Coaches

I thought I overheard someone say, “The Supreme Court backed coaches preying on the field.” Preying? You mean, preying on children and teens…?

It took me a moment to realize that the Supreme Court was not supporting child-molesting coaches, but was instead allowing coaches to offer supplication to their deity before and after sports games.

Sadly, given the ongoing sexual abuse crises in some conservative Christian denominations, my momentary confusion is somewhat understandable. Even I — and I should know better — subconsciously associate organized religion with unsavory unethical actions of male leaders.

Toxic masculinity

Actor Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock during the Oscar awards ceremony. Now we learn that he was asked to leave but refused. I’ve been asking myself some questions about this incident….

— Why didn’t security remove Will Smith? Had he slapped a woman, of course he would have been hustled out of there. But a man hitting another man is somehow considered normal.

— Why a slap, and not a punch? Because a man defends his honor by slapping the other man. It’s a challenge to a subsequent duel. This continues to be a behavioral norm for men in Euro-American culture.

— If Chris Rock’s joke was aimed at Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith’s wife, why didn’t she slap him? Because this really wasn’t about Will Smith defending Jada Pinkett Smith. It was really about Will Smith defending his own honor.

— Why didn’t Will Smith stop to think about the example he was setting for all the teens and young men who idolize him (and he had plenty of time to think on that walk up to the stage)? Because he was passing along what he learned from previous generations of American men: Defend your honor with violence.

This incident is a classic example of toxic masculinity. The norms of toxic masculinity are deeply ingrained in our social structure. Men are trained from birth to defend our honor. We are socialized from birth to use violence.

I’d like to think that I would never do what Will Smith did. But if I’m honest with myself, in the right circumstances, I might. Yes, I’m a pacifist. I’m a feminist. I’ve taken on a non-standard gender role by working in the helping professions. But any American man could do what Will Smith did, given the right circumstances. Yes, even me. Even you….

Of course Will Smith should be held accountable for his bad behavior. But those of us who are men might also want to think about what this incident says about all of us. We men still have work to do to change what it means to be a man. Let’s use this incident to remind ourselves how important that work is.

Update: In response to a thoughtful email — (1) I’m not trying to excuse Chris Rock’s insensitive joke. (2) Most men do not consider it acceptable to slap another man. (3) One of the horrible things about toxic masculinity is that it damages all men (to say nothing of other genders).

Carol encounters Bike life

Carol is a local bike activist, and she’s been working with MoveSanMateo to promote bike lanes in North Central, our old neighborhood in San Mateo (which we got priced out of when our landlord sold the building we lived in).

So when she heard that bo2focused was organizing a bike ride in North Central, the neighborhood where he grew up, she got other MoveSanMateo bicyclists to go and join their ride.

It wasn’t just a bike ride, it was Bike life. What is Bike life? It’s a subculture. It’s a bunch of young bike riders popping wheelies on city streets. Bike life sometimes puts together big rides, not unlike Critical Mass or Bike Party put together big rides. Just like Critical Mass, Bike life sometimes annoys motorists by filling up the public right of way with so many bicycles that cars and trucks have to slow down.

bo2focused posted some videos of Saturday’s ride, and Carol appears at the beginning of one of the videos, talking to one of the vendors who showed up.

Carol’s brief appearance in a Bike life Instagram video

Carol says she was probably the only bicyclist there who was over 40. She was also one of the few women, and one of the few white people. The Bike life people drifted in over next next couple of hours, and at last they started riding through North Central. Wheelies that last five or ten minutes, and bicyclists weaving around one another, are characteristic of Bike life. Carol decided to drop to the back of the pack, and then at a traffic light she lost the Bike life group. So she rode over to Wursthaus, where some of her MoveSanMateo bicyclist friends were hanging out and eating lunch to celebrate City Council approving the North Central bike lanes.

Bike life is not known for being cautious. After Carol left the ride, Bike life kind of took over the intersection at Delaware and Fourth. The police were called out, including a motorcycle cop who attempted to follow one of the bicyclists….

Click on the screen grab above to see the video on Instagram

Embarrassingly for the police officer, his motorcycle fell down. The Bike life group rode off down Delaware.

Continue reading “Carol encounters Bike life”

What doesn’t kill you….

Sometimes when I’m talking to someone who has just been through a major life disaster, they will say, “Well, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ right?” They find it comforting to think that life will turn out all right in the end.

When I’m doing pastoral counseling, my job is mostly to listen, and maybe to help people find at least a little hope in their lives. If the phrase “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”gives them hope, then of course I agree with them.

