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Friday, August 29, 2014

How to Talk to a Stonewalling Asshole on the Phone When You Are Vulnerable and Overwhelmed But Still Keeping Your Peace of Mind and Winning

How to Talk to a Stonewalling Asshole on the Phone When You Are Vulnerable and Overwhelmed But Still Keeping Your Peace of Mind and Winning

Dedicated to someone who never thanks me when I dedicate writing to her.

Recently I watched someone I care about a lot talking to a stonewalling asshole on the phone. The person I care about was vulnerable and overwhelmed and I could hear that squeaky little rabbit sound in her voice and it cut me to the quick.

God has sent me the kind of life where my path is littered with Don-Quixote-style windmills and all I have to tilt at them is my puny little pen. I've had to talk to a lot of stonewalling assholes on the phone.

I want to share what I've learned about talking to stonewalling assholes on the phone when vulnerable and overwhelmed.

1.) Walk away from the phone & Develop your quiet place.

Yes. You heard me. Now do it.

Listen, I'm a teacher, and I'm going to walk you through this process. Believe me when I tell you: the first thing you have to do when it is time to talk to a stonewalling asshole on the phone is to walk away from the phone.

You are going to feel tempted to skip this step. Do not skip this step. It is the single most important step.

This is what you are going to do: you are going to develop a quiet place.

A quiet place is a set of reactions to stimuli that your body produces on command. You want to be calm, happy, and self-confident. You want to radiate a beneficent conviction that you getting what you want is the best damn thing that ever happened on planet earth. You do not want to feel vulnerable. You do not want to feel overwhelmed.

This is how I develop my quiet place.

I do this when I have time. I don't do this at the last minute.

I provide input to all my senses. I wear clean clothes, I brush my teeth, I sip a cold drink, I put on a favorite perfume, I listen to New Age music like Jonathan Goldman's "Holy Harmony," available on youtube, and I breathe very slowly and focus on each breath. I meditate on Jesus' love for humanity, or waves crashing on shore, or walking off into the forest with Uncle John. I envision predictable things, like a Sacred Heart image, or the path through the rye behind Uncle John's house.

Giving myself all this cues: the smells, the sounds, the sights, the tastes, the feel, teaches my body to assume this relaxed posture the next time I plug in all these stimuli.

Now, I might be walking home through heavy traffic and in a bad neighborhood, and feel a migraine coming on, but just envisioning the path behind Uncle John's house and calling to mind Jonathan Goldman's "Holy Harmony" brings my body into relaxation mode, and the migraine is lessened if not extinguished.

2.) After you've meditated on relaxation and love for fifteen minutes, think about the big picture. The phone call you are going to make is not what life is all about. Life is a learning experience. What you are going to learn from this phone call is how to defeat a certain kind of dragon. The whole point here is not the $49.95 the company owes you for the framistan that malfunctioned while still under warrantee. No one is going to mention that framistan in your obituary. But people might mention, and remember, how solid you are, how good you are at slaying dragons, and how you kept things in proportion.

That's what talking to stonewalling assholes on the phone is all about. It's about learning to slay dragons while maintaining your peace of mind.

3.) Think about your priorities and the people with whom you make deals. Beware of promises. No Nigerian princes. No sexy Asian girls eager to meet nice lonely rich American men. Read between the lines. Be appropriately suspicious before you sign on the dotted line. Ask yourself if your route to happiness really is lined with items purchased on a whim on the home shopping network. Read Yelp and Google and Amazon reviews. Look before you leap. Ask for advice from older, more wizened friends. Don't overextend yourself. Check your credit report. In short, do everything you can to minimize the number of times you have to talk to stonewalling assholes on the phone.

4.) Focus on their vulnerabilities and your strengths. All conflict comes down to vulnerabilities v. strengths, and strategy.

What weapons do you have?

What vulnerabilities does your opponent have?

Example. My building is being renovated. The renovators dumped loads of brick dust in my apartment, two separate times. Did much damage to pretty much everything I own.

