End of life

While it is not yet certain, it appears the end of my mother’s life is near at hand. This (reprinted below) is all I can do to give you a piece of how I feel about her. Please note the Times left off my last line, which I may never be able to say again.

I was pleased to see my mother’s body on the cover of a recent Arkansas Times (Jan. 18), but was puzzled as to why Alice Walton’s head was atop it.

My mother, Golda Belle Watson Adams, wasn’t the Rosie the Riveter, but she was an airplane inspector at Tulsa’s McDonnell-Douglas airplane plant during World War II. My dear aunt, her late sister Mary, was the first woman to become a final inspector there. Her late brother Roosevelt lived through Bataan and spent 43 months in a Japanese POW camp. My late father Melton Eugene Adams flew in those planes as a flight engineer over the Hump and back.

Yes, my family is a cliche — mama built ’em and daddy flew ’em — and I’m proud of it.

Each of them worked like dogs and risked their lives for democracy, my father and my uncle more so, my mother and my aunt less so, but factory work is dangerous, too, then and now. After that war was over, they worked at other jobs, some paid (beautician, farm equipment salesman, nightclub worker, union steward) and some not (housewife), making their living from the sweat of their brows.

Alice Walton has never worked a day in her life.

She exerts effort, but it isn’t work. It’s play.

Alice Walton inherited billions of dollars that her late father’s corporation systematically gouged out of the American working man and woman. She plays investment banker with those dollars to make more dollars. That isn’t work. It’s play, cruel, brutal play with other people’s lives at other people’s expense for Alice Walton’s profit. We all have our family traditions.

I’m thrilled for Arkansas that Crystal Bridges is here. Arkansas is no less deserving of great art than any other place. After all, most great American museums are the legacy of robber barons, ruthless industrialists, and other swine. That our local swine has so gifted us with the fruits of others’ labors is simply in the American tradition.

So I wasn’t all that surprised when Tom Dillard, historian at the University in Arkansas of Walmart up in lost little Fayetteville said, “I don’t think the Waltons are robber barons, but if they are, they’re OUR ROBBER BARONS. After serving as a ‘colony’ for more than a century during which our natural resources and labor were shipped north, it is about time that Arkansas received some payback.”

Is that what it comes down to? My CEO can beat up your CEO? My warlord is stronger than your warlord? My robber baron can steal from your robber baron? I want nothing of it.

When Randy Newman wrote his brilliant song “Rednecks,” his incitement of Northerners comfortably bashing the South for the sins found in their own Northern backyards, his narrator said this of Lester Maddox: “Well, he may be a fool but he’s our fool / If they think they’re better than him they’re wrong.”

I’m under no illusions that I’m better than Lester Maddox. Randy Newman told me so, from on stage in Atlanta, when we in the audience thoughtlessly clapped at his mention of Maddox’s death. When it arrives, I won’t clap for Alice Walton’s death, either. I’ve learned that lesson.

But the living Alice Walton isn’t fit to kiss my living mother’s ass.

Johnnie Watson Adams

Little Rock

Post-Election Review

I’m not sure, but I think something or someone I voted for won! That doesn’t always happen. So it’s time to take stock:

Do song and story still have the power to connect and move people across time and space and culture? Why, yes, they do.

Does human solidarity still have the power to pull people together for the common good as they understand it, for kind and compassionate action as they see it called for in the world? Why, yes, it does.

Does the magnificence of the world we live in, both the physical world we all share and the interior world we each possess, and those shared world we create, still stir my heart and ear and eye? Why, yes, it does.

All things considered, I’m in pretty good shape. What about you?

The Cynical Brilliance of the Tom Cotton YouTube ad

You know the ad I’m talking about, right? The guy who said, “It’s me again!” in those unskippable fifteen-second YouTube ads for Tom Cotton. That ad. I’ve turned it down and done something else for thirteen seconds so often this last month. And it was effective.

I was talking to a friend yesterday about this ad. We both seized on it as a sign that the Cotton campaign was doing something smart with its fistful of money. I didn’t realize till today just how smart it was.

Think about the character in that ad. What made it so annoying was the part he played. He looked like that jerk who always knows everything, is typically right, is a real jackass, and is a lot of fun to hang out with when he isn’t taking your paycheck on a bar bet.

He depressed me with his vitality in the service of death.

What was your reaction? I suspect it was more weariness than anger. And that’s important.

One of the tactics everyone in politics uses is to demoralize the opponents, getting them to beat themselves with poor morale and thus poor performance. This ad did a bang-up job of doing that, especially among the YouTube demographic, which skews young.

It’s always hard to untangle causality in real-world social science, but if we could in this case, I would bet you cash money a significant number of voters, disproportionately young with all that goes along with that, did not vote due to this ad.

Well played, Tom Cotton, well played.

UU 102: Mirror, Mirror: Cultural Misappropriation Bites Me in the Ass (Part II)

It’s so easy to be fooled, as irrevespekay found out:

It is only now, in the midst of this frame around cultural borrrowing and misappropriation, I am now noticing *myself* in the mirror.  I found this poem online (which should have been my first clue that something could go awry).  SHIT-WHITE-GIRLS-SAY-2It was attributed to someone named Bee Lake who was described an Aboriginal poet.  I loved the imagery and the theology and thought, sure, not that I know much, but it seems to exude Aboriginal. Whatever that means.


