Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Day the Newsfeed Died

"Writer's block: when your imaginary friends won't talk to you." 

For those of you who aren't old enough to remember the movie referenced by the above picture, it was the film "Harvey", made in 1950 from the play by the same name.  Jimmy Stewart played the main character, Elwood P. Dowd, who communicated with Harvey, an over-6-foot invisible rabbit. 

Harvey was invisible to everyone except Elwood, of course.  This made it difficult for Elwood to get anyone, including those he loved and who loved him, like his sister, his girlfriend, etc. to believe in Harvey.  In fact, it made all of them think that Elwood was mentally deficient, and they tried to commit him to a sanitarium.  No, not a Santorum.  A sanitarium.  A mental hospital, a loony bin, a nuthouse.  A place where people once were committed by family when they no longer could be trusted to care for themselves due to mental illnesses like schizophrenia and multiple personality disorders.  And seeing invisible friends like Harvey.

What made me think of Harvey and his real but bemused friend Elwood was the quote above, which I saw in my Twitterfeed from

It put me in mind of a running conversation I've been having with a trusted circle of friends over these past few days.  Some of us, you see, are growing increasingly distressed at the vitriolic turn taken by the public discourse over this coming election.  The interweb media is rife with sensationalistic headlines which pique the interest in their grab for readership (translation: hits, clicks, advert dollars) This has been exacerbated by the mainstream media with spin and sound bytes replacing responsible, source-checked journalism of the sort which the public could once trust...Edward R. Murrow hasn't been around for a good many years, and neither has Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley.  

For that matter, even as recently as 9/11, the late Peter Jennings of ABC in covering the tragedy of the Twin Towers balked on air at reporting something that might not have been accurate.  I can still recall my sense of shock at seeing him turn from the camera and address the production crew with an admonishment to find out what was really going on that dreadful morning...he basically refused right on the air to tell the public something that might be inaccurate and inflammatory.

I don't know about you, but I'm seeing a lot of spin from any number of self-professed "journalists" through my Facebook and Twitter feeds.  Many are passed on by my own imaginary friends.  By imaginary friends, I mean acquaintances, friends of friends I've never even met, or people I went to high school with who didn't give a flying fig about me back then and don't care any more than that for me now.  

What's worse, I'm hearing that people for whom I care deeply  are being ostracized or ridiculed online in much the same way.  Every day.  On Facebook, or Twitter, or on their own blog comments.  People whom I happen to know are decent human beings are having to block or restrict their sites because others who are more talented at watching reality TV than thinking critically and communicating civilly are clogging up their feeds. 

I say it's time to choose our imaginary friends - those who have no true interest in a real relationship - more carefully.  Invite your them to civil discourse. Reach understanding about points of view if they are truly folks whom you love and value.
Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be" – she always called me Elwood – "In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.
James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd
Here is where my opinion diverges from that of Elwood P. Dowd.  

I used to take a lot of guff for being one of the oh so smart kids in school, so I learned instead how to be oh so pleasant.  Frankly, if listening to much more of the invective being passed around by imaginary friends is required to be thought of as pleasant, I'd rather be considered as nutty as Elwood.  At least HIS imaginary friend was real. 

Just put me in a sanitarium.  (Not to be confused with a Santorum, thank you.) I'll take Harvey AND my absentee ballot with me. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sikh the Truth

In the past few days, along with all the global love-in that is the face of the Olympic games in London, we have also been bombarded with reminders that we as humans are all too capable of construing even the most positive messages to express discrimination, hatred, shame, pain, and exclusion.

Now I am an artist, and part of my own journey has been for me to be able to imagine myself as cast in God's image, as in Genesis:
Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image, in our likeness...
So God created humanity in God's own image,
in the image of God he created them;
                                                     male and female he created them. "

The key to this for me as an artist has always been that, since it is God's nature to begin the relationship with humans as the Great Creator, and since we are cast in God's image, it is our nature to be creative as well. When we manifest our creativity through imagination, we are pursuing a vision of beauty or possibilities (as in the Mars landing-Woot! Woot!) or achievements and know that in reaching for these, we are living in the way God designed us to live. This is how we are hard-wired.

So, by extension I mean that when Gabby Douglas works and sacrifices and creates a splendid routine on the uneven bars, it is because her programming via that little spark of God's creative spirit drives her to want to create something beautiful and unique. When Richard Diebenkorn painted his severe and different landscapes, he was exercising his creative DNA. We all have it, and if you think about it long enough you can identify a part of your life in which that spark of divine fire becomes manifest. It could be that you have an uncanny ability to bake without a recipe, or follow a hunch in the laboratory that saves thousands of lives.

Each of us has this within us. Genesis doesn't teach that the only creative people God imagines are Christian people or those in the United States or those who vote conservative. Creative people of all stripes are imbued with the same divine spark as Michelangelo, Sally Ride, or Boris Johnson. So it's heartbreaking to realize that the other immutable truth about God, which is absolutely essential to the creative human being and particularly to the artist, is so often forgotten through judgmental-ism, by humans with a cause, or a grudge, or just plain fear.

I was reminded of this truth today: the corollary to the Genesis teaching is this. We are all adopted into the heart of the Divine Creator (I don't care if you use the term God or Allah or Jehovah or Bruce Almighty to name this Creator) because of the Creator's unconditional love. By any name, the force of love we're shown adopts us into the heart of God, which humans so often fail to consider.

Think of it for a moment. What else do we fail to consider because of our own personal spin, because we don't think of ourselves or others as precious children of God? What if we toss a thoughtless piece of criticism at an artist? What is heard is not "your art isn't good enough", what is heard is "YOU are not good."

When we try to whitewash hating actions or hateful comments as "freedom of speech" what is heard is "YOU are no good." When we patronize businesses which support hate groups, we are paying for the shaming that is done to the target group.  This is unequivocal despite how much other good a business may try to do.  It is simply irresponsible and contrary to the nature of God.

Supporting a business that sponsors organizations that cause pain and unfairness means we are endorsing, not merely permitting, hateful and even violent acts against them. It doesn't take a scholar to point out that paying the tab for the lobbying efforts to discriminate against immigrants, ethnic groups, LGBT persons, and religious groups, is the same as telling those targeted persons, "YOU are no good."

It strikes me as being fairly easy to recognize the value of grace on the part of an Olympian like Gabby Douglas, who finished last in her individual bars competition. There is no shame in taking the high road when our particular desire is not met. The greater blessing is harder to recognize in everyday living...when because of our fear, or our doctrine, or even our traditions we cannot concede the unconditional love of God for other human beings who were created, just as we were, with that spark of divine fire.

The tragedy of the attack on the Sikh temple is shocking and pathetic, especially when we realize that the practice and beliefs of the Sikhs are to love God and pursue God's truth. They respect other religions in a way that escapes many nominal Christians. Respect and loving regard of all people is central to their faith.

The support of hate groups which have caused violence, suicides, and division of families through the donations of businesses is no less a tragedy, although no guns are waved and individual stories are not often told. Such action also says "YOU are no good".

The God who creates calls us all to create. The Creator who loves calls us all to love.

“Indeed, a quick glance around this broken world makes it painfully obvious that we don't need more arguments on behalf of God; we need more people who live as if they are in covenant with Unconditional Love, which is our best definition of God.”
- Robin R. Meyers, from Saving Jesus from the Church