Looking for a Job: Job Creators

job

Read this if you don’t know Job. 

Now that’s settled, and we can commence to begin. 

From a young age, I’ve loved love.

My mother likes to tell a story about my earliest attempts at flirting. At a kindergarten parent-teacher conference, the teacher said I was a bright, sweet kid but that it would behoove my parents to teach me how to tie my shoelaces. My mother responded, “Aaron has known how to tie his shoes for a year!” The teacher responded, “Huh. He’s always asking the little girls in class to do it for him.”

Flash-forward to the age of eleven; I had a little girlfriend living next door, but despite our close proximity we spoke on the phone. Real phones, you know? The kind with a rotary dial, an extra long extension cord like Lloyd Dobbler used when he called Diane Court; the kind of phone you could use as a murder weapon. One day I was in my parent’s room, sitting on the bed, chatting her up and I said, “I love you.” My mother overheard it, and when I hung up the phone she came in and said, “Aaron, I’m glad that you have a special friend. But I don’t think you should say you love her; you’re too young to really know what love is.” This was before Forrest Gump, so despite the perfect set-up I was not able to respond, “I’m not a smart man, mama, but I know what love is.” I think I stomped into my room, pushed play on my Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet tape, and sang “Living On a Prayer” as though it was about me and my beloved. We were misunderstood. We would run off together and we would make it, dammit, by our pluck and love.

I mean, we were already halfway there.

Of course, Mom was right. I didn’t know what love is. It took a perspective shift, like learning how to love my schizophrenic brother without needing anything in return. It’s about loving a person when you don’t particularly like them. Love is messy, gritty, painful. It is not ideal. Not all the time, anyway.

So we look at Job. Job so certain. Confident that he is blameless. Sure that justice has been denied him, that he is owed better, that he has been given short shrift and now is the time of reckoning. Time to square the accounts. And Job has filled himself with the sort of indignation that is righteous. He has God in a corner, God on the ropes. It’s going to be a hell of a show.

Until Job is given a perspective shift. God’s words from the whirlwind are crushing. Defeating. It almost makes us want to look away, it gets so uncomfortable. We shift in our seats because Job is getting his ass handed to him. And, frankly, if I have to take this literally I really don’t like this God. This God feels hostile. Unloving. Diffident.

But there is a great deal of truth in this story even if the facts are in dispute. When we mistake the part for the whole, when we allow ourselves to go off half-cocked because we are certain we are the moral arbiters of the world, when we think we know a person’s motives, or heart, or sense of self, when we project onto others the ways we think we have been wronged, but then are given new information, we stop short. What is this dark magic? It is almost like we have new eyes, really. Because that’s what happens when we have a shift in thinking. We see things differently. We enter more fully into the complexity of human experiences and relationships.

People often ask me if I believe in an interventionist God. A God who controls or influences history, and I am generally hesitant to give a quick answer. Not that I don’t have one. You might have gathered by now that I like to talk. A lot. And write. A lot. That’s part of the bipolar. But when it comes to God I’ve learned to slow down. It makes me a bad Calvinist, but I don’t believe that everything is already decided and we are merely meat puppets acting out a divine drama. But I do believe that God’s spirit animates us and flows through our lives, that we experience it, in part, through love. And through the people whom God places in our lives. Through the situations that arise, requiring us to navigate them with some sort of discernible principle.

In our nation, right now, we are facing a fundamental choice about who we are as Americans, as Christians (for some of us), as citizens, as human beings. Choices about how we view the world and each other. In many ways, history is calling for all of us to use our lives as testimonies regarding how we understand Jesus Christ. God is calling us to account for what we think about justice. Just like with Job. We Christians testify that through Christ, we see anew. Through the model of Jesus, we have a definitive example of how to live. How to be in relationship with others. How to discern God’s priorities and make them our own.

We have a choice. We can be certain we understand justice and that wrong has been done to us, that we have been robbed of things that are rightfully ours, or we can take God’s view. The larger view. The longer view. The view that shows the totality of love, justice, compassion, mercy, and grace. Or we can rage and rail until we are red-faced, tilting at windmills. We can continue to allow mechanisms and structures to be Job creators; manufacturers of persons who are so blinded by their own certainty, they lose nuance. Perspective. The ability to be transformed and shaped. The supporters of this vision are looking to create more Jobs. The question is, will we let them?

