Monday, August 21, 2017

All About the Eclipse

So, this afternoon we're having the solar eclipse thing. In ancient times this would be the occasion of great terror complete with the rending of garments, the splitting open of animals and terrified calls to repentance. Today hundreds of small towns will be overrun with herds of dorks craning their necks skyward, geeked out with protective eye ware the serious minded had ordered from NASA, while the last minute eclipse partiers picked up from the discount bin at Bob's Diner and Thrift Shop. The entire thing is supposed to be over with in a little over three hours, kind of like Lawrence of Arabia, or any movie by Peter Jackson.

I'm not even sure what I plan to do during all of this eclipsing. I didn't get any of those cool glasses. Of course, I could make one of those makeshift cereal box things that allow me to see the shadow of the thing reflected off the inside bottom of the box. But that seems like a lot of trouble. I can't just go about my day and ignore the whole thing, can I? I mean, isn't this one of those once in a lifetime things that one just has to participate with in order to be fully alive? Seriously, how lame would it be to spend the afternoon of the great solar eclipse preparing spreadsheets of account balances for a client? No, I will do my part to join in with the rest of American humanity and participate in the experience.

Maybe I'll go outside and stand in the semi-darkness, back to the sun, and wait for the temperature to drop. Part of me wants to hustle around town looking for a pair of those glasses, but another part of me is wary of buying solar eclipse glasses at the last minute. No telling what you'll get. My son had toyed with the idea about a month ago of buying a bunch of  NASA issued glasses in bulk for a dollar a piece and then selling them for $10 each the day of to his unprepared co-workers. This would have been a raging success since it would have taken brilliant advantage of free enterprise and the human tendency towards procrastination. Knowing my son, he probably dropped the idea out of either misguided guilt over the vulture capitalist overtones of such an endeavor, or he got distracted by Neo-Nazis marching around his beautiful home state, or his beautiful girlfriend, or a new video game. He hesitated, and now the opportunity has passed.

Meanwhile, closer to ground zero down in Columbia, South Carolina, my daughter's  National Park Ranger husband is in science geek heaven about now. He will be guiding visitors to Congaree National Park through the afternoon's event with wild enthusiasm and erudition. No observer under his care will suffer any retina damage. The same cannot be said for the rest of the country. Large areas of the country are inhabited by Americans who often preface poorly thought out plans with the phrase, "Hold my beer!"

We can only hope that large percentages of the Neo-Nazi, white supremacist and KKK population fall into this category.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Why Doesn't Trump Have a Dog?

I'm having a hard time getting over the fact that Trump doesn't have a dog. 

Yes, I know that there are far more important and weighty things to be concerned about..but the man not only doesn't have a dog, according to informed sources he has no known pets. This makes him an outlier among Presidents. He is the first President not to have a dog since William McKinley over 116 years ago( making his assassination a cautionary tale). Trump is also only the second President in history not to have any pets whatsoever, joining James K. Polk for that dubious honor. 

The following is a partial list of some of our more famous Presidents and their pets. Make of it what you will.

George Washington. The father of our country had eight dogs, three staghounds, four Black and Tans and one greyhound which he wittingly named, Cornwallis.

Thomas Jefferson had two bird dogs, one named Buzzy, and the other who went mysteriously unnamed.( Probably from the Hemings side of the family).

Andrew Jackson is the president often sited by historians trying to find an antecedent to Trump. Ironically, Jackson also had no dogs. He had a parrot which he taught to swear and two fighting cocks. Coincidence? I think not!

Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, had two dogs, two cats, one turkey and one rabbit. One of his cats he playfully named "Dixie" and he often said of her that she was smarter than his entire cabinet put together!

Theodore Roosevelt, besides being a President thought worthy enough to be placed on Rushmore, was also basically a zookeeper. This crazy man had five guinea pigs, two ponies, ten dogs, two cats, a hen, a lizard, a garter snake, a small bear, a rat, badger, pig, rabbit, hyena, barn owl, and a one legged rooster.

FDR had seven dogs varied in breed from a Scottish Terrier to a bull mastiff.

JFK. Ten dogs.

LBJ. Six dogs.

Nixon. Four dogs, including Checkers, made famous by the Checkers Speech.

Ronald Reagan had six dogs, including the White House' first ever Golden Retriever.

Bill Clinton. Buddy, the chocolate lab.

