Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Notice that recycle is third on this and most lists. I’m just in from the Keep Texas Beautiful 2019 Conference, having learned a lot about various topics including recycling. I made a faux pas (transferring a spoon from a container of meat-seasoned beans to a container of rice with a vegetarian right behind me. He was kind and said, “I’ll use the other spoon and get some rice from the other side of the pan”). I learned that recycling has both temporal and spiritual applications.

In my town, we have a system in which recyclables are removed once a week from a small blue container. Many cities these days use much larger rolling bins. We aren’t going to that system any time soon apparently, but this is not the time to discuss that decision. Rather, I want to discuss recycling in general. The Environmental Protection Agency has a pledge you can sign which includes this passage: “My organization pledges to work together with EPA and the other America Recycles Pledge signatories to build on our existing efforts to address the challenges facing our nation’s recycling system and to identify solutions that create a more resilient materials economy and protect the environment.” Signatories. Big word. Some of the organizations include Amazon and Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Company and Puerto Rico Waste Management Authority, Clackamas County Oregon and re:nü Waste Management (question: Why not just renew?). Not a long list and not very inclusive. Puzzling. I’m not sure why it doesn’t just say “I will recycle.” Challenges to the system, not so compelling. Locally, the list of things that can be recycled is also rather short. Paper, glass, aluminum and steel cans, plastics #1-7. No Styrofoam, no plastic bags, no aerosols, no pizza boxes, no plastics with hazardous waste, no wax-coated containers.

What’s not on the list and, in general, what the main problem is—contamination. As one person put it at the conference, you can’t have a great collection of recycled cans and throw your chili cheese fries into the mix. Contamination is probably the leading factor in rejection of recyclables, followed by market considerations. China, once the primary consumer of American recyclables, no longer accepts them. Most communities, then, must either pay more for placement elsewhere or simply trash the trash.

So, the lesson here…and from the conference…is to use less or reuse what you have. Currently, recycling is an issue with complications. We’ll act like we’re doing it, and it feels illegal to throw a plastic bottle away, but that’s the reality. One recycling exhibitor gave me a lovely pothos ivy in a laundry jug she’d adapted as a planter. She just preferred not to load it up. Or maybe I admired it once too often.

But there’s more. This was just the temporal side of recycling. The spiritual side takes an explanation: Beware of recycling bad ideas. Several years ago, when I went to my first orientation after being accepted to write some guest columns at The Dallas Morning News, a man in our group came in early and handed out his business card with his new blog info on it. We all rolled our eyes; I doubt anyone read it.

I have become that man. At the conference, I talked to anyone who would listen about my For the Girls of Laredo podcast, which hasn’t launched just yet but will soon I hope oh please. I even met some women from Laredo who were helpful. Perhaps more helpful than they would have liked to have been. (That’s some fancy verb work for eye rolling.) Maybe it wasn’t that bad, but afterward I felt like I may have crossed the line, and not just with the contaminated spoon.

So, the lesson here…be passionate but not intrusive. Believe but don’t irritate. If you find yourself doing something you don’t admire in someone else, stop. That’s a long list sometimes.

Celebrate! Juneteenth

First, and if it’s all you can do, read these words:

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) wrote this poem for a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1900; his brother, John Rosamond Johnson later set it to music. Although the title is “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” many call it “The Negro National Anthem.” The NAACP adopted it soon after it was written, and millions associate it with the Civil Rights Movement. I learned about it on Saturday. Here’s how.

Some things need special care. Today’s topic—Juneteenth—is one of those. Although I’d planned a different focus, Saturday as I was on my way to our church’s celebration with four other groups, this commemoration took me by the shoulders and shook me to the core: “This needs to be shared!” was the clear message. So I comply. First, some background.

After last year’s event, I was bragging it up when presented with the idea that Juneteenth celebrates a shameful withholding of the Emancipation Proclamation from the enslaved people in Texas. Of course, I knew that. But the idea of its inappropriateness was new to me.

Just last week, a friend who happens to be black (her preference over African-American) told me that a new acquaintance showed her a statuette of a little black girl eating a piece of watermelon, but the expectation of horror was not met. “Why would that bother me when there are so many more important issues?” Watermelon is indeed indicative of negative stereotyping, and this Wikipedia article includes a postcard of a little black girl eating a slice. My friend is much more concerned about black on black crime and other real-world issues.

So I had some questions when I arrived on Saturday. The event was part of the interfaith initiative in our area, so it was a group effort, not just my congregation. In fact, the foundational effort came from Dr. Karen Hollie. She’s been described as a trailblazer and a peacemaker and sits on the board of directors at the Center for Pluralism. She founded the Lifeway Church and a seminary. She’s worked as a psychotherapist, and much more. When I asked her about Juneteenth, she explained so much more than I can write here. About the shame? Yes, she said, but that’s just the first piece of the puzzle. The second piece builds on that and puts it behind us. It happened, but it did not defeat us. She loves the celebration for its connection to traditions that are as old as the fateful day in 1865: cookouts, watermelon, red drinks. I had no idea about Big Red, for example. We rarely have more than the occasional root beer at our church, so when I saw a big tub full of Big Red, I wondered why. She explained that it is symbolic of the blood shed; another explanation involves the earlier traditions brought from Western Africa, including a hibiscus tea.