I had to buy a vacuum cleaner to clean it up. I deducted this from my rent. My landlord sent me a threatening letter from a lawyer.

I could go to court, but it would take time and energy. I would prefer to avoid court.

I realized that it was the renovator who dumped the brick dust, and that that company would be negatively affected if I were to write an accurate account of what transpired on internet sites devoted to reviews of construction companies. I wrote to the renovator and said I'd write and post just such a review. My strengths: I'm a good writer, too, I had photographs and an audio-recording documenting the company's dumping of brick dust. The company's vulnerability: a negative review would hurt their business.

They did, indeed, pay for the vacuum cleaner.

So, before you get on the phone with an asshole, assess the situation. What weapon do you have that could be used to end things rapidly in your favor; what vulnerability does your opponent have that you can exploit?

5.) Don't pick up the phone if you are already tense. Don't pick up the phone in a tense environment. If someone is bullying you at your end, you have already lost. Tell the person at your end who is bullying you that their bullying is damaging your performance and may lose the case for you. In short, place yourself in a calm environment. Be sure you can hear well. Be sure the person you're going to be talking to can hear you. Call when you are calm and at your best.

6.) Keep a pen and paper at hand. Consider buying a voice recorder or using any recording function your phone has. Let the other person know that you are recording the conversation if you do so.

7.) Record the following: who, what, when, where, why, how. Get names. Write them down. Spell the person's name and ask for confirmation. Record the time and length of the phone call. Record the phone number you called. If you are transferred, ask what the number is they are transferring you to.

8.) State your case briefly, clearly, without any drama or emotion. When you state your case, stick to who, what, when, where, why, how. Don't be mean, don't be pitiable, don't be angry. The person you speak to may attempt to goad you to try to get an emotional response out of you. Resist it. Again, don't be mean, don't be pitiable, don't be angry. The facts, just the facts. If you are being goaded, simply repeat the purpose of your call, and your request. "I am calling about a malfunctioning framistan. It is still under warrantee. I want a replacement. Please send it to this address. Please confirm that you will replace the framistan, as guaranteed in your warrantee."

9.) Constantly keep asking for answers to who, what, when, where, why, how. Ask, "When can I expect a new framistan?" for example. "Please give me the name of your superior who has denied my claim for a new framistan. Please give me his phone number." "How long do I have to send in an appeal to your denial of a framistan?" Write everything down.

10.) Have a backup plan. "Since you will not replace my framistan, I will post complete details of this transaction on the Amazon page for your products. I will post a similar negative review on my blog. I will include your name and a detailed account of this conversation." If you have some talent, harness that. "My friends and I are in a theater troupe and we will post a satire of your poor customer service in a youtube video." If you have friends in high places, make use of that. "My uncle is a buyer for a campus bookstore and he will make sure that from now on, his bookstore will stock only your competitors' framistans."

Remember, at no point in the conversation, never, do you lose your cool. You act cool and calm, and you are cool and calm. You don't feel angry, pitiable, or overwhelmed, and you don't behave as if you are angry, or pitiable, or overwhelmed. Before this conversation began, you went to your quiet place, and you are still there, and you will still be there after the phone call is over. No matter whether you receive the replacement framistan worth $49.95 or a million bazillion dollars or not, you still have "the priceless gift of serenity."

11.) Lather, rinse, repeat. Sometimes it takes several phone calls, letters, and in-person visits to get something done. Talk to more than one person. Consider an in-person visit. Constantly reassess your weapons and your opponent's weaknesses. Try new strategies. Read "Rules for Radicals," a really good book about how to get things done without killing people. An example. Alinsky says that Rochester's biggest employer, Eastman-Kodak, did not hire enough black people. To protest, Alinsky threatened to get a bunch of black people to eat beans and attend a concert by the Rochester Philharmonic, a recipient of Eastman-Kodak's donations, and fart all through the performance. There's more than one way to skin a cat!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

If You Are Not an Anti-Semite, Then Why Are You Obsessed with Jews?

