Taking a Media Sabbath

Taking a Media Sabbath  —by Jinny Batterson

In Judeo-Christian traditions, we are taught to “honor the Sabbath, and keep it holy.” According to the strictest interpretations, that means on every seventh day abstaining from all sorts of work and some of our usual daily activities, taking time instead to focus on spiritual growth. The term is related to a longer interval, a “sabbatical,” a seventh year widely observed in academic settings when professors and researchers take an extended break from their standard duties to pursue alternate studies and to recharge.   

The use of a day of prayer is not limited to Christian or Jewish traditions, though, and can have political overtones. In British-controlled India in 1919, a set of repressive new laws were passed giving the British government authority to arrest anyone suspected of “terrorist activity” and to detain them for up to two years without trial. Other laws simultaneously broadened police powers to conduct searches without warrants and curbed press freedoms. When the most egregious law, commonly called the Rowlatt Act, went into effect, opposition figure Mohandas Gandhi proposed that the entire country observe a hartal, a day of fasting, prayer, and abstention from physical labor, in protest. The response was overwhelming–on April 6, 1919, millions of Indians simply did not go to work, and for twenty-four hours (agonizing hours for the British) India simply ground to a halt. (https://www.sparknotes.com/biography/gandhi/section7/)  After continuing protests, the Rowlatt Act was repealed in 1922. 

As internet use has spread globally, much of the world’s population spends at least some time online. Back in 2017, scientists writing in a journal of neuropsychiatry estimated that perhaps 2% of the adult population suffered from “internet addiction,” compulsively spending more and more online time. (abstract from 10.4172/Neuropsychiatry.1000171,  2017) An article from 2019 (https://www.psycom.net/iadcriteria.html) gave a range of estimated internet addiction from below 1% to nearly 38% of adults. Since the onset of the current global covid-19 pandemic, internet use has spiked further as more of us turn to online communications while confined close to home and admonished to maintain social distancing. 

The internet can be a source of valuable new information, publicizing trends and histories that many of us had been unaware of. For example, as someone with no known enslaved ancestors, I’d been less aware of “Juneteenth” than those whose ancestry was less fortunate. (The holiday initially celebrated the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when formerly enslaved people in Galveston, Texas first got official word that they were now free.) Juneteenth is becoming more widely celebrated throughout the United States, and was recently cited as a reason for the postponement of a political rally by our current President. 

However, the internet can also be used to spread spurious information and to inflame tensions. It provides instantaneous feedback as “algorithms” select more and more of the content they believe we might want to be exposed to. We become “products” who are encouraged to buy more and more goods and services. These days, I know that my use and misuse of the internet can drift close to addictive behavior as I search for clues on how to stay well, relatively safe and somewhat sane in this confusing and highly politicized time. 

So I will use this Sunday, July 19, as my individual “Julyteenth,” my media sabbath, a brief freedom from the endless click bait of internet content providers. I’ll disengage as much as possible from internet browsing or virtual meetings. I’ll also try to cut back on television, streaming services, and the like. I’ll try to focus instead on spiritual growth, with perhaps some limited, more direct, but safe offline methods of reconnecting with neighbors and loved ones. I’ll adapt some advice of poet and writer Maya Angelou, who counseled a generation ago:  

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  …  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” (Maya Angelou, from Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now, 1993) 

If my media sabbath refreshes me, I may make it at least a monthly ritual, if not yet every seventh day. My hope is that the spiritual nourishment of a sabbath will better equip me to confront the complex issues of my community, nation, and world. Good Sabbath, friends.    

Checking Our Sources, Knowing Our Contexts

Checking Our Sources, Knowing Our Contexts   —by Jinny Batterson

As the pandemic caused by the corona virus drags on, amid increasing conjectures about how to respond, increasing finger pointing about whose “fault” it might be, I can feel emotionally overloaded. So far, no one close to me has died of the infection, though several friends and relatives have had cases of varying degrees of severity. The small enclave where I live stays mainly quiet, those of us retired or furloughed staying pretty close to home, those still in the paid workforce adjusting work routines to stay as safe as practical.  

More of us live more of our lives in virtual spaces—emails, virtual meetings, social media posts. It can be tempting to get all of our input filtered through some electronic medium or other. My biological and intentional families are politically diverse. In these fraught times, we sometimes avoid discussing politics, but it can be nearly impossible not to be influenced by what we see, hear, and read. When discussions get especially heated, I try to remember some of my history teachers, including my part-time historian mother. 

“Check your sources,” they would repeatedly caution. “Everyone has an angle. Why did this particular source frame this particular event in this way? What advantage did they gain from telling their story from this viewpoint?”  