But I can’t help thinking about all the people who have suffered through one of life’s disasters, and come out of the other end weaker, rather than stronger. And I think to myself: “What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you.” That can still be an expression of hope, just maybe a little more true to more people’s actual experiences.

So I was pleased to read about Kate Bowler’s new book, No Cure for Being Human (and Other Truths I Needed To Hear). Bowler’s earlier book, Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) gently showed up the mistakes of the Prosperity Gospel, that strange vaguely Christian theology which interprets any misfortune as some kind of personal failing that has invoked God’s disfavor.

Bowler’s new book continues in the same vein. Religion News Service says the book “is a broadside against a culture obsessed with the power of positive thinking.” Bowler is a professor at Duke University who has written academic studies of the Prosperity Gospel. And she survived stage 4 colon cancer while in her thirties, and “her health is fragile and will likely remain so.” So she is someone who can see just how damaging the prosperity gospel can be. And she’s out to provide a popular, friendly, optimistic alternative.

And boy, do we need an alternative to the Prosperity Gospel. Because it’s not just Christians who believe in the Prosperity Gospel. I have atheist friends who think this is the best of all possible worlds, that you can improve your life by making more money and “taking care of yourself,” that if anything goes wrong in your life it’s your own fault. I have Buddhist friends who believe that you wouldn’t suffer if you’d just meditate more, so if you feel bad it’s your own fault. And I have Pagan friends who are convinced that it’s negative thinking that causes life’s problems, meaning if you have any problems, it’s your own fault.

But of course it isn’t your fault. When bad things happen to you, more often than not it just means that bad things have happened to you. (Of course, if you do something foolish like storming the Capitol building and you find yourself in jail, then yes it actually is your fault.) I’m glad there are people like Kate Bowler who are willing to point out that the Prosperity Gospel in any form — Christian, atheist, Buddhist, Pagan — is wrong. There’s a better way: learn to live with life as it is, and instead of manufacturing fake hope, find real hope instead.

Conspiracy theories and religion

In the latest podcast at the Religious Studies Project, Carmen Celestini, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre on Hate, Bias, and Extremism, talks about her research into conspiracy theories. She begins by offering one of the best definitions I’ve ever heard of what a conspiracy theory actually is:

“A conspiracy theory is usually some articulation of fear and trying to find an answer to what’s causing the fear or causing sustained sense of disaster. It’s an explanation when some of the things that you would normally turn to aren’t providing the answers you’re looking for.”

Then she offers a fascinating overview of conspiracy theories in North America, from the Know-Nothings in the 19th century, to the John Birch Society in the 20th century, to QAnon in the 21st century. She covers a bunch of topics that I’m currently fascinated with, including the resurgence of the John Birch Society in recent years, “Blue Beam,” “White Lives Matter,” the Council for National Policy, and the role of religion among people who refuse to get vaccinated.

She concludes by saying that it’s not helpful to merely dismiss conspiracy theories, because they’re not going to simply disappear:

“Possibly when people get back to work and the pandemic is over and people start engaging with social groups again, [the prevalence of conspiracy theories] might lessen a little bit, but those ideas of distrust are not going to simply go away. Those ideas of distressing the media or government are not going to go away. And it is something that the government and media and all of us have to articulate. We have to be out there in our public intellectualism talking about these things and not dismissing people but engaging and trying to understand.”

This is useful advice for religious liberals who may be inclined to dismiss conspiracy theories, and the religious impulses associated with them. Instead of dismissing them, we’d be better off using our skills in interfaith and cross-cultural understanding. The distrust underlying conspiracy theories is real, and it behooves us to try to understand.

COVID’s impact on health care providers

The Wild Hunt, a pagan news blog, has a good post on how health care providers are dealing with the current COVID surge: “Pagan health providers respond to the Delta variant surge.” The author, Stacy Psaros, interviews several nurses who say things like, “You have healthcare workers being driven out of the industry due to burnout, physical and emotional stress of the situation.” Psaros also includes a few facts about how the current surge is different, including that in the week ending August 19, 22.4% of the weekly reported COVID cases were children, according to the American Pediatric Association.

Towards the end of the article, Psaros spends too much time quoting a nurse who doesn’t believe in vaccine mandates for health care providers and doesn’t think the experts are to be trusted — so much so that the editors of The Wild Hunt had to insert a disclaimer refuting some of this interviewee’s more ridiculous assertions. Sadly, it sounds like Psaros agrees with this interviewee, while not really understanding how this kind of libertarianism actually contributes to the health care provider burnout she’s reporting on. Nevertheless, despite this serious flaw, the article is worth reading so you can hear from some health care providers about what they’re experiencing.