Mr. Young, you sent me an email around midnight badmouthing me for my previous post about Israel. Bottom line: I think Israel has a right to exist. You don't think Israel has a right to exist, that is, if I read your post correctly, overripe as it is with insults, obscenities and misspellings – one would think that "you" is not so hard to spell that someone could manage to misspell it twice in one brief message.

I did not post your message because the ratio of insults, obscenities and lies to substance was one hundred to one.

I deleted your message and walk away and yet I found myself thinking of something you wrote. I'd like to address that here.

You wrote, and this is a cut and paste, "I'm not condemning jewish people." The lower case on "Jew" is in the original and is fairly typical in "I hate Israel but I'm not an antisemite" internet posts.

I have a question for you.

If you are not an anti-Semite, then why are you obsessed with Jews?

You splutter hatred against Israel and the IDF in an email sent to a little-known blog, and a little-known blogger.

Why did you bother to do that?

Why do you bother to hate Israel and the IDF?

Mr. Young, according to statistics I found online – please feel free to check the source; I will include a link – well, here is the quote:

"11 million Muslims have been violently killed since 1948, of which 35,000, (0.3 percent) died during the six years of Arab war against Israel, or one out of every 315 fatalities. In contrast, over 90 percent who perished were killed by fellow Muslims." Source

If you care about Muslims dying in the Middle East, why do you not care about the many more Muslims murdered by fellow Muslims – many more – not dozens more or hundreds more or thousands more but millions more murdered by their fellow Muslims than by Jews?

Why don't you care, for example, about the Shiite Iraqi Army soldiers handcuffed behind their backs, thrown into a ditch like logs, and methodically massacred by ISIS fighters, who posted photos of this event online?

Please answer that.

I have friends on Facebook who post florid protestations against Israel. They don't post any protests against ISIS. Why is that?

I wonder if you understand the concept of percent. Fewer than one in one hundred people, worldwide, are Jewish.

Actually, Jews are .02% of the world population. According to Wikipedia, in 1939 Jews were .08 % of the world population. And then Hitler methodically massacred them, as the world stood by and watched. That population decline has not been reversed.

Why are you obsessed with .02 % of the world's population?

I can't find what percent of the world's land mass Israel occupies, but I have discovered that Israel is ranked the 155th country in the world in terms of size. It is tiny. Israel could fit 545 times into the land mass occupied by Arab countries. Israel is roughly the size of my own state of New Jersey, a state I could comfortably drive across in less than a day. Why, Mr. Young, if you really don't hate Jews, are you obsessed with a country that is so tiny you can barely see it on a world map the size of a standard piece of paper?

Me? I'm not obsessed with Jews. I'm sick to death of talking about whether or not Israel has a right to exist. I'm sick to death of trying to talk to people who seem to have part of their brains shut off. You say you don't dislike Jews but you argue for a position that would result in millions of Jews being slaughtered?

Did someone inject your brain with curare? Did someone study, with an MRI, where thoughts about Jews arise, and learn how to paralyze that very Jew-thought spot? And do you expect me to swallow your idiocy? Why?

I'm Catholic. I want to focus on the Christians being massacred by your friends and allies. But the first thing I read this morning is your misspelled anti-Semitic screed, and your insistence that you don't have a problem with Jews.

I've been reading the anti-Israel posts that pass through my Facebook feed, and on internet discussion sites. Anti-Israel posts are remarkable for their level of vituperation. Israelis are baby killers, big-nosed, sadistic, shameless, manipulative, hairy, ape-like, arch evil, all powerful, world dominating Nazis. Israel is a slaughterhouse, a concentration camp, Auschwitz, one big gas chamber. Israelis drink blood.

The level of hate in your posts is breathtaking. That some of you Jew-haters have advanced degrees, have "Save the Whales" bumper stickers and attend vegan potlucks – always with one "enlightened" token Jew as a friend – scares the beejammers out of me.