God gave us free will and Jesus. The rest is up to us.

On Turning Forty: Memories of Them

I’ve written ad nauseum about my brother Stephen’s death. For the past five years or so, my thoughts more often than not move away from his schizophrenia, away from the rough years before and after his diagnosis, before the attempt and the completion of his voluntary death. Before we lost him to the slow, indifferent insidiousness that is mental illness.

It should come as no surprise that I waited as long as I did before finally seeking a diagnosis beyond “bordering on clinical” depression given by a GP. My family tree has a lot of nuts. As far as I know, I am the only fruit.

Heh.

Today I read that Dischord Records has digitized its entire catalog and made it available cheaply, with more proceeds going to the artists than with other services. That will come as no surprise for those who have followed Fugazi, fronted by the founder of Dischord Records, Ian Makaye. This dude.

ian mackaye

The album Repeater was on nearly constantly; we had it on vinyl and both of us were learning to play guitar. Steve had a black and white Fender Telecaster; I had a Strat in the same color scheme. We fought a lot. Usually it is both guitarists wanting to play lead that is the problem, especially with brothers. Most people want to be Angus. Not us. We both wanted to be Malcolm, and bands like Minor Threat and Fugazi are rhythm guitarists’ dream. In the cramped bedroom that now houses the cat boxes, Stephen and I filled tape after tape of extended, excruciatingly inexact songs, riffs, arguments, and conversations. I mean, there are dozens of them.

We also did comedy skits. Really involved things with recurring characters, like Chester and Leonard, two old men who, looking back on it, appeared to have a homoerotic relationship; Jimmy and Billy, two Cartman-like characters a decade before South Park with a proclivity for knocking over Entemann’s trucks and eating a Duff’s, a local smorgasbord. And then there was Billy-Bob-Joe-Frank and Cleetus, two hucklebucks who liked to ride motorcycles and take trucks mudding. We would do routines for our parents, who would laugh hysterically, and we would take it into the world doing street theater before we even knew what that was.

I miss him so fucking much.

Cleaning out his storage space about five years ago, I found all of those tapes with the songs and the skits. And I can’t bring myself to listen to them. It has been almost 14 years since he died, and I still don’t think I’m ready for the sound of his voice, to hear the life in him, to remember how much I loved him. My life would have been so different if…

I hate ifs. But I love this:

graduation day

Steve is on my mind today because this is the three year anniversary of PaulE Schenk’s murder by the State of Ohio, not two blocks from the above mentioned room. This is Paul:

paule.jpg

Now Steve and Paul didn’t know each other real well, and I didn’t know Paul nearly as well as some of my very close friends. But until today, I had forgotten–completely forgotten–about the time PaulE, Steve, and I talked about Dischord Records. If I remember, PaulE was more into Minor Threat, while Steve and I were partial to Fugazi. But in an atmosphere in which there were not a whole lot of people listening to Straight Edge or Dischord, it was awesome to talk to someone who got it.

I’m thinking today that both PaulE and Steve are gone. Both souls too powerful and complicated and beautiful for this world. I wish I remembered more about that conversation than the bonfire and beer. I want to say we sang. I hope we sang. I’m gonna think we sang and laughed and punched other other because that’s what boys do and that’s what we were, we were boys. Boys who became men who are complicated and passionate and sometimes misunderstood.

So today I’m going to turn the stereo up to 11, scream like they can hear me in the graves,* and I might just cry because sometimes you realize that special moments come and go without you realizing their importance.

*I actually think they were both cremated, but it was too good a line to leave out 😉

Yes, I Really Do Have Republican Friends and This is to Them 


My dear friends,

You know that my grandparents were Republican. We’ve talked about that, and that’s a big part of why I respect you even though we disagree on some pretty big issues. You’ve listened to me, and I’ve listened to you, and while voices have raised in love, we’ve always walked away after a prayer or a hug, maybe both, and counted ourselves blessed to have one another. Please hear the sincerity of what I’m about to say: I am really sorry about what has happened to your party, to your principles, to your movement. I’ve spent my life on the “other side,” but I’ve read most of the major conservative thinkers. I’ve read dozens of biographies on Republican presidents, from Lincoln to TR to Eisenhower to Reagan to both presidents Bush. And, yes, I’ve made fun of Sarah Palin and ridiculed the Tea Party movement. 