It’s disturbing to me that a fair amount of “information” these days is murkily sourced, if sourced at all. Lots of groups with high-sounding names have turned out to be unreliable at best, malicious at worst. Conspiracy theories abound.

It’s unclear where the virus causing covid-19 originated. It’s unclear exactly when it first spread among humans. It’s unclear all the ways the virus may be transmitted. It’s unclear why some people have few or mild symptoms, while others with similar backgrounds can be severely affected.  Given these uncertainties, it’s natural for us to form theories about what’s happening. What’s not natural is for so many of us to be so adamantly certain of “answers.”

I try to vary the sources of information I review, to filter out the obviously bogus. I know, too, that I respond to content in part from the contexts in which my life has unfolded so far. During my childhood, polio was a crippling pandemic that tended to reappear each summer, impacting both children and adults in seemingly random fashion. In some years in the early 20th century, as many as 6,000 Americans had died. Most Americans knew that president Franklin Roosevelt had contracted polio as an adult during the 1920’s and never fully regained the use of his legs. At its maximum in the U.S., in the early 1950’s, there were nearly 58,000 U.S. cases annually, with nearly 3,000 deaths. Swimming pools closed. Parents restricted their children’s friendships. 

Eventually, medical researchers tracked down the source of the illness and developed successive vaccines. I remember when I was in elementary school being part of a large-scale medical trial in which many of us got doses of an oral vaccine. In 2020, polio infections exist in just three countries globally, with fewer than 200 annual cases. Global health workers do their best to detect and isolate pockets of infection, often in war-torn areas, and to make sure at-risk children get vaccinated against the disease. 

At some future point, this novel corona virus that is spreading illness and death will yield to research and to more effective responses. Until that happens, it behooves us humans, whatever our political leanings or backgrounds, to check our sources and to be as aware as we can of our contexts.   

   

Democracy Is Not an “Ism”

Democracy Is Not an “Ism”  —by Jinny Batterson

We’re living in a strange season, locally, nationally, globally. First came a novel corona virus to which few humans have immunity. It has spread fear, illness, disruption, and death to nearly every country. So far efforts to contain, cure, or prevent it have met with uneven success. In many parts of the United States of America, the outbreak seems to be worsening.

As people everywhere began to cope with the pandemic, it quickly became evident that self-isolation and social distancing were the best ways to slow the virus’s human spread. In the U.S., those at the “bottom” of society were least likely to be able to self-isolate. Most lived in crowded conditions. Those who were employed mostly worked in low-wage service jobs necessary to society’s functioning—“essential workers,” they were suddenly called, as if a dignified label could make up for generations of poor pay and poor living conditions. Others chose not to isolate or distance because these practices seemed an impingement on their liberty.  

To add to the trauma of the pandemic, we’ve recently been confronted with other examples of our inequitable society. Video footage went viral of a white police officer in Minneapolis squeezing the life out of a prone, handcuffed black man by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes while other officers looked on and bystanders yelled for him to stop. It became less and less possible to talk about “resisting arrest” or “a few bad apples.” The systemic corruption of America’s criminal justice system was broadcast worldwide for all to see. 

And we have an American election coming up, one that’s poised to be expensive, divisive, and prone to distortions at many levels. Is it any wonder many of us are disturbed?  Whatever happened to the “shining city on a hill,” a beacon of hope for oppressed people everywhere? Whatever happened to our democracy?  

I’m not exactly sure, but I think part of the difficulty is that we’ve confused democracy with ideology. Many of us self-identify at least partly using a series of “isms”: conservatism, liberalism, progressivism, socialism, libertarianism, federalism, communitarianism, environmentalism. Every week seems to bring a new label.  

Democracy is not supposed to be easy. It is always a work in progress. Some guidelines our U.S. founders laid out have generally held, but there were huge blind spots in our original framework of laws. Some of those blind spots have persisted, as the George Floyds and “essential workers” of our country have recently reminded us. 

Democracy requires that each human has some say in decisions that impact him/her/them, regardless of circumstances. In small settings, that say may be direct. As groups get larger and more diverse, it becomes necessary to have “representative democracy,” where officials are elected to represent a neighborhood, town, city, county, state, or nation and to champion the interests of their constituents. 

Democracy requires that each human be willing to listen to perspectives that differ from his/her/their own, to acknowledge the humanity of others, to be humble about the limits to any individual’s knowledge or judgment. Whatever “isms” we subscribe to, we all breathe air, we all drink water, we all eat food. While we’ve been busy discounting and insulting each other, our air and water are getting dirtier, parts of our food supply are at risk, and more of us are becoming sickened by the corona virus. 

