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Archive for September, 2010

September Song

She was born in 1918 in rural New York State, and yesterday would have been Vera Racine Weiner’s 92nd birthday.  She was the older daughter of a school teacher/principal and a housewife, and Vera was not altogether thrilled to find herself an older sister after many years of being an only child.  She was fiery and often single-minded and, though she loved her family, she was anxious to leave her country life and move to the city, any city, to become something important.

I’ve come to terms, over the years and particularly since my mother died in March of 2006, with the realities of who she was, as well as who she wasn’t.  She was a woman who worked with emotionally disturbed boys (at the Berkshire Farm for Boys) as a teacher, and later as an (untrained) dietician and occupational therapist, and as a (licensed) teacher in public elementary and pre-school settings.  She was a fine cook and loved to entertain.  She wanted desperately to have a child, miscarried more than once, and finally, after more than ten years of trying, got her one-and-only.

She was a crusader for the right of women to choose the size of their family, and a social and political liberal who used to curse at Richard Nixon and delight at everything Jack Kennedy said.  She loved to travel and, in her later years, spent weeks every winter in Barbados with my father and their close friends.  She adored her son-in-law (who she announced was ‘perfect,’ and her grandchildren, about whom she felt similarly.  And she was generous with the money she had carefully saved over her life, showering clothes (always clothes!) on her son-in-law and grandchildren, a hot tub on her family, and making sure that her younger grandchild had at least the beginnings of a nest egg (as her older grandchild had previously been given by another grandparent) to pay for her education, when the time came.

But, I have come to acknowledge, she was also something of a selfish social-climber:  influenced by people (mostly men) of ‘importance,’ by tasteful clothes with a fancy label, by shoes (I used to joke that she could take Imelda Marcos on, any day).  She was uninterested in music more recent than Patti Page or Tony Bennett, hated Shakespeare, and refused to go to movies. While she defended me if she sensed others were doing me wrong, she was continually critical about how I looked and what I weighed.  In her book, ‘you could never be too thin or too rich,’ and near the end of her life, as her behavior became somewhat obsessive and she displayed anorexic tendancies, the sad realities of  that shallow devotion became truer and truer.

She was stubborn — my father’s relatives would say, in Yiddish slang, stubbish — to the point of destructiveness, cutting off friends and even damaging her relationship (and our family’s) with her sister because of a fight over the interpretation of her parents’ will.  Her Aunt Laura once said to me, “It’s a good thing Oscar [my father] married Vera, because he was the only one who could handle her!”  And she drank to excess too often, displaying signs of alcoholism that she refused to acknowledge as she downed her martinis.

So, a warm and fuzzy mother she was not.  But she adored my father, and — acknowledging that good relationships are made out of a give and take that is not easily found — their marriage will always remain in my memory of one of the great love stories I’ve ever known.  When Oscar was dying of ALS, she insisted on caring for him in their home, even though it took a huge physical toll on her, as she cracked ribs trying to lift him or exhausted herself with his daily care.  She offered him the ultimate gift, allowing him to die in his own home, in his own bed:  a promise kept.

Yesterday the rains moved in to the Boston area. I spent the earlier part of the day at First Parish in Lexington, which Mom enjoyed attending (she would have loved the new minister, a young and outgoing and attractive man who is great at talking with folks of all ages) and she would have eagerly gobbled the raspberries I later picked from an organic farm in nearby Winchester.  But then the skies darkened and started to spit.  She always hated her birthday because it came at a time when, she said, the year was dying away.  I thought of that as I drove to a meeting at 3:30 PM with my lights on and a mist in the air.  Had she been alive, we would, no doubt, have made her a very rich chocolate cake, for she always had room for dessert although she picked at everything else.  And she would have loved seeing the thin and lovely young woman her younger grandchild has grown into, full of talent and promise.

The Kurt Weill song made famous by Frank Sinatra reminds us:

“Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game

“Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days I’ll spend with you…
These precious days I’ll spend with you”

Her precious days are gone, now, and the memories remain:  good, bad, middling, mixed together.  On September 26, I thought of Mom, and all that she was, with eyes that saw her a bit more clearly, even through the mist of time and unsettled weather.

formal picture of Vera Weiner

Vera Weiner, c. 1990

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I’ve been realizing how much has changed since the attacks on our country of September 11, 2001.  Most of us mark huge events like this with the way things were ‘before’ and the way they were ‘after.’  There have been others in my lifetime, of course.  I was in 7th grade when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  Before it happened, my recollection of our country was that we had come through a large chunk of the Cold War and the Bay of Pigs, people were feeling generally optimistic, and most of the kids I knew were in love with a charming and magical young President and his beautiful wife.  The days of “duck and cover” air raid drills were gone, and the baby boom generation was getting ready to take over the world.