We are none of us perfect. 
But I can honestly say that I would have voted for Eisenhower, even though I am a big fan of Adlai Stevenson, and on paper, without the personality, I could accept Nixon as an essentially capable leader. We won’t jump down the rabbit hole that is Vietnam, but any criticism I have of Kissinger I also have of MacNamara.  Let’s just agree, if we can, that I am not a rabid liberal who thinks everything Republican is evil. 

You can’t vote for Trump. I mean, you can. You can do whatever you want, but I’m asking you. Begging you to look beyond party politics and see that a vote for Trump is a vote for everything that is wrong about this country. Everything that is awful about a certain type of White American man, a sleaziness that surpasses a blowjob in the the White House or some emails deleted off a server. And I know that Republicans have made millions off of hating Hillary Clinton, and I’m not here to convince you to vote for her, even though I think you should, but I am asking that you look at this honestly. Soberly. Objectively. No matter what might be alleged against Hillary–as long as we can agree that any consideration of her killing Vince Foster cannot enter into a reasonable conversation–even if it is all true, she is still more morally acceptable than Trump. And, come on, you have to admit that she’s qualified. Hate the game, not the player. She’s whip smart and knows how to get shit done. And if Congress would stop acting like petulant children, we might be able to find some compromise and really start getting our government working again. 

There’s Gary Johnson. Perhaps it is hypocritical of me to ask my more liberal friends to not vote for Jill Stein but I’m asking my conservative friends to vote Libertarian, but that is how driven I am about keeping Trump from the White House. It is like Dan Rather said, this is the first time in American history that two conventions have been about the same person. And neither were about how great the guy is. Because that’s what Trump wants to make great again. Himself. I mean, where do you go after having the most successful reality show of all time? You run for president.

That is literally the chain of events. It is fucking surreal. Oh, his supporters point to his business acumen (well, they don’t because most don’t know what acumen means; I know, I’m such a catty bitch) as evidence of his qualifications, but it is already clear that his business dealings are a joke. Want to prove me wrong? You can’t because he won’t release his taxes. Think about that: the single attribute he is supposed to possess is contained therein, but he won’t let the American people see his taxes even though he pushed for Romney to do it in 2012. 

If Mitt Romney were running against Trump, I would vote for Mittt. That should demonstrate the urgency of my plea. 

I am totally up for a conversation about concerns you have with the Dems or issues with which you and Hillary might resonate. Or not. Perhaps yours is a Johnson vote or a write-in. But I am asking you to think about what is best and most important about our country: the idea that we all have rights, and that we are a nation of immigrants.. We are rich with a panoply of cultures and traditions, and  while we have a troubled and noble history, Trump doesn’t care. He has no qualifications for this weighty responsibility. Please. Anyone but Trump. 

And I hope that your party is able to reassess itself and return to being about ideas that adhere to a cogent philosophy of governance and public service. Our country needs it. 

Yours in love,

Aaron 

The Pessimism Post

Last night, Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) became the first woman to accept the presidential nomination for a major political party. Both my grandmothers were born during the time when women were still unable to vote. Watching the coverage, I thought of them–both Republicans–and their strength. My maternal grandmother watched her father die at the dining room table when she was sixteen, and weeks before her high school graduation she had to quit school to provide for her siblings. She became a maid and spent the rest of her life trying to make sure that the desperation of the Great Depression was not felt by her children. My paternal grandmother, the child of Finnish immigrants, left school after the 8th grade, moved from her farm in Minnesotta to Detroit, where she and my grandfather, also the son of Finnish immigrants, started a family. Grandma did the Sunday New York Times crossword in ink. She could insult you in English and Finnish, but do so with such a smile you’d never know what just happened. And when Hillary spoke of her mother, of her struggle, I melted. I caved. I surrendered. I went from voting against Trump to voting for Hillary.

