01 April 2021

April shorts

Spring comes to the Northern hemisphere. This year I feel it more deeply than usual. I'm not exactly sure why, but it may have something to do with another feeling that has been unfamiliar in recent years: normalcy.

I don't want to exaggerate this normalcy -- aside from a massive container ship causing unprecedented traffic jams in the Suez Canal, we have many of the usual signs of official overreach, bad planning, indifference, or incompetence in high places -- whether we look at refugee children on our own USA borders; Brazil's COVID crisis; Russian authorities' gratuitous cruelty toward Aleksei Navalny; or the fractured humanitarian horror in Yemen. Here in the USA, we're reliving May 25, 2020 in excruciating slow motion, as a court in Minneapolis, Minnesota, tries Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.

Nobody I know claims that the USA's new president, Joe Biden, is perfect, but he is manifestly fulfilling the role of a president in time of crisis. He is assembling a cabinet of people who actually respect government, who seem to appreciate the agencies they serve, and are good at it; his administration communicates daily with the press; he serves as an effective communicator of his own policy initiatives; and those initiatives seem scaled to the challenges faced by an ailing and very fragmented superpower that is suffering from deferred maintenance at every level.

Finally, he is not a source of daily embarrassment and scandal. Maybe that's what feels like normalcy.

Christ; Mark Antokolsky; State
Tretyakov Gallery; source.
Holy Week, by the Western calendar -- it's a time when I particularly feel the contrast between human cruelty and the infinite mercy of God, a contrast made so acute by God's son's treatment at the hands of people. He was arrested, tried, treated as a political football and framed as a challenge to the Roman empire, mocked, and subjected to a humiliating execution.

He is God's answer to whatever it is in the human heart that resorts to cruelty. Wherever that impulse -- to bind, humiliate, torture, and kill each other -- continues to grind on, we Christian people, as his body in the world, ought to be getting in the way. Some of us are best at analyzing and strategizing, others at teaching and mobilizing, others at direct action, others at prayer, still others at evangelizing in broad and narrow channels to everyone still bound by the mythologies of violence. Thank you for whatever you might be doing to challenge cruelty.

My Holy Week reading.

I've written before about the importance of radio in my youth, and specifically about disk jockey Ron Britain, whose weekday and Sunday radio programs on WCFL in Chicago were my reliable havens in a chaotic and sometimes violent family life. 

Britain's program was a riot of humor and spontaneity -- in addition, of course, to the Top 40 tracks that were the station's bread and butter. (This interview touches on some of these antics and how they were arranged. Here's a sample show.) He even read commercials in the same style, with the same sound effects, and apparently the advertisers loved it. One of my favorite memories of Ron Britain was his visit to our high school in 1971, to be interviewed by our television production class. His biggest influence on my life was introducing me to the blues, for which I wrote and thanked him a few years ago. I was delighted to get King B's courteous response.

Two days ago I learned that Ron Britain died last October 25. After 62 years with his wife Peach, her unexpected death on October 19 apparently undid him. He ended his own life the day before her funeral. Now he is buried beside her.

Robert Feder wrote this wonderful appreciation of Ron and his place in Chicago radio history.

One of the high points of my years in Russia was participation in a Russian Orthodox-Protestant conversation group. This Zoom conversation under the care of the Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative brought back some of the memories of those meetings.

The next event on the Quaker Religious Education Collaborative's calendar: April 20 and 22, on collaborative Quaker youth ministry.

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism provides a working definition of antisemitism that is not simultaneously a means of suppressing criticism of Israel as a nation or of its policies with respect to Palestine. Here are two commentaries from Mondoweiss: mainly positive, and somewhat more critical.

Another rendition of last week's track, "Walking Blues" -- this time the musicians are Liz Lucas and luthier A.J. Lucas.

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