Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Problem Is Ultimately Bigger Than Individuals. It’s Systemic

In Minneapolis yesterday, attorneys delivered opening statements in Derek Chauvin’s trial. The former Minneapolis police officer is accused of murder and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd.

Floyd’s killing occurred last May, not that far from my home in south Minneapolis. It sparked a global uprising against systemic racial injustice and police brutality. The epicenter of that uprising was the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

When talking about the trial that starts today, I sometimes catch myself about to the say “the George Floyd trial.” Perhaps you find yourself about to say that too. Maybe you are saying it. Yet it’s not George Floyd who is on trial; it’s Derek Chauvin. It is the Derek Chauvin trial we’ll be watching and following in the days and weeks to come.

I hope and pray that justice will be served, and that Floyd’s death and Chauvin’s trial will motivate individuals, communities, and institutions to confront and transform any and all forms of entrenched structural racism and white supremacy.

Until that happens, black lives won’t matter in our society. And if you’re an advocate for the phrase “All Lives Matter” . . . well, all lives can only matter when black lives matter.

Recently my friend Antipas in Australia challenged something I posted on Facebook about the disproportionate number of Black people killed by police in the U.S. by saying, “Blacks killed by Blacks are way too many and refutes the leftist narrative.” When I asked my friend what exactly this “leftist narrative” is, he replied, “That whites are the bad guys.” Following is my response.


What’s “bad,” Antipas, is not so much individuals but social structures. To really get to the root of the problems and tensions we’re talking about and to start resolving them, we need to go deeper than the level of the individual. We need to talk about systems – the economic system, the political system, the criminal justice system, the banking system. Here in the U.S., all these systems have their roots in racist ideology, including white supremacist ideology.

After all, this country was “discovered” and “tamed” by Europeans who believed in the Doctrine of Discovery, a profoundly racist theological way of thinking that saw non-whites as sub-human. This country’'s twin original sins were the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans. Moving into more modern times, the economic and social disparity that existed at the end of the Civil War between whites and blacks has never been adequately addressed, and so continues to this day. (This disparity produces hopelessness and despair, and often contributes to the high levels of drug abuse, crime, and black-on-black murder in some inner-city Black communities that you referenced, Antipas. It doesn’t excuse it, of course, but it does go a long way in explaining it.)

The economic and social disparity that can be traced back to the end of the Civil War is perpetuated today by racist policies and practices that are all deeply embedded in the above mentioned systems. I’m referring to things like “redlining” practices in banking; suppression of Black voters by Republicans; environmental and zoning policies that see toxic waste dumped and noise pollution allowed in or near communities of color but rarely white communities and never wealthy white communities; urban planning policies that historically have seen freeway construction purposely planned to carve through communities of color, often completely destroying them; policing policies and practices that have their roots in the ideology of white supremacy as expressed in the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act; and a criminal justice system that disproportionately kills and incarcerates people of color.

So I hope you can see that what we’re dealing with is, first and foremost, a systemic problem, not a problem of “bad” individuals. And you certainly can’t – and the “leftists” I know certainly don’t – label people “good” or “bad” depending on their color. After all, many white individuals are working to reform or dismantle these deeply racist systems, while some Black people unquestioningly live and work within these systems and even (either consciously or unconsciously) seek to perpetuate them. (I’m thinking of Black right-wingers like Ben Carson and Candace Owens.) It’s way more complex, my friend, than people on the left simply thinking that “whites are the bad guys.”


I conclude with Charity Croft’s response to conservative political commentator Candace Owens, who, in one of her videos last year, stressed that George Floyd was a “criminal” who does not deserve to be depicted as a “martyr” or be “supported” in any way.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
“I Can’t Breathe”: The Murder of George Floyd
He Called Mama. He Has Called Up Great Power
Honoring George Floyd
“New and Very Dangerous”: The Extreme Right-Wing Infiltration of the George Floyd Protests
Emma Jordan-Simpson: “There Will Be No Peace Without Justice”
The Language of the Oppressor
Something to Think About – July 26, 2020
Out and About – Spring 2020

Related Off-site Links:

Prayers and Calls for Justice for Floyd as Chauvin Trial Starts – Evan Frost (MPR News, March 29, 2021).
What We Learned From Day 1 of Testimony in the Chauvin Trial – Rachel Martin (MPR News, March 30, 2021).
Chauvin Trial: Witnesses Tell of Anger and Helplessness Watching Floyd Die – Jon Collins, Brandt Williams, Matt Sepic and Riham Feshir (MPR News, March 30, 2021).
Donald Williams: The Witness Would Not Be Described As Angry – Robin Givhan (The Washington Post, March 30, 2021).
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter: Chauvin Trial “Bringing Us Through an Enormous Amount of Trauma” – Stephanie Ruhle (MSNBC News, March 30, 2021).
America Will Riot If Derek Chauvin Isn’t Convicted for Killing George Floyd – Shaun King (The North Star, March 30, 2021).
“We All Knew It Wasn’t Right”: The Children Who Saw Derek Chauvin Kill George Floyd, in Their Own Words – Becky Z. Dernbach (Sahan Journal, March 30, 2021).
Ex-Supervisor Says Derek Chauvin’s Fatal Restraint of George Floyd Violated Use-of-Force PoliciesDemocracy Now! (April 2, 2021).

