Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Not Just About Coffee

As I write this 8,000 Starbucks across the nation are closed for a special training program for their employees about implicit/unconscious bias.  It all grows out of an incident in Philadelphia last month, when two African-American men were arrested on counts of trespassing for no apparent reason other than someone at the store felt threatened by their skin color.

I applaud Starbucks for this action.  No doubt they will lose a fair amount of income over the course of this day.  But they have taken a very bad bit of publicity and turned it into a good.  That said, I hope no one thinks that a four-hour in-service training program will eliminate the problem.  Racism is so entrenched in our culture, despite the real legal progress that we have made, that it will take much more than this to lift it from our backs.

But we must do what we can.  And certainly this is one thing that Starbucks can do, and has done.  Now, what are the next steps?  What are the next steps for Starbucks?  And how will others follow their lead?  How will we as a society come to grips with what one author called "America's original sin'?  I don't know all the answers here--but I do know even talking about it is an important step.  But it can't be the only step.  The theological word that comes to mind is metanoia.  That's the Greek word used in the New Testament for repentance.  Literally it means to "turn around and head in a new direction."  Starbucks seems to have turned around--but now they, and we, need to keep walking in the new direction.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"B" Stands for Books--and Boston and Bucket Lists and Boats!

What do you do when it rains and you had plans for an outdoor activity?  That's what happened this past Saturday.  My wife Linda and I had taken my mother to Boston to ride the swan boats at Boston Public Garden.  The swan boat ride was on her bucket list.  It is something she always did when she went to Boston back in the days when she lived in new England, and she wanted to go one more time.  But it rained.  All day.  And the swan boats weren't even running.  So we went to Plan B.  Literally.  For in our family, "B" stands for "books"!

We were spending the day with our daughter Elizabeth, her partner Erica, and our two Boston granddaughters.  Elizabeth is a librarian, and of course, mother a retired English professor, a medievalist.  In her youth her father had taken her into Boston one day so that she could meet the Head Librarian at Boston Public Library.  And even though she didn't end up being a librarian herself, she always has treasured that memory.  So our first stop was the Boston Public Library.  It is a beautiful example of a well maintained older structure, with a wonderful modern addition.

One of the highlights of the tour was seeing the Abbey Room.  It is ringed by beautiful murals depicting the legend of Sir Galahad.  Mother and our youngest granddaughter were especially intrigued with it--and Mom had a great time explain the story and the paintings.

Our next stop was the Cambridge Public Library where Elizabeth works.  We met many of her co-workers and marveled at the charm of the Curious George Room, with its paintings taken from the famous books by the same name.  It turns out H. A. Rey, the author of those beloved children's books, and his wife Margaret lived in Cambridge and were most generous with the library.

Our final stop of the afternoon was--a bookstore!  The Porter Square Bookstore.  A funky, cramped, delightful independent bookstore.  Linda and I treated the granddaughters and Mother to a new book each.  The girls got Fatal Throne and Dork Diaries, and Mother a replacement copy of her beloved Little Women (she had accidently given it away when she moved to Florida).

The whole afternoon was a delight--despite the rain!  And if the plaque in Mother's bedroom is right, it was touched by the divine.  The plaque?  "Heaven" is reads, "Must Be  Library!"

PS:  She did get her swan boat ride as well on Monday--a lovely sunny Monday!

Monday, May 14, 2018

On Public Prayer

There is a great deal of controversy swirling around the official  recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by the United States.  The move of our embassy from Tel Aviv has occasioned a great deal of uproar and violence.  Was this the right time to make such a move?  Should other issues have been discussed, negotiated, resolved in connection with the recognition?  I leave that to you to determine.  But of this I am sure.  The religious leaders who offered prayers at the ceremony marking the opening of the embassy didn't in any way represent me nor most of the clergy I know.

Here is what upset me: at least one of the clergy who prayed at the event has a history of being anything but ecumenically or interreligiously minded.  Islam, he has said, comes from the "pit of hell" and Jews? They don't stand a chance of being saved unless they accept Jesus as their Savior.  So he says.  I realize this is a view held by many Christians, even though I don't subscribe to it myself.    It is certainly their right to believe that way.  But really, is there no recognition of irony here?

I guess all  this just points to the reality that the separation of church (or synagogue or mosque or temple) and state is essential for a pluralistic nation such as ours.  How we interact with other nations should recognize and be sensitive to religious issues, but our international relationships need to be grounded in sound diplomatic principles, not religious beliefs. For as a nation we do not hold a set of commonly accepted religious beliefs.  By constitutional definition.  Maybe the best bet is to avoid such public prayers at governmentally sponsored events all together--for how can they ever represent all Americans, when some of our fellow citizens don't even believe in prayer?

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Real Cost of Blueberries

Saturday my wife Linda and I went blueberry picking.  With two of our friends, we picked twenty-five pounds.  It took us about two hours.  Not exactly a fast clip!  On average, we each picked about 3.125 pounds per hour.  The place we went picking had live music, a snack bar, games for the kids, even a small gift shop.  It was a lovely experience, and I'll get blueberries on my cereal for several months.

The whole experience, though, prompted me to remember that two of my kids picked blueberries for pay one summer many years back.  Neither of them were very quick about
it, and being paid at a piece rate, neither of them made much money.  It was hot work, and less than pleasant.  There were no kids rides or musicians,  Just the work.  They only lasted one summer at it, as I remember, and both found other ways to earn pocket money as they made their way through school.  And nobody was counting on them bringing home a paycheck to pay the bills.

I couldn't help but wonder what migrant workers get paid for such work?  Our niece, who went with us to pick, tutors the children of migrants.  She told us they are in her part of Florida for about three months, and then they move on.  And often the kids have to try and play catch up academically, often never quite reaching their goals.  Their parents work very long , very hard hours.  Often for very poor pay.  Living in overpriced quarters--no better than shacks--and having very little security.

Back in 2013, in Michigan, migrant workers were paid 42 cents a pound for picking blueberries.  That meant they need to pick eighteen pounds an hour to make what was then minimum wage in Michigan.  I assume it would be much the same in Florida.  (www.michiganradio.org)  One person would need to pick 33% more blueberries in an hour than the four of us did working together.

I will enjoy the berries on my cereal over the next few months, but I will also be doing a lot of thinking about how often I have something to eat without knowing what all has gone into putting it on my table.  And how often my bounty may be at the expense of someone else.