Friday, January 27, 2012

freedom in rhode island

I've been reading an article, headlined Atheist teen forces school to remove prayer from wall after 49 years, over at msnbc. It's worth your while reading it closely, to get the temperature of religion and politics in Rhode Island and in America in 2012.

First, the headline, which was changed by msnbc from when the article first appeared in the New York Times, where it was headlined "Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer." It should have read "50-year-old law applies to prayer on school property." Insofar as it is a publicly posted statement of religion in a public school, it is hurting our commonwealth, and adding (in a low-buzz way) to the religious establishment that our Constitution forbids.

Cheers, by the way, for giving this wise girl the last word: "I’m defending their Constitution, too.”

Absolutely true, and on an issue that increasingly brings concern. One key here is when the prayer was posted. Here's the prayer in its entirety:
Our Heavenly Father,

Grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, to be honest with ourselves as well as with others. Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win. Teach us the value of true friendship. Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.

This prayer was composed by a 7th-grader, no doubt of his own volition and without any help or prodding from his parents, and posted in 1963, a year after the Supreme Court's belated decision disallowing public prayers in public schools. It's a prayer, indeed, but it's also very definitely a provocation.

The fact that this happened in Rhode Island, one of the great birthplaces of true religious freedom — founded by a Baptist — is especially dispiriting. We're really fighting this battle in the former colony of Rhode Island, whose founding statements ring out with freedom for everyone? Roger Williams, in founding it, specifically named Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and atheists — radically, radically open at the time — as people who for the first time would be able to worship freely, or worship not at all, with absolutely no price to pay for it. No special part of town you have to be in, no special thing you have to wear, no tax you have to pay, no restrictions on your life or worship in any way. It really is the birthplace of religious freedom, and has a rich history of having the government stay out of all religious matters.

Posting prayers that are easily recognized as prayers to Jehovah on taxpayer-funded walls, in this place of all places, is just plain wrong, and more so in light of the fact that it was very obviously done in rebellion against the laws of the land (laws that were brought about, ironically, by the influence of Rhode Island's legacy of religious freedom).

The article points out that the community is "heavily Roman Catholic." Certainly this girl and all who she stands for are in a minority there. But along with Roger Williams and his fellow Baptists, Congregationalists, Quakers, atheists, freethinkers, and Deists, she forms — pardon the phrase — a moral majority.

She has a State Representative singling her out and publicly calling her an "evil little thing" for simply asking her school to [a] obey the laws of the US, and [b] live up to Rhode Island's inspiring history. Evil little thing: does that phrase alone not symbolize all that's wrong with church-state conflation over the course of centuries? Catholics, for obvious reasons, don't have much problem with the church using state power (and taxpayer dollars) to further a religious agenda. ("In God We Trust," mentioned in the article as being on all our currency, wasn't on all our currency till the McCarthyist 1950s, and the effort was spearheaded by Catholic organizations.) But those who have been persecuted, jailed, beaten, and beheaded for the sake of religion should have taken notice, and taken this girl's side. It bears pointing out, given the language of the posted prayer, that the religionists' definition of good sportsmanship didn't include smiling when losing a court case, seeing as this girl has been threatened so strongly that she requires a police escort to school.

Jessica Ahlquist needn't have been an atheist to take this stand; leaving aside the fact that it was a court, and not a girl, that forced the school to remove the prayer, there should have been a line of conscientious Christians right along with her, with Baptists at the front.

Monday, January 23, 2012

singing gig

The other day, someone called me with a first. A jazz gig on which they wanted me to sing. They said, "Your voice will be perfect for this!"

Now, I've sung on gigs, occasionally, for over a decade. Before that, I had some formal training (classical training, which gives you the principles you can put to work in other styles). And I sing every Sunday to lead the music at Holy Trinity. But I've always thought of the singing as an extra, with my instrumental playing being the main thing.

Nice, to receive an affirmation from someone who enjoyed what they heard.

Friday, January 20, 2012

a quality observed

When you have a kid, people use certain predictable words to describe that kid. When it's a girl, you often hear "pretty" or "cute" or "precious."

Just the other day, we met a girl in her 20s who works with kids aged five and under at a program at the zoo, and she used a word to describe Greta that stands out from all the generic ones. And it's one that several others have used too — in fact it's the only non-pretty non-precious adjective that more than one person has used for Greta.

She said, "Your daughter is fearless!"

Greta was right in the middle of doing something that I think of as a normal kid thing to do: running over to say hello to a cat, climbing up into a yard and tooting around, ducking under things and tumbling over things to try to get to the cat, as the cat itself was, with increasing desperation, trying to get away. But maybe not so normal after all, if so many have zeroed in on this emerging personality characteristic. Is Greta fearless? What a mystery we all are, as we emerge into human beings.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

ten years after we met

At just about this exact time on the afternoon of January 17th, 2002, I walked into a coffee shop, looked around, and settled on Catherine just as she settled on me: this must be Ellen's sister, whom she'd set me up with. She was beautiful, tall and slim, with shortish, wavy hair, and dressed with classic simplicity. She ordered tea; I got coffee. We talked for several hours, and my life was changed.

Later today, we'll check into a beautiful old bed and breakfast, and celebrate having known each other for ten years. My beautiful love! I don't want the next ten years to pass this quickly!

Friday, January 13, 2012

new words

Greta is picking up the pace, with new words coming left and right. She has added the names of her grandparents — last week, Grandma and Grandpa; this week, on the day she was to visit them, she pronounced "Nana" and "Papa," clear as day, in order, apropos of nothing, from the back seat — along with game attempts at all the cousins' names.

Yesterday, she came up with "please" and "Scott." "Please" takes its place with the month-old "thank you" and the older, unfailingly gentle and charmingly refined "no." "Scott" is the name of the homeless guy in the park.

Family relationships, good manners, genuine care for the less fortunate. I like where her vocabulary is going.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

getting a laugh during fours

You know you're in front of the right jazz audience when, during a "trading fours" section (in which soloists trade four-bar phrases with the drummer in a kind of witty dialog), you can get a laugh out of this:

Saturday, January 7, 2012

trust, explicit and otherwise

I just saw one character on a TV show tell another character "I trust her absolutely."

I'm so glad. Perhaps 2012 will be the year that people trust each other completely, absolutely, perfectly, imperfectly, anything other than implicitly.

I have no idea when the phrase got started. I remember being very irritated by it in the mid-1980s, when the chick Captain Kirk was romancing said she trusted Kirk implicitly.

OK. Picture a little girl walking over to the living room. There's a step down. Right as she reaches that step, she simply holds out her hand, never changing her posture or her forward gaze. She knows her Daddy is near, and that he will take her hand, and that she'll be able to get where she needs to go when he takes it. That is implicit trust. It's implied because it's not stated. It's just there in her.

When people say, "I trust you implicitly," they generally mean "I trust you completely." They, of course, can't mean that their trust is implicit, because if it were they wouldn't make it explicit.

So. I was glad to hear that character (and that character's writer) get it right. Good things are happening. Fresh winds are blowing.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

baroque obama