After, the clouds seemed to close in, and not just because it was the late November in New England.  My family gathered around the TV and watched Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather for hours on end, riveted and consumed by grief, even as we tried to celebrate Thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle.  We had lost our hero, we had lost our soul.  From there, it only got worse over the next years, as the Viet Nam war escalated, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were killed, and my friends found that they had the draft to look forward to instead of college.

When the Challenger space shuttle blew up, it was another ‘before’ and ‘after’ moment.  My generation was the one that grew up watching space launches, believing Kennedy when he talked about sending people to the moon.  We dreamed of going to Mars, to outer galaxies.  We had watched Star Trek, for heaven’s sake, and Star Wars, and we believed we could do anything.  Anything but prevent disaster from ocurring as we eagerly launched a space mission in a rocket and capsule that had flaws so deep that the words “go at throttle up” still send shivers down my spine when I hear them.

These events were ones which rocked my sense of stability, but, I must admit, not in the way 9/11 did.  On that beautiful late-summer day, there was a sense that the bottom had fallen out.  I heard someone say, recently, that he wondered if it was the last day he would be alive.  I remember thinking that, too, as the horrible events unfolded.  Seeing a young colleague from New York running through the halls, crying, as she told me that the World Trade Center tower had collapsed.  Finding out that planes had blown up, and wondering if a colleague was one one of them.  Hearing that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon.  Then, being told that we, located next door to the State House, were being told to leave our offices because the police felt that the State House might be attacked.

I went home and started working on web coverage of the attacks for the Unitarian Universalist Association, knowing that there were surely UUs who had died in the Trade Towers or on the street, wondering what it was that we might offer to our constituents that would be helpful in the middle of this horrible time.  I wondered what my husband and I would say to our then seven-year-old daughter,  how we could protect her from this pervasive madness. And thinking that perhaps bombs were going to take us all out so that it wouldn’t matter.

“This is the way the world ends,” wrote T.S. Eliot in “The Hollow Men.” “Not with a bang but with a whimper.” It felt like we were whimpering, all right…not knowing where to turn.  We did go on, we did get up, we did rise again — most of us, anyway.  The World Trade Towers are being rebuilt now, along with a monument to remember those who died in the disaster.  Lady Liberty still holds her lamp in the harbor, and we still play baseball, although now, many ball parks join in singing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch, something new since 9/11.

What has come after, however, is a pervasive and deep-seated mistrust of one another.  We are quick to accuse, and very fast to condemn.  We throw insults and rumors at ethnic and cultural and religious groups like poison darts, and assume, far too often, that our neighbor is our enemy rather than our friend.  Pundits have suggested that this is, in fact, what Al Quaeda wanted — to plant suspicions and mistrust in our hearts, to move us to fight one another, in a country with a now-unstable economy where one group of folk get richer and many more suffer from economic woes.

Before, and after:  times forever marked by fundamental changes in how we understand ourselves as Americans, and how we treat those who live next door or those who we meet on the street.  And with these behaviors it is regrettably true that we also find, as Shakespeare wrote, that “all are punished.”

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This weekend marks the holiest time in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, when, after being called to atone for their short-comings for the year and make amends toward those they may have wronged, the year is closed and a new page in the Book of Life turns.  The time is spent in prayer and contemplation and fasting, and then, as the Shofar blows and more prayers are said, we are called to begin again…in love.

I was raised a Unitarian Universalist, but my father was raised as an Orthodox Jew by his Russian immigrant parents.  He was the one child, of six that Isadore and Tillie Weiner had, who married outside the faith, to a Protestant woman, Vera Racine.  Of all the children the six brothers and sisters had from their marriages (8) I am the one who was not raised a Jew.  My parents came to Unitarian Universalism together (they were the people whose faces appeared in national ads for UUism some years ago, saying, “We were looking for a church for the wedding.  We found a religion.”)

I love my faith tradition, and one of the things I treasure is that it allows me to bring my family and my cultural and religious history into my own faith practices.