I lost my Progressive cred last night. I became a mindless idiot crying over words deviously crafted in a DNC laboratory, falling as easy prey for a sadistic war criminal who has left a trail of bodies and destruction in her wake. At least according to my friends on the far Right. And the Left. The far Left. The Left that I have now left. The pessimism is too much for me. It is too crushing, too limiting, too angry, too self-righteous, too absent of nuance. I’m not unware of the drone strikes that terrorize communities around the world, mainly in Muslim-heavy countries. Civilians continue to bear the brunt of our disastrous invasion of Iraq; Syria is teeming with suffering and uncertainty. Our globalism continues to serve the oligarchs who control the means of production and the media that too often fails to inform rather than incite. I’m not unaware of the subtle and not-so-subtle racism of Democratic policies. Our for-profit prison system keeps entire populations locked into a pipeline that’s more dangerous than the  Keystone project. Trans* women are still dying. Black and Brown people are still oppressed and struggling. I’m aware of these and the myriad other deficiencies in the DNC platform. And contrary to what some think, I am not just shrugging my shoulders and waving an American flag certain Republicans think were absent from the DNC and belong only to them. 

But the pessimism is too much. The notion that we are so corrupted that the entire system needs to be blown apart doesn’t resonate with me. I’m not down with the revolution. In fact, I’m with Bono. Fuck the revolution. I’m going to give up caring when people say I am selling out, or believing hype, or being duped, or that I am playing into the hands of a system that is inherently evil.  I’m not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. 

So I’ll say it for the detractors, and they can move on to bigger game. To people who will perhaps find the pessimism more useful to motivate them toward positive action: I drank the Kool-Aid. I surrendered my will. I let the big, bad DNC throw my brain into the machine with extra bleach, and a nice dryer sheet to finish it off. I have let the mistress manipulator tie me into pretzels until I shouted “I’m with her!”

Of course, I did nothing of the kind. And if you are still not convinced to vote for Hillary, that’s fine. It is really not my business. But keep your pessimism to yourself. I have no use for it. I’m about building up, making a difference, trying to forge relationships that are significant and lasting, and to do that with people with whom I may disagree on a lot of things,  but with whom I can work. Serve. Form community. I’m okay with not being pure enough, not being a true revolutionary if it means I can stop feeling so angry and sad. I’m sure this is privilege, or at least it will be labeled so. That’s cool. I really don’t care. 

Well, I’m trying not to care. 

Since converting to Christianity, I’ve gotten really use to people telling me I believe in things that are not true. I’ve learned to smile and nod, and go about following my heart. So with that, I’m with her. 

Flummoxed: A Poem

aboveground poem logo image.jpg

Flummoxed

The intractability
of this position
leaves me flummoxed.
Floundering about
for some frame of reference
into which I can put
these notions.
This disconnect.

For that’s what it is,
you know?
You know.
Ideas take investment
investigation.
Invitations must be written
to others
for participation.

So I am caught
between befuddlement
and Vine.
Waiting for a reason.
Waiting for reason.
Like a bus that is behind
and the rain is not abating
here

where I stand.
Where we stand.
Tumult in clouds pregnant
with precipitation
seem portentous
only if we let them.
Only if we see birth
as an act of violence.

Baptism by water
or fire?
Choices lay out before us
with beckoning eyes.
Come hither eyes.
Shall we scorch the earth
and set ablaze the sky?
Or wallow in the spring’s font?

Flummoxed.

Ideals, Not Ideology

In my Facebook feed, battles are ongoing. Posts have 50, 60, 70 comments. Threads go in various directions simultaneously. Perhaps it is the diversity of my friend group, but there are no demographical trends one might point to in order to make sense of it all. White friends in their 70’s voice opinions echoed by biracial friends in their 20’s. Libertarians agree with Socialists; articles and blog posts and Twitter screen captures are posted and reposted. There is a lot of talk. A little less communication. And even less confidence as to what will happen in November.