George W. Bush. Four dogs.

Barack Obama. Two dogs, Bo and Sunny.

The love of pets, especially dogs seems to be clearly a bipartisan phenomenon. No matter their political affiliations, our presidents have been nearly unanimous in their affections for pets. Which brings me back to the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 
What are we to make of this petless man? Certainly there is nothing intrinsically wrong with not having pets. I get it, not everyone likes animals. But this is the President of the United States we're talking about here. After a long, insane day of leading the free world, I would like to think that my President at least enjoys the quiet, unconditional love of a fine 
dog or even the pseudo affections of an oblivious cat. If Trump were to get a dog, what breed do you think he might settle on? Probably not a Chihuahua.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Thank God it's Friday

It's Friday, people. This is a very good thing. It has been a brutal week for our Republic. Racism, domestic terrorism, debates about the removal of Confederate statues, and an outbreak of vandalism among those unwilling to enter those debates. All the while, the President of the United States can't decide which side of any of these debates he's on. His vacillation back and forth betweeen sympathy and condemnation with regards to Charlottesville has isolated him to a degree that I haven't seen an American President isolated since Richard Nixon in 1974. Quick, name a president in our history who has managed a public rebuke from the top generals of every branch of the military services? This is unchartered territory.

It is hard for me to imagine Mr. Trump surviving his term. Who can he count on in Congress for support if impeachment should come? Who are his stalwart allies? For obvious reasons the Democrats hate him. At least half of the Republicans hate him, and he is doing everything in his power to isolate himself from the other half. He does have a rock solid core of support among roughly 35% of the American people, but even that is not a winning number. 

When it comes to race relations, I don't make moral equivalence arguments between antifa and the Klan. But in politics, I do. It is my firm conviction that both extremes of political thought in this country have horrible instincts. On the far right, those horrible instincts result in racist, nativist, totalitarian impulses. On the far left, those horrible instincts result in collectivist, communist, authoritarian state worship. It is my opinion that most people on the left of center in this country are not authoritarian state worshippers, and most people on the right of center do are not racist totalitarians. Unfortunately, at this point in our history, the extremes of our politics are making the most noise. Meanwhile, as white supremacist groups are emboldened to hold public rallies wielding shields, tiki torches and baseball helmets, the antifa will feel obligated to pick up their baseball bats and join the fray. Instant polarization, instant violence. The rest of us will look on in wide eyed horror wondering how we ever arrived at this dark place.
If the United States can survive three and a half more years of the Trump Presidency without imploding in on itself, we will have proven to the world that we are indestructible, and if that happens, the American people should be awarded the Noble Peace Prize.

One more thing...Trump doesn't have a dog. As such he is the first president in over one hundred years to be dogless. It is no exaggeration to say that this fact tells you everything you need to know about the man.

In closing, I read something that a good friend of mine wrote this week about the Charlottesville madness. He was casting about for a solution to the deep divisions in our society and the racial strife ripping us apart. Sometimes the solutions seem impossible to find, the divisions too deep. But then he said this, I'm going to mind what I do by trying to respect every person that comes into my life. The simple truth is that you and I only have control over how we live our lives. All of us have to resolve to be better people...and that starts by treating everyone who comes into our lives with love and respect. 

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

We Can Do Better

Yesterday, something really cool and increasingly rare happened on Facebook. Nineteen people gathered in one spot to discuss/debate a very hot button social issue. These nineteen people brought with them a rather wide spectrum of views on the subject at hand. How wide? Here is a brief demographic breakdown of the participants:

A widely respected attorney from Bon Air, who once served as a groomsman at my wedding.

A newly minted young attorney who was once one of many knuckleheads in the youth group of my former church.

Some random friend of the Bon Air attorney.

My son, the shockingly opinionated young musician from Nashville.

My daughter, the gifted educator from South Carolina.

Some random friend of my son.

Another knucklehead from the youth group, who played college football.

Yet another youth group knucklehead, this one an architect, and brand spanking New father.

A CFO of a big hospital in Atlanta.

A new friend from church, wife and mother of two girls.

Hard working, African-American single dad who should have his own show on ESPN.

Some random friend of hard working African-American dad.

A Unitarian, Universalist minister and gifted composer/musician from Nashville.

My daughter's first college roommate, a hard working spitfire of a single mom raising an adorable daughter in Florida.