“Black-on-Black Crime” Isn’t a Thing – Jameelah Nasheed (Teen Vogue, July 28, 2020).
Bringing Up “Black on Black Crime” Is Racist – Joshua Adams (Medium, June 19, 2020).

Image: Photographer unknown.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Chadwick Boseman Receives Posthumous NAACP Image Award

Actor Chadwick Boseman was honored posthumously at the 2021 NAACP Image Awards, which took place yesterday, Saturday, March 27. Chadwick died seven months ago today from colon cancer.

Writes De Elizabeth:

The late actor, who passed away in August of last year, received a posthumous award for his acting in Netflix's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, one of several posthumous accolades awarded to him in recent months. As noted by People, Chadwick’s wife Taylor Simone Ledward Boseman accepted the award for him in a livestreamed video, and in addition to thanking all of the loved ones whom she knows Chadwick would mention, she took a moment to draw attention to the prevalence of colon cancer, which the actor was diagnosed with prior to his death.

Noting that colon cancer is not uncommon, she added, “Black people in this country are 20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer and 40 percent more likely to die from it. The age for routine screening has recently been lowered to 45 so if you are 45 years of age or older, please get screened. Don't put it off any longer, please get screened.”

She went on to note that people younger than 45 can also be victims of the disease (Chadwick was 43 when he passed away last year), and she urged everyone watching to know the symptoms and warnings of colon cancer, which can include blood in one’s stool, abdominal pain or cramping, fatigue, and unintended weight loss. “Please be proactive about your health,” she said. “Know the signs, know the science, listen to your body.”

NEXT: “He Was Just Interested In the Work”

Related Off-site Links:
Chadwick Boseman Receives Posthumous NAACP Image Award – De Elizabeth (Teen Vogue, March 28, 2021).
Chadwick Boseman Receives His First-Ever Oscar Nomination for Final Movie Role in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom – Nigel Smith (People, March 15, 2021).
Scar Stories: The Toll of Colon Cancer – Ibram X. Kendi (GQ, April 22, 2021).
Chadwick Boseman: A Film Icon Who Changed Hollywood – Hanna Flint (BBC News, December 23, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Remembering Chadwick Boseman
Honoring An Icon
Chadwick Boseman’s Timeless Message to Young Voters: “You Can Turn Our Nation Around”
Chadwick Boseman’s Final Film Role: “A Reed Instrument for Every Painful Emotion”
Celebrating a Special Day
Boseman on Wilson
Chadwick Boseman and That “Heavenly Light”
In This Time of Grief
A Bittersweet Accolade
The Important Cultural Moment That Is Black Panther
Celebrating Black Panther – Then and Now
“Avengers Assemble!”
Jason Johnson on Stan Lee’s Revolutionary Legacy
Another First for Black Panther
“Something Special,” Indeed!
Queer Black Panther

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Heather Cox Richardson on Combating the Republican Party’s “Rigging of the System”

Heather Cox Richardson is a political historian and the author of How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She also regularly posts a dispatch on her Facebook page in which she “uses facts and history to make observations about contemporary American politics.”

In her latest dispatch, Heather examines the interconnected significance of the American Rescue Plan, the “For the People Act,” and the Senate’s filibuster procedure. Following is an excerpt.

The passage of the American Rescue Plan, which 77% of the American people wanted and which promptly put desperately needed money into people’s pockets, has encouraged the White House to turn to a $3 trillion infrastructure and jobs package. The details of the plan are still fluid, but it appears that this plan will have two parts: one focused on infrastructure, including hundreds of billions of dollars to fix the country’s crumbling roads and bridges, and one focused on the societal issues that Biden calls the “caregiving economy,” including universal pre-kindergarten and free tuition for community colleges, as well as funding for childcare. This plan will likely be funded, at least in part, by tax increases on those who make more than $400,000 a year.

They are reclaiming the government for the American people.

But Republicans, who generally cling to the idea that, as President Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem,” are determined to stop Democrats from enacting their agenda. Legislators in 43 states have proposed more than 250 bills to suppress voting. Getting rid of Democratic votes would put Republicans back into power even if they could not command a real majority.

To combat this rigging of the system, Democrats in the House passed HR 1, a sweeping bill to protect voting, end gerrymandering, and limit the power of dark money in our elections. The “For the People Act” has now gone on to the Senate, where Republicans recognize that it would “be absolutely devastating for Republicans in this country.”

The bill will die so long as Republican senators can block it with the filibuster, and if it does, the Republican voter suppression laws that cut Democrats out of the vote will stand, making it likely that Democrats will not be able to win future elections. That reality has put reforming the filibuster back on the table. While President Biden, as well as Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have all expressed a wish to preserve at least some version of the filibuster, they are now all saying they might be willing to reform it. This might mean making election bills exempt from the filibuster the way financial bills are, or going back to the system in which stopping a measure actually required talking, rather than simply threatening to talk.

Both parties recognize that their future hangs on whether HR 1 passes, and that hangs on the filibuster.

Heather Cox Richardson
via Facebook
March 22, 2021


UPDATE: This evening (March 25) Heather Cox Richardson posted another dispatch on the need to either abolish or significantly reform the Senate’s filibuster rule. If it’s not, writes Heather, the United States “will look much like the Jim Crow South, with democracy replaced by a one-party state.”

Tonight, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed a 95-page law designed to suppress the vote in the state where voters chose two Democratic senators in 2020, making it possible for Democrats to enact their agenda. Among other things, the new law strips power from the Republican secretary of state who stood up to Trump’s demand that he change the 2020 voting results. The law also makes it a crime to give water or food to people waiting in line to vote.