A few of our political leaders have stressed our connections across our divisions: “We’re all in this together. We’ll get through this together.”  Too many of us may not get through at all unless we start acting as if we believe that, meeting each other beyond our “isms.”  Happy In(ter)dependence Day!  

 

What DJT Learned in Kindergarten

What DJT Learned in Kindergarten (with deepest apologies to Robert Fulghum, whose original essay, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” can be found at this link: https://cpco.on.ca/files/9214/0182/6527/NeedToKnow.pdf)

Covet everything.
Play dirty.
Call people names,
but get supporters to hit them for you.
Forget where you got anything not rightfully yours.
Get others to do your dirty work,
then say you don’t know them if they get caught.
Take as much as you can possibly get away with.
Never, NEVER apologize. It’s weak.
Wash those pretty little hands,
just not in public during a covid-19 pandemic.

Live as indolently as you can–
Complain loudly when world events interrupt
Your golfing vacations or big rallies.

Before you give another command occasion
Speech at a military academy,
Practice walking down ramps.

Don’t trust anyone, and don’t let anyone
Get close to you–they might not be loyal enough.
Remember that your life is all mapped out:
Just one continuous advance to ever greater heights.
Don’t ever wonder what it all might mean.

Plants and animals are boring. There’s nothing
We can learn from them. If they die, it’s
Because they weren’t forceful enough.
Be like your friend Vlad–rig a vote to
Give yourself a lifetime appointment,
Then make sure that that life is eternal.

Forget about Dick or Jane or LOOK.
Paying close attention to anything or
Anyone besides yourself might be distracting.

RULE (just not over your own excesses).

Wild Berries

Wild Berries  –by Jinny Batterson

Summer is taking over,
Turning days warm and muggy,
Even just past dawn.

Going outside gets less
Appealing, while still a
Healthier alternative to
The viral burden of
Indoor spaces.

One more morning walk.

Meandering along a greenway,
Hugging the shade,
I nonetheless come
To a sunny stretch
Where the first of the
Season’s wild blackberries
Winks at me from the verge.

It’s only a little tart,
So warm and juicy.

A welcome reminder
That not everything
Beyond my control in
This season of covid
Is malevolent.

Noticing a Tailwind

Noticing a Tailwind   —by Jinny Batterson

As discussions and protests continue around issues of police brutality, systemic racism, and possible ways forward, I’m reminded of a long-ago vacation when I viscerally experienced the difference between the presence and the absence of a tailwind.

Back when my husband and I were younger and fitter than we are now, we sometimes planned bicycling vacations. An especially memorable one was a two-week jaunt during the 1990’s to some then-isolated regions of eastern Canada. We were able to reserve ten days’ lodgings in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, with a side trip to an even smaller, more remote set of islands further east—disjointed parts of the province of Quebec in the midst of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Our initial setting out point was Charlottetown, PEI’s capital and largest city. In those days, Charlottetown was a frequent honeymoon destination for Japanese brides who’d read the popular novel series about Anne of Green Gables, an orphaned girl raised in an idyllic rural setting by her potato farmer aunt and uncle. The novels had been part of their high schools’ curricula in Japan. We wandered the town for a little while, getting oriented and marveling at the trilingual street signs (English, French, and Japanese). In the afternoon, we got a taxi to the site of a bike rental agency where we’d reserved two appropriately sized rental bikes. 

We then pedaled off to our first night’s lodging, a rental cabin at a campground not far from town. For most succeeding nights, our overnight accommodations would be at small inns and B&B’s about 30 miles apart, an easy day’s ride in the generally flat or gently rolling terrain.

Once we reached an eastern edge of PEI, we took a ferry from the smallish town of Souris to the even less populous Magdalens, or îles de la Madeleine.  We’d reserved four nights’ lodging on these islands—three on the island with the ferry terminus and one on an island further north.

Our first night we stayed near the ferry terminal in a family home with multiple generations in attendance. After a plentiful breakfast the following morning, we pedaled off northward, cruising easily along, spotting herons and other shore birds as we went. We traveled along a sandy causeway little more than the roadway wide and reached our destination mid-afternoon. Our northern island host was a dedicated birder. He gave us hints about when and where to get the best views of shore birds. Accommodations were simple but ample. The sunset and star views were unsurpassed. The following morning, after another plentiful breakfast, it was time to return southward. 

Pedaling along the causeway this time felt as if we were trying to propel our bikes through a slick of molasses. On our way northward, we had been totally oblivious to a substantial tailwind. The wind had not shifted overnight, so our return trip was straight into a significant headwind. It was well into evening when we reached our third night’s stay. 