Last weekend and this week I’ve been particularly fortunate, because several of my cousins (two of whom are Rabbis) have gathered, and I’ve had the time to be with them and celebrate our family cultural life.  That is a life that, last Sunday, included going to my own Unitarian Universalist church ingathering service, where the beginnings of the year were lifted up.  Our minister spoke of the end of Ramadan, the beginning of the new year (Rosh Hashanah), the start of a new ministry at our church, commencement of a new school year, all co-mingled, like the water we poured into one common bowl marking remembrance of our summer’s journeys.

I went home to host a brunch for my cousins of kugel, eggs, bagels and lox and whitefish, with family stories being told and re-told…a celebration of how our family of poor people, who came in search of a better life, made their way in this country and an indication that we, their children, still carry their stories and lives with us.  And at another family meal I made my Aunt Estelle’s brisket and we ate challah and honey — another family favorite — to remind us of our traditions and of the sweetness in life that we all wish for one another.

On the teak china deck in our dining room sit two photos that I look at every day:  one of my grandmother, Tillie Rosen, with her father, a Rabbi, taken (we believe) on her sixteenth birthday.  The photo was made in Russia, probably just before she boarded a ship to New York to start a new life and her arranged marriage to my grandfather.  In another small frame sits a photo of Tillie, a little older, with her husband, Isadore Weiner, a memento of their wedding day, around 1896, in New York.  I have only one other photo of Tillie – from the mid-1940’s — taken at the opening of her son Morris’ haberdashery in Newburgh, NY.  Literally nothing else of the life of my grandparents exists in my home but this…but the stories do live on.

It was my father who made these people — who died before I was born — live for me.  They were uneducated, but very, very smart, and full of wisdom.  My father’s favorite story was of his sister, Freda’s engagement party.  My father was a young boy when Freda became engaged.  His parents scraped together enough money to have a little celebration of the engagement (to Arnold Rosenberg) and my father was sent off from the family tenement with a dollar to procure a jar of mustard for cold cuts.  Arriving at the store he found gallon jars of Gulden’s mustard in the window…costing $1 each.  He bought one and returned home.  He remembers being ridiculed:  “You dummy!  Why’d you get such a big jar of mustard!  You wasted that money!  Take it back!”  He also recalled his father sternly asking him:  “Did you pay for the mustard?”  “Yes,” my father answered.  “He paid for it – we keep it!”, his father replied.  And so the maxim was passed on to me:  “You make a deal, you keep the deal…no matter what.”

Many people have cultural lives more blended than mine.  Our new minister, for instance, is half-Palestinian, half-American, raised in French-speaking Canada, with a partner who is a South African Jew.  It is this cultural richness that bubbles up from the melting pot that is America, and that makes us so blessed to be able to honor and celebrate our many traditions, and to learn the many lessons passed on from other faiths and other countries.

In these next days, as I take time to consider what the year ended has been like and to reach out to those to whom I need to make amends, I will be nurtured by the diversity of traditions present in my life, the ones that I bring to my family’s life as I pass on the stories and the celebrations.  May we all be so renewed for the coming year.

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Tonight is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the start of the High Holy Days.  Tomorrow, September 9, is the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting in the Islamic calendar.  Tomorrow is also — at least for some Christian groups — a National Day of Prayer.  All this occurs as the debate over whether to build a mosque and community center in New York continues to rage, and as a minister in Florida declares that, on September 11, he will publicly burn copies of the Qu’ran.

At a time when there is so much division and so much hate in our world, why would someone choose to carry forward an act of aggression under the veil that this is freedom of speech?  One’s right to speak is not questioned here…but an act of such condemnation and negativity will only stir more division; burning these holy books is not above freedom of speech, the act flies in the face of another major Right of this country:  freedom to worship.  Even our top Generals in Afghanistan have spoken out against the announced burning of Qu’rans, saying it will feed violence in the region and put our troops in grave danger.

Under the guise of knowing what is ‘right’ or the word of God, we can sometimes mis-step.  But can any loving God, any caring God — however that God might be defined — support such an act as burning the book that a major faith group finds most holy?  We have moved beyond the vision of “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” and surely, we must believe that God will hold and love us all.

In major cities, interfaith groups of religious leaders are coming together to affirm this idea, again and again, saying that the act in Gainesville which is proposed to commemorate a horrible day in the life of America is not an act that we support and affirm. Many more of us must take to the streets and public squares throughout our country, to join these faith leaders to stand, in these most holy days, on the side of love.  Whatever we perceive as having been done in earlier days, let us not meet such painful memories with more violence and aggression.