The Georgia law is eye-popping, but it is only one of more than 250 measures in 43 states designed to keep Republicans in power no matter what voters want.

This is the only story [. . .] historians will note from this era: Did Americans defend their democracy or did they fall to oligarchy?

The answer to this question right now depends on the Senate filibuster. Democrats are trying to fight state laws suppressing the vote with a federal law called the “For the People Act,” which protects voting, ends partisan gerrymandering, and keeps dark money out of elections.

The “For the People Act,” passed by the House of Representatives, is now going to the Senate. There, Republicans will try to kill it with the filibuster, which enables an entrenched minority to stop popular legislation by threatening to hold the floor talking so that the Senate cannot vote. If Republicans block this measure, the extraordinary state laws designed to guarantee that Democrats can never win another election will stay in effect, and America as a whole will look much like the Jim Crow South, with democracy replaced by a one-party state.

Democrats are talking about reforming the filibuster to keep Republicans from blocking the “For the People Act.”

They have been reluctant to get rid of the filibuster, but today President Joe Biden suggested he would be open to changing the rule that permits Republicans to stop legislation by simply indicating opposition. Republicans are abusing the filibuster, he says, and he indicated he would be open to its reform.

The story today is not about coronavirus vaccines, or border solutions, or economic recovery, because all of those things depended on the election of Joe Biden. If the Republicans get their way, no matter how popular Democrats are, they will never again get to direct the government.

Related Off-site Links:
Abolish the Filibuster Now – William Rivers Pitt (TruthOut, March 9, 2021).
“It Has to Go”: The Demand to End Filibuster Intensifies in U.S. Senate – Brett Wilkins (Common Dreams, March 5, 2021).
Senate Democrats Can and Must Abolish the Filibuster. Now – Robert Reich (RobertReich.org via Common Dreams, February 28, 2021).
As House Passes the "For the People Act" Without One GOP Vote, Progressives Warn Bill Is 'Dead' If Senate Filibuster Remains – Jake Johnson (Common Dreams, March 4, 2021).
Voter Suppression and the Filibuster: More Confederate Monuments to Tear Down – Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan (Democracy Now!, March 4, 2021).
End the Filibuster: Calls Grow to Retire Relic of Slavery and Jim Crow to Make Senate More DemocraticDemocracy Now! (January 25, 2021).
We May Be One Election From Permanent Minority Rule – Peter Certo (In These Times, March 8, 2021).
Making Senators Pay a Price for Filibustering – Caroline Fredrickson (Brennen Center for Justice, March 16, 2021).
McConnell Threatens to Make Senate Look Like “100-Car Pileup” If Filibuster Ends – Sharon Zhang (TruthOut, March 16, 2021).
Biden Backs Filibuster Rule Change That Has McConnell Warning of “Scorched Earth” Battle – Sharon Zhang (Associated Press via ABC News, March 17, 2021).
Time to Call Mitch McConnell’s Bluff on the Filibuster – William Rivers Pitt (TruthOut, March 17, 2021).

UPDATES: Senate Republicans Block January 6 Commission With First Filibuster of Biden PresidencyAxios (May 28, 2021).
Biden Calls for Changes to the Senate’s Filibuster to Pass Voting Rights Bills – Alana Wise (NPR News, January 11, 2022).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Sen. Tina Smith: The Filibuster Rule Is “Fundamentally Undemocratic”
Something to Think About – March 9, 2021
Republicans Don't Care About American Democracy
“The Republican Party Has Now Made It Official: They Are a Cult”

For more of Heather Cox Richardson’s insights at The Wild Reed, see:
Heather Cox Richardson on the Origin of the American Obsession with “Socialism”
Heather Cox Richardson on the Unravelling of President Trump
Heather Cox Richardson on the Movement Conservatism Roots of the Energy Crisis in Texas
Insurrection at the United States Capitol
Election Eve Thoughts
Progressive Perspectives on Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee, Amy Coney Barrett
Progressive Perspectives on the Biden-Harris Ticket
“Fascism Is Upon Us”

Monday, March 22, 2021

Refuting Surface Level Comparisons Between the Insurrection at the Capitol and Black Lives Matter Protests

I wrote the following back in January in response to a Facebook contact, Charles, who superficially compared and contrasted aspects of the January 6, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters with last summer’s nationwide protests against systemic racial injustice and police brutality sparked by the May 25, 2020 police killing of George Floyd. In making these comparisons, Charles concluded that the greater level of “outrage” being expressed by the media to the Capitol attack then to the protests was hypocritical given that the “left-wing violence” of the protesters lasted longer and caused more destruction, death, and injury than the “right-wing violence” at the Capitol.


We need to go deeper than surface appearances, Charles. And when we do, we discover that there is a world of difference between what triggered the events of the summer and what transpired at the U.S. Capitol. There is also a world of difference between what these events mean in relation to humanity’s ongoing efforts to build a world where all are safe and treated with dignity, respect, and fairness. But to go deeper and discern these differences would challenge and dismantle the bullshit narrative that the two events and their backgrounds can be unquestionably comparable, that examining them is simply a matter of comparing and checking-off stats about each of them. At a deeper level there is so much more going on.

