Saturday, September 12, 2015

The complexities of free speech

The overly publicized battle going on in Rowan County, Kentucky, over the granting of marriage licenses has glutted social media and news outlets until we are all sick of hearing about county clerk Kim Davis and her refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in spite of the Supreme Court ruling in Oberfell and a judge's direct orders to issue lawful licenses.  Facebook friends have pleaded with us all to stop posting about her.  FB posts do not allow much room for reflection, so I would like to make my comments here.

Kim Davis is a flash in the pan.  Her time in headlines will pass.  In the large scheme of things she does not matter as much as the hoopla would lead us to think.  She is, however, a focal point in the immediate issues of equal justice under the law and religious freedom.  I believe she has been manipulated and used by fund-raising zealots (legal counsel and right-wing religious groups) and by politicians (most notably by Huckabee and Cruz).  She has also been willing to take a very public stance and be used symbolically, and I see her thus as both victim and culpable.

In a world where clever graphics become popular memes on social media she is glorified and vilified with equal fervor by the opposing camps.  It is easy to be facile and snarky and outright vicious.
When her marital history became widely known she was seen as a hypocrite since she became pregnant by husband three while still married to husband one, #2 adopted the children, then she divorced him and married husband three, and later remarried husband two. From the outside, this clearly undercuts any stance she takes on upholding a biblical view of marriage.  From within her context, however, all this happened before she "came to Jesus," and is a past of which she has presumably repented.  God does not hold it against her and neither should we.  Some of the rigidity of her current position can be seen as a, possibly desperate, attempt to demonstrate her commitment to a higher standard than the one she failed to meet in the past.  This would be her sincere attempt to demonstrate her new-found faith.  I think we need to set aside the criticism of hypocrisy on this point. In any case, it is irrelevant to her current actions and issues of law and justice.

My friend Jay has called upon us all, and on me, to remember that she is a child of God.  Name-calling is not a good way to honor the image of God in other people.  He is right.  If you press me, I will even say that I believe Dick Cheney is a child of God, though the bile I have poured upon him would not lead anyone to think I believe that.  When it comes to comments I make on this blog or on Facebook, I admit that I do not hold myself to a high standard.  When I see behavior or comments that I deem despicable, I unleash that nasty tongue (and keyboard).  My usual targets are politicians and religious conservatives. Since I do not cut Pat Robertson or Ted Cruz or Dick Cheney any slack, I am not going to cut Kim Davis any slack either.  She is no less nor any more a child of God than they are.

Kim sees herself as standing up for God's authority as opposed the human authority.  The state is not asking her to change her views, but it is demanding that she perform her civil function, which involves the issuance of legal documents, including marriage licenses.  When she invokes God's authority she is, as would be true of any of us, invoking her understanding of her deity's authority.  Other Christians invoke God as they celebrate marriage between same-sex couples. She does not have a universal standard here, but it is seen as clear and firm in the religious tradition to which she now adheres.  When she refuses to issue legal marriage licenses, she is acting not as a representative of God, which is not her job, but as a representative of the state.  As an agent of the state, she is intentionally depriving citizens of their legal right.  She may not believe it is their right, but she is not entitled to enforce her beliefs on other citizens.  That becomes an establishment of (her brand of) religion and an act of state oppression of a minority.

The furor over "religious freedom" that currently roils the social and political scene in the United States of America is fired by the decades-long, tenacious efforts of dominionists and their sympathizers to turn this nation into a theocracy.  They are relentless in repeating the lie that this was founded as, or ever was, a Christian nation. That Christianity has had profound impact on the history and ethos of the country is true.  That the Bible or the Ten Commandments are the basis of our founding documents is demonstrably false.  This nation was shaped by Enlightenment principles such as consent of the governed and social contract.  Much of the European colonization here was driven by the desire to flee established religion in Great Britain.  Baptists, Quakers, Puritans, and Roman Catholics came here to be free of the Church of England.  Each group would be leery of any other group becoming established and they were keenly aware that "Christianity" means many things to differing groups that fall under its umbrella. The USA became a workable society in which no religion was established and all could practice their beliefs freely.  We are still growing into that ideal, as we are into all the ideals of the nation.

To insist that religious believers NOT impose their beliefs and practices on others is not religious persecution.  It is a guarantee of the freedom of us all.  By refusing to issue legal marriage licenses to citizens who are by law entitled to them, Kim Davis is not only violating the rights of others, she is acting oppressively in the name of the state.  If she feels she cannot do her job without violating her conscience, then she should conscientiously resign and let someone who can and will perform the office of county clerk do so. But she is not entitled to enforce her religious beliefs on others.

I wish I had a shorthand term for "self-rightous religiously oppressive agent of the state."  That would be more precise and rise above terms like hateful beyotch and worse. I believe she is a willing and willful actor in this drama and we have a right to hold her accountable. I am going to opt for "theocratic oppressor."  Not a victim, not a martyr, not a hero, not a saint, no more a sinner than anyone, but definitely an oppressor.

My novels of Mídhris involve the conflict between oppressive power and redemptive love. Caesar versus Christ, if you will.  My perception of Kim Davis is that she has currently sided with Caesar, an irony I am certain she would not appreciate.

I started with a title about free speech.  This essay is an attempt not only to clarify issues as I see them but to push back against a "censorship from the left." When I exercise my right of free speech I am, as we all are, subject to push back from others. The dialogue continues.