Today I had lunch with my cousin, a rabbi from the Chicago area, and asked him whether his son, also a rabbi who serves in the Boston area, would be preaching about these subjects in his sermons this week.  “Absolutely,” was the response.  There are lessons to be learned, there is an olive branch to be grasped, and there is, most of all, renewing love to be shared.

As some faith traditions prepare to turn a new page in the Book of Life, we have an opportunity:  to choose love over hate, connection over separation, and friendship and respect over condemnation and division.  Let us choose love, over and over again.

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Labor Day is the ‘unofficial’ end of summer, but of course, summer continues for some weeks – thank goodness!  I am, among other things, a caterer, and as the end of summer approaches, I am filled with ideas for what to do with the goods of the garden which continue to come in, in abundance.  I learned so much about cooking from the garden from my grandmother, Norma Racine, and a number of the recipes I use were hers, dating back 100 years or more.  There’s also one real prize-winner from the other side of the family that’s great for the High Holy Days coming right up…thank you, Estelle Weiner, of blessed memory.

So here are some suggestions for what to do if you’ve got too many of a few of those great things:

ZUCCHINI:
– Zucchini Relish –  delicious, tangy and sweet, very easy to make with a food processor
– Zucchini Bread and Butter Pickles – just like grandma used to make but with zucchini instead of cukes
– Zucchini Cinnamon Brownies – just fantastic, moist and delicious, even better with a few butterscotch chips thrown in
– Zucchini Bread – spicy and chewy and a welcome change from banana bread but made as a loaf
– Zucchini Pancakes – tiny little fritters, turning what can be a bland vegetable into a delicious accompaniment for your dinner
– Zucchanoes – scooped out zucchini ‘boats’ stuffed with chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers, bread crumbs, olive oil, cheese and spices, then baked
– Zucchini/pear soup – delicious cold or hot, and all-vegetarian
– Zucchini parmesan – just like eggplant, but made with thin-sliced zucchini (which I grill rather than bread and fry)
– Zucchini/potato/dill/shallot soup – almost like a vichysoise, and again, good hot or cold

CUCUMBERS:
– Cold cream of cucumber soup with fresh dill – our family’s favorite summer soup, just wonderful served with crusty bread, cheese, and a salad
– Cucumbers sliced with fresh dill and yogurt dressing
– Cucumber/radish dip –  shredded cukes and radishes with a little onion, whizzed up with a mixture of cream cheese, sour cream and a little mayo, spices.  creamy and crunchy at the same time
– Bread and Butter Pickles – Gram’s original recipe, easy when you have a mandoline or food processor handy
– Dill Pickles – Great way to use just a few extra cukes, because you can make them up several jars at a time.  Add a little alum to the brine mix to help the cukes stay crisp

TOMATOES:
– Country salad:  tomatoes (cherry/grape are the best) sliced in half with diced red onion, cucumber and green pepper chunks, and a lime/olive oil dressing
– Corn, tomato, red onion salad, jazzed up with some fresh jalapenos and a citrus dressing
– Chili Sauce –  Gram’s recipe, email me for copies:  tomatoes, peppers, onions, vinegar, mustard seed, celery seed, sugar, and a little more – fantastic with pork or chicken or baked beans
– Homemade tomato soup, to which I add some half and half to ‘lighten’ it up
– Shaker chowder, with corn, tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion, and cream
– Tomato Quiche and/or tomato pie – made with ricotta or cheddar or a mix of cheeses, sliced tomatoes on top, fresh herbs, and just delicious.
– Aunt Estelle’s Brisket –  perfect for your Rosh Hashanah dinner, and sooo easy to make.  It’s got essentially five ingredients:  brisket, onions, tomatoes, worcestershire sauce, and oil (plus salt and pepper).  How easy can it get?

EGGPLANT:
– Baba Ganoush, with roasted eggplant mixed with tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, and spices – a to-die-for appetizer
– Eggplant Parmesan –  one of Carmela Soprano’s faves, and mine too:  I slice and grill the eggplant, rather than fry it.
– Moussaka –  from a recipe I learned while living in Greece, made with ground lamb, tomatoes, onions, and a bechamel sauce on top (but NO potatoes!!!!)
– Ratatouille –  the classic French vegetable stew which will use up those other things in the garden as well:  tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, onions, zucchini and summer squash, cooked slowly with red wine, spices, bay leaf, and just wonderful with a baguette and butter and a salad.  If you need meat with it, add some grilled chicken sausages and you’re all set!