Last summer’s uprising here in the U.S. was the epicenter of a global protest against systemic racial injustice and police brutality. It was triggered by the police killing of George Floyd. Some took advantage of this protest for their own purposes and mindlessly destroyed property and looted. You can both denounce that and support the real purpose of the uprising. In other cases, including here in Minneapolis, the protests were infiltrated by white supremacists who incited violence and destruction (particularly of small, Black-owned businesses) so as to discredit the movement and seek to undermine diverse inner-city communities. They ultimately failed. This isn't my opinion, it's a documented fact. (See here and here.)

Acknowledgement of all of this doesn’t excuse the wanton violence and destruction but it clearly can, as you demonstrate, blind people to the deeper reality of systemic (or structural) racial injustice. Those protesting accept that this deeper reality is an actual reality. After all, many of them painfully experience it on a daily basis. But they also object to this reality, and seek to transform it. It was both this objection and longing for transformation that compelled them to take to the streets to march and protest. These marches and protests, it should be noted, were overwhelmingly peaceful.

Compare all of this to the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. It was not in any way a response to an injustice. It was an insurrection; an attempted coup by far-right extremists upset that their privileged, white-supremacist worldview is being eroded away, most recently by the defeat of their racist and fascist hero in the 2020 election. That’s what triggered it: Trump’s defeat and his false claim that the election had been stolen from him. This white supremacism and authoritarianism comprise the deeper reality of the Capitol insurrection, one that’s connected to and accounts for the deeper reality of racism and injustice that groups like Black Lives Matter and so many other concerned Americans recognize, object to, and protest against. Yet the deeper reality of racial injustice is rejected by the Capitol insurrectionists. Instead, they support the lies, the unreality, being peddled by their cult’s leader. And it was this support that compelled them to storm the U.S. Capitol, America’s “temple of democracy.” There was absolutely nothing peaceful about this assault on the nation’s Capitol and the people’s representatives within it.

Charles, your superficial comparisons totally ignore all of this. They not only fail to go deeper but imply there is nothing deeper to go to, let alone examine. Your comparisons stay merely with the surface view of violence and destruction. Sure, go ahead and denounce such things. But remember that they are the surface signs and symptoms of much deeper, inter-connected realities, namely the efforts by some to maintain white supremacy and the efforts by many more to dismantle the historic legacy of white supremacy: systemic racism and injustice. Awareness of such deeper realities should call us to make distinctions between – and be discerning about – what we see on the surface.

Above: The faces of just some of the many Black people killed by police (or who died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody) in the U.S. Those pictured include Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, and George Floyd. As is noted here, in 2019 “more than 1,000 people were killed by police, according to Mapping Police Violence, one research group. Black people were disproportionately among those killed, the group found. Black people accounted for 24% of those killed, despite making up only about 13% of the population.”

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Insurrection at the United States Capitol
Michael Harriot: Quote of the Day – January 7, 2021
Acknowledging Where We Are
The Republican Party in a Nutshell
“The Republican Party Has Now Made It Official: They Are a Cult”
“Fascism Is Upon Us”
“I Can't Breathe”: The Murder of George Floyd
He Called Mama. He Has Called Up Great Power
Honoring George Floyd
“New and Very Dangerous”: The Extreme Right-Wing Infiltration of the George Floyd Protests
Emma Jordan-Simpson: “There Will Be No Peace Without Justice”
The Language of the Oppressor
Something to Think About – July 26, 2020
Out and About – Spring 2020

Related Off-site Links:

Storming the U.S. Capitol Was About Maintaining White Power in America – Hakeem Jefferson (FiveThirtyEight.com, January 8, 2021).
The Distressing Truth: Why White People Are Embracing Fascism – Thom Hartmann (Medium, January 9, 2021).
“This Isn’t America”: The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Race – Sam Sanders (NPR News, January 10, 2021).
White Supremacist Propaganda Hit an All-time High in 2020, New Report Says – Will Carless (USA Today, March 17, 2021).
The Republican Party Is a Fascist Cult – Noah Colbert (NU Political Review, January 11, 2021).
The U.S. Capitol Riots and the Double Standard of Protest Policing – Joseph P. Williams (U.S. News, January 12, 2021).
Here’s Why Experts and Lawmakers Say You Can’t Compare Black Lives Matter Protesters to the U.S. Capitol Mob – Nicole Chavez (CNN News, January 14, 2021).

Why This Started in Minneapolis – Sharon Holder (CityLab, June 5, 2020).
Minnesota Governor Says Minneapolis Is “Under Assault.” Who Is Behind the Protests? – Chris McGreal (The Guardian, May 30, 2021).
In Portland’s So-Called War Zone, It’s the Troops Who Provide the Menace – Nicholas Kristof (The New York Times, July 25, 2020).
The Rest of the World Sees Uprisings, Not Riots – Reese Erlich (The Progressive, June 4, 2020).

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Reading About Keats on the Spring Equinox

Here in Minneapolis, the last two Saturday mornings (March 13 and today, March 20) have been just beautiful – warm, sunny, and . . . well, spring-like!

True, we had a mid-week snowfall (right), but there’s now only the smallest remnant of that. So I think it’s safe to say that we’ve seen winter’s last hurrah, especially with today being the spring equinox, a day “both holy and magical.”

I’ve been taking advantage of the return of spring by taking a chair outside and sitting in the backyard to read a book, and the book I’ve been reading is Darkling I Listen: The Last Days and Death of John Keats by John Evangelist Walsh.