--the BB

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Farewell, Big Sister

Shirley Louise Benzler (née Strid)
17 December 1931 - 7 September 2015

 This is my all-time favorite photo of my Big Sister Shirley.  She smolders with Hollywood glamor and appears ready to take on the world. (Eat your heart out, Joan Crawford.)

Both of my sisters are older than I.  Shirley, as eldest, has long been Big Sister and Iva, younger than Shirley, has been Little Sister.  Even why I had reached my full height (though mercifully not my current weight) in high school, she boasted that she could whip me.  I did not challenge her assertion.  As we all know, young and strong and swift (even were I swift) cannot stand against old and tough and sneaky.

Shirley loved to skate, whether on roller or ice skates.  I could not keep my balance on roller skates, so I was certainly impressed.  She moved out, shared an apartment with a girlfriend, had jobs; the independent firstborn.  Domesticity was not her thing; if it was more than Hamburger Helper she probably would not want to cook it and the only beef she ate was ground beef.  Iva and I inherited the cooking mojo.

 Shirley on her tricycle

Life with a baby brother can undoubtedly become tedious.  When The Egyptian came out in 1954, guess who took me to the drive-in to see it... along with her boyfriend.  Why do I suspect, in retrospect, that Mother sent me as a chaperon? I remember seeing Oklahoma at the indoor theater in 1955.  I do not remember who had to drag me along, one sister or both.  I do remember my curiosity and anxiety about some Red Skeleton.  Hey, I was too young to know the actor and comedian Red Skelton then!  For these movies, I was 8 and 9, respectively.

 Iva and Shirley with Grandmother Iva Rhoades Safford

Oh, a smartass baby brother, I should add.  One day, when I was five, I told Shirley I was bored.  She told me to learn the alphabet backward.  Was she truly posing a challenge or just getting rid of me for a while?  I went away, wrote down the alphabet, practiced like crazy, then returned and rattled it off from Z to A.  I can still do it, though not so quickly, and sometimes practice doing it with foreign alphabets.  You never know when that sobriety test might come along.

Dad, Grandmother Marie K. (Moberg) Strid, Shirley, and Paula
Four Generations

 Many memories center on the cabin that Dad built at Hume Lake, huset på backen (the house on the hill in Swedish). One treat was sleeping on the wrap-around porch in the summer and seeing the Milky Way as one could never see it in the city.  And during the Leonid meteor shower we watched "shooting stars."  I would entertain my nieces and nephews with short stories I made up, somewhat along the lines of Edgar Allen Poe.  Who can resist telling "ghost stories" in the woods, even if we were not out in tents?

I remember playing Crazy Eights with Grandmother Strid.  Hume being a strict fundamentalist environment we were not allowed playing cards lest someone gamble.  Well, any preteen boy can quickly figure out that if you take a Rook deck and remove the fourteens you have a perfectly fine deck of cards with which to play poker, gin, canasta, solitaire, etc.  Grandmother was born in Sweden.  Her "J" always came out as a "Y" and, to compensate, her "Y" always came out as a "J."  So when she called the (Rook) suit "yellow" she said "Jell-o."  The gelatin dessert, of course, was "yellow."

 Mugging for my camera.  This is cropped.  
Her husband Jack was eyeing the whole thing suspiciously.

 I mention cards because Shirley loved playing games.  She loved crossword puzzles.  One night when she was at home, the two of us were playing Scrabble.  We were probably up way past my bedtime.  She challenged some word I had put down and out came the dictionary.  I stumbled across the word "kibe," which means an ulcerated chilblain.  Although I have never been able to play that word in Scrabble I have never forgotten it because, as happens when one is running on fumes, we found it hilariously funny and laughed until tears ran.  As with all such stories, you had to be there.

I taught Shirley how to play cribbage and the two of us played many games of it.  She taught me to play pinochle.  I picked up the French game Mille Bornes and we played that.  Later Yahtzee came along.  Shirley was always up for this, with close friends and with family across generations.

I don't know what I said as we washed dishes but
I probably deserved the slap she gave me.

The wild child was partly tamed from a motorcycle accident that left her with a bunch of metal in her legs.  Although the love of puzzles and games remained, and the love of riding on motorcycles behind Jack, in a sidecar, or on the big trike, the fiery energy had diminished.

Shirley at Iva and JR's for Christmas

Since her birthday is just before Christmas, what this cropped photo does not show is a big yellow tag she wore.  It was part of a birthday card I had sent her that year and read, "I am the sister of a wonderful brother" or some such silliness.  And she wore it.

Shirley and Jack in later years

When Bill and I took a road trip to California for grandnephew Jeremy's wedding to Katie, we stopped in Fresno and had dinner with Shirley and Jack.  I had never seen them quite so mellow and loving toward each other and Bill and I cherish the memory of that night.  It was so sweet.

Alzheimer's is cruel and was not kind to my Big Sister.  She was finally ready to go and in the last hour Paula reports that she was at peace and died in Paula's arms.  With these photos I remember the Shirley I knew before the disease took hold. May Heaven's motorcycle rallies ring with her laughter, may San Pascual fix her some good biscuits and gravy, and may she and Aunt Dorothy share loads of stories.

Happy from now on
are those who die in the Lord!
So it is, says the Spirit,
for they rest from their labors.

Into paradise may the angels lead you. 
At your coming may the martyrs receive you, 
and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.

Rest in peace, Big Sister.

--the BB