Yet another knucklehead from the old youth group(an inexhaustible supply), this one an unashamed Indians fan.

Young entrepreneur and accomplished businessman and former student of mine who is still primarily a knucklehead.

A financial software rep who claims to root for the Tenneesse Vols and eats barbecue like it's his job.

Recent college graduate and and adorable former neighbor of mine.

We went back and forth on the hot button subject of what to do about confederate statues in the United States. It went on and on for most of the day. We didn't agree. We came to no conclusions. Although I personally did hear some interesting ideas, I'm not sure any of us changed anyone's mind. So, what was so "cool and rare" about it? I'll tell you what was so cool and rare. The entire debate was carried off with no name calling, no insults, and large doses of respect. In America in 2017, this is no small accomplishment.

I look around at my country and I see a great unraveling, a vanishing civility. In our public discourse, we start from an assumption of bad faith, then everything becomes an accusation competition, and swiftly descends into dark places. I start these conversations on Facebook because I believe now, more than ever, that we can and we must do better than that. At one point in the discussion yesterday, a couple or three participants went from hearty disagreement to jokingly debating the merits of tacos vs. burritos without missing a beat. It was awesome.

So, it can be done. Every disagreement doesn't have to collapse under the weight of suspicion and anger. We can listen to someone on the other side of an issue respectfully, really listen, with our whole hearts. If nothing else we come away with a better understanding of their arguments.

At a time in our country's history when we seem to be governed by a middle schooler, it is critical that the rest of us learn how to engage each other like fully formed adults, even and especially when we disagree.

Thank you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Heritage Argument

A brief follow up to yesterday's post about statues...

One argument I hear a lot from staunch supporters of the "statue status quo" is the notion that the Civil War and its rememberance is about honoring heritage.  It's about heritage, not hate, the slogan goes. This idea has some appeal for me. If the notion of heritage refers to the traditions, achievements and beliefs which are part of the history of a nation, then yes, I am all for holding my heritage in high regard. My own family's heritage is a perfect example of a history that I want to make sure gets immortalized for future generations of Dunnevant's yet unborn. There is much to be proud of in my family's name.

But the idea of heritage doesn't just highlight the best moments of history, it refers to all of the qualities, traditions and features of life from our past. This is where , I think, the heritage argument goes off the rails. Viewing the legacy of the Civil War only as honoring the gallentry and skill of accomplished generals personified by statues is an incomplete picture. A more healthy attitude about our heritage as a nation would also examine the mistakes of our past, the bad ideas, the low moments. The past is, above all else, a teacher. Yes, we look back to the past for inspiration, but we also look back at the past to learn from our mistakes. It doesn't make us weak to admit and examine error. A more faithful retelling of our history would honor our ancestors by telling the whole truth, not just the more romantic slices of that truth.

Further, some of the loudest defenders of the hands off our statues crowd I know are Christians. This is a mystery to me. My faith teaches me that my past isn't something to worship. In fact, often, the past is something that must be overcome. The baggage of the old ways, the old ideas are what holds us back from living in the grace and truth of the gospel. Our greatest loyalties aren't to our earthly heritage, no matter how glorious we might think it is. Our allegiances are to Christ, and to living a life of purpose and character in the here and now with eyes towards the future.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What About The Statues?

My assistant is well known for her blunt, direct assessments. Last Thursday, upon seeing me for the first time after my incident, blurted out, You don't look good! This morning, after a full week's recovery, she once again greeted me with, You don't look good! Some would be put off by such tactless honesty. Not me. Besides, if you dish it out, you've got to be able to take it. She's right though. I look tired, because I am. But, today has been a turning point. I have had no headache, for one thing, which always helps.

Having something scary happen to your health takes an emotional toll every bit as damaging as the physical one. You get reminded of your mortality, and for a few weeks every flutter of the heart, every dropped word churns your stomach in a knot. Before long you have become entirely self-obsessed. It is this self-obsession which is so exhausting. I know it will soon pass. It will dawn on me that not every symptom that I imagine is actually real. I will soon realize that every flutter is not the angel of death. Then, I will feel like myself again, and life can proceed on its way. 