Yes, I know, some might consider it a rather odd book to be reading at the time of year understood to be all about new life, but human experience is always a profound blending of life and death, beginnings and endings, loss and promise. My work as a spiritual health provider (or chaplain) in the field of palliative care has certainly brought the mysterious gravity of this blending to my awareness, and yet I’m not unsettled by acknowledging and sitting with it.

Speaking of sitting, I should say that my sitting outside under the pear tree and reading a book about the romantic poet John Keats was very much inspired by a scene from Bright Star, when Ben Whishaw, playing Keats, similarly sits in a garden under a tree.

Oh, and trust me; if I had his outfit, I’d be wearing it. For as I’ve noted previously. I could quite happily go through each and every day dressed in the attire of a nineteenth-century gentleman. There’s just something about the style and deportment of such a figure that appeals to me – a reserved veneer masking a sea of passion! At least that’s what I project onto this particular figure, and it’s a projection prompted by a number of characters I’m drawn to in various films and TV shows – Dick Dewy (James Murray) in Under the Greenwood Tree, Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) in The Time Machine, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) in Les Misérables, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) in The Woman in Black, John Mornay (Emun Elliott) in The Paradise, Dr. Alexander Sweet (Christian Camargo) in Penny Dreadful, Ross Poldark, that “renegade of principle” (Aidan Turner) in Poldark . . . and, of course, Whishaw as Keats.

Above: Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne and Ben Whishaw as John Keats in Jane Campion’s 2009 film Bright Star.

Which is a good segue into my sharing of the following from John Evangelist Walsh’s excellent Darkling I Listen: The Last Days and Death of John Keats.

As April [1819] drew to a close, suddenly, stunningly, from the scribbling of casual love verse [Keats] was swept to an entirely new level of inspiration, lofty past anything he’d known before – beyond his years, beyond his knowledge and experience of life, beyond even the technical artistry he’d shown in his previous writings. In rapid succession he produced four new poems, a ballad and three odes, that have long since found a place among those very few utterances that reach to the very pinnacle of lyric poetry. All four were directly inspired, if on different levels, by his consuming love for Fanny [Brawne].

The remarkable change that overtook Keats at this time was actually signaled in January, in a lesser way, by his writing of The Eve of St. Agnes (not inspired by Fanny yet surely written as his mind was aglow with her image). A long verse-narrative telling a simple love story, it offers little thought or action but much apt description of a sort that has earned it a special place in the hearts of many readers. Some weeks later came the ballad, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” a short but haunting portrayal of a knight whose heart is mysteriously entrammeled by a beautiful, enigmatic woman he meets in the woods (Fanny again). Almost immediately there followed the first of the three odes, “On a Grecian Urn,” then within another few days came the “To a Nightingale,” then “On Melancholy,” all finished by late May.

As with all great art, the three supreme odes have prompted any number of different, even contradictory interpretations – of course, as it should be. It is the special genius of poets to say many things at once, as life itself exhibits not one or two but many interwoven strands intricately patterned. Yet in pursuing the abstruser meanings of these three poems, critics seem often to overlook what is surely their true import and original, underlying inspiration. Each of the three great odes is a muffled cry from the very depths of the the heart over what appears the cruel transience and shortness of life, and the heartbreak of its close. Here is a lover – newly minted – in mortal anguish and despair over the harrowing thought that he, and by extension the woman he loves, will sometime have to die. Momentarily he dreams of alternatives – the seeming permanence to be found in art (“Grecian Urn”), and the soothing absence of individuality among lesser creatures (“Nightingale”). But neither of these ideas, static and lifeless as they are, he finds will serve (“Melancholy”). If being human means eventually to suffer death, it is still far, far better to possess life in all its glorious complexity, freedom, and capacity to feel.

Tragically, after completing the three great odes, Keats was given only another eight months in which to write before illness put a virtual end to his career a full year before his death. In those eight months, still riding the wave of his first inspiration, he wrote many fine things, wonderfully advanced and evocative things, adding to and securing his later fame. But never again, while several times coming close indeed, was he able to attain quite to the lofty height of the three odes. Whatever happened later between him and Fanny Brawne, this must always be remembered in her favor. Keats’ love for her, when it was new and vibrant that spring of 1819, gave him the one thing he so greatly craved and in the end was sure he had lost – literary immortality.

– John Evangelist Walsh
From Darkling I Listen:
The Last Days and Death of John Keats

St. Martin's Pess, 1999
pp. 36-37

Above: Frodo, my downstairs neighbors’ dog.

Related Off-site Links:
Ode to My Hero, John Keats – Simon Armitage (The Times, February 20, 2021).
John Keats: Five Poets on His Best Poems, 200 Years Since His Death – Ruth Padel, Will Harris, Mary Jean Chan, Rachel Long and Seán Hewitt (The Guardian, February 23, 2021).
Bringing Keats Back to Life – Anna Russell (The New Yorker, March 24, 2021).
How a Generation of Consumptives Defined 19th-century Romanticism – Michael Barrett (Aeon, April 10, 2017).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In This In-Between Time
A Prayer for the Moment Between
O Dancer of Creation
The Landscape Is a Mirror
Imbolc: Celebrating the Freshness of New Beginnings
Spring: “Truly the Season for Joy and Hope”
A Day Both Holy and Magical
Welcoming the Return of Spring (2018)
Celebrating the Return of Spring (2017)
In the Footsteps of Spring: Introduction | Part I | II | III | IV | V

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Quote of the Day

Earth to Rome: lots of communities are already celebrating both same-sex blessings and same-sex weddings, indeed even calling them Catholic marriages, naming them as sacraments because they are. According to contemporary Catholic definitions, a sacrament is an occasion when a community lifts an everyday human experience to public expression because it is holy. For example, a baby does not ‘become’ Christian through the Sacrament of Baptism. The fact of their being part of a Christian community is highlighted in the baptismal ceremony (i.e., sacrament) for everyone to affirm and embrace.