And you insist, in spite of the bile you spew like a geyser, that you don't hate Jews?

Can you please explain any of this to me?

This is what I think is going on. I think you guys have an idea in your head of what an antisemite is. I think you think an antisemite is a white supremacist from the Southern United States, a KKK member, or a bad, old Catholic. And you see yourself not only as not any of those things, but as having risen above such lowlifes. You are atheists or secularists or New Agers or Pagans or members of enlightened denominations like the Anglicans.

You're not a KKK member, and your name is not Jethro, and you are not a hated Catholic; incense makes you queasy, so you can't be an antisemite.

Further, you surround yourself with other "enlightened" people who ignore jihad and Christian persecution and Sunni on Shia violence and gender apartheid, and you are all chanting the same chant, and you all have your fingers in your ears and you are all saying "la la la la la la la" to anyone who isn't part of your anti-Israel clique, so you never have to confront your own utterly public emperor-has-no-clothes degree of intellectual and moral naked self-exculpation and blindness.

Is that it? Is that how it works in your spaghetti-twisted brain?

Maybe I am missing something. Maybe your obsession with less than one percent of the world's population, with less than one percent of the world' land mass, with fewer than one percent of the deaths that have occurred in the Middle East in the past one hundred years, makes sense in some intellectually and ethically rarified way that I am unable to grasp.

Please explain.

Oh, and when you do, be kind to my old eyes, and please give spellcheck a try. Thank you. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Open Letter to Henk Zanoli, 91 Year Old Dutch Righteous Gentile Who Returned His Medal to Yad Vashem

Zanoli Family Source: NYT
Hank Zanoli Source: Haaretz 
Henk Zanoli is a 91 year old Dutchman and recipient of the Righteous Gentile award from Yad Vashem. During the recent violence in Gaza, several people to whom Zanoli is distantly related by marriage were killed. Mr. Zanoli decided to return his medal to the Israeli embassy. He sent a letter to the embassy accusing Israel of being the sole cause of problems in the Middle East. He specifically said that Israel is a racist country. He demanded that Israel become, in effect, a borderless, pacifist state, and that it cease defending itself. Only then, he stipulated, would Israel be worthy of the word "righteous," and able to respond appropriately to his own heroism.

Dear Henk Zanoli,

Henk Zanoli when I heard that you, a 91-year-old righteous Gentile, had returned your Yad Vashem medal because you object to Israel defending itself against Hamas, I felt revulsion. My very first thought was, "Oh my God, it's true. They really do like their Jews passive, in gas chambers, and dead, not active, not able to defend themselves against the genocidal forces arrayed against them."

And I thought, too, that at 91 your faculties might not be sharp enough to realize what a propaganda coup you were handing the genocidal antisemites.

I read more about you on the web.

I rapidly saw from your letter to the Israeli embassy that your mind is sharp as a tack.

I read of your heroic sacrifice, and the sacrifices of your family.

You performed awesome feats of bravery, Mr. Zanoli. You smuggled an eleven-year-old Jewish child from Amsterdam into your village and you sheltered that child throughout the war, saving his life. He eventually moved to Israel. You did this in spite of your family being under suspicion. Your father, may God grant him eternal reward, was an active resister of the Nazis. Your father was sent to Dachau concentration camp, and he died at the Mauthausen concentration camp. The rest of your family struggled and sacrificed as well. Your brother-in-law was executed for being part of the resistance. Your brother's Jewish fiancée was deported to certain death.

You are great people, Mr. Zanoli. I respect you.

I am very sorry for the loss of life your family sustained in the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas.

I read the letter that accompanied the medal you sent back to the Israelis.

You wrote, "the Zionist project had from its beginning a racist element aspiring to build a state exclusively for Jews" and "Your state continues to suppress the Palestinian people" Israel, you say, must treat everyone equally. Once Israel does that, you say, it will be a "righteous" state, and able to reward you for your own righteousness.