More importantly, however, when the music to “Lift Every Voice” began to play, Dr. Hollie immediately stood up and said, “That’s the Negro National Anthem. We need to stand.” Sound quality wasn’t the best, and we couldn’t hear it well, and apparently no one else did. But she knew what had to happen. The person emceeing the event had it turned off until later, out of respect. Listen to one of these renditions: Melba Moore, a male a cappella group named Committed, Aretha, Gladys Knight, or the group formerly known as The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Melba Moore for a modern version, Committed for clarity of style, Aretha (well, if you have to ask…), Gladys Knight because she’s a member of my church, and the Choir because they happen to be singing it for the NAACP.

I thought I was doing pretty well done by that point. On I went to Dr. Marzuq Jaami, an African-American (his preference) leader in the Islamic community near me. On several occasions we have met and chatted. Saturday, I asked him his feelings about Juneteenth. Again, I was surprised. Rather than talking about customs and traditions going back to 1865, he was able to connect the celebration all the way back to Adam, through the ages of mankind, and into the present need to see ourselves as a human family. Each group has something to offer, he explained. The divisions among us are not meant to divide us but to unite us in service to each other. We must learn to appreciate, learn, and grow from our associations. It is what God intends. A founder of the celebration at the church, he continued that he wanted all the groups to be involved: the Irish and Italians were oppressed when they arrived in this country, for example. The Mormons were driven out of state after state until fleeing the country. (He didn’t say, but Missouri’s governor issued an executive order in 1838 which allowed for the extermination of Mormons and was not rescinded until 1975. This century.) Not just a “we” but an “all of us.” He said much, much more, and later apologized, though there was no need. I wish I could include it all.

On to Sunday. After talking to three people, why not one more? This friend, Sonia, gave yet another insight. Yes, she echoed the importance of traditions and the idea of overcoming the past. What she added was this: “Thank you for asking.” People don’t always feel comfortable doing so. We also talked about what could be done differently. Our synthesis was that understanding takes some effort—real friends not just acquaintances, honest questions, a commitment to listening to answers. Perhaps celebrating another Juneteenth on your own with neighbors in Dallas. Love, a common theme on these pages.

Since I led with this blog’s most important words—someone else’s—I’ll conclude with his as well. Yes, blood and tears have been shed, along with the sweat of the enslaved. But the words of the anthem, for which we should all stand, ring in our ears: Lift every voice and sing. Let our rejoicing rise. It is for all of us, then, that the victory is won. If we can overcome what has gone before, let it be so. We will all be better for it. Celebrate: assemble, honor.

Commodity a la Shakespeare, Amazon, and Andrew Yang

As recently as November, I was writing about stuff. I have evolved. Thrifting has virtually ended, for example. Reading that earlier post, I realized I never wrote about how I ended up thrifting anyway. Perhaps it can be a cautionary tale.

When I was young, we didn’t have much money. Clothes were actually scarce, especially for me as the oldest. We shopped yearly at Sears Roebuck for school clothes, or sometimes Montgomery Ward. MW was colloquially Monkey Ward’s, and it is gone. I don’t know where the Roebuck went; Sears did file for bankruptcy and survived. Its name really is still the longer version. The first credit card most people acquired in those days was a Sears card. My grandmother—for reasons I’ve never understood—told me once that the Queen of England has a new dress for each day. She herself didn’t have lots of clothes, but they were good ones. Put all that into the mix of few clothes, and I think something happened to my young mind. That’s part one.

Part two involves my aunt, who thought nothing of spending $600 on a skirt set. She started giving me hand-me-downs; I was then ruined for shopping at Sears specifically and malls generally. When she was gone, I started at consignment stores and then ended up at thrifts. In my defense, I have several friends who do the same. I am not ashamed. But I don’t need any more stuff or a 12-step program. Says I about the latter. Some may disagree.

On to Shakespeare. In his play (rarely produced) King John, the most important character is not the titular one but Phillip the Bastard. Sorry. It’s just how he’s known. He has by far the most lines and the deepest commentary. One of his soliloquies is known as the commodity speech. You can read about this 17-line single sentence here, read it here, or watch it here. Or you can decide not to. The basic idea is this: The poor will complain about the rich and say being rich is the only sin until they are rich. Then the rich will say being a beggar is the only sin. The last line sounds so modern, so familiar: “Gain, be my lord, for I will worship thee.” Out of context even, and not worrying about the vicissitudes of the French and English thrones (oh, wait, were you watching Game of Thrones?), what does hold our hearts other than what our hearts hold dear?