Many of these things will also use some of the herbs you’ve been growing all summer.  Right now I’ve got African Blue Basil, Italian Basil, Pineapple Sage, Garlic Chives, conventional Chive, Rosemary, Tarragon, Italian Parsley, Dill, Cilantro, Borrage, Lovage, and Shallots in my garden.  Use ’em in these dishes to pump up the flavors!  And if these ideas appeal to you and you just don’t have the wherewithal to make them yourself, let’s talk:  I might be able to make your culinary dreams come true!

That’s my end-of-summer food reverie.  Happy cooking!

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I was supposed to be on Star Island this weekend, but Hurricane Earl’s appearance has changed our plans and so we remain in Lexington, waiting to see what will blow in over the next twelve to eighteen hours.  It’s hard to imagine that big storm while it’s still relatively clear, partly sunny and warm, but sure enough, a still-dangerous storm is churning its way up the east coast.

Hurricane Carol – which hit the northeast coast in 1954 – is a storm that my husband, Ben, remembers as a very small child.  His family was visiting relatives who had a beach cottage on Chalker Beach in Connecticut.  Warning systems were not what we have now, and Ben’s dad loaded the whole family – including the dog – into the station wagon to ride out the storm.  The roads were blocked with falling trees and power lines, and they ended up sitting in a parking lot for hours.  When they returned to the beach house, Ben’s dad remembers that the place had been flooded, and they found the silver drawer in the refrigerator…lots of damage and much to clean out.

As a graduate student in Boston in 1976, I had a summer job running the box office of the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge.  I’d also decided that I really needed glamour in my life, and gotten fancy porcelain fingernails – long and red and lovely – applied.  That was fine until the hurricane warnings went up for Hurricane Belle, with predictions of a serious hit to the Boston area.  My apartment looked right out on the Charles River, and the night that the storm was to hit, with businesses closing down all over the city, I went home to make preparations.  There I was, with my fancy fingers, trying to tape the windows in the apartment to stop them from shattering in the event of hurricane-force wind gusts, or worse.  As I struggled to do practical things like fill the bathtub with water, put batteries in flashlights, and so on, I decided those fancy fingernails had to go.  I ripped them off in hot water – I still remember the pain – but felt free, afterward, to continue on with my preparations for a storm that never did really come.

Some years later, I lived in Stony Creek, CT, an idyllic place that was mostly like a piece of Maine dropped into Long Island Sound.  In 1938, the hurricane that did enormous amounts of damage to the northeast coast also managed to tear up the Connecticut shoreline, including Stony Creek’s Thimble Islands.  Forecasting wasn’t what it is now, of course.

In 1985, I was doing reporting for WELI Radio in New Haven when Hurricane Gloria hit.  Reporters were dispatched to different locations, and I was told to report from Stony Creek.  Microphone in hand, I stood  near the railroad bridge with the wind wailing around me, providing details of flooding and people who had gone into the fire station for emergency shelter.  Suddenly, behind me, there was a loud crack and boom.  A huge tree limb had come down, perhaps two feet away from me.  If I’d been a little closer, it would have gotten me and the results would not have been pretty.  After that, my reporting moved inside, thought not before I stood there and had the wonder of watching the eye of the storm pass overhead…a remarkable sight.  Stony Creek and the surrounding area lost power for five days in the aftermath of Gloria.

In 1991, having relocated to the Boston area, I got to experience Hurricane Bob, which was projected to make a huge hit on the Massachusetts coastline.  This is noted as the last ‘big’ hurricane to hit this area, at least until Earl.  When Bob hit, the electricity went out and we amused ourselves by playing board games, making cards with our extensive rubber stamp collection, having real ‘family time’ as candles burned, and we made dinner on our camp stove on the porch.  We called Star Island to see how our friends were doing, and spoke on the phone with the iconic Fred McGill, island historian and patriarch, who had been asked to man the phone to provide calm and reassurance to the nervous parents of employees (the Pelicans) still on the island.  Star escaped serious damage;  Martha’s Vineyard, however, was clobbered and when we went camping there later in the summer, the damage was sobering.

And now there’s Hurricane Earl, barreling up the coast past the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and threatening Nantucket and Cape Cod.  The governor and the state emergency management team have put every possible precaution in place, and the likelihood is that this storm will be one that comes close, but doesn’t pound the Massachusetts coast – with the possible exception of Nantucket – with its full force.