Sir, with respect, I have to tell you that what you wrote in that letter is not true.

Israel is not the root cause of your relatives' deaths. It is the refusal of Muslim Arabs to accept the existence of Jews as sovereign in their own homeland that caused your relatives' deaths.

If Israelis put down their weapons as you require in order to call them "righteous," they would, within days, all be dead, imprisoned or enslaved.

That would not be the first or the last time a Jewish community was wiped out by Muslims. It would not be the first or the last time a non-Muslim community was wiped out in the Middle East. You've heard of the fate of Christians in Mosul, Iraq? In Syria? In Egypt? You are familiar with the fate of the Yazidi?

Christianity goes back in the Middle East for two thousand years. Judaism goes back in the Middle East four thousand years. The Zoroastrian roots of Yazidi go back even further than that. Islam is a relative newcomer. If you want to support the indigenous group, you would be supporting the Yazidis, Jews, and Christians.

The Muslim Conquest of the Middle east began 1400 years ago, and it is still going strong, and its proponents don't want it to stop till the map is covered by the black flag of jihad, with no interruptions in color.

Hamas, in its charter, calls for the deaths of all Jews. In its long-term goals, it includes the re-establishment of a caliphate and worldwide Muslim domination. Please read the Hamas Charter. Please listen to Mosab Hassan Yousef, son of a Hamas founder.

Please acquaint yourself with how Muslim-majority states have treated Jews, who came to be as a people in the land of Israel thousands of years before Arabs left their peninsula for their world conquest. Read Bat Yeor, Andrew Bostom, Robert Spencer, Bernard Lewis.

Mr. Zanoli, did you know that long before the Nazis required Jews to wear a yellow star, Muslim states required Jews and Christians to wear clothing patches in the shapes of monkeys and pigs? Did you know that as recently as 1834, Sol Hachuel, a Jewish woman in Morrocco was decapitated for refusing to become a Muslim? Did you know that in "Golden Age" Muslim Spain Muslims crucified a Jew, Joseph ibn Naghrela, and massacred thousands of Jews in one day? Did you know that perhaps a million Jews had to leave Muslim countries in 1948? Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya – Do you know they were chased by rioting, murder, theft, rape?

Hamas is not unique and it is not new. Islam has had a huge problem with the  mere existence of Jews since Islam's founding. No matter where those Jews were. Remember, this is a belief system that insists that the day will come when even rocks and trees will shout out, "Oh, Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come kill him."

When you ignore this, Mr. Zanoli, no matter how heroic your deeds were in World War II, no matter how sad your current bereavement, what you say is garbage. It is worse than not worth listening to. It is an aural toxin that gives a victory to antisemites who are every bit as deadly and as much of a threat to world peace as were the Nazis whom your father fought so bravely.

Whether you can face it or not, Mr. Zanoli, propaganda coups like yours empower bastards like Hamas, and ensure the death of more innocents like your kin who died.

If all of you "Jews are racist baby killers; Hamas are noble freedom fighters" types would shut up, Hamas just might get it that their propaganda war is not working, and they might, they just might, try coexistence.

You fuel the flames of war. Hard to face, I know.

Please educate yourself, Mr. Zanoli, before you speak again in such a public way.

It wasn't Jews who killed your kin. It was Jew-hatred.

You used to fight that, remember?

It's not too late to rejoin the good guys, the folks working for peace for all.

We'll keep a seat at the table for you. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity" Nabeel Qureshi. Book Review

Every Muslim should read "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus." Faith is worthless unless it can withstand a challenge. "Finding Jesus" is a reader-friendly book. Its chapters are short and its language is simple and direct.

Nabeel Qureshi is the son of Pakistani Muslims and the grandson of Muslim missionaries. His family scrupulously practiced the five pillars of Islam. In the US, at college, Qureshi met David Wood, now an evangelist. Qureshi and Wood became best friends and had a banteringly competitive relationship. Qureshi was confident that he could present his Islamic beliefs in a way that would triumph.