Likewise, with ordination. Magic words spoken by a bishop do not a priest make. The ordinand’s demonstrated commitment to ministry is recognized and affirmed in the Sacrament of Ordination. That is why in Catholic teaching, the ministers of the Sacrament of Marriage are the people who make a covenant with one another, not the priest who is a witness along with the rest of the community called church. As was true in the civil arena, it is a short step from heterosexual marriage to same-sex marriage in religion.

So the Vatican’s ethical contortions in [its recent document] are all the more pitiful. It claims that the church can bless “individual persons with homosexual inclinations” who live according to the Church’s teachings, i.e., a celibate existence. But should such persons find love, happiness, companionship, energy to create family and spark community, should it occur to such persons and their loved ones that their lives are healthy, good, natural, holy, and worthy of celebration and encouragement, the answer, to quote this dubious document, is “Negative.” Happily, the Roman Catholic institutional Church is only a small and shrinking part of a much broader Catholic community that has more common sense and ethical savvy. Catholic people are far more generous in their thinking and blessing than many Vatican officials.

Meanwhile, it’s heartening to know that on the strength of this document, people, including some priests and deacons, are jumping out of the woodwork to offer their pastoral services to bless same-sex couples. Thanks to the media coverage of this [document], ministerial resources offered by groups like DignityUSA, New Ways Ministry, and the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics are getting broader attention. Some other Christian denominations around the world are making clear that they will bless Catholics whether the Catholic Church does or not.

Mary E. Hunt
Excerpted from “The Vatican ‘Doubts’ Same-Sex Love,
But More Doubt the Vatican

Religion Dispatches
March 16, 2021

Related Off-site Links:
Vatican Says Yes to Gay People, No to Blessing Gay Unions – Thomas Reese (National Catholic Reporter, March 17, 2021).
Catholics React to Vatican Ban on Clergy Blessing Same-Sex MarriagesNPR News (March 16, 2021).
Catholic Priests Vow to Bless Same-Sex Unions in Defiance of Vatican – Jordan Williams (The Hill, March 16, 2021).
Catholic Parishes Are Already Supporting and Celebrating Same-Gender Couples – Francis D. Bernardo (Bondings 2.0, March 15, 2021).
CNN’s Don Lemon on Vatican Refusing to Bless Same-Sex Unions: “God Is Not About Hindering People” – Aris Folley (The Hill, March 15, 2021).
Why Do So Many Catholics Support Marriage Equality? Blame the Catholic Imagination – Jamie Manson (National Catholic Reporter, October 8, 2012).

UPDATES: Love Is No Sin: Response to Vatican Statement on Same-Sex Marriage – United Theological Seminary (March 18, 2021).
Bishops Criticize Vatican’s Ban on Blessing Same-Sex Couples – Malo Tresca (National Catholic Reporter, March 19, 2021).
Vatican’s Decree on Gay Unions Risks Making Francis Into a Hypocrite – Editorial Board (National Catholic Reporter, March 19, 2021).
Ruling on Same-Sex Blessings “Is Not Last Word” – Christopher Lamb (The Tablet, March 18, 2021).
Pope Francis Seen as Distancing Himself from Vatican Ban on Blessing Same-Gender Couples – Robert Shine (NewWaysMinistry.org, March 22, 2021).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Beyond the Hieracrchy: The Blossoming of Liberating Catholic Insights on Sexuality
Mary Hunt: “Catholicism is a Very Complex Reality”
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”
Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology!
Relationship: The Crucial Factor in Sexual Morality
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
A “Fruit” Reflects on the Meaning of “Fruitfulness”
Getting It Right
The Standard of Sexual Ethics: Human Flourishing, Not Openness to Procreation
Joan Timmerman on the “Wisdom of the Body”
A Catholic Statement of Support for Same-Sex Marriage
Tips on Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality
LGBT Catholics Respond to Synod 2014’s Final Report
“Trajectory is More Important Than the Current Status”

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Rahsaan Patterson

A new artist for “music night” this evening at The Wild Reed: Rahsaan Patterson.

You know, something I sometimes do to unwind is to stop at the Cheapo Discs store in Blaine on my home from work. I find in relaxing to just flip through the CD and LP racks, seeing what captures my attention. I’ve discovered that I have a pretty good knack at finding good though often obscure music, simply by trusting my feelings about a given album’s cover artwork and/or song titles. Yeah, I know, it totally goes against the old “You can’t judge a book by its cover” adage. But then, these aren’t books!

Anyway, it was at the Blaine Cheapo Discs that I discovered Rahsaan Patterson, along with a number of other artists over the last two years: Daby Touré, Habib Koité, Youssou N'Dour, Baaba Maal, Kimi Djabaté, Trey Lorenz, Jesse Powell, Femi Kuti, Glenn Lewis, Wasis Diop, Whycliffe, Lorenzo Smith, and Tashan.