Turns out that Bee Lake is a fictional character, created by a white American woman named Marlo Morgan, who spent four months in Australia and wrote a book:

We’re very open to the world, and that’s good, but that doesn’t mean we should consider the world open to us like a candy store. It is open to us–just not in that way, like someplace where we pay a little cash and take what we want.  It’s more open like the open road.

UU 102: The (next) President of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Tired of elections? Sorry–you have another one coming up, for presidency of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Tony Lorenzen has some thoughts about what’s needed in the next president. There are three items on his list:

1. A person under the age of 50  2. A person with a deep sense of spirituality  3. A person who has a deep sense of mission and who will help Unitarian Universalists articulate our mission is in a way that speaks to our culture.

What do you think? (Be sure to see Tony’s response to a comment. It clarifies his thought considerable.) Is 40 more reasonable? 45?

UU 102: A VOICE IN THE PULPIT: Or, Why This Preacher is Happy to Advise People on How to Vote their Faith

Rev. James Ford has just thrown down:

Pretty much since our Republic was formed, actually from well before, we are that old of a congregation here, on the Sunday ahead of national elections, our ministers serving here at the First Unitarian Church in Providence, Rhode Island, have climbed into the high pulpit and have recalled us to our deeper principles, to remind us of our ideals, our hopes and our aspirations – and to ask that we take those principles, hopes and aspirations with us in our hearts as we walk into our voting booths. I have no doubt for much of that time names were named, and endorsements were made or withheld.

Doesn’t sound all that radical? Read to the end and marvel. It’s not clear whether this was given from the pulpit or not, but still.

P. S. I may not take his advice, but I don’t live in Rhode Island, either.

The Favor of Spitting Directly Into My Face

No one does bitter like Van the Man.

Some compliments take time and discernment to understand and accept. One of those came my way recently and I just now got it.

For the last five years, I was heavily involved in the governance of an organization, and I had one thing I desperately wanted to pursue. I’d made a fairly detailed plan for doing it and kept getting told “No.” No discussion, no communication, just crickets till the final public “No”.

Now that I no longer have any influence in the organization, my plan is being put into action, sort of. The content of it is now either watered down or replaced with something lesser, but the structure is mostly the same.

At first, this hurt, and it still does some, but this weekend, I came to the realization there was a compliment in there. I wasn’t being simply ignored or blown off. People were waiting to override my values with theirs and follow my tactical plans for their purposes.

On the one hand, that’s not a very nice way to treat someone. On the other hand, it’s recognition (of a sort) of my hard intellectual labor.

What brought this home was a request that I go out and gather information about one of these project to other folks so they can make decisions about it. I’m sure that was meant well, but it felt like catching a load of spit in the face. Know your place, Johnnie.

This is the sort of unthinking disrespect that nice people show to people who, like me, aren’t–let’s face facts now–all that nice. It’s especially hard on me, because I’m trying to be good, which is a hell of a lot harder than nice and a hell of a lot better to boot.

And so I’m doing it. People, nice and otherwise, are shaped by their upbringing and their surroundings, and when you upset their environment, they react to it. Kind of human, just like me. That’s no excuse for me not to put my effort into a good cause.

And if I’m so damned good my own self, then it’s my job to try to communicate over the differences. If I’m the only one who sees them, then I have to make them more visible. If that upsets people, you can’t blame them for it. You have to learn to deal with them.

No one does transcendence and new beginnings like Van the Man.

Unitarian Universalism 102: A series

For over a year, I’ve been teaching a class called Unitarian Universalism 102. I’ve tried a variety of formats, and the one that’s done the best has been to pick an article or two from the current UU World and open it up to discussion. I’ve got another in December.

Here, I’m going to do a different thing, a daily series. Every day I’ll post some item by, about, or for Unitarian Universalists and Unitarian Universalism. It’ll be the single most compelling current item I know of.

It’ll be tagged under the category UU 102, as will items for and from my class, and other pertinent items. And what makes an item pertinent? I’m focusing on new ideas and practices of the post-merger era, from 1961 through the foreseeable future.

Doing this was part of why I decided to blog again. Here’s the piece which triggered my decision:

Who Are My People? A Black Unitarian Universalist on Selma and Ferguson

Kneeling in front of Rev. Reeb’s marker drove me—to tears, and to an understanding of history’s importance. Finally, after ignoring the race problem for years, we showed up in Selma. But fifty years later, if we UUs show up in Selma in 2015 but not in Ferguson right now, and not for all those black and brown victims of police violence in the sadly inevitable future, we will not have learned from our past.

The harrowing truth is that I could be the next Mike Brown. My household had two parents. I have a college degree and a job. My pants don’t sag. When I’m out protesting or canvassing, though, none of that matters. I cannot opt out of blackness, and I do not want to. In the wrong situation, though, my respectable nature may not save me—from a racist police officer or citizen, nor from the ensuing character assassination. I would go from the decent, reasonably friendly guy some of you know to a mentally deranged (I have depression) Harvard dropout who was “no angel” and deserved what he got.

Read the whole thing, and visit Kenny Wiley’s blog, A Full Day.

How young are you? How old am I?

This weekend, I attended the Arkansas Unitarian Universalist cluster meeting. My group focused on social action and legislative ministry. It was a good discussion, but what most interested me was that I was neither the youngest nor the oldest person in the room.

Isn’t that odd? Here I am, smack dab in the middle of middle age, yet when I’m in a social action context, I’m often the oldest or the youngest there. More often, I’m the youngest. This time, there were a couple of people younger than me. It was refreshing.