Friday, May 18, 2018

The Weekly Pep Rally: Churches Without a god

Being someone who grew up in the church and who, then, worked in churches for about two decades, I know what church is like. Or, well, I know what church is supposed to be like. Church used to be a place of moral authority, which is what it's supposed to be like, sort of, but, these days, it's become more of a... slot machine. It's a change largely instituted by Boomers through their wholehearted embrace of the prosperity doctrine and the idea they've pushed that church should be FUN! WooHoo!

And I'm not saying necessarily that church shouldn't be fun, but it shouldn't be about being fun. Of course, the whole fun thing is really only about making money.

And I'm also not saying that those morals in the "moral authority" were correct, but, at least, the people who attended paid some semblance of respect to those morals and tried to live lives that matched.

Without going through the history of the decline of the church in the United States, it abandoned any pretense of moral authority with its embrace of Trump (#fakepresident). You can't tell people they shouldn't commit adultery while supporting a man who views adultery as a victory. You can't tell people to "love your neighbor" while supporting a man who abuses his neighbors of other skin tones. You can't tell people to "love God" when you support a man who only loves himself.

I could go on...

Church is no longer about "being good" or "bringing people to Christ" or helping the needy. In fact, "christianity" is no longer about following Jesus at all. "christianity" has become a political position, and church is nothing more than a weekly Right-wing pep rally.

Which, you know, was a very eye-opening thought. It explains why a fairly small minority of the population is able to stay so organized and retain so much power.

Lookit, "the moral majority" Right-wing fundamentalist fascist fuckheads makeup, at best, about 30% of the population, and, yet, they have been able to stay in control of the reins of power for far too long because they are able to stay focused on a small number of issues. It keeps them motivated, and it's why they turn out for all of the elections.

It's like this:
A "friend" of mine from Texas with whom I went to college told me he "literally would have voted for the Devil rather than vote for Clinton." He used abortion as the excuse for his stance (though it sounded more to me like it was about having a woman in charge because "christians" hate women in power). Another "friend" (also from Texas and also from college) quickly echoed the sentiment. Having their votes be about an issue also allowed them to be able to doublethink (look it up if you don't know), "Sure I voted for Trump, but I'm not a Trump supporter."

But let's not go down all of those rabbit trails, as appealing as they are. Or not appealing.

All of that to say that I think those of us on the Left could probably benefit from some kind of similar weekly pep rally that would help us to stay focused on particular issues and motivated about getting out to vote. We could call it Church of the Godless, which would not be substantially different from "christian" churches, but it would be more honest.
But, then, it is rigid fundamentalists who are the ones more prone to hypocrisy. It must hurt to have so many planks in one's eyes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

For My Daughter

Did you ever have a teacher you loved? No, I don't mean like had a crush on; I mean one of those teachers who changed your life in some fundamental way. It's like...
It's like you're staring at a wall -- we'll call it the blackboard -- and all of the teachers you've had so far keep encouraging you to stare at that wall and nothing else. Just stare at the wall, don't question, don't cause problems, and, most of all, don't question. Then you have a teacher who comes along and opens the blinds on the windows and tells everyone to come look outside, and it's amazing! You didn't even know the world was out there.

For me, that teacher was Mike Abbiatti, my 6th grade science teacher. He introduced science to me. Science not as something you read about in a book (because I had been doing that since I was four) but science as something you do and as something you live. He taught me that life should be science: the search for new knowledge, testing that knowledge against the old knowledge, adapting your life to fit the outcome. Life is about always questioning. Always questing. He taught me principles I still use in my life more than 30 years later.

I loved him in a way that only a child can love and, when 6th grade was over, I was devastated. On the last day of school during our last-day-of-school party, I threw my arms around him and cried, cried deep, wracking sobs that have only ever been worse for me when my grandfather died.

I could write a lot more about Mr. A. and learning the difference between a hypothesis and a theory and doing actual experiments and using a computer for the first time, but this isn't about me. This is just to show the depth of connection we can come to have with people who open our eyes and our worlds.

These people aren't always teachers; sometimes, they're coaches.

My daughter fell in love with softball the first time she "played" it, just playing catch with the neighbor girls as they were practicing for the team they were on. She had to join, too. So we signed her up. All was good.

For a while

Kids' sports leagues are a mixed bag. You have to pay for your kid to be able to play, of course, but, for that money, you get someone who is volunteering to coach. In softball, this was inevitably the pitcher's dad, because, inevitably, the pitcher's dad was forcing his daughter to play and wanted to be the coach of the team so that he could make sure his daughter got to pitch. Even if there was someone better at it on the team. Mostly, these guys were not very good coaches.

In fact, most of the were pretty shitty coaches, at least as far as the team was concerned. The problem was that most of them were also pretty shitty people. You can be a bad coach (as in not being very good at coaching), but it takes a special person to be a shitty coach. The shitty coaches were all what we call "yellers," which means pretty much what it sounds like: Their method of coaching was to spend their time yelling at the girls when they made mistakes.

And this:
When the team would win a game, even if they played terribly, they got only praise. If they lost a game, even if they played fantastically, they got yelled at. A lot. There is so much wrong with that paradigm of coaching, but that's what we dealt with for years.

It got to where my daughter was not enjoying softball anymore, this thing that she loved.

One of the only things we were able to tell her through all of that was that it would be better when she got to high school because:
1. The coach would not be someone coaching because his daughter was on the team. It would be someone coaching because he was being paid to do a job. No more nepotism.
2. Being on the team and getting to play would be because of your skill rather than who your dad was. Again, no more nepotism.