I cannot know what it is like to be a black person in the United States of America in the year 2020. Though I’ve studied some about the traumas of slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration, though I’ve had friends of color who were willing to share a few of their individual stories with me, being non-white is not part of my lived experience. The one minimal experience I’ve had on a bicycle riding into a headwind may be a small example of what it frequently feels like to be “living while black” in today’s America. 

So I need to ask myself, repeatedly, what additional actions I can take to make that headwind a little less severe.   

 

Complicity

Complicity    —by Jinny Batterson

Never once have I used the “n” word.
I’ve supported worthy causes,
Occasionally even put my personal
Safety at risk. I’m not like those bigots
Who can’t seem to understand
That, deep down, we are all one.

Yet I live where sirens are rare, where
Police are rarely present or summoned.
The officer who came last Sunday to
Investigate the fawn lying prone
On our sidewalk was friendly,
Bemused, not overbearing.
No verbal threats. No tasers.
No weapons drawn.

The economic system that nurtured me
Valued brain over brawn, and
Whiteness over everything else.
It diminished the dignity of manual
Work, replaced those with fewest
Connections with robots, or with
Off-shore call centers, while
A privileged few profited, assuming
They merited special consideration.

“Who you knew” became nearly
As important as what, and
Everyone cheated, if only a little.
Getting ahead became a mantra,
Though it was never clear what
Exactly we were getting ahead of.

This house of cards is collapsing.
Will I be buried under it, or
Will I help find a way to make explicit a
Rebuilt society that shelters and
Protects a multifarious polyglot of
Worthies, whatever our skin color,
Skills or connections?

Debts, Trespasses, Entanglements, Forgiveness

Debts, Trespasses, Entanglements, Forgiveness…    by Jinny Batterson

The household I grew up in spoke several dialects of Protestant religious traditions, so I was alternately exposed to variations of a basic prayer that asked forgiveness either of “debts” or of “trespasses.”  Not being a scholar of ancient languages, I’m not sure whether either term is close to the meaning of whatever word appeared in the earliest Biblical texts. Certainly, in modern times we’ve accreted lots of baggage to the words “debt” and “trespasses” both. 

While our national and global economies reel from the impact of a viral pandemic on systems of commerce and taxation that have relied heavily on buying more and more goods and services on credit, the notion of forgiving debts has a lot of appeal. Debt forgiveness, or “debt relief” as Wikipedia puts it, has a long and checkered history, with so far no great system for honoring both the forgivers and the forgivees of past debts (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debt_relief).  

According to one Biblical scholar, the notion of “forgiving trespasses” came to prominence in England around 1600 as the enclosure movement gained momentum: “…the enclosure and privatization of formerly open farmland… left the aristocracy richer and commoners with nowhere to grow food. Prosecutions against commoners for trespassing on newly enclosed land … were a frequent activity by the wealthy and a tragedy for the lower classes, many of whom were sent to prison or the gallows.” (https://livingchurch.org/2017/03/14/forgive-us-our-trespasses/)  For the wealthy and prominent of their day, forgiving trespasses was both a worthy act and a way to express some contrition and solidarity with those less fortunate. 

A while ago, a friend sent me another prayer variation that spoke of releasing us from the entanglement of past mistakes. I liked the general tenor of the prayer, invoking at its beginning a “cosmic birther of all radiance and vibration,” rather than the “our Father” that I’d too often visualized as a vindictive older white male. It’s not clear to me where this prayer came from. It seems likely that it’s a “New Age” variation of the more traditional prayer rather than a more-literal translation of an ancient text (https://www.nas.org/blogs/article/o_cosmic_birther_the_lords_prayer_meets_the_american_college_textbook). Still, in my current circumstances, I resonate more easily with entanglements than with either debts or trespasses. 

What seems most pressing to me as our societies struggle to deal with past debts/trespasses/entanglements due to systemic racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and a host of other “isms,” is that all of us are in need of forgiveness. To ask forgiveness requires that we acknowledge our brokenness and risk trying to do better. Defining forgiveness can be harder than working on debt or trespass or entanglement. It is easier to tick off what forgiveness is not: easy, quick, or painless. Nor does forgiveness mean forgetting the harm or relieving the debtor/trespasser of accountability. One touchstone for me in the process of seeking forgiveness and of forgiving others and myself has become a sequence outlined in Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s 2014 book, The Book of Forgiving: 1) Admitting the wrong and acknowledging the harm; 2) Telling one’s story and witnessing the anguish; 3) Asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness; and 4) Renewing or releasing the relationship. 

May we seek forgiveness, may we forgive, may we do better. 