The biggest rows I see revolve around some form of this question: Is refusing to vote for Hillary Clinton the same as voting for Trump? I imagine we all have seen and heard the arguments given on all sides. A vote is simply a vote for the candidate for whom it is cast. Or, my vote is not for Clinton, but rather against Trump. Or, I find them both despicable, so I am voting for a third party candidate or a write-in. We’ve seen the articles arguing that not voting for Clinton places at risk GLBT+, POC, immigrants, Muslims, or other vulnerable groups. We’ve seen articles from queer-identified POC telling Whites to stop saying they are voting for Clinton to protect others. We have seen the arguments about how votes for a third party candidate helps get a fledgling party closer to the 5% threshold needed for public funding during the next cycle. Everyone seems to be discussing suffrage, enfranchisement, civic responsibility, and political philosophy. In one way, that’s awesome. I think it is good that people are engaged and paying attention.

However, there are some just flat-out incorrect suppositions and arguments going on, and not just from Fox News. (See Bill O’The Clown’s defense of slavery.)

We are conflating ideals with ideology. Ideals should motivate us. Ideals can also influence our philosophies. Plato’s concepts of the Forms helped us conceptualize ideals and analyze how culture and sometimes arbitrary decisions influence our definitions of things like beauty and justice. The Book of Job is about many things, but at its basis it is a text about the nature of pure justice. Job has one ideal, God another. Ideals can push us to be more compassionate, more industrious, more hospitable.

But ideology is dangerous. Ideology becomes more important than people. When ideological purity is demanded, we venture into dangerous territory in which lives can be seriously damaged. Ideally, we would have an electoral system that provided us with a cleaner process, parties with a greater range of choices, a spirit of cooperation and a shared sense of citizenship. But we don’t live in an ideal society. We can continue to strive to get closer to the ideal, but the sad fact is that it does not exist now and will not before November 8.

Ideology is what led the GOP to say the number one priority was to make President Obama a one term president. Ideology is what keeps Congress from giving a timely up or down vote on hundreds of judicial nominees. Ideology is what drives us to say that strongly held principles are more important than mitigating or reducing danger to the greatest number of people. Ideology gives us a sense of righteous indignation that others will question our decisions when they are not adequately rooted in reality.

By any reasonable metric, Hillary Clinton is not the same as Donald Trump. Hate the player, hate the game all you want but she is damn good at what she does. We might find it deeply depressing, but the political system is what it is and Hillary Clinton has an encyclopedic understanding of what it takes to run the country. And believe me, on November 9 I will once again pick up my megaphone and start working toward the legislative changes that are important to me. People I love are in prison. People I love are veterans who suffer from PTSD. People I love are drowning in student loan debt, have inadequate salaries and insurance, and worry about being able to carry the tax load for a family home. Yes, I love myself thank you 😉

So we’ve gotta stop saying that we’re gonna eat a shit sandwich either way. Or, what the hell. Go ahead and say it. But I’m here to tell you that consistency and amount makes a huge difference when one is facing a shit sandwich. And you’re never going to convince me to stand in Trump’s line. I’m going to be pretty pissed off if the ideological stances of others forces all of us to strap on our bibs and start shoveling shit into our mouths.

For those of you who are holding onto your principles, I get it. I respect it. Believe me, I’m a devout Christian. Everyday I wake up and try to be like Christ, so that means every single day I fail. Ideals are good. But ideology is not. Especially now. You don’t get to pretend that we are in an ideal situation in which your ideological stance doesn’t have consequences for others. And, frankly, enough of the privilege accusations on this one. Really. Enough. I am very aware of my privilege, and where I’m not I admit that I’m not. But on this one, we are facing a situation in which no one is really safe. It is not my privilege that is asking you to vote for Clinton. It is my intellect and the fact that I’m not eager to be governed by a sociopath.

With Clinton, we will have a much better change of continuing the slow, but steady changes.

Seriously. Do we not remember 2004? Do we not remember crying together in Ohio when the marriage ban passed? Look at where we are less than 15 years later. And a vast majority of that came during the Obama Administration. We have the possibility of great social justice progress, even amidst frustration and moderate push back, with Clinton. That will never, ever happen with Trump.

Hold onto your ideals. Dump the ideology.