Qureshi was deeply uncomfortable when Christians said things that shook his belief (211). He plunged into study and prayer and had to confront the fact that Islam does not withstand analysis, whereas Christianity does. In the final pages of the book, Qureshi describes accepting Christ and the shattering effect that had on his personal life. Islam proscribes the death penalty for apostates. Qureshi is a brave man.

Approximately the first hundred pages are an apologetic for Muslims. Qureshi loves his parents deeply and he wants anyone who reads his book to love them, too. His parents, his extended family and their friends, Qureshi insists, are lovable people completely innocent of any association with terrorists or jihad. He describes Ramadan, for example, as "a time to build community, restore broken relationships, strive for purity" (69). His description of the 9-11 terror attacks focuses on Muslims as potential victims of American hate crimes. "They're blaming Muslims" (114) he writes.

Qureshi was raised to believe that Mohammed was al-Insan al-Kamil, the perfect man. Many English-language texts use "PBUH" (peace be upon him) after mentions of Mohammed but Qureshi uses Arabic script that looks like a porcupine walking across the page. The presence of Arabic script in an English language book felt like an affectation, and given how Qureshi came to feel about Mohammed, I'm not sure why it appears at all.

Most Muslims he knew could recite many chapters of the Koran from memory, but they didn't know what it meant. The Koran was never to be placed on the floor. One had to wash one's hands before touching it. Salaat, prayer, is performed by rote. Even postures are dictated. "There is nothing personal about salaat…it is simply an act of duty, not personal or heartfelt" (49). The prayers are performed in archaic Arabic. "The language of the daily prayers is not personal to anyone" (50).

Qureshi's parents do not encourage him to develop his own conscience, or to question. At one point Qureshi was practicing a pro-Islam speech his mother had written for him. During practice runs, "she stood behind me while I was speaking and moved my arms and hands at appropriate times…as if I were her marionette" (58).

Qureshi acknowledges that his propensity to think and ask questions did not win favor from his elders, whom he was supposed unquestioningly to obey. He experienced culture shock when he was encouraged, in an American school, to question everything (76). "Authority in Western culture is reason itself" (108).

A cousin falls in love with a Hindu. Her entire extended family, including aunts and uncles, descend upon her and subject her to the third degree "Are you still a virgin?" "How could you fall in love with a Hindu?" "Allah forgive us!" "Don't become Americanized!"

Qureshi proposes a paradigm to explain Pakistani behavior. Pakistani Muslims, he argues, believe in authority, rather than personal conscience. Thus, his fellows could cheat insurance companies and restaurants without discomfort, as long as they were not found out. Once their crimes became publicly known and resulted in public shame, then and only then did the crimes become a problem.

Muslims think badly of Christians, Qureshi says, because Christians have not represented themselves well (81). Muslims are taught, and repeat, misconceptions about Christians. Christians have no concept of sin or responsibility, the Bible is corrupt, Christians are polytheists, Jesus either was never crucified or he survived crucifixion.

Through contact with David Wood, Qureshi discovers that he and other Muslims have spent their lives immersed in falsehoods. No, Mohammed was not a nice guy. His prophetic call was ugly; a supernatural being pressed his chest and terrified him so badly he contemplated suicide. Mohammed did condone the worst violations for female captives. Early Muslims did fight offensive wars and slaughter innocents.

Yes, Mohammed did unambiguously state that it is his mission to violently fight all humanity until everyone submitted to his concept of God; otherwise, he had every right to murder them and claim their property. The Koran, contrary to popular claims, contains no accurate prophecies of future events nor any advanced scientific knowledge. The Koran is not exactly as it was first set down; there were political struggles in its compilation and previous versions were burnt.

With the same thoroughness and accessibility that he devotes to detailing his reasons for leaving Islam, Qureshi walks the reader through his responses to Islam's theological objections to Christianity. Muslims claim the Bible is corrupt; not true; the New Testament was written within decades of Jesus' death, and we have manuscripts going back to antiquity. Jesus did claim divinity, he was crucified, and he did rise from the dead.