Looking back on the events of the weekend, Charlottesville could not possibly have happened at a worse time for me personally. No one does their best thinking when they don't feel well. So, a very bad, shameful situation in Charlottesville seemed even worse to me, post stroke. I look back on some of the things I wrote and they seem, upon greater reflection, a bit overwrought. I was already wound tight, edgy and nervous from the trauma and new medications. Then I see a bunch of freaking Nazi flags flapping in the breeze up in C-ville, and I went a little crazy. Probably shouldn't have posted the picture of the redneck woman with the 20 gauge slung over her shoulder, along with the snide put down. Maybe I should have backed away from the poorly timed joke at the expense of UVA's football program. After news came of three associated deaths, a clearer head probably wouldn't have posted the First, they came for the Mosquitoes meme.

But, I haven't taken them down. They were mistakes in judgement, but they were honestly made, and I have no desire to whitewash my own history any more than I want to whitewash my country's history. Having said that, I believe there exists lots of room for compromise when it comes to historical statues. I'm for expanding the number of statues that tell a more expanded version of our shared history. Maybe some statues would be more appropriately displayed in a museum, than on a public street. Maybe additional statues should be erected along side Civil War generals, that testify to what that war meant to African-Americans who were in bondage at the outset of that conflict and newly freed after Appomattox. There are ways to address this issue that don't include lawless mobs tearing them down, as if their anger justified the destruction of public property. 

When it comes to this entire statues controversy, I am not an absolutist. Each generation should have some say in how they interpret history. Although I happen to believe that the Monument Avenue statues are astonishingly beautiful works of art, and think that they are a valid record of the fact that our city was, in fact, the former capital of the Confederacy, I also understand how they might be viewed differently by a rather large segment of the city's population. The legacy of the Antebellum south was one of human bondage, the buying and selling of human beings. This is a fact of history that for many Americans is something that can't and shouldn't be celebrated.

 I am conflicted even as I write this. For over my shoulder on the wall behind me is two portraits hung in my library, one of Robert E. Lee and the other of Thomas Stonewall Jackson. I studied each of these men extensively in college and found them to both be fascinating men, complex, and tortured, whose lives were shot through with great tension and contradictions. Jackson, perhaps the finest  tactician in the history of this country, also nearly was kicked out of his Lexington Presbyterian church for teaching a class full of slave children how to read. The ironies were overwhelming. But, I came away from all of that study with a profound respect for each man's character. So their portraits hang in my library. For some of you reading this, you might be nodding in agreement. Others might be scratching your heads. I get it. I understand the tension, and the disagreements that flow from different readings of history.

But, here's the thing. What would I do if I knew that a family of African Americans were coming over for dinner? And suppose that this particular family had just lost a child at the hands of a white supremicist mob. What would I do with the portraits? You know what? I think I would remove them before they showed up. Not because I no longer cared about Lee or Jackson, but because I care much more about the tender feelings of my friends than I could ever care about a couple of dead generals. This is the essence of my position on statues. Let's all be a little less entrenched in our own positions, and more in tune with the point of view of people who might view them in a different light.

Come, let us reason together.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What I Want To Hear From The Pulpit Today

Yesterday will not go into the scrapbook as a red letter day. First, we said goodbye to a couple of thirty-plus year friends who have retired and moved away, then that debacle of racist evil in Charlottesville, and finally Bryce Harper blows out his knee. And this morning, I still have a headache.

So, today I will go to church. While ordinarily I don't like any sort of political opinionating from the pulpit, today I want to hear a word about Charlottesville. For one thing, what happened there yesterday wasn't politics. It wasn't even protest, correctly defined. It was a violent outburst of hatred, of enmity one for another. Those who paraded the grounds of Thomas Jefferson's University carrying Nazi flags weren't making a political statement, they weren't airing legitimate grievances. They were attempting to start a race war. They used the fig leaf of a statue removal as the barest of coverings to gather together and celebrate their hatred. The man who plowed his car into that crowd was not attempting to persuade anyone, he was bent on murder.

So, I want to hear a strong voice from the pulpit this morning calling this assault against my country exactly what it is, and calling us to repentance for our apathy. I don't want to hear any mealy mouth temporizing, no moral equivalence claptrap. The entire sermon doesn't need to be about Charlottesville. The transcendent is more important to me than the temporal. But I'm not interested in having this swept under the rug either. Yes, there is hatred and violence coming from both sides in America. But not yesterday. Not in Charlottesville, Virginia, less than an hour away from my home.