Transgracial

“Transgracial” — that’s not a typographical error. Rebecca Tuvel, professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis, explores the implications of a “transgracial,” or combined transgender and transracial identity, in a post to the American Philosophy Association (APA) “Black Issues in Philosophy” blog. In this post, Tuvel argues that transracial identity is analogous to transgender identity, where “analogous to” doesn’t mean “identical to.” When she first published these ideas in 2017, apparently some people were outraged. But I think Tuvel’s proposed analogy is less interesting than an essay she refers to written by Ronnie Gladden, who presents as a black man but who identifies as a white woman.

This essay, published in 2015 in Queer Cats Journal of LGBTQ Studies is titled “TRANSgressive Talk: An Introduction to the Meaning of Transgracial Identity.” The author, at that time a doctoral student in education at Northern Kentucky University, identifies their names as both Ronnie Gladden and Rachael Greenberg, so I’ll refer to them as Gladden/Greenberg. (For reference, it appears in 2021 that they identify simply as Ronnie Gladden.) In 2015, Gladden/Greenberg began their essay by saying:

“My confrontation with my internalized racial unrest, along with a growing awareness of my authentic gender identity, has been prompted, in part, by two socio-political shifts: 1) the escalating tensions belying the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, and 2) the increased visibility of transgender individuals in a myriad of public spaces. Increasingly, I feel an urgency to be forthcoming about my true identity in an era where transparency is not just encouraged; it is demanded. In spite of presenting as outwardly black and male — by and large I view myself as white and female….”

Gladden/Greenberg writes about an intersectional identity that I hadn’t thought about before. They describe tensions in their life that I wouldn’t have thought about. At the same time, claiming a transracial identity in the U.S. today may not seem possible, given the way we understand race in our society. But a 2014 article in Georgetown Law Journal by Camille Gear Rich, Gould School of Law at USC, titled “Elective Race: Recognizing Race Discrimination in the Era of Racial Self-Identification”, referred to in Tuvel’s blog post, may help to think further about the question of transracial identities. In this article, Rich writes:

“[W]e are in a key moment of discursive and ideological transition, an era in which the model of elective race is ascending, poised to become one of the dominant frameworks for understanding race in the United States. Because we are in a period of transition, many Americans still are wedded to fairly traditional attitudes about race. For these Americans, race is still an objective, easily ascertainable fact determined by the process of involuntary racial ascription — how one’s physical traits are racially categorized by third parties. The elective-race framework will challenge these Americans to recognize other ways in which people experience race, including acts of voluntary affiliation as well as selective and conditional affiliations.”

Rich acknowledges that this new elective model of race poses distinct challenges: “The elective-race framework rejects claims about the obdurate, all-encompassing nature of white privilege and the need for racial passing” (p. 1506). Rich isn’t denying that white privilege is real, but at the same time different individuals may navigate white privilege in different ways. Rich also points out that “neither lay understandings nor institutional understandings of elective race are fully developed”; I’m finding Rich’s article to be an excellent resource as I develop my own understanding of elective race.

Given that a significant number of people — let’s say, a growing number of people — accept the evolving concept of elective race, it should be no surprise to find people who identify as living at the intersection of transracial and transgender identities. I imagine that will be a difficult intersection at which to live. I wonder how Unitarian Universalism (and other religions, for that matter) will respond to the persons living at that intersection.

Jokes from class today

The question of the day in today’s middle school class was “What’s your favorite joke?” This unleashed a spate of jokes. We all laughed (and groaned) a lot, and I realized that during the pandemic I don’t hear jokes much any more. Below are some of the jokes I can remember from today’s class; add more (clean ones preferred) in the comments.

Why is pi the loneliest number?
No one talks to him because he goes on forever.

A goat, a drum, and a snake fall off a cliff.
Baa, dump, tss.

What do you call a cow with no legs?
Ground beef.

Why did the whale cross the road?
The chicken was on a break.

What’s the stickiest Greek monster?
The Mino-tar. (thanks, Benjamin!)

How to make Halloween costumes for your stuffies

If you can’t go out trick-or-treating this year, or go to a Halloween party, how about making costumes for your stuffed animals? You could even hold a costume party for stuffies. Here’s a video with some idea on how to make easy, effective costumes for your stuffed animals:

Click on the image above to take you to the video on Youtube.

In the video, you’ll see Dr. Sharpie Ann get costumed as a queen (Queen of the Universe, of course), Packie the Dusky-footed Woodrat as a pirate, Possum as an angel, and Hedgehog as a cowboy.

Once you dress up your stuffies, take their photos and post them on social media.