Although often classified as an R&B singer, Rahsaan Patterson is actually much more diverse – delivering (and often mixing) neo-soul, hip-hop, and funk. His commercial successes, however, have been logged in the R&B/hip-hop charts.

Writes Gail Mitchell:

Patterson’s relationship with Billboard’s R&B/hip-hop charts began in 1997 with his self-titled debut album featuring the top 25 singles “Where You Are” and “Stop By.” Patterson, whose songwriting credits include Brandy’s platinum “Baby,” has placed 13 tracks on the R&B Songs chart, among them the top 10 “Treat You Like a Queen.” Trivia fans will recall that Patterson initially attracted national attention at the tender age of 10 when he began the first of four seasons playing “The Kid” on the 1980’s television show Kids Incorporated. Among his fellow co-stars: Fergie and Mario Lopez.

Rahsaan’s most recent album is 2019’s Heroes and Gods, but tonight at The Wild Reed I share a track from his 1999 album, Love in Stereo – “It’s Alright Now,” the lyrics of which very much resonate with me just now!

I used to be your love fool
Believing every lie you told
Running to you when you’d call
There to catch you when you’d fall

But then it became clear to me
You never really cared for me at all

It’s alright
I’m gonna make it on my own
Baby, it’s alright now
It’s alright
I’m gonna make it on my own
Baby, it’s alright
It’s alright, now

Lying eyes, deceiving smile
Hypnotized me every time
Until the day that I was awakened
To the fact that you were never mine, no

Your heart’s no more a mystery
I gave up on you loving me at all

It’s alright
I’m gonna make it on my own
Baby, it's alright now
It’s alright
I’m gonna make it on my own
Baby, it’s alright
It’s alright, now

Following is an excerpt from a 2012 article in which Rahsaan reflects on being gay in the world of R&B and hip-hop.

Rahsaan Patterson, the veteran R&B singer – who scored a top 50 Billboard album and strong radio airplay in 1997 with his self-titled debut – was one of the first African-American soul artists to come out officially as gay during a 2007 interview with BET.com.

Historically, African-American musicians have rarely been upfront about their sexuality. For every Sylvester (the flamboyant disco icon never tried to hide the fact that he was gay) there is a Luther Vandross (the legendary vocalist reportedly kept his homosexuality a secret until his 2005 death). And in the overtly masculine world of hip-hop, homosexuality is viewed as a death knell; the sort of news that can literally derail a career. On the flipside, white pop and rock acts like David Bowie, Elton John, and Melissa Etheridge have experienced a more positive acceptance after coming out. It’s a dichotomy that bothers Patterson.

“Look at that compared to white music artists or even white actors who come out,” he says. “When they come out [as gay] they are applauded, not that they don’t suffer a bit in terms of press and people who may have an issue with their sexuality. But ultimately, them stepping into who they really are propels them in positive ways. It opens up their lives. I think a lot of times we are all so insecure with our personal things as black folks that we deny ourselves that right to be who we are. We forget that when you stand within your true light the world opens up for you.”

Musicians previously spotlighted at The Wild Reed:
Dusty Springfield | David Bowie | Kate Bush | Maxwell | Buffy Sainte-Marie | Prince | Frank Ocean | Maria Callas | Loreena McKennitt | Rosanne Cash | Petula Clark | Wendy Matthews | Darren Hayes | Jenny Morris | Gil Scott-Heron | Shirley Bassey | Rufus Wainwright | Kiki Dee | Suede | Marianne Faithfull | Dionne Warwick | Seal | Sam Sparro | Wanda Jackson | Engelbert Humperdinck | Pink Floyd | Carl Anderson | The Church | Enrique Iglesias | Yvonne Elliman | Lenny Kravitz | Helen Reddy | Stephen Gately | Judith Durham | Nat King Cole | Emmylou Harris | Bobbie Gentry | Russell Elliot | BØRNS | Hozier | Enigma | Moby (featuring the Banks Brothers) | Cat Stevens | Chrissy Amphlett | Jon Stevens | Nada Surf | Tom Goss (featuring Matt Alber) | Autoheart | Scissor Sisters | Mavis Staples | Claude Chalhoub | Cass Elliot | Duffy | The Cruel Sea | Wall of Voodoo | Loretta Lynn and Jack White | Foo Fighters | 1927 | Kate Ceberano | Tee Set | Joan Baez | Wet, Wet, Wet | Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy | Fleetwood Mac | Jane Clifton | Australian Crawl | Pet Shop Boys | Marty Rhone | Josef Salvat | Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri | Aquilo | The Breeders | Tony Enos | Tupac Shakur | Nakhane Touré | Al Green | Donald Glover/Childish Gambino | Josh Garrels | Stromae | Damiyr Shuford | Vaudou Game | Yotha Yindi and The Treaty Project | Lil Nas X | Daby Touré | Sheku Kanneh-Mason | Susan Boyle | D’Angelo | Little Richard | Black Pumas | Mbemba Diebaté | Judie Tzuke | Black | Seckou Keita

Thursday, March 11, 2021

A Pandemic Year

A year ago this week saw the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

As of today, over 118 million cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, have been confirmed worldwide, and more than 2.62 million deaths have been attributed to COVID-19, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in history.

