no consonants, especially in a later round, can put you behind so far it’s almost impossible to catch up. 

Winning is fun, losing less so, but the contests I cherish most are the rarest—about once in a hundred games, we wind up with a tie score. Jim doesn’t get as much satisfaction as I do from the ties, but he humors me. 

On a whim, I decided to see if I could get an internet read on what popular physical sports allow tie games. I found the resulting gem via Wikipedia: 

“Ties or draws are possible in some, but not all, sports and games. Such an outcome, sometimes referred to as deadlock, can (also) occur in politics, business, and wherever there are different factions regarding an issue.”

“Tie” and “draw” appeal to me a great deal more than “deadlock,” which sounds unduly negative. All of us will eventually wind up dead. All of us at some point experienced birth.  While we’re in between, we’ll likely experience some wonderfully positive times (weddings, children’s births, signature achievements, reunions with long-absent friends). Other times may make us wish temporarily for death: serious illnesses or accidents, natural disasters, financial reversals, tragedies for loved ones, divorces.  

In these fraught times, when so much of our media environment can seem intent on making our circumstances feel even more fraught, I want to put in a plug for ties. If we live in the northern hemisphere, we’re approaching the winter solstice, the time of year when daylight is minimal and dark is “winning.” Starting on December 22, though, our 24-hour day/dark cycle will tend again toward balance, toward a “tie” at the equinox. Nature provides two such ties per year. 

Ties have a different connotation than deadlocks; ties can be enjoyable, special.  Let’s learn or relearn how to savor them.   

 

 

Poinsettia Day

Poinsettia Day    —by Jinny Batterson

December 12 has been proclaimed “Poinsettia Day” in the United States. The designation honors a plant brought to the U.S. by  Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico (1825-1829). Poinsett’s love of botany persisted while he trained as a physician. His career mostly went a different direction. While serving in Mexico, Poinsett continued to maintain hothouses on his Greenville, South Carolina plantations. In about 1828, he sent some poinsettias back from Mexico to be propagated. He later gave cuttings to John Bartram of Philadelphia, who introduced the plant to other nurserymen. Over time, the poinsettia in many variations has become a top selling Christmas plant,  with about 33 million poinsettias sold each year. 

Our 2019 experiments with “forcing” the two poinsettias given us by a neighbor after last year’s holidays were not entirely successful. Although the plants survived two successive transplantings—from pot to ground once frost was finished in spring, from ground back to pot before autumn’s first frost—they didn’t produce the same beautiful red bracts as store-bought plants.  I’m not sorry we tried. Even though our “home growns” were spindly and mostly stayed green, we learned from our efforts. Any plants we carry over until next year will be treated with an enhanced regimen, though likely not quite as standardized as hothouse plants. This year, as a side benefit, the exercise of taking the plants from basement to light and back twice a day has helped keep off some of this year’s holiday flab. 

Below are pictures of the two types of poinsettias gracing our hearth this holiday season. May light and life grace your home as well!  

full store-bought poinsettias, leggy home-grown from last year

The Doors of the Church are Open

The Doors of the Church are Open  —by Jinny Batterson

During my childhood and adolescence, I attended Sunday school. As a young adult, I took a multi-year sabbatical from organized religion, then resumed attending a small congregation—a chance to sing in the choir, I told myself. I liked being an alto. For the past several years, I’ve attended two different congregations. One is mostly white, generally affluent, with a mix of children and adults, trending toward the older end of the age continuum. The other is mostly black, less affluent, with a similar age distribution. The Unitarian-Universalist congregation has slightly more college professors than the African Methodist Episcopal congregation; A.M.E. worshippers include slightly more former college football players and basketball stars. Both groups have several hundred members on their rolls, some of whom show up most Sundays. As older members die off, our numbers dwindle.

The fastest growing religious segment of the overall American population are the “unchurched.” A 2014 Pew Research Center survey of more than 35,000 Americans found that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians had dropped from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% just seven years later. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – jumped from 16.1% to 22.8%. 

Many younger adults have little use for Sunday worship. Partly, this is because Sunday morning can be the only unscheduled interval in their increasingly busy lives. Another partial answer may lie in incidents of mass violence, like a 2008 shooting at a UU worship service near Knoxville, Tennessee or the 2015 assault on an evening prayer service at an AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. These two horrendous incidents are part of a series of mass shootings in churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples that can badly damage our sense of safety. The congregations I attend have trained our ushers to be alert to potential violence, defusing it if at all possible, otherwise sounding the alarm and limiting the damage.

In both congregations I attend, we wrestle with questions of how to affirm each other’s dignity, how to forgive each other and ourselves, how to help each other grow spiritually. Both congregations also grapple with hateful rhetoric coming from the highest levels of our government. The U.S. constitution forbids church statements in support of or opposition to specific political figures or groups. However, we allow support of or opposition to specific policies and behaviors. Right now, churches are often centers of opposition to inhumane treatment of immigrants or “others.” 

Despite many similarities, both of the congregations I attend feel incomplete to me. I wonder if it’s partly because they continue to reflect a situation that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted in a 1960 speech: eleven o’clock on a Sunday morning is among the most segregated hours in Christian America. In a religion whose basic tenets include “love one another,” such segregation of “white” and “black” (or any other group identity) is hypocritical at best. Is how poorly we walk our talk one important explanation of formal Christianity’s dwindling numbers?

Given its recent decline, it’s tempting to conclude that Christianity, even religion more generally, may not survive in 21st century America. I think it can both survive and thrive, but rejuvenating our faiths will take a lot more than one older woman crossing a racial divide to attend two churches.

After both the Knoxville and the Charleston incidents, church leaders reassured and challenged us: whatever losses we’d suffered, “the doors of the church are still open.”  Often I imagine church doors as fully hinged swinging doors—capable of swinging out as well as in, like the doors sometimes found between restaurant kitchens and dining rooms, or fronting saloons in old cowboy movies. 

Many church activities have little doctrine associated with them. They can happen outside the confines of church buildings. They’re not limited to a single day per week. They are just something we can do as Christians, as humans—social outreach, social justice, social uplift. Our faith encourages us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and those in prison, comfort the bereaved.

From what I know of church history, the earliest Christians had no special buildings, very little liturgy, no delineated creeds. They just wanted to share the love of God with their fellow humans and with the rest of creation. Such sharing is not limited to Sunday mornings. It recognizes no artificial boundaries. The “doors of the church” in each one of us need to swing both ways. Maybe then the doors of our various denominations will be easier to keep open.