"Finding Jesus" is more of an evangelical tract than it is a memoir; it reveals no literary ambition. I was disappointed by its lack of intimacy and passion. Qureshi's coming out to his parents as a Christian is described in a skeletally brief sketch that leaves more questions than it answers.

I was put off by what struck me as Qureshi's assumption that his Western, Christian readers needed airbrushed, super-nice, "Leave It to Beaver" Muslims to feel comfortable with them.

Qureshi lets his parents and his former fellow believers off too easily. It's clear that his parents know the Koran backward and forward. Why had they never questioned its violence, its contempt for non-Muslims, and condoning of the worst violation of female captives?

Pakistan assassinates its leaders, imprisons Christians, blames rape victims, torches Ahmadis, wars on its neighbors, harbors Bin Laden, does not educate its children, and spawns lowlifes who shoot in the face little girls who want to learn to read. America ended slavery, defeated the fascists, rebuilt Europe, produced Jazz, Hollywood, Broadway, NASA, and the Civil Rights Movement.

Can mommy and daddy Qureshi really not see anything to critique in their natal country and nothing to admire in the one they immigrated to? When Qureshi married, I'm guessing an American Christian, his parents and sibling refused to attend his wedding. All of his efforts to create a positive image of his parents in his readers' eyes fell flat for me. I think I could have learned to love these folks if the book had been more literary, more intimate, and presented a less airbrushed picture of these two with all of their hopes, fears, warts and failings. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams' Suicide and Us

It's inevitable; someone already said, "He was *just* a celebrity. What's the big deal? Shouldn't we be paying more attention to more important dead people? This has nothing to do with us."

We have to be patient with those people; they really don't get it that people need art every bit as much as people need food.

We don't die as fast without art as without food, but we do die as thoroughly.

There are no human societies without art; some tribes live with no clothes, and no permanent shelter, but not without art.

One of the single most unforgettable artifacts I have ever seen was a poster advertising a poetry reading in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Some people are famous for being famous – Kim Kardashian – some are famous because they are uniquely gifted – Robin Williams.

Let's forgive those who don't see the difference.

Others are rushing to place words on Williams' death, like Band-Aids around a wound, to cover it up as much as to speed healing.

"Depression" "Addiction" "Rehab"

My friend Vivian, who is a psychiatrist, said, "I am angry with his psychiatrist."

I replied, half in jest, "I am angry with his priest."

Depression, addiction, rehab: I don't think any of these words are adequate.

We're talking about one of the single luckiest people on planet earth. Good parents, early success, huge income, love and family, physical health. Access to any doctor or treatment.

And HE choose to end it all.

YES that has everything to do with us, every single one of us.

If he killed himself, what does that say about me? I can hear that question in the mind of millions. I fear copycat suicides.

Words like "depression" only go so far.

I think there is a darkness in life. I think it's unavoidable no matter how lucky and blessed a person is. I think it assumes many guises.

I once knew a young, attractive Berkeley Bowl cashier who couldn't get out of bed because she was crippled by comparing herself to Julia Roberts. Why Julia Roberts? Who knows?

I knew another woman who was terrified of a town in New York. She made me promise never to mention the name of the town to anyone, in relation to her fear, so I never have. She wrote the name of the town in snow, and then erased it. We lost touch and I have no idea if she ever conquered this demon. I've wanted to google her but her name is too common.

I used to rent a room in a house in the Berkeley Hills. My room had a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I didn't like the room or the view. I never felt safe in that room, in spite of its being in a very wealthy neighborhood.

One night, I woke from sleep and saw an amorphous black blob moving toward me. I'd never had an experience like that before, and I have had no experience like it since.

I'm proudly Eastern European, and we know all about amorphous dark entities moving toward us in a menacing manner, alas.

Though I had just woken from sleep, I immediately said, without hesitation, "You have no power over me, because I am with Jesus. Get lost." The blob disappeared, and I went back to sleep.