And, hey! My daughter is in high school, now. A freshman. She did try out for softball, and she made the varsity team. The only freshman on the team. Not just did she make the team; she's a starter.

Of course, she could have still gotten bad coaches. Shitty coaches. We've come across a few of those in the games this year. Or, even, shitty people as coaches.
But she didn't.
She got a pair of great coaches who coach through encouragement. They let them know what they're doing well and what they need to work on. Neither of them has yelled at any of the girls during a game all season. The same cannot be said of coaches on other teams.

My daughter loves softball again. This year has been a world-changing experience for her. I have to think it's been for her like 6th grade science was for me. It's a whole new world. Softball with a genuinely positive environment, even when they lose.

And, due to circumstances, it so happens that both coaches are having to leave at the end of this year.

She's devastated.

And, well, so am I. For her. Because I know how that feels.

Worse, I know that there's nothing I can do to make any of it better.

Yeah, yeah, sure, it will get better. She'll get over it. I got over 6th grade ending. And I could tell her that, but it wouldn't help. And I know it wouldn't help, because people saying that kind of thing to me doesn't help. In fact, it's kind of anger-causing. It doesn't matter if it will get better. That doesn't help now.

So my hope is that she will hold onto this moment and take what she's learned from this experience and carry it forward with her as she goes on in life, whether that be in softball or not. I mean, I wouldn't trade my 6th grade science experience away for anything, even though it hurt when it was over. That pain was more than worth the experience of the whole, so I hope she will be able to cherish this freshman year of softball and look back on it as a fundamental moment of growing up. I suppose it's that whole better to have loved and lost thing.

I guess that's all any of us can hope for.
If you look to the right center in this picture; you can see the ball coming in.
This was a nice hit but, unfortunately, it was caught.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Gibbon's Decline and Fall (a book review post)

All right, this will probably be the last Tepper novel I do for a while. Not because I've grown tired of her books or anything but because I'm out of all the ones I have and I don't plan to go book buying any time soon. Not until I finish some of the other books I have sitting around. Or unless I decide I just need the sequel to Grass.

That said, overall, I didn't enjoy this one as much as her others, and I'm going to tell you why, which means, yes, there will be spoilers, so, if you plan on picking this one up, you may want to bypass this. Not that I think any of you are making that plan because, if you were, you would have picked up The Gate To Women's Country, which is something you should certainly do.

Let me give you some context:
The book was published in '96 and is set in '99. The coming millennium looms over the events of the novel though it actually has little to do with the action. When it came out, it was a contemporary novel, though the present that Tepper shows is a bit removed from ours. Chimpanzees, elephants, and many other species are extinct in the wild. Prisons are full of pods that they sentence people to sleep in. Far Right groups roam the streets... Wait, that doesn't sound too far off.

Basically, Right-wing groups of fanatics of every flavor around the world are making their presence known in violent ways, mostly against women but, really, against anyone who doesn't agree with them. They've taken over the politics in the United States and, really, everywhere else, too. People who do not belong to these groups have fewer and fewer places to turn for help.

The beginning third of the book actually felt very prescient.

The action of the book revolves around the disappearance of one of the women the book is about. At least, that's the only theme that carries all the way through the book as the conflict is rather fluid other than that. That's all stuff I'm not going to get into. Why spoil everything, right? The supernatural element that Tepper so likes plays into this, and it's ultimately what ruined the book for me. Or what it leads to, which is an actual deus ex machina ending.

Let's just say I'm not a fan of having a god step in at the end to save everything, especially when that god was a character in the novel beyond a mere spoken about concept.

However, the real problem area for me was the antagonist. In a general sense, the antagonist is "men" and their antipathy toward women, or, at least, their antipathy towards women's rights. The unifying factor among all of the far Right groups in the book is their belief that women should get back in the kitchen, so to speak. They should be no more than baby makers and food preparers and house cleaners. The book deals a lot with how shitty men can be and how they systemically undermine women and their potential roles in the world.

And we're all good as far as that goes, because all of that is true. However, Tepper then sabotages her point by having the main villain, Webster, be an interstellar entity that is causing men to be the way that they are. Well, maybe he doesn't cause it, but he exacerbates and intensifies it, so, really, except in a few cases, it's not really their fault.

This is a problem because the men she portrays in the book are not caricatures or exaggerations. They are exactly the way men are. But Tepper gives them, gives us, an out: Oh, really, men, they're not that bad; it's just all of these really bad outside influences that make them that way. I really don't understand why she chose to go that route. It pulls the teeth out of any social commentary she was trying to make.

Not to mention the unresolved nature of the denouement. Or, rather, the fact that the resolution is unrevealed to the reader. This is a tactic that would work if Tepper had left the reader with a question which the reader needed to answer for himself, but that's not the nature of it as none of the choices the protagonist is given are choices any of us can actually choose, so we're just left to wonder what choice she made and that's the end of it. It was... unsatisfying. And it left with the feeling that Tepper herself didn't know how she would choose so just left it hanging. Rather like the end of Inception where Nolan left the ending hanging because he didn't know which way to go with it.

So... yeah... brilliant beginning, but she failed to nail the landing. It's not a book I would recommend. Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it -- it was certainly much better than many other books I've read -- but, again, I'd say go out and get a copy of The Gate To Women's Country.