On Hinkley and Freddie

News outlet are reporting that John Hinkley, Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981, is set to be released from a mental hospital after nearly 35 years of commitment to the psychiatric facility. The doctors in charge of his care declare that he is no longer suffering from depression and psychological delusions. For the past year, he has been living 17 days a month with his mother in Virginia. The Reagan Foundation has issued a statement saying they disagree with the doctors and the judge and declare that he is still a threat. So does that pile of human garbage that is running for president on the GOP ticket.

I don’t know what it is like to be shot. I don’t know what it is like to lose a person I love to gun violence. I am not doubting that for a few persons, although not Ronald Reagan who forgave Hinkley years ago, connected with the shooting there may still be strong feelings. And that is understandable. But on a day in which it is announced that while Freddie Gray was the victim of a homicide, not one single person seems to be responsible for his death, I am thinking that a man who was found not guilty by reason of insanity and served almost the whole of my lifetime in a facility, has earned the right to go home if actual medical professionals clear him. Because, sorry, I trust them a lot more than I do the people at the Reagan Foundation and Herr Drumpf. President Reagan and the other three victims saw justice served in their case. The Gray family is still waiting.

But this situation reveals some deep contradictions and hypocrisies in our country. First, a large number of citizens think that we are a Christian nation  but seem to forget that forgiveness it at the heart of the faith. Ronald Reagan knew it, and practiced it quickly. But 71% of Protestants and 68% of Catholics support the death penalty, which is indicative of a larger trend in this country: we like our justice retributive, not restorative. Second, Reagan’s own policies have caused the current crisis we face. Look at the rise in our private prisons, despite overwhelming evidence that they are rampant violators of human rights.  Look at the massive amounts of money taxpayers spend on incarceration, especially given that nearly 60% of those imprisoned are guilty of nonviolent offenses. In fact, Hinkley was lucky. An estimated 356,000 prisoners have serious mental illness but are not placed in institutions because of overcrowding and lack of facilities. Placing mentally ill persons in prison is a danger to themselves, other inmates, and institutional staff. And that rests squarely at the feet of the Reagan Administration and the GOP. Finally, we continue to perpetuate the notion that people cannot be rehabilitated. Returning citizens face legal, cultural, and societal stumbling blocks that make it difficult for them to reintegrate to life outside of prison. And despite the fact that Americans overwhelmingly believe that the government should be providing more treatment and support to mentally ill persons, we still see that mental illness is grossly misunderstood. If it weren’t, people would accept that doctors who have been working with Hinkley for decades are in a much better position to determine his threat level to self and others than are people with only a GED.

As a person who lives with mental illness, as someone who knows what it is like to be in distress and what it is like to be healthy, I am deeply concerned about how easily and blithely people say, “He should be locked up forever!” Really? He should? Why? Because he shot Reagan? Well, what about Freddie Gray? What about the massive number of murders that occur each year in which no one is charged or found guilty, yet we continue to fill up prisons with nonviolent offenders, essentially running graduate schools for criminality. And if that is conflating separate issues, fine. Let’s hit it head-on: consistent evidence shows that treatment works. And do we really think that doctors who have been tasked with caring for one of the most high profile patients in modern history would sign their names to recommendations for release if they were not overwhelming confident that Hinkley is not a danger to himself and others?

The dumbing down of this country and the notion that every opinion is equal is doing serious damage to lives and reasonable conversations. If we are serious about stopping the school to prison pipeline, we need to reexamine our mental health system, including building facilities for the criminally insane. Some, maybe most, should not get out. I can understand that; there are mental illnesses that are so mysterious and powerful, the only thing that can be done is to isolate a person as humanely and safely as possible, while still respecting basic rights. But others can be treated and brought back to a level of health that allows them, with proper restrictions and responsibilities, to return to society.

This is an important issue. It comes down to a basic philosophy. Are we a country that believes once a criminal always a criminal, or do we believe that rehabilitation and transformation are not only possible, but also a focus of our justice system? Because saying that people should stay locked up indefinitely or in inhumane surroundings because “JUSTICE!” just doesn’t work. It ruins lives. And it goes against the fundamental message of Jesus Christ.