Aside from those who remember the Hurricane of ’38, most folks who reside in the northeastern part of the US probably haven’t experienced anything close to the kind of horror and disruption of life that those who live in the Gulf Coast area have survived, more than once. Last week, the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was observed with music, flowers thrown in the river, with prayers and remembrance and solemnity.  I thought about those who I’ve come to know who call the Gulf Coast home, knowing that their life has not returned to normal in the Gulf Coast region.  It has gone on…different from what it was.  Still, these remarkable people have endured and many have made a commitment to come back to the region they call home.

We all long for a place called home…whether it’s in Louisiana or Mississippi, on Cape Cod, or on Star Island.  And while we wait for the eye of the storm to pass over, we pray for the calm that we hope will follow.  Peaceful, without loss of life or property.  May it be so.

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There’s a quote, attributed to Bob Dole, John McCain, or possibly the Bible (I doubt it!) which says, “Don’t get into a wrestling match with a pig.  You’ll get dirty, and the pig likes it.”  A friend of mine had another version she often used:  “Don’t get into an argument with an idiot.”

Whichever phrase you go with, the intention’s the same:  don’t start to do battle with someone who wants to get down and dirty or sling mud at you – no one will win.  I thought about this when, emerging from a few days of camping and news blackout on Cape Cod last week, I returned home to find that Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck had decided to hold a rally (the “Restoring Honor” rally) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on the anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  And that, in response, Rev. Al Sharpton and others then decided to have a counter-rally to combat the provocateurs’ move.

I believe Beck is despicable.  This is the man who likes to sow the seeds of hatred wherever he travels, who made a previous accusation that President Obama was a “racist” who has “a deep-seated hatred for white people.”  On Sunday, following the rally, he decided to pass judgment on Obama’s religious beliefs, saying, “”People aren’t recognizing his version of Christianity.”  This, from a Mormon who should know what religious discrimination feels like, and might do well to remember the process — as fellow Mormon Sen. Orrin Hatch does — which led to a steeple finally being placed on the Mormon Temple in Belmont, MA, despite community protests.

I, like so many of my generation, grew up being inspired and motivated by the words of Dr. King to build a country based on deed rather than creed, a country where justice would be served for the benefit of all – a country that we still have not achieved.  On the other hand, isn’t Sharpton’s response –on the surface, to try and rally King supporters and those who decry the hateful rhetoric and “lock and reload” language of Palin, and certainly, to try and capture the attention of the media — just playing into the hands of right wing hatemongers who want to bait liberals?  And who wins in such a battle, anyway?

Sharpton organized his “Reclaim the Dream” rally after he learned of Beck and Palin’s plans.  Depending on whose numbers you believe, Beck and Palin had around 87,000 attendees (if you believe Rep. Michelle Bachman, 1 million attended, but no one else counting heads gives a number close to that); Sharpton drew only about 3,000 to his gathering.  Who wins in this game?

I continue to be very, very worried by the amped-up rhetoric I hear thrown out over the air waves and through social media channels, and the acts of violence that are striking some communities — directed at one ethnic or cultural or religious group or another.  One pundit, speaking on MSNBC, suggested that this behavior is exactly what Al Qaeda wants to incite — to essentially have us eat one another alive and divide in disagreement and hate.  So far, we’re doing a pretty good job of it, and no one looks good.  In Murfreesboro, TN, a case of suspected arson occurred and gunshots were heard being fired near an Islamic center in the town.  This is hardly a lone report: cases of bias and violence against people perceived to be ‘other’ are rampant, and the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported over 900 hate groups active in the country.

Last I checked, this country still supported freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights, and by golly, that includes Muslims and the worship of Islam.  A number of religious groups understand the importance of this principle — certainly the Reform Jews do, for they have known what this kind of discrimination and attack feels like — and some groups have found ways to respond, with non-violence and without embrace of direct retaliatory language or behavior, to the rhetoric of Beck, Palin and others.  But not enough.

“We do not have to think alike to love alike,” said non-Trinitarian pioneer Ferenc David.  Unfortunately, we seem to be increasingly locked in a battle of who gets to claim moral and religious superiority over another group or individual.  The fight is based on hate, not love, and on who can scream the loudest, who can intimidate the best, and who can capture the coverage of the media with outrageous commentary.  We’re throwing gobs of mud at each other, and in this battle, everyone’s getting pretty dirty.

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