Shortly thereafter, my landlady mentioned that her brother had been living in that room before he jumped to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge.

I moved.

A menacing, anonymous, amorphous black blob is as good a metaphor as any for the darkness in life. A snake who invites you to eat a forbidden fruit is also a pretty good metaphor.

There is something in life that, no matter how bright the day is, introduces a cloud. Something that no matter how deep the love is, produces disappointment. Something that twists and perverts and sours.

Yes to psychiatry and rehab and family support and psychoactive drugs, but none of this is ever going to eliminate the dark side.

No matter how convincing the dark side is, and no matter how feeble our reasons are for choosing life and goodness and truth and love, we have to say no to it – just because. Because no matter how sophisticated or worthy our reasons are for saying no, they can always be shot down by the clever trickery of the dark side. When push comes to shove, we have to just say no. And Jesus is on our side. That's all I know.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Christians Please Read

Ilya Repin. St Nicholas Saves Three Innocents 
While Polish Jews fought their lonely battle against Nazis in the blazing Warsaw Ghetto … a large New York synagogue invited its members to a banquet featuring a well-known comedian … The death camps of Treblinka, Belzec, Maidanek and Auschwitz were operating at top capacity, while in the United States of America, Jewish social and intellectual life was flourishing, Jewish leaders met, threw up their arms in gestures of helplessness, shed a pious tear or two and went on with their lives: speeches, travels, quarrels, banquets, toasts, honors … 

If our brothers had shown more compassion, more initiative, more daring … if a million Jews had demonstrated in front of the White house … if Jewish notables had started a hunger strike … WHO KNOWS THE ENEMY MIGHT HAVE DESISTED.

Elie Wiesel said these words about the Holocaust. While he was a young prisoner in Auschwitz, Jews in the US were living comfortable lives.

Right now, I am living a comfortable life, and my fellow Christians are targeted for death and discrimination in Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Syria, and, especially, Iraq. I feel ashamed.

When are we going to do something?

When we meet our fellow Christians from the Muslim world, what can we say to them? I felt sorry for you? I prayed for you? But I was too busy, too comfortable, to do anything?

Where is the leadership?

I am Catholic and my church has an all-male leadership. What is that leadership doing? The same thing it was doing during the sex abuse crisis? Nothing that makes any positive difference?

I am Polish-American. We know what it is to be persecuted, and for our priests to be tortured to death: Maximilian Kolbe, Jerzy Popieluszko. What are we Polonians doing?

What are my Protestant friends doing? My Protestant friends often speak to me, as a Catholic, as if they have a monopoly on Christian righteousness – "I am praying that you come to know Jesus," one wrote in a recent Facebook message. How about demonstrating how well you know Jesus by helping your Christian brothers and sisters who are under attack?

Let's march. We enjoy freedom of speech. Let us use it. Let's march around mosques and embassies in the West. "Stop Murdering Christians": succinct and to the point. Why are we not marching with those signs in every state in the union?

Let's lobby our elected officials. Let's lobby our somnolent church leaders to lobby our elected officials.

Let's fast. Let's bring home to our own bodies some discomfort.

Let's declare a day of prayer where we unite: Catholics, Protestants, and anyone else who calls him or herself "Christian."

Let's fast from petroleum. One day where none of us buys gas. That could waken us up and send a message alerting the world that we are conscious and active. Let's support alternative sources of energy. On the day we don't buy gas, let's remind ourselves what we all know to be true: the funding for jihad comes, ultimately, from us, from our addiction to petroleum.

Let's welcome persecuted Christians.

Let's tell the truth about jihad. Let's tell the truth about the Crusades. Let's visit college campuses and high school classrooms, and march outside them.

Someday, in this world or in the next, we will come face to face with our Christian brothers and sisters from the persecuted church.

What will we say to them about what we did while we were watching their crucifixions on our big screen color TVs?

Please wake up and earn the title "leader."