Now on to Amazon. With Google, Apple, and FaceBook, it’s known as one of the Big Four. In the news lately, Amazon is often described as evil. One article describes Jeff Bezos’ goal: “To be everywhere, to be the platform for everything for every consumer.”  These impressive commentators can’t agree on the evil-nomer partly because, if it is, then most of the country is complicit. As usual, it’s where we put our discomfort. I know some people who don’t have Prime because of the fear of buying to justify the fee and others who wouldn’t dream of darkening WalMart’s doors but buy everything but groceries at Amazon.

Finally, Andrew Yang. If you’ve heard of this Democratic candidate for president, it’s likely because of the first prong of his platform: Universal Basic Income. Medicare for all and Human-Centered Capitalism complete the trident. This $1000 a month for every American 18 and over would “enable all Americans to pay their bills, educate themselves, start businesses, be more creative, stay healthy, relocate for work, spend time with their children, take care of loved ones, and have a real stake in the future.” Wow. With a little more, we could cure the common cold and go back to the moon. I think he doesn’t understand humanity very well.

Obviously, this issue is too long for a short blog. I’ve done my part in trying to buy less. As noted previously, inheritors are likely to throw stuff/junk out anyway. Other activities are more beneficial. What we are really spending is time, as much as money. And that doesn’t grow on trees. More to follow?

A Long and Winding Road

Sometimes there are just things that you don’t want to do. Unpleasant tasks that must be done involve an element of risk, either physically or emotionally. I know that what I believe I must say in this blogpost could potentially upset people of different mindsets for various reasons. But, as one sometimes feels, I don’t know what else to do. I’ve put it off long enough.

The topic today is abortion. My personal experience is limited to an afternoon in San Angelo. After working at CPS for several years, I had a child of my own and another on the way. The older one was at a Baptist child care, famous for the Montessori program. I arrived to pick up my child when the director (who had herself been my deceased brother’s second grade teacher) asked for my help. A woman was sitting on the doorstep, crying; she had told them her fiancé had just made her have an abortion. The director thought, because of my background, I could comfort her. Looking back, that makes no sense. Perhaps no one knew what to say. I know I didn’t. I don’t remember what I offered the woman. I do remember seeing the man in the car. He seemed removed, absent, as he sat there smoking, not looking at the several women to whom he had given pain.

That said, I realized that there is in fact something much more personal in my own family. A relative also now long gone faced much the same situation, but it was her husband at the time who forced the abortion. They were neither legal nor safe in the 1920s, and she was left unable to have children. That caused her significant grief but not as much as the guilt—even though it was not her fault—that she revealed, literally, on her deathbed.

Recently, friends who had seen the movie Unplanned urged me to go. I refused. Why would I want to see something so painful? It was not going to change my mind. I would almost sure cry. No. No need.

Then I listened to an interview about the great book-ness of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein. A better match, this book is a long and careful exploration of the creator’s responsibility to the creation. I just saw a filmed version of the stage play with Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature and Johnny Lee Miller as Frankenstein. (If you are only on the Halloween costume/old movie version, be aware that those have nothing to do with the real thing.) So, listening with ears that connected to the rest of the listening world and the bills currently passed or under consideration, I heard the story differently: Yes, the Creator has a responsibility to the life created.

All of this has little to do with what I really want to say, superficially at least. It does, but I’ll rely on your good will to continue. When I hear about “the war on women” or “fighting for rights,” I wonder how far afield we’ve gotten from “safe, legal, and rare.” And when I hear people—for other topics—referring to European models, I wonder why they never mention those in this context. For example, in Sweden, abortion has been legal since 1938, much earlier than Roe v. Wade, but the law requires that the procedure must happen before 18 weeks. After that, a woman must seek permission from the state. In practice, as recently as 2018, 84% were performed within the first seven weeks. Weeks. In Norway, the rules are about the same, with a rate of 16.2 abortions per 1000 women. That’s low compared to their neighbors to the east, in Russia where the rate is 43 per 1000.

Let us move now to Germany, where abortion is technically illegal but actually permitted within the first trimester with state-sponsored counseling and a waiting period. The rate is low: 6 per 1000 women.

Finally, England. It’s not that rates are lower than those in the US, but it is of interest that the sides are not quite aligned as they are here. The BBC produces Call the Midwife, an excellent series about, well, midwives in post-war London. Recently, an episode centered on a woman who died after a botched abortion, and the BBC took criticism for not providing advice about abortion. They declined saying that they did not want to appear to be taking sides. How un-American.

The long and winding road is ending. And my point may not seem related to all that has been said above, but I will put it out there anyway. So many liberal women talk about sexism in this country. Many also insist on abortion on demand, for any reason, at any time. I hope to have established that some countries in the world do have limits on abortion. I can stand by the idea that personal responsibility is essential to our lives as humans, if I read Mary Shelley correctly. Without invoking religion or the government or control or history, I am suggesting that perhaps preventing a pregnancy is more responsible, and therefore less likely to suggest sexism, than its opposite. It might be worth trying before the times become too dreadful to bear.