Two dates stand out for me in particular: April 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the global coronavirus health emergency a pandemic; and March 25, 2020, when Minnesota Governor Tim Walz ordered the first “stay-at-home” order in response to the pandemic. This edict represented a significant ramping up of Minnesota’s effort to constrain the pandemic, an effort that had begun on March 14 with a flurry of emergency decrees (see newspaper headline above). At the time, health officials said the lockdown would help prevent hospitals and intensive care units from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

Because of my work as a chaplain (or spiritual health provider) in the Palliative Care department of a hospital just north of the Twin Cities, I was designated as an “essential worker.” Because of this, I continued working throughout the lockdown, one that lasted considerably longer than first anticipated.

I’ve written about my experiences and shared others’ observations of this time in the following Wild Reed posts:

Out and About – Spring 2020
A Prayer in Times of a Pandemic
The Calm Before the Storm
Hope and Beauty in the Midst of the Global Coronavirus Pandemic
Marianne Williamson: In the Midst of This “Heartbreaking” Pandemic, It’s Okay to Be Heartbroken
Examining the Link Between Destruction of Biodiversity and Emerging Infectious Diseases
The Lancet Weighs-in on the Trump Administration's “Incoherent” Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic
Memes of the Times


Since my writing of the above posts, I’ve continued working throughout the pandemic as a chaplain. Of course, chaplaincy work, especially palliative care chaplaincy work, is emotionally taxing by its very nature, but with the added stress of the pandemic – and in particular the fall 2020 surge of COVID-19 cases – it’s been at times a very soul-exhausting experience. (Perhaps I’ll share more about this in a later post.)

Prior to December 2020, part of this exhaustion for me was to do with the stress of constantly staying viglilent against contracting the coronavirus. I say prior to December because it was in that month that I received the first of two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine. The second shot followed three weeks later in January 2021.

I feel a tremendous sense of relief and gratitude as a result of being vaccinated. I am grateful for science! . . . And for the many scientists and researchers who have worked tirelessly over the last year to develop a number of COVID-19 vaccines. I’m also heartened by the steadily growing number of people who are being vaccinated all over the country. It definitely feels as though we are experiencing the beginning of the end of this pandemic.

Our lives have changed

All this being said, we’re not out of the woods yet. And I strongly believe that if as a species we don’t stop destroying biodiversity around the planet, it will only be a matter of time before another infectious disease emergences and spreads. For as numerous scientists continue to warn us, there is a link between human destruction of biodiversity and increasing disease threats.

With all this in mind, I think it’s fair to say that everyone has, in one way or another, experienced some form of stress, fatigue and/or exhaustion from the pandemic year we’ve lived through . . . and the pandemic time we continue to live through.

Our lives have changed. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. One of my favorite quotes from this past pandemic year is by Sonya Renee Taylor, who in April of 2020 said: “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”

Amen, sister! Amen.

I close this post by sharing an excerpt from an article by Rachel Schallom and the staff of Fortune magazine, an article entitled “One Year Later: 15 Ways Life Has Changed Since the Onset of the COVID Pandemic.”

This week marks the first anniversary of Fortune’s decision to ask all U.S.- and Europe-based staffers to work from home. Looking back on the e-mail announcement is like looking at a time capsule. There was a strong focus on cleaning and sanitization, which we now know isn’t a good use of time and resources in fighting the battle against COVID-19. Business travel was canceled. Training sessions on working from home were offered. But most notable is that initially the office shutdown was scheduled for just one week: “We will reevaluate the need to extend this temporary policy next week and will communicate updates accordingly.”

I haven’t been back in the office since.

The past year has transformed nearly every aspect of our world. Seemingly overnight, the quirky (wearing leggings during a Zoom call with clients!) became mundane. Meanwhile, our friends, family, colleagues, and communities have had their lives changed in critical ways that promise to have much longer-lasting effects. Living through a global pandemic has driven dramatic shifts in our jobs, eating habits, childcare, and even our collective sense of time.

Fifteen Fortune staffers reported on some of the most significant ways in which our lives have been altered, and one lesson rings true: Virtually no one has been left untouched after 12 months of such dramatic disruption. A generous dose of empathy and understanding of that truth will make us all stronger as we rebuild and remake our world in the year ahead.

To read Rachel Schallom’s article in its entirety, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
March 11, 2020: The Day Everything Changed – Laurel Wamsley (MPR News, March 11, 2021).
Dr. Anthony Fauci Reflects on One Year of Coronavirus Pandemic – Norah O'Donnell (CBS News, March 11, 2021).
How the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Transformed Our Lives One Year Later – Amna Nawaz (PBS Newshour, March 11, 2021).
President Biden Signs Sweeping $1.9 Trillion Covid Relief Package Into Law – Jake Johnson (Common Dreams, March 11, 2021).
Exhausted Hospital Chaplains Bring Solace to Lonely and Dying – John Rogers (Associated Press News, January 18, 2021).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
An Infectious Disease Specialist Weighs-in on Covid-19
A Prayer in Times of a Pandemic
Hope and Beauty in the Midst of the Global Coronavirus Pandemic
Marianne Williamson: In the Midst of This “Heartbreaking” Pandemic, It’s Okay to Be Heartbroken
The Calm Before the Storm
Sonya Renee Taylor: Quote of the Day – April 18, 2020
Examining the Link Between Destruction of Biodiversity and Emerging Infectious Diseases
“You're All Kings and Queens”
The Lancet Weighs-in on the Trump Administration's “Incoherent” Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic
Memes of the Times
Out and About – Spring 2020