Friday, March 19, 2021

Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois's "Litany for Atlanta"

As result of the 1906 Massacre in Atlanta left between 10 and 100 African Americans were left dead. Wikipedia notes, "According to the Atlanta History Center, some black Americans were hanged from lamposts; others were shot, beaten or stabbed to death. They were pulled from street cars and attacked on the street; white mobs invaded black neighborhoods, destroying homes and businesses." Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, then a professor at Atlanta University, penned "Litany for Atlanta." It seems appropriate to revisit Dr. Du Bois's words as we mourn 8 people killed this week in Atlanta.  An excerpt from the original:

 A city lay in travail, God our Lord, and from her loins sprang twin Murder and Black Hate. Red was the midnight; clang, crack and cry of death and fury filled the air and trembled underneath the stars when church spires pointed silently to Thee. And all this was to sate the greed of greedy men who hide behind the veil of vengeance!
    Bend us Thine ear, O Lord!
  In the pale, still morning we looked upon the deed. We stopped our ears and held our leaping hands, but they—did they not wag their heads and leer and cry with bloody jaws: Cease from Crime! The word was mockery, for thus they train a hundred crimes while we do cure one.
    Turn again our captivity, O Lord!

Friday, March 5, 2021

Our Rehab: A Mushroom on the Seder Plate

I want to propose adding a mushroom to the Seder plate this year.  

My Seder plate from 2010

I want to start by noting that "Our Rehab" is a new topic for my blog. We are coming out of the pandemic with three metrics: hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations. But those fall far short of capturing the misery of the past year.  What are the numbers of mothers depressed? Evictions hanging over people? Low wage people who's employers went out of business? Main Street businesses that closed? Elderly who didn't exercise and are deconditioned? Children who fell behind in school? People who discovered that they didn't want to work as frantically as they had? New gourmet cooks who'd rather cook than do take out?  The suffering and the ways we found to endure are the real measures of where we are at this point in time.  

When I look at those numbers, I say, "This is as serious as a heart attack!"

Well, if you or I had had a heart attack, we'd go to cardiac rehab! If we'd hit a bottom from drugs or alcohol, we'd go to rehab. If we were injured in a car crash -- as was our beloved Tiger Woods -- we'd go to rehab. You get where I'm going with this: we need rehab. "Our Rehab" is a new project of the University of Orange to ask all organizations to help us get back on our feet.  

I propose that we start Our Rehab this Passover on Sunday, March 28th. While Passover is a Jewish holiday, the Jews I know are happy to invite others over for the observance. And, having grown up on Paul Robeson singing the African American spiritual "Let My People Go," I always felt a deep identification with the story of Exodus -- I know this is shared by many African Americans, although we haven't had a festival for it.  

In Jewish tradition, the observance of holidays, and especially Passover, is a family task. Families make the meal and carry out the ceremony, using a Haggadah for the telling of the story. The meal is organized around a ceremonial Seder plate, on which are items symbolic of many parts of the story. Families can add to the Seder plate, for example families have added an orange for LGBTQ+ equality. This year, my family and my church family will be adding a mushroom to the Seder plate. Why, you might ask?

Mushrooms are remarkable organisms that represent the upthrusting of dense underground mycelial networks. They come up and then disappear, but this does not mean the underground network has died. Mushrooms are a metaphor for communities, as we require dense networks, even when the connections are not visible to the naked eye. We celebrate the moments when the community comes together to show its ability to solve problems or help the vulnerable -- when it mushrooms, we might say -- but we rely on the connections every day of our lives.  

The battering we've taken in the past year has strained our connections and taught us that injustice has put all of us at risk. We need to repair as much of that injury -- that of the past year and the past 400 years -- as we can. This is Our Rehab. Just as rehab can prevent a second heart attack, Our Rehab can protect us from future plagues, help us manage climate change, and prepare us for a just and sustainable future. If we fail to do Our Rehab, we put ourselves at risk of more plagues. It took ten plagues before Pharaoh let the Jews go free: how many will we need before we make the changes we need to make? The mushroom on the Seder plate poses the question to us: will we repair the strains and injustices that undermine our communities or do we need more plagues to wake up to these tasks?

My community will hold seder on March 28th at 4pm est: you are welcome to join us. Or join another Seder or host one of your own. Remember to put a mushroom on the Seder plate and ask, "How many more plagues before God's people are free?"