A Protest Lullaby Project

A Protest Lullaby Project   —by Jinny Batterson

My hope is that many of you can remember a time in your childhood when your mother or a special adult sang you a soothing lullaby.  One of my favorites is “All Through the Night,” originally a Welsh song. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzFqirIGVB4) 

The past couple of months, especially the past couple of weeks, have been unsettling for me. As I write, the annual June anniversary of the use of repressive force in China in 1989 has nearly arrived. Many of us living in the United States of America are witnessing the use of repressive force on our own streets. In the wake of another senseless murder of an unarmed black man, demonstrations have begun and persisted in many American cities.  

At the same time, a global viral pandemic has hit our country hard, uncovering many inequities and rifts that those of us in comfortable circumstances have tried for too long to cover over. Concerns over the spread of the virus have dampened the public activism of many older Americans, those of us most vulnerable to serious illness or death from covid-19.

Many who are wiser than me have counseled prayer. Spending time on our knees is one good way to acknowledge both our pain and our solidarity. Another may be songs, both energetic and uplifting, and, at the close of the day, soothing.

My hope is that younger people in areas under curfew will continue peaceful in-person protests, wearing face coverings and observing as much social distancing as possible. Airing long-festering grievances and concerns, both in public protests and in virtual spaces, is crucial to beginning to address them.  

I suggest that we add to other protest rituals, a few minutes before curfews take effect, a lullaby. Let’s sing to each other, to ourselves, to our President and political leaders of all persuasions. Let’s choose whatever language and idiom most suits. Let’s mouth the words, silently or aloud. If we are not under curfew, let’s practice a lullaby a few minutes before sunset. 

Singing and praying to and for each other will not by themselves solve our problems. Nothing but sustained, concerted actions at many levels will. But a lullaby can offer a brief respite, perhaps open a greater possibility for healing our too-fractured world.   

Hush, my worldmates, peace attend thee, all through the night…

The Flowers Have Not (Yet) Gone

The Flowers Have Not (Yet) Gone   —by Jinny Batterson

It’s been a rough week to be an American. The death toll in the United States from the covid-19 pandemic crossed the 100,000 mark, while multiple U.S. cities experienced repeated, sometimes violent demonstrations in the wake of Monday’s death of yet another unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  

Our economy has sputtered to a halt. Partly as a result of virus-related lockdowns, nearly a quarter of the U.S. labor force is unemployed. Our president sporadically spreads hatred and gibberish through his favored media platform, becoming so blatant in his misrepresentations and lies that Twitter has recently put “fact check” warnings on some of his posts.  

As various U.S. states attempt to restart their economies in the midst of a highly contagious novel corona virus with no known treatment or vaccine, cases have started to spike again in multiple hot spots. No one seems to know a good solution to the multiple crises besetting us.  

I sometimes get a “deja vu” feeling about our current problems and unrest, as someone who in 1968 was a young adult with much idealism and little experience. Then, an escalating and increasingly stalemated war in Vietnam was killing a disproportionate number of young black American men. Most American men between the ages of 19 and 26 (though less so the wealthiest or best connected) were susceptible to being conscripted into the military. In early April, Martin Luther King, Jr., an outstanding proponent of non-violent civil disobedience and a leader in the fight for legal equality for African-Americans, had been assassinated by a sniper while helping organize a peaceful protest for sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. In the wake of his death, over a hundred American cities had erupted in protests that often turned violent and destructive.  

Conditions in many U.S. cities in 1968 were unequal, with housing projects and decaying urban neighborhoods receiving little in the way of substantive government assistance, while billions were being spent to advance presumed U.S. political interests overseas. Other government programs either intentionally or collaterally favored “white flight” to the suburbs, which were largely off limits to non-whites. Sound vaguely familiar?

Many collegians of the 1960’s had become enamored of a folk song revival, one of its signature songs being “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”  penned by Pete Seeger in 1955. Joe Hickerson had later added more verses, turning the song into a circular questioning of the premise of warfare. The folk/rock trio of Peter, Paul and Mary popularized the expanded version, which remains a touchstone for many of us who lived through that era. (You can view their 25th anniversary rendering of the song at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgXNVA9ngx8.) 

In 2020, I’m somewhat creaky in the knees and a bit too virus-averse to participate in large gatherings, so I admire from a distance the courage and forbearance of many of the protesters (and many of the police officers who work to deescalate tensions, both short-term and longer-term). Meanwhile, I continue to send emails and postal letters to elected officials at all levels. I support voter registration and voting rights initiatives. I sew and give away protective face masks. I tend gardens. I plant flowers. I want to remind myself and others that the flowers have not yet gone. 

lilies and black-eyed susans near our central NC condo

Flowers near our central NC condo